English is my second language and reading Shakespeare's quotations is hard for me, especially when I read the topic " Reading Shakespeare". Any suggestion?Because I have not read every single play...

English is my second language and reading Shakespeare's quotations is hard for me, especially when I read the topic " Reading Shakespeare". Any suggestion?

Because I have not read every single play of Shakespeare, therefore I am unable to understand his quotation which appears frequently during the discussions on Shakespeare's play.

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If I understand you correctly, you are stumbling over the quotations from Shakespeare's various plays that are used to illustrate the eNotes Study Guide that is titled "Reading Shakespeare." If this is correct, maybe it will help you to understand the purpose of the various quotations in this Study Guide.

What the Study Guide is trying to explain is that Shakespeare used ways of arranging words that are different from our regular usage of modern English. In other words, in your lessons on English, you were taught that in English normal sentence is Subject Verb and Subject Verb Object (SV and SVO). Shakespeare also wrote sentences in the SV and SVO patterns. But sometimes he intentionally used other sentence patterns.For example, he might use an Object Subject Verb (OSV) pattern or even an Object Verb Subject (OVS) pattern. Here are some examples of these varying sentence patterns that are found in the Study Guide.

  • "Him I saw." OSV
  • "where sits the wind." OVS

These kinds of sentence variations are called rhetorical word schemes and are classified as hyperbaton. Just for the sake of curiosity, you can see the descriptions of many word schemes at Literary Terms and Definitions. The reason these random quotations are included the in eNotes Study Guide "Reading Shakespeare" is to (1) teach you that these strange sentence constructions (e.g., "Him I saw") are simply a rearranging of words and to (2) teach you to recognize the rearranged order when you see similar sentences.

So to summarize, with the quotes in this Study Guide, it doesn't matter if you know the play or understand the context of the quotes. All they are meant to teach you is that (1) words in English sentences may be rearranged and still mean the same thing as they do in the right order: OSV means the same as OVS and as SVO and that (2) Shakespeare uses these kinds of rearranged word schemes--these hyperbatons--often. The idea is that knowing these things will help you to read and understand Shakespeare.

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Considering that Shakespeare's plays were all meant to be experienced upon the stage, I would suggest trying to catch a stage production of King Lear.  I'll never forget when I was actually blessed enough to see a production of Macbeth at the actual Globe Theater!  Being a true "groundling" gave me a brand new perspective of what it was truly like in Shakespeare's time!

Seeing a stage production won't guarantee that you will hear the play in any particular way, of course.  Sometimes the costumes are modern.  Sometimes the play is performed in modern English.  Sometimes large sections of the play are removed for time or content.  Still, watching the play on stage will enhance your understanding simply through the addition of the visual.  Seeing an actor actually act the part of King Lear can truly help with understanding!

Of course, a stage production isn't always available.  In that event, (and only after the play has been read, of course) consider watching a movie version.  Although this is not the way a Shakespearean play was meant to be seen, you can still reach a greater understanding through the benefit of seeing actors perform on a small screen.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Congratulations!  To have mastered English to the point of being able to read Shakespeare as a non-native English speaker is quite a feat.  I'm guessing very few would be challenged with a task so daunting.  As others have noted, Shakespeare is difficult for native English speakers to comprehend, because the language and culture have changed dramatically (no pun intended) over the last 400 years.  Read translations in your native tongue, or modern English versions, but do that only for comprehension -- once you understand the plot and characters, read the plays as presented in the First Folio to appreciate the poetry of what Will intended.  Of course, these plays were all meant to be seen, not read, so see good productions of his plays (nothing is as deadly as a bad production of Hamlet.)  Done well, the theatre is transformative.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reading Shakespeare is hard for MOST student readers -- even those who have English as their first language.  Some of my students benefit from listening to the plays in an audio version.  The advantage of this is that person reading the play knows where the emphasis of the line should be and knows the intended emotion of the line and the scene.  It may also help to watch a video version or versions of the play first so that you have a visual of the action of the story.  If you can get one with sub-titles in your native tongue? even better.  By using different formats of the play beyond just the words on the page, you are giving yourself more varied references to help you through the text.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While not perfect, you could use a translator to put the quotations in question into your first language. While sometimes this fails to be exact, it might help you understand the quote enough to make sense of what is being said.

Modern translations are much easier to understand. I think that it would be very hard to translate Shakespeare's language into another language.

I also agree that watching a play would help you to understand the action, themes, and characters typically found in Shakespeare.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

# 9 makes an interesting suggesting.  Translations of Shakespeare have been made into just about every language one can imagine.  In some languages (such as German and Hungarian), the translations are so good that Shakespeare is considered almost a national poet.  if you can find a good translation of Shakespeare into your "home" language (and I suspect you can), such a translation should be of great help.  Good luck!  Shakespeare is very much worth knowing!

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would recommend refering to No Fear Shakespeare as other editors have suggested, but please note: this must only compliment rather than be a substitute for your reading of the original. It is a struggle to understand Shakespeare for many students, and to be honest, the best way I can help my students to understand it is to get them to act it out and to role play. Failing that, a good film version of the text you are studying is a great idea to go for.

eleniloporto eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are books like "No Fear Shakespeare" which have the Elizabethan English on one side of a page and the translation of the same passages into modern English on the opposing page.  Reading a play in this format will be much easier for you.  You can read both the Elizabethan English and the modern English to get a better understanding of what Shakespeare is saying.  See if you can find one of these translations.

boblawrence eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like the first post, I suggest you seek sources for "translation" of Shakespeare into plain, modern English.  The following web site is a good source for such material.

By the way, I am highly impressed that you as a non-native speaker of English are willing to take on such a difficult task.  You are to be commended.


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the first and last posts.  Listening to Shakespeare is not really going to help.  What you need is to read it in plain English.  The other thing that you might want to do is to find a translation of Shakespeare in your own native language.  That might help you better understand the basic ideas.  So for that, I agree with Post #4.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
You can type a quotation into a search engine like google, and it will tell you which play it came from. I'd also suggest getting an enotes pass, because you have access to the full text of Shakespeare as well as detailed overall summaries and scene by scene summaries.