My annotation on a textual segment of a play begins with a simple reading of the passage. Most English students know firsthand that Shakespeare’s language can be confusing. Thus, in my first reading of the text, I generally try to answer a few key questions. Which characters are involved? Where is the scene taking place? What is the tone? What is being said? I like to scribble the answers to these questions in the margin or at the space at the beginning of a scene. That way, if I can successfully note-take on all the scenes in a play, it’s very easy for me to go back and refresh myself on the key components of the scene.
If I’m doing a close reading of a particular passage, I like to use a highlighter and different colored pens to note important literary devices.
I personally like to organize my close readings by literary device (for example, pointing out all the similes in the passage in one paragraph). Thus, I use a different colored pen/highlighter to indicate each literary device. I don’t like to limit myself to certain literary devices when note-taking. I personally feel that readers should make note of all literary devices they see. Though it’s possible I’ll only write about a few in a close reading paper, it’s important to be aware that all literary devices contribute to the meaning of the passage. If multiple literary devices seem to contradict the argument I’m making, I will think carefully about changing my argument to address these contradictions.
After taking note of the literary devices that appear in the passage, I then take notes on possible author’s purpose for each one. To interpret literary devices, one must first have a solid understanding of characters – Their backgrounds, motivations, and relationships. Before I look at literary devices with more ambiguous meanings, I like to refer back to the answers to the key questions noted down earlier. Then, I try to piece together whether the literary devices seem to point to the same argument and whether that argument is consistent with a character’s personality, motivation, and the general tone of the passage.
Unlike math and science courses, English isn’t a black and white subject, and personal interpretation of text is never right or wrong so long as it is well-supported by evidence. If I feel that I have a solid understanding of a passage, can point out a few literary devices and interpret Shakespeare’s purpose in writing them in, and have taken notes so that it is easy for me to refer back to key components of the passage in the future, my note taking was successful.
Taking notes on a film is very different than taking notes on text. Due to the quick pacing, it might be difficult to fully understand what is being said. Though this may be so, some aspects of literature, such as mood, tone, and symbolism, are more apparent than in text. Some of a director’s choices, like lighting, music, costume, and camera shots, are also easy to take notes on.
Before watching a film interpretation of Shakespeare, I make sure I know the general rundown of the play. That way, it is easier for me to focus more on the director’s interpretive choices because I don’t need to try to understand the general plot. As I’m watching the play, I like to use a simple pencil and notebook to take note of anything that stands out to me, especially if we’re watching the film in class. Along with the literary device, I also note the scene in which it occurs so I may rewatch the segment later on. For example, if I wanted to make note of the transition from delicate, fairy-like music to dark, ominous music during Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech in Luhrmann’s 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet, I would write something like “Cheerful, delicate -> dark, ominous music (Mercutio, before Capulet party).”
After taking notes on a film, if I feel that I have a solid grasp of a director’s specific characterization of main characters, the plot of the film, and have noted some literary devices/director’s choices which I deem to be important, I have been successful in my note taking.
Whether it’s done on film or text, note taking is no doubt an essential part of any literary interpretation. Refining this skill can make or break a paper.