Shakespeare’s language can be challenging. You and everyone else already know this fact. I’ll try not to say it again. Since it can be so challenging (whoops!) some people try to avoid it. When avoiding it for so long doesn’t work and people realize that they have to work on something Shakespearean, for whatever reason, they’re a bit lost on where to start.
This is a tough question to answer. Shakespeare did so much and everyone’s needs are different how can one recommend one starting place? Very carefully. Some might suggest picking up a copy of a play with Shakespeare’s text on one side and a modern “translation” on the other. This isn’t a horrible idea, but I have mixed feelings about those books.
Theatre and English classes alike will usually start their Shakespeare unit with a day or two of biography and history. Great info, but a history lesson isn’t usually the best way to get excited about a piece of text for reading or performing.
If you really want a fun, engaging and relatively easy way to jump into Shakespeare’s text I would recommend The Sonnets. Even if you’re about to work on a play? Yes, even then. The Sonnets make for a great activity for anyone first entering the vast fields of Shakespeare’s writings: from students to teachers to the average person who just wants to start working with Shakespeare’s text.
First off, a Sonnet is only 14 lines long. That’s not a lot of text, so it will be easy to dive into all aspects of the verse without being overloaded with so much to work with. Each sonnet is written in iambic pentameter which will allow the first time student to see how the meter of the verse works right away. Rhyme is used in these poems, one can see the effects that has on the verse, and that some words don’t rhyme anymore. The reader will also have to make sense of the grammatical structure that the authors used. Again, since there are 14 lines, it’s not so much that you can’t make sense of with a little help from a teacher, friend, or book. If you’re lost for what something means you can ask me too and I’ll do my best to help. Have a dictionary handy to see what some words mean, but with some time and thought you’ll be able to make sense of what the Sonnet is saying. It only gets easier with practice too!
With 154 different sonnets to choose from, I guarantee that you’ll find one that you can relate to somehow. When you decide to work on a sonnet choose one that speaks to you. This is another advantage of working with the Sonnets. When you have a piece of text that you connect with emotionally you will understand it, memorize it, and enjoy it better and faster.
Now go out there and pick up a sonnet and go to