Close Reading: Friends, Romans, Countrymen

Today I’m going to do an analysis of one of the most famous speeches in all of Shakespeare: Antony’s Funeral Speech in Act III, Scene ii of Julius Caesar, commonly known as the “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech.

I. Given Circumstances

Antony is already in a very precarious position. His best friend Julius Caesar was murdered by the senators of Rome. Antony wants vengeance, but he can’t do so by himself. He’s also surrounded by a mob, and Brutus just got them on his side with a very convincing speech. They already hate Antony and Caesar. His goal- win them back. Here is a clip of Brutus (James Mason) speaking to the crowd from the Joseph Mankewitz movie version of Julius Caesar:

So the stakes are very high for Antony: If he succeeds, the crowd will avenge Caesar, and Antony will take control of Rome. If he fails, he will be lynched by an angry mob.

II. Textual Clues

If you notice in the text of the speech below, Antony never overtly says: “Brutus was a liar and a traitor, and Caesar must be avenged,” but that is exactly what he gets the crowd to do. So how does he get them to do so, right after Brutus got them on his side?

Antony. You gentle Romans,— 1615

Citizens. Peace, ho! let us hear him.

Antony. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones; 1620

So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus

Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest— 1625

For Brutus is an honourable man;

So are they all, all honourable men—

Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.

He was my friend, faithful and just to me:

But Brutus says he was ambitious; 1630

And Brutus is an honourable man.

He hath brought many captives home to Rome

Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:

Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: 1635

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man.

You all did see that on the Lupercal

I thrice presented him a kingly crown, 1640

Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,

But here I am to speak what I do know. 1645

You all did love him once, not without cause:

What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, 1650

And I must pause till it come back to me.

First Citizen. Methinks there is much reason in his sayings. Julius Caesar Act III, Scene ii.

The two main methods Shakespeare uses to infuse Antony’s speech with powerful persuasive energy are the way he writes the verse, and his command of rhetoric.

A. Verse

The greatest gift Shakespeare ever gave his actors was to write his plays in blank verse. It not only tells you which words are important to stress, it gives you clues about the character’s emotional journey; just as a person’s heartbeat can indicate their changes in mood, a subtle change in verse often betrays the character’s pulse and state of mind. Antony uses his own emotions and his powers of persuasion to manipulate the crowd, so his verse helps show how he changes the pulse of the Roman mob.

I could write a whole post on the verse in this page, which I don’t need to do, since The Shakespeare Resource Center did it for me: http://www.bardweb.net/content/readings/caesar/lines.html What I will do is draw attention to some major changes in the verse and put my own interpretations on how Antony is using the verse to persuade the crowd:

  1. The first line of the speech grabs your attention. It is not a standard iambic pentameter line, which makes it rhythmically more interesting. In the movie version, Marlin Brando as Antony shouts each word to demand the crowd to just lend him their attention for a little while. He uses the verse to emphasize Antony’s frustration.
  2. “The Evil that men do, lives after them”- Notice that the words evil and men are in the stressed position. Antony might be making a subconscious attempt to say Brutus and the other evil men who took the life of Caesar are living, when they deserve to die.
  3. If it were so..” Again, Antony might be making a subtle jab at the conspirators. Brutus said Caesar was ambitious and Antony agrees that ambition is worthy of death, but he also adds an If, to plant the seeds of doubt in the crowd’s minds. To drive it home, the word if is in the stressed position, making it impossible for the crowd to not consider the possibility that Caesar wasn’t ambitious, and thus, didn’t deserve to be murdered.

B. Rhetoric

One reason why this speech is so famous is its clever use of rhetoric, the art of persuasive speaking. Back in ancient Rome, aristocrats like Antony were groomed since birth in the art of persuasive speech. Shakespeare himself studied rhetoric at school, so he knew how to write powerful persuasive speeches. Here’s a basic breakdown of the tactics Antony and Shakespeare use in the speech:

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

The three basic ingredients of any persuasive speech are Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Ethos is an appeal to the audience based on the speaker’s authority. Pathos is an appeal to the emotions of the crowd, and Logos is an appeal to facts and or reason. Both Brutus and Antony employ these three rhetorical tactics, but Antony doesn’t just appeal to his audience, he manipulates them to commit mutiny and mob rule.

