There are a number of things you can do to help your understanding of Shakespeare's work:
- Read the play thoroughly so that you get a basic idea of who the characters are and what is happening.
- See the play in performance – on the stage if possible but, if not, then try to get hold of a video of it (a video store or your local school/college library may be able to help).
- Imagine how the action might take place as you read the play. • Act out some of the scenes to see how they could be performed. • Make notes on each scene to build up a picture of how the plot develops.
As you are studying the plot of your play, you will begin to notice things about how that plot is put together and develops – these are things to do with structure.
Here is a plan of the basic structure of Romeo and Juliet:
1. Introduction to the situation – the feud between Montagues and Capulets.
2. Introduction to the characters – first of all Romeo and later Juliet.
3. Incident which provides starting point to play – Romeo meets Juliet.
4. Chaos and confusion – Romeo and Juliet have to keep their love and marriage a secret from everyone. Romeo kills Tybalt.
5. Things get worse – Juliet’s parents try to force her to marry Paris. The Friar’s plan with the potion. His message to Romeo fails to get through.
6. The climax of the play – Romeo kills Paris, then kills himself and Juliet kills herself.
7. The feuding Montagues and Capulets are brought together and the play ends in a spirit of harmony.
Reading Macbeth and Twelth Night
Think about the way the above scene opens - Here are some points you might have noted:
- The lovesick Orsino is introduced.
- A perhaps excessively romantic atmosphere is created.
- It suggests something sentimental and self-indulgent about Orsino’s attitude to love.
- It reveals that Orsino is in love with Olivia but his suit has been rejected.
- We are told that she intends to isolate herself and mourn her dead brother for seven years.
- When looking at the opening scene of the play you are studying, be aware of all its aspects – the giving of information, introducing characters, creating atmosphere and mood, establishing thematic ideas.
- Now look at the opening scene of the play you are studying and make a note of how Shakespeare uses the scene to create an effective opening to the play.