Now this is the type of article I’ve always wanted to write. “How to Read Shakespeare” breaks it down into approachable bites – sentence structure, grammar, pronoun usage, etc… and shows little tricks for trying to decipher the words into something you can better understand. I agree with the pretty much everything the author says, although he keeps pushing the SparkNotes and I’m not a big fan, there. I’m afraid that students will read the supplementary material and not read the original.
Lately I’ve been thinking about Claudius’ opening words (since I have them to music as part of “Hamlet in Space :)), and they make a good case for the examples the article discusses: “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death the memory be green….” What? Well, the article says that Shakespeare would freely rearrange the words in his sentences to suit the rhythm he needed, so you have to mentally put them back into the order you’ll better understand. Well, I spot “our dear brother Hamlet”, so we have “Though yet of our dear brother Hamlet’s death the memory be green.” Still feels backward, maybe the end needs to go at the beginning: “Though yet the memory of our dear brother Hamlet’s death be green.” It’s at this point that perhaps you pull out the annotated guide if you don’t immediately realize that to “be green” is “to be fresh and new”. So, finally, “Though yet the memory of our dear brother Hamlet’s death is still fresh in our minds…”
Another good one is “I have of late but wherefore I know not lost all my mirth” (another good musical one, this time from HAIR). “I have of late” == “Lately, I have.” I have what? Lost all my mirth. “Lately I have lost all my mirth, but wherefore I know not.” Knowing that “wherefore” means “why” from the footnotes we do that trick one more time and are left with “Lately, I’ve lost all my mirth, but I don’t know why.”
I could do that all day. 🙂