Logos Antony has very few facts or logical information in his speech. His major argument is that again, since Caesar wasn’t ambitious, (which is very hard to prove), his death was a crime. Antony cites as proof the time Cæsar refused a crown at the Lupercal, but since that was a public performance, it’s hardly a reliable indication of Caesar’s true feelings.

You see logos as a rhetorical technique all the time whenever you watch a commercial citing leading medical studies, or a political debate where one person uses facts to justify his or her position. If you look at Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidental Debate, she frequently cited statistics to back up her political positions

Ethos-

Ethos is an argument based on the speaker’s authority. Brutus’ main tactic in his speech is to establish himself as Caesar’s friend and Rome’s. He says that he didn’t kill Caesar out of malice, but because he cared more about the people of Rome.

BRUTUS: If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:

–Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. JC, III.ii.

Antony employs the exact same tactics, establishing himself as Caesar’s friend and telling the crowd that, as Caesar’s friend, Antony believes that Caesar did not deserve his murder. His use of Ethos therefore, helps Antony refute Brutus’ main claim.

Again, the 2016 debate is another excellent way of showing ethos in action. Hillary Clinton and Brutus frequently cited their political experience and their strength of character to justify their views. There’s an excellent article that examines Hillary’s use of Ethos in her political rhetoric: https://eidolon.pub/hillary-clintons-rhetorical-persona-9af06a3c4b03

Pathos

Pathos is the most frequently used rhetorical tactic: the appeal to emotion. Donald Trump uses this constantly, as you can see in this clip from the 2016 debate:

https://youtu.be/wMuyBOeSQVs

Pathos is bit more of a dirty trick than Ethos and Logos, which is why Brutus doesn’t use it much. As scholar Andy Gurr writes:

Brutus is a stern philosopher and thinker. His faith in reason fails to secure the crowd from Antony’s disingenuous appeal to their affections, which uses sharp sarcasm and some twisted facts.

Antony’s major appeals to emotion:

  • His grief over losing Caesar
  • His painting of Cæsar as a generous, faithful friend
  • Shaming the crowd for not mourning Caesar’s death
  • Appeal to piety by showing the body funeral reverence.
  • His use of Caesar’s bloody body and mantle to provoke outrage from the citizens.
  • His use of Caesar’s will to make the crowd grateful to Caesar, and furious at Brutus.

Rhetorical Devices

If Ethos, Pathos, and Logos are the strategies of rhetorical arguments, rhetorical devices are the artillery. If you check out the website Silva Rhetoricae, (The Forest Of Rhetoric), you can read about the hundreds of individual rhetorical devices that politicians have used in speeches and debates since ancient history. I will summarize here the main ones Antony uses over and over again in “Friends, Romans, Countrymen.” For another more compete analysis, click here: https://eavice.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/jv-rhetorical-devices-in-antonys-funerary-speech-from-shakespeares-julius-caesar/

  • Irony The way Antony keeps repeating “Brutus is an honorable man,” is a particularly sinister form of irony, which here means to imply the opposite of what you have said to mock or discredit your opponent. The irony is that the more Antony repeats this idea that Brutus is honorable, the more the crowd will question it. If Brutus were truly honorable, he would not need Antony to remind them. Of course, Brutus can still be honorable whether Anthony mentions it or not, but this repetition, coupled with Antony’s subtle rebuttals Of Brutus’ arguments, manages to shatter both Brutus’ motives, and his good name, at least in the eyes of his countrymen.
  • Antimetabole is the clever use of the same word in two different ways. Antony manages to work it in twice in this speech:
  • “If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
  • And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.”
  • “You all did love him once, not without cause: What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?”
  • Rhetorical question This is the most famous rhetorical device which by the way in Antony’s day would have been known as Erotema. Antony asks a series of questions designed to refute the notion that Caesar was ambitious, from his mercy to his captives, to Caesar’s tenderness to the poor, and of course his refusal to take the crown during the Lupercal. Each question calls Brutus’ claims into question and seeds doubt in the crowd.

