Analyzing Shakespeare Strategies

Strategies for Analyzing Shakespeare


Remember when you first started teaching and dreamed of admiring students gobbling your cornucopia of literary knowledge? It took about .000000000000000017 seconds for a reality slap. Then I created this lesson plan on strategies for analyzing Shakespeare.


ELA Common Core Standards Covered

Teaching Strategies for Analyzing Shakespeare covers the following ELA Common Core Standards.

  1. RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  2. RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  3. RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

Soliloquies, Monologues, and Asides

Shakespearean drama consists of devices that the audience expects even though they are not used in real life. Students, however, don’t know this unless you tell them. Furthermore, they won’t recognize them when they occur. You must introduce, therefore, dramatic devices as part of your strategies for analyzing Shakespeare.

1.  A soliloquy is a long speech given by a character that is alone on stage in order to reveal his or her thoughts. Soliloquies contain some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines and are excellent candidates for analysis. Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy is the most famous example. Ask students these questions when reading soliloquies:

  • Why does Shakespeare use soliloquies to reveal characters’ thoughts?
  • Why is it important that the character is alone on stage during the soliloquy?

2.  A monologue is a long speech given by a character to another character. It is similar to a soliloquy, insomuch that it reveals a character’s thoughts. Some of Shakespeare’s more famous monologues occur as Romeo woos Juliet.  Ask students these questions when reading monologues:

  • How would this monologue be different if it were a soliloquy?
  • What effect, if any, does this monologue have on other characters?

3.  An aside is a comment made by a character to the audience or another character that no one else can hear. Trebonius’ aside in Julius Caesar reveals to the audience that he plans on killing the Roman ruler.

Rhetorical Devices

Shakespearean drama consists of speeches containing rhetorical devices that use sound and language to appeal to the audience’s emotions. Shakespeare’s rhetorical devices make the speeches more memorable and convincing. Students, however, don’t know this unless you tell them. Furthermore, they won’t understand them. You must introduce, therefore, rhetorical devices as part of your strategies for analyzing Shakespeare.

1.  The repetition of words and sounds highlight important themes. Marc Antony’s ironic repetition of “And Brutus is an honorable man” inflamed the crowd at Caesar’s funeral and caused them to riot.

  • When reading examples of repetition, ask what Shakespeare’s purpose is in repeating the same phrase or sound.

2.  Shakespeare’s use of parallelism, repeated grammatical structure, emphasizes important ideas.

  • As you come across parallel structure, rewrite the line with a subordinating clause.

3.  Shakespeare uses rhetorical questions, questions not intended to be answered, to create dramatic tension. Who can forget “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Dramatic Irony

Irony is a contrast between appearance and reality.

Shakespearean drama includes dramatic irony, when the audience knows something that at least one character does not. Dramatic irony increases suspense, gives the audience the big picture, and helps make the audience feel superior. Students, however, don’t know this. Furthermore, they won’t understand it. You must introduce, therefore, dramatic irony as part of your strategies for analyzing Shakespeare. Here are some of the more famous examples:

  1. In Romeo and Juliet, we know that Juliet has taken a potion to simulate death. Everyone else thinks she is dead.
  2. In Julius Caesar, we know that Brutus wants to kill Caesar. Caesar thinks Brutus is his best friend.

Romeo and Juliet Lesson Plans

Students will respond positively to Romeo and Juliet if they are engaged.