When reading Shakespeare, there are certain steps I tend to follow in order to best analyze the text. While the order and specifics of the steps may differ depending on what, when, and why I am reading, the general idea remains.
Before I dive right into the first line of a scene, I recap for myself what has just happened in the preceding scene, so I can put the scene I am about to read into context with the rest of the play. Then, I check where and when the scene occurs, as well as what characters will be involved so I can try and picture a setting in my head. Now, I read through the scene easily once, to get the general idea of what is happening, the mood, and basic character dynamics. Usually, I have a pretty vague idea of what is going on and have many questions at this point. Then, I go back and re-read, this time taking the time to decipher what is happening line by line. If I do not understand what the character is trying to say, I will use a dictionary if needed, look at the footnotes, and look at the context of the quote. For example, I can often decipher what a character is asking by looking at the response.
Once I have deciphered a good chunk of dialogue, I check and see if I can paraphrase what I just read. Usually, my paraphrasing is extremely informal, and for some reason the characters always turn into something resembling sassy teenagers. For example, when deciphering Act I, Scene I of Much Ado About Nothing, this is how I paraphrased part of the dialogue in my head:
So, Claudio is all like “OMG Hero is like so amazing. Benedick, isn’t she amazing?” And Benedick is like “Nah dude I don’t see it, she’s lame. Her cousin is like ‘aight, but I am never gonna marry anyways so whatevs” and Claudio is like “HA yeah right dude we’ll see about that”
If I can’t paraphrase it like that, it usually means that I don’t understand it enough. Finally, I go back again and read word by word. This time I try to detect language devices, patterns in word choice, words that can have a double-meaning, personification, metaphors, etc. This step may need to be repeated several times. Using this information I can start to uncover themes being illustrated and characterization that is occuring; in other words, why is Shakespeare writing this scene? Why is it important? I often get to this point by typing out all of the notes I have made along the way (I only write minimal notes on the actual pages) so I can see what ideas my thoughts are pointing to. This step is most important and helpful, but the beginning steps are necessary to get here.
When analyzing a Shakespeare movie, the process is relatively similar. Firstly, I go back and re-watch several times- if not the entire movie, then specific scenes. Secondly, I move from larger idea questions (e.g. What is the plot?) to more specific questions (e.g. Why did the director make this editing choice? Why did Shakespeare make this language choice?). The first time I watch a movie is largely for pleasure, and so I can get the general idea of plot and theme- which is usually much easier to catch on to the first time watching versus the first time reading. After it is over I ask myself about my feelings toward the movie, what stood out, and why.
The second time I watch, I take detailed notes on editing, music/score, camera work, setting, and acting. The second time through is much easier to understand how themes and characterization is developed, use of foreshadowing, and director’s choices because you can focus on the details rather than the plot. Finally, I would go back and re-watch specific scenes I feel are important to catch anything I may have missed and analyze in detail. Often, once I have noted all my ideas, I will go online to get more information about the director, actors and setting, and perhaps read other peoples reviews and opinions in order to get a fresh perspective.
If I take the take to thoroughly complete all of these steps, they wield excellent results. However, if I don’t take the time to go back several times, or dig as deep as I could- I will have an unclear final result.