Performance Notes with link to Globe performance

https://youtu.be/1RL8Wg-b8k

Unlike most Shakespearean plays, with Julius Caesar, we have an eyewitness account of how the play was originally performed. Swiss student Thomas Platter wrote a long description of watching the play at the original Globe Theatre in 1599. This is a translation that I found on The Shakespeare Blog:

On September 21st after lunch, about two o’clock, I and my party crossed the water, and there in the house with the thatched roof witnessed an excellent performance of the tragedy of the first Emperor Julius Caesar, with a cast of some fifteen people; when the play was over they danced very marvellously and gracefully together as is their wont, two dressed as men and two as women…

Thus daily at two in the afternoon, London has sometimes three plays running in different places, competing with each other, and those which play best obtain most spectators.

The playhouses are so constructed that they play on a raised platform, so that everyone has a good view. There are different galleries and places, however, where the seating is better and more comfortable and therefore more expensive. For whoever cares to stand below only pays one English penny, but if he wishes to sit he enters by another door, and pays another penny, while if he desires to sit in the most comfortable seats which are cushioned, where he not only sees everything well, but can also be seen, then he pays yet another English penny at another door. And during the performance food and drink are carried round the audience, so that for what one cares to pay one may also have refreshment.

The actors are most expensively costumed for it is the English usage for eminent Lords or Knights at their decease to bequeath and leave almost the best of their clothes to their serving men, which it is unseemly for the latter to wear, so that they offer them for sale for a small sum of money to the actors.

Thomas Platter, 1599, reprinted from: http://theshakespeareblog.com/2012/09/thomas-platters-visit-to-shakespeares-theatre/

So the conclusions we can draw based on Platter’s account include that Antony was standing on a mostly bare stage with a thatched roof, raised slightly off the ground. We can also guess that, since the merchants were selling beer, fruits, and ale, that the audience might have been drunk or throwing things at the actors.

As Platter notes, and this page from Shakespeare’s First Folio confirms, there were only 15 actors in the original cast, so Shakespeare’s company didn’t have a huge cast to play the gigantic crowd in the Roman street. In all probability, the audience is the mob, and Antony is talking right to them when he calls them “Friends, Romans, Countrymen.” I believe that the audience was probably encouraged to shout, chant, boo, cheer, and become a part of the performance which is important to emphasize when talking about how to portray this scene onstage. A director can choose whether or not to make the audience part of the action in a production of Julius Caesar, which can allow the audience to get a visceral understanding of the persuasive power of politicians like Brutus and Antony. Alternatively, the director can choose instead to have actors play the crowd, and allow the audience to scrutinize the crowd as well as the politicians.

In conclusion, the reason this speech is famous is Shakespeare did an excellent job of encapsulating the power of persuassive speech that the real Antony must have had, as he in no small way used that power to spur the Roman crowd to mutiny and vengeance, and began to turn his country from a dying republic into a mighty empire.

If you liked this post, please consider signing up for my online class where I cover the rhetorical devices in Julius Caesar and compare them with several other famous speeches. Register now at http://www.outschool.com

For a fascinating look at how a modern cast of actors helps to create this scene, check out this documentary: Unlocking the Scene from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production in 2012, with Patterson Joseph as Brutus, and Ray Fearon as Antony:

◦ Interview with Patterson Joseph and Ray Fearon RSC: https://youtu.be/v5UTRSzuajo

And here is a clip of the final scene as it was performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company:

References

1. Annotated Julius Caesar: https://sites.google.com/site/annotatedjuliuscaesar/act-3/3-2-57-109

2. Folger Shakespeare Library: Julius Caesar Lesson Plan: https://teachingshakespeareblog.folger.edu/2014/04/29/friends-romans-teachers-send-me-your-speeches/

3. Silva Rhetoric http://rhetoric.byu.edu/

3. Rhetoric in Marc Antony Speech

https://www.google.com/amp/s/eavice.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/jv-rhetorical-devices-in-antonys-funerary-speech-from-shakespeares-julius-caesar/amp/

4. Shakespeare Resource Center: http://www.bardweb.net/content/readings/caesar/lines.html

The Fashion Is The Fashion 2: Clothing and Twelfth Night 

In doing my research for Twelfth Night, I came across a fantastic production from Shakespeare’s Globe in 2002. It used what is known as “original practices,” meaning that the actors tried to replicate everything we know about the way Shakespeare’s actors performed.

