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How to Enjoy Reading Shakespeare

Joseph Smigelski, a College English Instructor, responds to a friend, who, finding Shakespeare almost impossible to understand, asks “Is there a secret to comprehending Shakespeare? I’d really like to read him, and any hints would be appreciated.”

She obviously respects and values the immortal words of William Shakespeare and would like to join ranks with the many who enjoy reading him. So I was distressed by her candid admission of having such difficulty with his language. I am sure that many of you will sympathize with her and agree in a knee-jerk fashion that, yes, Shakespeare is indeed impossible to understand. But I think the problem is not with William Shakespeare but with you. Before you take offense, let me explain.

Shakespeare wrote in Modern English, the same language that we speak today. There is not one word in the above passage from Hamlet with which you are unfamiliar. Your problem with understanding Shakespeare is due to his language being poetic. Most of your everyday discourse has become so pedestrian that your ears have become unable to tune in to language that aspires to greater heights. This may or may not be your fault. We all are aware that the state of education in this country is woefully bleak. But why submit to the prevailing philistine attitude without a fight?