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Frank Breslin Advises Students: How to Read Shakespeare

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Frank Breslin, retired teacher of literature and languages, explains to students how to read and enjoy Shakespeare. This is the beginning of a series.

Here is the beginning of his advice:

“The best way to read a play by Shakespeare is to bypass the editor’s introduction and start reading the play itself. Don’t let the editor or anyone else tell you what the play is about, but find out for yourself. “Trust your own judgment and think for yourself!” Let this be your Declaration of Independence. Anything else is building on sand in a world that tells you what to think, or to follow the crowd by not thinking at all.

“It’s important to be your own person when young, because if you routinely rely on the judgment of others, you’ll undermine your belief in yourself and cease to be a person at all. Don’t be dependent on the opinions of others, some of whom will be only too happy to take over your life. When you believe in yourself, you become transformed as a person, take control of your life, and your grades will begin to take care of themselves.

“Some Themes of Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s plays take you out of the comfort zone of a 21st-century American world and set you down in different places and times, where different problems, values, and worldviews prevail. This exposure gives you a broader sense of life’s possibilities and of various ways of being human, in addition to the accustomed American way. It also provides you with a more cosmopolitan frame of reference within which to evaluate the world and the human drama that takes place within it.

“Facing one’s demons, the healing power of art, insight through suffering, the redemptive and destructive power of love, meaninglessness and alienation as ways to finding yourself, the danger of fame, the loneliness of power, ambition and collateral damage, compassion and becoming human, the fragility of human existence, and life without morals are a few of the themes that make up the complex yet fascinating world of Shakespeare as his characters struggle to become who they are despite the setbacks that stand in their way.”

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