The play was performed in the great Globe Theater, which is itself a replica of Shakespeare’s original playhouse, which means that it was outdoors, using mostly natural lighting, and minimal sets. https://youtu.be/qtoUeVjP_rs

In addition, all the women’s roles were played by men, and the actors played multiple parts, which were all accurate stage practices from Shakespeare’s era. Most exciting of all, the actors all wore authentic 17th century costumes designed by veteran costume designer, Jenny Tiramani:

/https://prezi.com/m/zef_cpurcfsl/jenny-tiramani/


Few things determine how an actor moves or looks more than the clothes he or she wears, and watching these actors wear doublet and hose and real Jacobean dresses really fires up my imagine and makes me feel that I’ve truly been transported through time. The production is available on DVD, as well as several clips on YouTube, and I urge you to take a look at it. In the meantime, I’d like to comment a little on how the costumes from this production inform the audience about the characters that wear them.

Some Info On 17th century fashion

* Men

  • Tight pants or hose, and stockings designed to show off the legs
  • Tight jackets made of wool or leather called doublets
  • By the 17th century, starched ruffs were being replaced with lace collars.
  • Starched collars called ruffs around the neck.

  * Women

Longer skirts, often embroidered with elaborate patterns

  * Servants- Servants like Cesario (who is actually the Duke’s daughter Viola in disguise), would typically wear matching uniforms called liveries, a sign of who they worked for and their master’s trust in their abilities. People judged the aristocracy by how well they trained and controlled their servants, so wearing your master’s livery meant he trusted you to represent his house.

In her first scene as Cesario, a servant named Curio remarks to her that Orsino has shown favor to “him” from the very beginning. This might explain the rich garments that Viola wears in this production, which resemble a noble gentleman more than a servant.

A higher ranking servant like Malvolio would be able to wear a higher status garment, which is why you see Steven Fry as Malvolio dressed in a handsome doublet.

3. Character notes:

* What are they wearing?

* Why are they wearing it?

* How do the clothes inform the movement?

1. Viola (Eddie Redmane) Viola, the star of the show, begins the show as the daughter of a duke, who has just been shipwrecked in a foreign country, so her clothes must look bedraggled and worn, yet appropriate to her status. As I said before though, for the majority of the play, Viola is disguised as the servant Cesario

2. Malvolio (Steven Fry)

  • Malvolio wears dark colors since he’s a Puritanical servant.
  • He mentions that he has a watch. The first ever wristwatches ever came into being around this time.
  • Most productions give Malvolio a Gold chain and/ or a staff of office to show his status, and his prideful nature.
  • In Act III, Malvolio is tricked into wearing yellow stockings with cross garters.
  •  

3. Maria the Countess Olivia’s maid, (who has an appetite for tricks and pranks), Maria’s job is to dress and help Olivia with her daily routine. This might include tying up her corset, putting on her makeup, and helping her with the elaborate gowns that nobles wore during this period. In the video below, you can watch a dresser help get an actress into an elaborate costume for another Globe theatre production. Just think of the amount of time and hard work it would take for a servant like Maria to dress Olivia every day!

In the play, Viola momentarily mistakes Maria for her mistress because she wears a veil. This also suggests that, rather than wearing a livery like Cesario, maybe Olivia let Maria wear some of her older clothes, which was a common practice for high level servants. A lot of the costumes Shakespeare’s company wore were probably hand me downs from their aristocratic patrons.

4. Olivia (Mark Rylance)

In this production, the countess and all the female roles were performed by men, just as they were in Shakespeare’s Day. Mark Rylance, who played Olivia, was also the Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre.

  • Olivia is mourning her lost brother, which is why she’s traditionally dressed in a black dress and veil
  • The dress is black silk with elaborate embroidery, as you can see from this actual sampler of the real fabric used in the show. You will also notice the threads holding the fabric together with metal points at the end. Olivia’s gown was hand sewn into many different pieces and tied together with these points. One nickname Shakespeare gave servants like Maria was “One who ties [her] points.”
  • The dress is large and has a long train, making it hard for the actor to move: https://youtu.be/dcSNTspXGYk
  •  

Costumes like these offer a tantalizing glimpse into history. Just as Shakespeare’s words help an actor bring to life the thoughts and feelings of his age, The type of clothes his company wore helps the actor embody the moiré’s and desires of Shakespeare’s society, whether a mournful countess, a dazzling gentleman, or a reserved Puritan.

