Our list of ways to analyze Shakespeare's verse (sonnets in particular):
Scansion and rhythm:
how many syllables per line? How many accents? Is the line in strict iambic
pentameter, or does it vary?
Rhyme: where are the rhymes? Are there visual as well as aural rhymes?
Internal and/or partial rhymes?
Figures of speech:
Alliterations: repeated patterns of consonants
Assonance: repeated patterns of vowels
Onomatopoeia: "sound effect" words that sound like what they mean
These lead you to: the physical experience of the phonemes in the
body. What emotional responses do you discover from these sounds?
Metaphors & similes: personifications of abstract qualities,
or comparisons between different things
Meaning: parse the grammar and make sure you understand the sentence
structure. Write the verse as if it were in prose and see what it reveals.
Who are you? What is the persona of the speaker?
Who are you speaking to? Who in the life of you, the actor, has occupied
a similar emotional space?
Attitude/emotion: how do you feel about what you are saying?
Body words: can you use your full vocal range to resonate words that
either directly or indirectly refer to head, eyes, heart, guts, etc., in the
actual body parts named?
Microcosm/macrocosm: in Elizabethan times, the body was a microcosm
of the universe, divided into a hierarchy of kingdoms that each had their
own hierarchy. Can you use the hierarchy of the body (e.g., head = heaven,
king; bowels = hell, earth, the lowborn) to find vocal resonance for those
Puns, jokes, double meanings: Shakespeare includes lots of sexual
and scatological puns. Consult Shakespeare's Bawdy if you're unsure.
There may be more body words than you originally thought.
Turning Points: Each sonnet has its own story arc. Where is the climax?
Does the sonnet rely on the rhetorical device of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis
to make its point? For speeches from the plays, how does the character's thought
move and change through the speech? Where are the turning points? How does
the structure of your sonnet or speech fit with the other sonnets or the scene?
Other rhetorical devices:
Antitheses: look for balanced but contrasted opposing words &
Ladder: look for sequences of words or phrases that build to a climax
Chart the dramatic structure of your sonnet or speech, e.g.:
Let the visual shape of your chart reflect your own emotional understanding
of the verse: curlicues? Sharp angles? Swoops?
Stage directions: does Shakespeare tell you how to stand, how to
move, what you look like, what you are doing? Often these cues are contained
in the text. Let him tell you what to do.
Latin vs. Anglo-Saxon: which words are from Latin and which from
Anglo-Saxon? Where does he use monosyllables and where polysyllables? What
emotional effects do those choices make? How does it feel in your voice?
2nd person "thou" and "you": does Shakespeare use the
familiar "thou" and "thee" (reserved for intimates and subordinates), or the
more formal "you" ( used for those above you and as an honorific). Does he
shift between those usages?
Visualize in detail the images described in your verse. Make a "movie
in your head" of your verse that is as specific as possible.
Work backwards. Memorize the last line first and work forward. Then,
when you recite, you are moving towards the part you know best.
For aural learners: read your part into a tape recorder and listen
continuously, even when you're not particularly paying attention
Type the piece you are memorizing onto the scrolling text screen saver
of your computer.
Your memorization tip here? Send it to Marla & we'll add it in.