Rules for Reading Shakespeare (adapted from Teacher Reading

Rules for Reading Shakespeare
(adapted from Teacher Reading Materials, 1995)
English I/Martin
Actor Richard Burton once said he loved Shakespeare because the words “made such a beautiful
noise.” When he said this, he was referring to the way Shakespeare’s words seem to come alive
musically when they are spoken aloud.
It can be difficult for a Shakespeare newcomer to read the lines aloud. However, there are a few
important Shakespearean rules to live by that will help you both understand and perform
Romeo and Juliet and the rest of Shakespeare’s masterpieces.
1. Pay close attention to punctuation. Don’t stop at the end of the line! Instead, when a line
comes to a period, stop. When there is a comma, pause. Follow punctuation just as you
would if you were reading a novel. This will definitely help you understand.
2. Remember the stress, or emphasis, of a line usually comes at the end. “Wherefore art
thou Romeo?” is often said with the stress on WHERE. However, when it’s said correctly,
with the stress on ROMEO, the meaning of the line becomes clear – “Why must your
name be Romeo?”
3. When an ed word has an accent over the end, pronounce the “ed” separately, as in “walked” instead of “walked.” This doesn’t change the word’s meaning, and it keeps the
rhythm of the line intact.
4. Don’t dwell so much on a word’s meaning that you lose track of what’s going on. The
vocabulary in Romeo and Juliet will prove to be difficult. However, don’t spend all of
your time trying to figure out what a single word means. Utilize the footnotes and use a
dictionary when necessary, otherwise, attempt to discover a word’s meaning using
context clues.
5. Remember that Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter, meaning that most of his lines
have 10 syllables, with the emphasis on every second syllable. For example, the line “In
fair Verona, where we lay our scene” would be read “In FAIR, VerOna WHERE we LAY
our SCENE.” The rhythm follows a “deDUM, deDUM, deDUM, deDUM, deDum”
Assignment: In groups of 3-4 practice reading the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet. Your group
must break the lines into equal parts and MEMORIZE them. You will then perform the lines
for the class. You may say the lines in any style that you wish, however, I want you to remember
these rules and follow them as you read.
Anyone not present during the practice time and/or performance will be expected to translate
the prologue into modern English (in his/her OWN words).
This assignment is worth 20 points. You will be graded individually on memorization and
Helpful “translations” (with room for more!)
‘a: he
a’: on
an’ or and: if
but: if, if only
anon!: Soon! Right Away! Coming!
gooden, goden, or godden: Good evening!
hap or happy: luck or lucky
jack: common guy
Mark: listen!
humor: mood, or moisture
maid: unmarried girl
Marry!: oath, “from the Virgin Mary”
nice: foolish, silly
stay!: Wait!
owes: owns
soft!: quiet!
withal: with that, with
wot: know
heavy: sorrowful
still: always
envious: mean
I’: in or if
thou: I, you, she, he
thee: me, you, him, her
thy: my , your, his, her
thine: mine, yours, his, hers