Analyzing Shakespeare's Language


Students will demonstrate their understanding of Shakespearean script analysis by scoring, translating, and analyzing their Shakespeare performance pieces.



Shakespeare monologue to be projected, projector, Shakespearean glossaries, dictionaries, other Shakespearean resource books (possibly copies of the Shakespeare Play Analysis sheet and Cliff Notes Outline sheet)

Spark Notes Worksheet.Lesson 3      Shakespeare Script Analysis Handout.Lesson 3



Write down on the blackboard several of Shakespeare’s ancient words or phrases. Some examples might include:
Fatal – directed by fate
Unsex – frightening image implying losing all the things that gives gender qualities
Make thick my blood – result in ferocity of disposition
Compunctious – compassionate
Dunnest – darkest
Beguile – decieive
Fell purpose – fierce and savage
Thick night – morally corrupt
Pall – enshroud
Upon my life! – I swear!
I shall take my heels – I’ll leave
I crave your pardon – I am sorry
Woe me! – Oh dear!
Pray you, be gone – Please go
I commend you to your own conduct – Goodbye
Alter favor ever is to fear – to look other than normal will cause you to feel that people may be on to you


Divide the students up into small groups and give them a certain time limit to try to translate the words or phrases without any resources to help them figure them out. At the end of the allotted time see what different translations the groups have come up with. Recognize the group that has the most mostly correct answers.



Transition – Although the students have had prior Shakespeare translation, emphasize to them the importance of knowing exactly what the Old English language is in order to portray the characters and objectives appropriately. Explain to the students that they will be analyzing their scripts in several ways for their advanced performances. The three keys to performing Shakespeare that will be focused on in this unit is:
• Know WHAT you are saying
• Know WHY you are saying it
• If you do the above in detail then… The HOW will care of itself



Lecture – Have the students take notes on the following lecture. These notes are taken from an article in Teaching Theatre by Bruce Miller titled “Turn Words into Drama”.
The focus in text analysis is knowing:
• The meaning of the words individually and together (including definitions, historical allusions, poetic language, imagery, etc.)
• The overall dramatic context for what is spoken
• The specific dramatic circumstances that result in the words
• The inflection and use of the words and punctuation
In order to know these things without being overwhelmed, it is important to break down the analysis in smaller portions or steps:
• Start with learning the chronology of the play – especially leading up to the scene or monologue of the performance piece. Focus on the learning about the DOING of the plot events through the dialogue; discover what the characters are saying in order to fulfill their needs.
• Next look up the meanings of unfamiliar words or phrases. Think of it as detective work where exciting discoveries can be made. Remind the students again that to make the scene or monologue come alive they must know exactly what the characters are saying and meaning.
• Now analyze the text by using the punctuation and identifying the operative words – the words that carry the most meaning in a phrase, line, or sentence.
Punctuation – consider them to be like traffic signals: period = stop = end of an idea; comma = yield = shift of an idea. Keep the energy constant from one traffic signal to the next.
Operative Words – use scansion (the analysis of lines to determine where the naturally-occurring accented syllables are) and use verbs and nouns to figure out the most important words.
• Next divide the piece into idea beats or phrases. This step is important to separate thoughts and see the power of each phrase. It also allows actors to play one beat against another. Playing the phrases allows thought to continue to the next line and identifies breathing spots.
• After phrasing is complete actors can use the concept of transition to move from one beat to another. A transition causes a change of tone, a shift in color, a different use of energy, or a new purpose in what the speaker is saying.



Modeling – Put the monologue on the projector. Read the monologue straight through with little word coloring. With a transparency marker and input from the class go through the first three steps taught above (learning the plotline/chronology of the play, looking up words, circling punctuation). Be sure to read through the monologue once the steps have been taken in order to demonstrate the different performance value after doing the these elements of text analysis.



Guided Practice – Give the students the remainder of the class period to analyze their performance pieces according to the steps taught them today. Float around the classroom helping the students with any questions or concerns they may have. Prompt them to use any resources that you have available to them for ease of looking up definitions, etc.



Instruction – Assign students to write a complete transition of their monologue or scene. This translation should be written with the understanding of the different beats/phrases in order to follow the thought process through the piece. The translation must be typed, include the play title and character name, and be turned in at the beginning of the next class period.



Assignment – Assign students to read the entire play that their monologue or scene is from. Encourage them to read the script alongside the Cliff Notes of the play to help them further understand the language, characters, and plot of the play. Give them a deadline at least a week away to read the play and it’s Cliff Notes. If you want, give them the Shakespeare Play Analysis sheet and the Cliff Notes Outline sheet to write after completing the readings.



Students can be assessed through their participation in the text analysis work.