Studying Shakespeare's Plays

Appreciating the play

1. Approach the play as a performance rather than a written text (an audio version with different voices for different characters is preferable to merely reading the play by yourself). http://librivox.org/much-ado-about-nothing-by-william-shakespeare/ (some male characters read by women)

2.Don't be put off by passages which are difficult to understand because of language or allusions (mentions or suggestions related to cultural, textual or historical references).  You just need a general idea of what is going on. Remember in a performance you pick up clues from actions/body language as well as spoken word.

3.Why is always more important than what.

Five characteristics of Shakespeare's Plays
  • many well developed characters
  • two or more plot threads
  • beautiful and meaningful language
  • usually based on material and stories by other authors and adapted/developed
  • insights into human nature (what makes them durable)

Classical References
Right up until the nineteenth century readers and audiences were knowledgeable about the Bible and the Classics. Hence so many allusions in literature and drama to biblical and classical characters and stories.

Here are a list of a few of the common gods etc. (Reading the Percy Jackson books also helps! : ))
Athena/Minerva - goddess of wisdom
Apollo, Phoebus - god of the sun
Artemis - goddess of the hunt and the moon
Dionysius - god of wine and ecstasy
Ganymede - cup bearer of the gods = any young boy or girl serving at table or as a page
Hades - god of the underworld
Hera -  goddess of marriage
Hermes - messenger of the gods, guide of souls
Iris - goddess of the rainbow
Jupiter, Love, Zeus - the king of gods; god of the sky
Mars/Ares - the god of war
the Muses - nine sisters who inspired arts and philosophy
Oracle - prophetic deity
Pan - son of Hermes, pastoral god
Poseidon/Neptune - god of the sea
Fates - three goddesses who determined man's destiny
Venus/Aphrodite - the goddess of love, her son is Cupid

Dramatic conventions
acts and scenes: scenes have the dramatic purpose of controlling the pace and tension of a play. (Similar to sentence fluency in writing traits). 
                                     succession of short scenes rapidly advances the action
                                     long scenes give cohesion and develop relationships/ideas/feelings
                                     the scenes must have a logical progression so that the audience sees the links
aside: one character speaking to the audience with the understanding that the other characters cannot hear
battles: most battle action occurs offstage.
                 noise and confusion represents the battle
chorus: from Greek drama
                  form of narrator
climax: this is the point towards which all the action moves
                  there can be several climaxes, one os often the most important
                 does not necessarily come at the end
                 not necessarily strong and dramatic (NB The Crucible)
                 either brings resolution or it points to how things will be resolved
conflict: difference of interest
                   external = literal, man, God, nature
                   internal = conscience
                   In comedy conflicts are resolved
                   In tragedy conflicts are more difficult and serious. They are frequently resolved by death.
dialogue: conversation between two or more characters
                      dialogue is used to characterise through what the character says about themselves
                                                                                                   what the character says about others
                                                                                                   the language/tone/register the characters uses
disguise: this is used to construct extraordinary situations
                     often used by Shakespeare's female characters to empower them in a man's world
dramatic irony: a situation in which the audience and one or more characters have knowledge that another character does not
opening action: (like the lead in writing) should catch the audience's attention and arouse interest
                                    gives an idea of what will be important in the play
pace: speed at which things happen
             a series of events in swift succession indicate excitement or a character out of control
             the pace changes according to the importance of events/atmosphere/characters
             comedy is faster than tragedy
poetry: used for serious content
prose: used for comic relief and lighter moments
soliloquoy: one person on stage expressing his or her inner thoughts
sub-plot: often thematically linked to the main plot
               may be used to lighten the tension of the main plot
supernatural: knowledge or powers that humans don't have
suspense: anticipation
                       on a basic level it is the question: What happens next?
                       on an extreme level - where the outcome is serious - edge of the seat thrill
tension: caused by suspense and conflict
timehas to be condensed so the audience accepts that things happen quicker in the play than they would in real  
             life sometimes there is more than one time frame working in the play

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