When I’m taking notes on different subjects, my general starting point is figuring out references. It works easiest with text, as I can generally write things down, but that both work. This is especially relevant in Shakespeare, where many of the similes and metaphors Shakespeare uses are related to history or Greek (or Roman) mythology.
For example, there is a line in Much Ado About Nothing: “to tell us Cupid is a good hare-finder and Vulcan a rare carpenter”. This line is fairly confusing normally, but it helps a bit when I linked it to the gods. Both Cupid and Vulcan are Roman gods. Most people know Cupid and the link with hunter and the bow and arrow, while Vulcan is a smith for the gods (most known for forging Jupiters [Zeus in greek] lightning bolts). By figuring out this reference, it gives me a jumping off point for the other parts of the reading.
Similarly, I try to figure out references to other movies when watching them.
Not Shakespeare, but it serves to illustrate my point. Films are a hundred fifty years old now. They have their own complete canon that can be pulled from. Such as the above scene in Zootopia, which is very clearly making reference to the Godfather. These scenes have their own cemented themes and ideas that viewers will recognize, or will be taught to recognize. The Godfather for example has strong ties to family values and what goes around comes around. Comparing scenes like this in movies helps a lot in figuring out what is going on, especially since Shakespeare can be difficult to follow sometimes.
This sort of tactic can be used on a very large scale to an extent as well, such as in the situations above. Sometimes I have trouble following Shakespeare, so watching a film such as the above can help to an extent. They aren’t one to one comparisons, but I can take notes of major plot points of the movie(s) and get a general sense of what is going on in the original play. By getting a vague outline, it makes it easier for me to reference sections in certain plays a lot easier because I know in a general sense what is happening.
When taking notes I will also look at which sections are written in prose and which ones are pentameter. It’s a minor thing, but it helps me figure out certain issues. Shakespeare tends to use language in specific ways, where he uses prose a lot for jokes and normal conversation, but will switch to pentameter when emotions are bubbling to the surface. This guideline has saved me on a few occasions, where I was lost trying to figure out what was going on in a particular scene, only to realize it was pentameter, read it in the correct manner, and it actually helped the scene make more sense. It also helps a lot in trying to figure out where a story might be going, by leading into certain issues through the use of it. I would sometimes be concerned that the scene wasn’t going to progress anywhere, notice the sudden use of prose and start paying attention because something important was about to happen.
And while not taking notes per se, one of the best ways I found to figure out what’s going on and find questions to ask is just talking to people. I’m a drama major, so I’m in an environment where most people will know the play(s) that I’m talking about at any major moment. There have been times where I’ve thought I’ve understood a scene perfectly well, but someone else will talk to me about it and say how they interpreted it in a completely different fashion than what I imagined. These encounters help open up my view of a particular piece of writing. This also works for movies. We’ve discussed in the English course that directors create a movie to look a very particular way. They also generally have more of a budget than theatre does. This allows them to do more and create more elaborate scenarios, which also helps expand my view of what a Shakespeare world could be.
My note taking can be a bit disjointed, and these methods hardly express all the ways that I do so. But if I had to define a way that I’m doing it all, I would say that it all falls under helping me understand the material.