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Reflecting on Notes and Annotation Practices

Before beginning my postsecondary education, I had very little practice with annotation and my note-taking skills were quite limited. When reading texts, I would take brief notes and write down key concepts, but would not delve into the reading much further. However, upon entering my first year of university, I quickly realized that I had to familiarize myself with close reading in order to interact with the text and find it meaningful. ENGL 340 in particular taught us scansion and how to read and interpret poetry, sonnets, etc. Over the years, I have grown more comfortable with annotation and hope to continue expanding on my notes.

For this blog post, I decided to use the prologue from Romeo and Juliet as an example of my annotation/close reading practices. In high school, I remember we barely scratched the surface when it came to reading the play. We had weekly quizzes on the readings that were purely based on memorization, but would not closely analyze the text or respond to it. Throughout my years at the university, I have come to appreciate and value intrinsic education. Intrinsic education is much more meaningful and requires us to think very deeply about texts. This is why the concepts taught in ENGL 311 are beneficial, as we learn how to close read and look for hidden meanings in the text. Annotations help us keep track of our thoughts/interpretations regarding the material, and we develop a better understanding of the content.

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Yes, I realize that my page looks like an absolute mess, but that is the beauty of close reading and annotations! I started my note-taking with scansion, in which I determined that the prologue is also a sonnet which follows the ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme. The prologue consists of three quatrains and a couplet, which is what makes up a Shakespearean sonnet. Each line contains five feet and consists of unstressed and stressed syllables, making it iambic pentameter. I also noticed that the first two syllables in “Two households, both alike in dignity,’’ (pg. 32) sounded trochaic, which you will see in my annotations. When I read it out loud, it sounded different to me, so I changed it from an iamb to a trochee. I believe that the trochee places an emphasis on “two’’ (p. 32) to show the conflict between both houses, which is an important theme in the play. This is why it differs from the other lines, as it highlights this critical element. This shows that while making annotations, we sometimes change our initial interpretations regarding the text. Thus, it is important to re-read our notes and review our annotations to ensure that we are closely interacting with the material and making any necessary changes.

I then went on to closely analyze each line, determining what is happening in the play. As can be seen in my notes, the first quatrain describes the setting of the play and the main conflict, which is an “ancient grudge’’ (p. 32) between the two families. The word “dignity’’ (p. 32) signifies that the two families are similar in class/social rank. The use of personification is also evident in line four, which says “Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean’’ (p. 32). The first quatrain also indicates that the two families will fight once again, and that it will result in bloodshed. Furthermore, the ensuing violence will cause their hands to be stained with blood. In the second quatrain, an emphasis is placed on the love between Romeo and Juliet and the dilemma they are facing. As I have marked on the page, the use of alliteration can be seen in line five, which says “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes’’ (p. 32). The letter “f’’ is repeated four times, foreshadowing an unfortunate fate/ending. In fact, “fatal loins’’ (p. 32) indicates that the offspring’s lives will be ill-fated. In line six, they are referred to as “star-crossed lovers’’ (p. 32), meaning even the stars are against them. It’s interesting to see that even from an astrological perspective they are ultimately doomed. Moreover, “misadventured’’ in line seven and “death’’ in line eight (p. 32) further signify that the play is a tragedy which will result in misfortune. Romeo and Juliet are thus worthy of pity, as seen in “piteous overthrows’’ (p. 32). It is their death that will “bury their parents’ strife’’ (p. 32) or resolve the issues between the two families. The third quatrain further elaborates on the play as a tragedy, and mentions their “death-marked love’’ (p. 32). Romeo and Juliet are doomed to an ill fate, and it is only their death that can remove the “parents’ rage’’ or violence between the two families. Interestingly, Shakespeare also uses the words “two hours traffic’’ in line twelve (p. 32) to indicate that the play will take place for the next two hours, although they generally tend to be longer. Therefore, this quatrain mainly describes the play itself in the context of a tragedy. The two couplets at the end capture the audience’s attention and essentially tell everyone to stay tuned for the rest. Any questions that have not been answered in the prologue will be answered during the play, and the viewers are encouraged to watch everything unravel.

In these annotations, it was very interesting to note all the details I could capture simply by reading the lines closely and marking everything I found to be significant. I was able to closely analyze important elements of the play and interact with the material on a more meaningful level. Examples of alliteration, personification, etc. further enhanced the meaning of the play, and I believe that annotations are successful when the play becomes more meaningful to you. In this case, I definitely believe that the play became more meaningful for me, as I was able to analyze the text more closely and reflect upon it. However, next time I will print out a bigger page for my annotations or do them on a laptop, as I felt everything was cramped on the page I wrote on. I had so much to write and definitely need more room to express my thoughts. Who would’ve thought annotations could be so much fun?

However, things are much more different when watching a film. Annotation practices become focused on visuals rather than words. While I can scan each line in the textbook and make notes, I cannot rely on text while watching films. Instead, I can examine the mood, visual effects, cinematography, sound effects, costumes, etc. in movies. For example, in the movie Romeo + Juliet, the prologue is screened on a television set in the form of a news broadcast. This is a very interesting and innovative practice. The notes that I had for this scene included the modernization of the play. The actress is wearing modern-day clothing as opposed to classic/historical attire from older centuries. Furthermore, the words “STAR-CROSS’D LOVERS’’ is displayed in the background with an image of what appears to be a broken ring. This is a very interesting cinematic approach which establishes a tense/mysterious mood. This scene also foreshadows that the play will be a tragedy, as most news reports contain information about conflicts, deaths, etc. The reporter’s tone is also quite serious, and she speaks very slowly and clearly, creating a nice auditory effect in the film. The camera slowly zooms into the television screen, creating a visual effect that draws the viewer into the film. As the camera zooms in more and more, the words in the background become visible and the imagery of the broken ring indicates that the film will be a tragedy. Thus, the content of both the text and the films is similar, but the film relies on visuals and symbols rather than words and language. When reflecting on my notes, I feel that annotations for the text are more detailed, but annotations for the film are interesting due to imagery and symbollic effects. Both mediums are great in their own way, and annotations enhance the experience. We are able to pay closer attention to the content and interact with it on a more personal level.

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