 

References

Feldman, Adam

“Q&A: Mark Rylance on Shakespeare, Twelfth Night and Richard III” Time Out Magazine. Posted: Tuesday November 12 2013

Retrieved online from https://www.timeout.com/newyork/theater/q-a-mark-rylance-on-shakespeare-twelfth-night-and-richard-iii

Minton, Eric. Twelfth Night: What Achieved Greatness was Born Great.

Posted May 22, 2014 to http://shakespeareances.com/willpower/onscreen/12th_Night-Globe13.html.

 

https://thepragmaticcostumer.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/through-the-keyhole-a-peek-into-a-17th-century-ladys-wardrobe/

 

If you liked this post, please consider signing up for my online course “Christmas For Shakespeare,” which will talk about the costumes, characters, and themes of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, as well as Christmas traditions from Shakespeare’s day: https://outschool.com/classes/what-was-christmas-like-for-william-shakespeare-BwVLyBPp?sectionUid=75ee7895-c8ac-437c-9ef7-05cf8e3bf114&usid=MaRDyJ13&signup=true&utm_campaign=share_activity_link 

Title image for my Outschool online class “Christmas For Shakespeare.”

How to read a Shakespeare Play for the first time!

Hi folks! Since this site is basically a Shakespeare appreciation site, I wanted to start off this week by showing you how you can enjoy Shakespeare at the first reading, even if you’ve never read him before! What follows is a list of advice based on the way I myself learned to enjoy Shakespeare, backed up with some nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up from teachers along the way.

I. Learn the Story of the play.

 I would argue that the biggest advantage the Elizabethans had over us was they knew the story of the play before they even came into the theater. All of Shakespeare’s plays were adapted from other sources, including myths and fairy tales. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is literally a fairy tale about the Fairy Queen Titania. There was no such thing as “spoiler alert” in Shakespeare’s day, in fact the prologue of “Romeo and Juliet” gives away the ending before the play has begun!
Clearly, Shakespeare wasn’t interested in making his plays a surprise. The thing is that back then audiences didn’t want new stories, they wanted familiar stories told in a new way, the same way we base movies off of comic books and novels. So the first thing you can do to put you on the same level is read the story of the play before hand. Quiz yourself about what happens: who are the characters you should be rooting for? Whom are they fighting against? What is stopping the hero(s) from achieving their goals? This is a rare time when cliff notes and spark notes actually help; learning the story of the play will help you connect with the action on the stage and instead allow you to concentrate on the characters and the language. I also recommend websites like Crash Course that tell the story with a sense of fun.
II. Read the play- the whole thing, (preferably out loud).
The first time you read Shakespeare, you probably won’t get every word, but don’t worry, you’re not supposed to. Every single edition of Shakespeare has a glossary on the opposite page that translates the basic idea of what you’re reading. If you’re a first time reader, I highly recommend the Folger Shakespeare edition, (available at amazon.com). These editions not only have a good glossary, but big, friendly pictures of a lot of the terms. They also have a free online version of Shakespeare’s texts which you can look at here: http://www.folgerdigitaltexts.org/
I would also advise you to read the plays out loud. Shakespeare loved playing with the sounds of words- having characters hiss and bellow and whisper and seduce the ear. Some of the most fun I ever had with Shakespeare was having a Shakespeare reading party with my friends, where we discovered a play by reading it together and playing with voices and accents.
Another option is to listen to the play while you read it. There are great websites like Audible.com and Librivox that allow you to listen to the play spoken by voice actors. Hearing the play will open it up in a way that just reading it can’t After all, the plays are meant to be heard, that’s why they call it an audience (audio- to hear).
Finally, if you go to nearly every public library there’s a recording of The Archangel Shakespeare, a series of CD recordings of professional actors performing every one of Shakespeare’s plays. Many of these performers have done Shakespeare professionally, so you know they know what they’re taking about.
III. Watch a movie. There are hundreds of Shakespeare movies out there, and each one can show you a little bit about how the play feels and looks when it is placed in the hands of an actor or director. You may be expecting some guy in wrinkled tights bellowing his lines in a fake-Elizabethan set, but lots of Shakespeare movies have chosen inventive settings for Shakespeare in different times and places, like Ian McKellen’s Fascist-era Richard III, Michael Hoffman’s 19th century Midsummer Night’s Dream, or my favorite, Julie Taymor’s epic retelling of Titus Andronicus in a fictionalized blend of ancient Rome and modern Italy. A movie allows you to hear the text read, and allows you to see ideas from the play brought to life on the big screen.
IV. Go see it if you can. Almost every major city has a Shakespeare festival, and lots of regional theaters also choose to do Shakespeare. The reason is simple- he’s royalty free, and everyone recognizes his name. As you watch the play, try to answer these questions:
-Which characters did you like?
-Was there a line you really liked or one that seemed to speak to you?
-Did this play remind you of another play or movie? Did it remind you of something from your own life?
V. If I can recommend a good play to start with, start with Å Midsummer Night’s Dream. This play is not only very easy to understand, it’s also charming, funny, romantic, magical, and has a lot of colorful characters. I myself have directed and starred in Dream, and seen no less than 15 productions on stage and screen! If I can quell the fear you may have about Shakespeare, my wife and I directed the play with actors who had never read Shakespeare before, never acted before, and most of them were only 8 years old! So if they can learn this play and grow to love it as much as I do, then I firmly believe you can too!
Helpful hints-
1. Shakespeare’s company performed outdoors in the middle of the day, so they had no control over their environment. All the actors had was a bare stage, costumes, and a couple of props. This is why Shakespeare devotes lots of passages to just tell you where the characters are, and what time of day it is. His is a theater of the imagination, so read the descriptions and let the world come to life in your head.
2. Shakespeare drew heavily on images from Greek/Roman mythology and the Bible. If you need help looking up some of these resources up, I can recommend the Encyclopedia Mythica for Greco-roman references, and the Catholic Encyclopedia for Christian references.
3. There is a glossary of every single word Shakespeare ever used and plenty of books too. In terms of simplicity and ease of use, I recommend http://www.shakespeareswords.com/Glossary.
4. Shakespeare wrote four types of plays – Comedy, History, Tragedy, and Romances.
    • In Tragedy, the hero dies by the end, and the overall tone is one of change and struggle.
    • In Comedy, the hero and the heroine usually get married by the end.
    • The History Plays- are all about a struggle for the English crown and are based on historical chronicles. Most of them conclude in a battle or in the peace after a battle.
    • Romances– “Romance” is a term invented by scholars to describe some of the last plays Shakespeare wrote that don’t end in death like tragedies, and don’t end as happily as the comedies. One such play has a man get eaten by a bear, and another has a man forced to marry a prostitute! Some scholars don’t like this title, but i keep it here because it’s the most common term for these weird plays that include Cymbeline, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest.

