Shakespeare is seen as a challenge by most English students all over the world. His language is flowery and pleasant to hear, but also rather daunting to try and understand. Archaic vocabulary, historical context, bizarre sentence structure, and an abundance of literary devices further contribute to a much denser layer of complexity in his work. Exposure to this madness over the years, however, has resulted in the development of my own method of comprehension which I will be discussing in this blog post.
My journey of a play-text begins with a list of roles which I translate into a character tree. Details are added as more of the play’s context is revealed through online research, footnotes, as well as the advancement of the plot. Keeping this tree chart available as a guide throughout, I read an online summary of each act just prior to engaging with the text. I follow along the play using an unbiased, non-dramatized LibriVox-Audiobook recording to stay on track while keeping the words open to interpretation. Already having a gist of the plot enables me to focus on Shakespeare’s interpretive choices as I highlight all the textual features that make a strong first impression, taking notes in the margins. A dictionary is kept accessible at all times.
Monologues and exchanges that seem most important to plot and character development are marked with sticky-notes, to be analyzed more closely once the whole play has been read. Then, the chosen lines are read aloud and more slowly to attend to details. I divide the text into sections, if possible, based on apparent shifts in form, language and/or semantics, as recommended by Dr. Ullyot. The use of literary techniques is further categorized using a table that I created based on Dr. Ullyot’s expectations for close reading, to ensure that no significant aspect is overlooked. Keeping patterns in mind, I utilize the table to jot down the effects of the literary features used, in addition to categorizing them. This highlights the importance of their employment while also actualizing the awareness that one is being manipulated by Shakespeare (accidentally and/or deliberately) in the subtlest of ways.
In contrast, influence over the audience is much more deliberate, pronounced, and yet easily discounted by the untrained eye when it comes to cinema. Having freely interpreted the words of the author from my own perspective, I then allow directors to sweep me into their narrower adaptation of the same. Impactful scenes are paused, rewound and replayed several times with a table of key elements, a pen, and a notebook at my disposal, in order to implement disciplined focus, given the much faster pace of films. The first thing I note down is a brief description of the setting being portrayed in the film, how similar or different it is from what Shakespeare or I may have imagined, and how it enhances the story as a whole. I usually have the book in front of me to get a sense of the proportion of text that has been shown, as opposed to being told.
Direction and camera are arguably the most crucial components of the visual aspect of cinema. I take note of the general type, pattern, and point of view of the film shots. The strategy behind editing and splicing the same is noted along with the genre, pace and rhythm of the music being employed. Similarly, I look for iconic moments created by actors based on their individual interpretations of the characters, intertwined with those of the director. The chemistry between, and the (gradual or sudden) shifts in these cinematic elements (Crowl, 2007) is an important aspect of my film analyses. I follow up with reading the recommended critiques, learning about the director’s signature style, and watching interviews, further unveiling the thought processes behind some of the creative decisions witnessed on screen.
After having collected, categorized and described the evidence from both literature and film in a segregated manner, I begin to seek patterns across my notes for strong, recurring themes and well-supported arguments. The success of my inductive analyses is determined by the abundance of quality evidence alluding to each claim or concept. Having clusters of data (though subjective in interpretation), as opposed to outliers, reduces the likelihood of arriving at far-fetched conclusions, paving the way for an effective piece of argumentative writing.
Crowl, Samuel. Shakespeare and Film: A Norton Guide. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. Print.