Tips on how to approach the study of a Shakespeare play
Tips on how to approach the study of a Shakespeare play on your own
Look for the broad pattern of the play – what is it ‘about’?
Think about the particular characteristics of the genre the play is written in (comedy, history, tragedy, romance, tragicomedy, ‘problem play’) and about how the genre impacts on the action and the language (verse vs. prose, imagery).
Think about the distinctive qualities of the play you are studying. Look at the plot in more detail and think about why things are represented the way they are: what is the function of particular scenes?
Now look at a few key scenes in greater detail, working on the assumption that those scenes are bound to tell you a lot about the play as a whole. Look for controlling ideas, for patterns, echoes, contradictions. Always ask yourself why things are represented the way they are and what it means within the play as a whole.
Six areas of interest:
plot (how is it built up? Are there echoes? Climaxes?)
character (are the protagonists caught between opposite impulses? What is the function of the minor characters? Are there contrasts between characters in similar situations?)
‘diction’, i.e. the language of the play (are images of order set against images of disorder? What semantic fields dominate? Is the scene written in verse or prose? Does it contain rhetorical figures? Is the language stylised or realistic?)
themes (often: a tension between order and disorder, conflicts between men and women, tension between the government and the individual, the insiders and the outsiders)