4. DO NOT READ THE NO-FEAR SHAKESPEARE EDITIONS. These books and websites advertise to be a clear-cut translation of Shakespeare with his text on the left, and a modern translation on the right. I believe these editions don’t do justice to the cleverness of Shakespeare’s writing. For example, here’s the famous speech of Macbeth when he discovers that his wife is dead:

She should have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
I’ve actually played Macbeth, and when I saw this speech, I played it as a struggle to deal with the loss of his wife, (the only person he truly cares about), while at the same time dealing with imminent war. Macbeth wants to put off dealing with the news until tomorrow because he can’t possibly handle it now. What’s really cool about Shakespeare is you don’t have to agree with me; you could just as easily interpret the speech as a manifestation of psychosis, of loneliness, or how bitter and unfair Macbeth’s life is and it would still work! That’s why actors and directors love going on and on about Shakespeare; he gives us the freedom to interpret the speech the way we want, as long as we stay true to the basic text. I don’t think anybody could claim that this is a happy speech! The problem is that No Fear Shakespeare makes it too simple, and doesn’t allow you to really consider the possibilities for interpretation. Read their translation of the speech below:

MACBETH

She would have died later anyway. That news was bound to come someday. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. The days creep slowly along until the end of time. And every day that’s already happened has taken fools that much closer to their deaths. Out, out, brief candle. Life is nothing more than an illusion. It’s like a poor actor who struts and worries for his hour on the stage and then is never heard from again. Life is a story told by an idiot, full of noise and emotional disturbance but devoid of meaning.
Of course, if you bear in mind the limitations of translating Shakespeare and give yourself the freedom to take it with a grain of salt, that could work too.
So there’s a basic guide for first time readers. Let me know if you agree with my approach, what strategies work for you, and if these techniques were helpful!