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LEAR How old art thou? KENT Not so yount sir, to love a woman for singing, nor so old to dote on her for anything. I have years on my back forty-eight.

Shakespeare, King Lear Acts 1,2 -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

I have to say, I have never been good at understanding Shakespeare. I was one of those people who decided to buy the oh-so-wonderful Shakespeare Made Easy version of Romeo and Juliet my freshman year in high school. It was nice; it translated the text word for word into plain old common understandable English. I have gotten slightly better at understanding it, but that's not saying much. Take the above passage for example. I understand that Kent is explaining how old he is in terms of what he does and doesn't do. I also figure that he's saying that he's forty-eight, though I'm not fully sure due to the wording. Even besides the confusing element of the Shakespearean language, there's also the transitions between prose and iambic pentameter. I've found that I understand the prose passages better than the iambic pentameter passages. I never seem to pick up on the transition quickly when it switches to prose, but I can tell instantly every time it jolts to iambic pentameter.

I did find the notes on the left to be helpful, but much is left out. I also found that it's almost better to only look at the notes when absolutely needed. Whenever I tried to constantly look back and forth, or skim the list everytime I turned the page, it was even more difficult to understand what was going on because I kept breaking it up.


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Comments (2)

I agree that you shouldn't look at the notes first... certainly if you zero in on a passage that you think is worth quoting or you're puzzled by it, then look at the notes to see whether you're missing something. You'll get more out of the text if you limit your distractions, and try to figure out the unfamiliar words based on the context -- especially what's happening in the story.

Ellen Einsporn:

I had the same problem when I first started reading King Lear. I tried to read every single side note because I thought this would help me better understand the play. I don't think this strategy is very effective, however, on a first time read of a play. Like you said, switching back and forth between the notes broke up the action of the play. I do think it's impressive that you can automatically tell when Shakespeare switches into iambic pentameter from blank verse. That's something I normally don't pay attention to until at least my second or third re-read of the play.

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