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Understanding Shakespeare.

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Last night I decided to listen to an audiobook on my phone while I fell asleep. I figured I'd try Shakespeare since it's supposedly so great. I expected that it would sound like Chinese.

Thus far I've had little exposure to Shakespeare or anything like it.

Right away I realized I was unable to make sense of 98% of the narrative (closer to 99%)

After about 15 minutes I was beginning to become painfully aware that I had no power of mind to make the material at all comprehensible.

I became frustrated and right before I was about to give up, something extraordinary happened. (Well not too extraordinary)

I began to listen with an ear that did not try to follow the narrative as dialogue with literal meaning. I opened up to the idea that every line in Shakespeare is some form of simile or metaphor, to be subjectively interpreted (with multiple layers of meaning).

My assumption was that all Shakespeare's writing, unearths the power of words, whose heavy subjective tones can carry deep uncovered meaning that leads the mind to deeper comprehension, inferences and extraordinary ideas.

Do you think that understanding the multiple meanings of context in Shakespeare is something he intended for his readers? (Interpreting all his words subjectively seems the only way to make sense of all the dicerse and syntax he drowns you in).

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Though Shakespeare does use a lot of simile and metaphor, the meaning would not be particularly hidden to the audience of his day, which was not particularly elite. Tough to comment much more without an example. Was this Hamlet? 

For fun, here's a paragraph from "The Comedy of Errors". A woman is telling her sister's husband to hide his philandering. The first paragraph is the original, and the next is my paraphrase:

  And may it be that you have quite forgot a husband’s office? 
  Shall, Antipholus, even in the spring of love, thy love-springs rot?            
  Shall love, in building, grow so ruinous?    
  If you did wed my sister for her wealth,then, for her wealth’s sake use her with more kindness:    
  Or, if you like elsewhere, do it by stealth;    
  Muffle your false love with some show of blindness;            
  Let not my sister read it in your eye;    
  Be not thy tongue thy own shame’s orator;    
  Look sweet, speak fair, become disloyalty;    
  Apparel vice like virtue’s harbinger;    
  Bear a fair presence, though your heart be tainted;            
  Teach sin the carriage of a holy saint;    
  Be secret-false: what need she be acquainted?    
  What simple thief brags of his own attaint?    
  ’Tis double wrong to truant with your bed, and let her read it in thy looks at board:            
  Shame hath a bastard fame, well managed;    
  Ill deeds are doubled with an evil word.    
  Alas! poor women, make us but believe, being compact of credit, that you love us;    
  Though others have the arm, show us the sleeve;            
  We in your motion turn, and you may move us.    
  Then, gentle brother, get you in again;    
  Comfort my sister, cheer her, call her wife:    
  ’Tis holy sport to be a little vain,when the sweet breath of flattery conquers strife.


------       --------------------
  Have you forgotten your role as a husband? 
  You are in the spring-time of your marriage, too early for your springs of love to be so rusty.
  This early in marriage, you should be building your love; is your building already in ruins?
  If you married my sister for her money, then treat her kindly because of her money:
  If you love someone else, do so in secret;
  Don't let your words betray your real love, nor your eyes show the truth;
  Don't let my sister see the truth in your eye;
  Don't let your own tongue betray your shameful disloyalty;
  Put on the clothes of virtue, to hide your vice;
  Appear innocent and virtuous, even though your heart is tainted;
  Though you sin, carry yourself like a saint;
  Be false to her in secret: why does she need to know?
  What kind of simpleton theif would you be, to be bragging about your stealing?
  It is doubly wrong to commit adultery and then to let her know it too:
  Shameful things can give you notoriety, but you need to manage it through innocent words;
  Instead, adding evil words to your evil deeds doubles the evil.
  We women are innocent. Make us believe you love us, just by saying you do.
  If you have given someone your arm, at least give her your sleeve;
  Our lives revolve around you, and you have the power to move us.
  So, gentle brother-in-law, go back in there;
  Comfort my sister, cheer her up, call her "wife":
  It is holy to lie when the sweetness of a lie can help smooth things over.


Edited by softwareNerd
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Haha. That was fun reading Shakespeare lines and then your version.

T'was Hamlet I'd had conspurd upon, at darkest hours in withered light.

(It was Hamlet I fell upon at bed time, with little understanding)

Edited by Marzshox
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Once you see the meaning more clearly, you realize that the original is expressed beautifully. So, you need to do two passes to appreciate it. To get the meaning, you can use a "side-by-side" version like this. On subsequent passes, the less you need to refer to the more you'll appreciate Shakespeare. Apart from the metaphorical language, he has a whole lot of insights. He speaks of revenge, of jealously, of love, of honor, of the need for personal visibility, of the way children sometimes mistreat their parents, and so on. Some public libraries have video collections of the plays. Since they're meant to be acted, watching a decent production after reading the play, will likely increase your appreciation. 

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I believe to understand Shakespeare requires familiarity with a lot of other similar works (writing and plays - new and old). More exposure to various supports, likely aids in understanding.

A novice like me simply can not muster the ability to leave the shallows, in hopes to swim in the deep end (understanding Shakespeare).

Understanding Shakespear is no easy task.

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