The differences between reading a play-text and watching a film are abundant. A film can only be watched at one speed and a close analysis would often require re-watching the same scene multiple times. Play-texts, on the other hand, almost must be read at varying speeds; Shakespeare’s plays especially lend themselves to a much slower, closer reading. In film, talented actors can deliver their lines in such a way that, while the viewer may have trouble with the archaic language, the message is easily understood. Again, such is not the case with play-texts. One must read slowly and carefully, and constantly refer to footnotes to understand the intricacies of the text. As a result of these differences, not taking is vastly different between the two different forms of media.
Although modern technology has made improvements in this sense, it is still very difficult to annotate on a screen. In text notes are much easier with a play-text, which is why I annotate in the margins while I read. My approach varies depending on what I’m reading. Poetry I will usually read through two or three times without even touching a pen. Once I’ve got a handle on the poem I begin to annotate, focusing on recurring symbols, diction, and a rhyme scheme if there is one. Novels I usually read through entirely without annotating at all, because, frankly, with heavy course loads, jobs, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, there isn’t enough time in the day to read that slowly. If I’m doing a close reading of a particular passage, I’ll annotate to my heart’s content in much the same way I do with poetry. My annotations of Shakespeare seems to find middle ground between the two; it reads like poetry and requires more intensive note taking to get the most out of the text, but, again, I have to be realistic with my time. I’ll make the occasional note in the margin, or underline a line I don’t fully understand, but I won’t draw all over the page unless I’m doing a close reading. Also, my ability to pick up meaning on my first time through a passage of Shakespeare has improved dramatically since high school.
As for film, I’ve only rarely had to annotate it before this class, but that’s because I’m in English, not Film Studies. The only time other than this class in which I’ve had to watch an excerpt from a film over and over while taking notes was when I had to provide a psychoanalytic reading of the “Gutterballs” dream sequence in The Big Lebowski. I tend to avoid taking notes by hand like the plague, since my printing is so atrocious, so I connected my laptop to another monitor and watched the scene on one screen, while taking notes on another. That’s the approach I’ve taken during this class, while watching the films at home and in class. In class I tend to position myself so that I can see the projector screen and my laptop without having to move my head and take notes while we watch. Unfortunately, time constraints prevent us from re-watching scenes so I have to take notes on the first time through which I don’t like to do. I find I get immersed in the plot and forget to take notes more so when watching Shakespeare than when I’m reading it. At home, like when I was doing my scene comparison in Hamlet last week, I watched the scene two or three times through just to get a general sense of it before I slowed down and watched it almost line-by-line, taking notes on my computer as I went.
How I determine my note taking success is a more difficult question to answer. I suppose it would be too easy to say, “the better mark I get on the assignment for which I was close reading, the more successful my annotation was.” Perhaps it’s more a function of whether I can tell my understanding has deepened as a result of my annotation. If, after my first, non-annotated, read through, I take a certain meaning from a text, which is then heightened or changed after annotating, then I suppose I have been successful. There is certainly a fine-line though; I find it can be quite easy to get bogged down in annotation, noting things that are far too obscure or unimportant to ever contribute to the process of formulating an argument.
My annotations of A1S5 of Hamlet, on which I did my last blog post.
My typical Shakespeare home-viewing station.
Please forgive the embedded PDF files; it was the only way UCalgary Blogs would let me upload pictures from my phone.