How to Comprehend and Enjoy Shakespeare

Two Methods:Getting StartedShakespeare Terms Guide

Everybody knows that Shakespeare is important, but it can be difficult to understand the Bard's use of language sometimes. If you find yourself struggling to understand his old time phrases, don't worry! Struggling with Shakespeare is common, and easy enough to fix with a bit of study.

Getting Started

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    First, understand the differences between Comedy, Tragedy, History, and Romance. It always is best to understand what it is you're reading. A Comedy is light-hearted, and usually ends with marriage. A Tragedy is darker, and ends with death. A History is anything that has to do with the history of England, so things such as Julius Caesar, although historical, are not Histories. A Romance is serious in tone, and has a lot of trouble that the characters go through, but ends up happily for the protagonists. A Romance also typically involves fantastical themes, such as wizardry.
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    Understand the culture of Elizabethan England.
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    Keep a dictionary near you, to look up words that you don't know. It is also nice to have access to a computer, so you can look up a term as related to Shakespeare. Some words don't mean exactly the same thing in our day as they did in Shakespeare's.
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    Use some sort of summary, such as SparkNotes. Then you'll understand the plot of what you're reading.
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    Keep on working through, even if you don't understand exactly what you're reading. Then come back and reread what you already have read, and work through it again. Repeat as necessary.
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    Watch a performance of what you're reading. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed, and an actor's nuances can help us significantly when trying to understand Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Terms Guide

Sample Shakespeare Terms


  • It takes reading/watching about 17 plays of Shakespeare's to start to get a mastery over his plays. Don't get discouraged.
  • You may want to consider acting in a community production of one of his plays. Elizabeth Weinstein's Shakespeare with Children is useful for beginning acting.


  • This will take a lot of work. If you aren't willing to persevere, Shakespeare will probably frustrate you make your time with him unenjoyable.

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Categories: Studying Literature