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William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Author: Rebecca Oberg

This learning packet should review:

-Biography of Shakespeare
-Information about some of his most famous works
-Why Shakespeare is important to literature and history
-How to read Shakespeare--aloud, etc.
-Insight into how Shakespeare has impacted popular culture

Narrowing the life and works of a literary giant such as William Shakespeare is a daunting challenge. Nevertheless, this packet includes a wide range of information to whet your appetite in regard to The Bard. Included is a slide show providing a general overview of his biography, major works, and historical context. An article about how to read Shakespeare effectively is included, as well as several video clips which are meant to be sampled as necessary for various purposes.

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Introduction to Shakespeare

This is a detailed overview of the life and work of William Shakespeare.

How to Read Shakespeare (Hint: It should be read ALOUD!)

Remember that Shakespeare's plays were meant to be read ALOUD! With that said, a bit of research must be done in order to gain as much as possible from an encounter with The Bard. See the article below for more information.

How to Read Shakespeare 

By , Guide

The idea of performing a Shakespeare speech fills many young actors with fear. However, you should remember that Shakespeare was an actor himself and wrote for fellow performers. Forget criticism and textual analysis because everything an actor needs is right there in the dialogue – you just need to know what you’re looking for.

Clues in the imagery

Elizabethan theater didn’t rely on scenery and lighting to create a scene, so Shakespeare had to carefully choose language that created the right landscapes and moods for his plays. For example, read aloud this passage from A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Puck describes a place in the forest:

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and nodding violet grows.

This speech is loaded with words to suggest the dream-like quality of the text. This is a clue from Shakespeare on how to read the speech.

Clues in the punctuation

Shakespeare's use of punctuation was very different – he used it to signal how each line should be delivered. Punctuation forces the reader to pause and slows down the pace of the text. Lines without punctuation naturally seem to gather momentum and emotional energy.

  • Full stop (.)
    Full stops naturally bring the sense and energy of the line to a close.
  • Infrequent commas (,)
    A comma forces a slight pause in delivery to reflect a tiny development or shift in the character’s thought process.

    For example, read aloud Malvolio’s line from Twelfth Night: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Did you notice how the commas forced you to pause and split this sentence into three parts?
  • Repetition of commas (,)
    Commas can also cause a line to gather in emotional intensity. If you see lots of commas together, evenly spaced and splitting the lines into small snappy chunks, then this is Shakespeare’s way of asking you to emotionally invest in the dialogue and build up its rhythmic intensity, as in this example from King Lear:
    ... No, no, no life!
    Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
    And thou no breath at all? Thou’it come no more;
    Never, never, never, never, never.
  • Colon (:)
    A colon signals that the next line should sound as if it is responding to the previous line, as in Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”

Do Not Add Punctuation

If you’re reading aloud a speech written in verse, you may feel the need to pause at the end of each line. Do not do this unless the punctuation specifically requires you to do so. Try to carry the sense of what you’re saying into the next line and you’ll soon discover the correct rhythm of the speech.

You should think of a Shakespeare play as a blueprint for performance. All the clues are there in the text if you know what you’re looking for – and with a little practice, you’ll soon discover that there’s nothing hard about reading Shakespeare’s dialogue aloud.

NOTE: Shakespeare invented many of the words and phrases that are now in our daily vocabulary. For a partial list, visit

The Life and Times of Shakespeare

This narrated series of images provides in-depth information about the life and works of William Shakespeare, focusing particularly on one of his most famous plays, Romeo and Juliet

Source: YouTube

The Shakespeare Authorship Controversy

This video clip shows an intense look at the at the controversy surrounding Shakespeare's authorship of his plays. Did Shakespeare really write the most famous works of literature in the world? Watch and develop your own opinion.

Source: YouTube

Theatrical Trailer: Romeo and Juliet, 1996

This is the theatrical trailer for the modernized 1996 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, offering insight into the overall plot as well as the linguistic flavor of the text.

Source: YouTube

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 5 Scene 1 (lines 126-304): Performed by The Beatles on BBC Television

This is a famous clip of The Beatles performing Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream on BBC Television. This clip really shows the enthusiasm, humor, and audience involvement that was very true to the spirit of the performances during Shakespeare's time. Watch a portion of it to get a feel for the energy, humor, spirit, and language of the play.

Source: YouTube