Skip to content
  • Video
  • 5 mins
  • Level 1: Introductory

Getting to grips with Shakespearian language

Updated Monday 7th December 2009

Tony Hill of the Royal Shakespeare Company assists young people in accessing Shakespearian language by working through lines from Hamlet and understanding the meaning behind the text.

Watch

Copyright The Open University

Listen

Copyright The Open University

Read

Narrator: Working on different scenes in Hamlet, Tony Hill persuaded these New York students to speak out unfamiliar lines as the first step in the production process.

Student:
I've seen it but I haven’t read it.

To be, or not to be, or not, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Tony Hill:
Okay, you think you're going slow, I know you're going fast. I want you to go really slow. What's the ‘be’ that he's talking about? To be or not to be, what's the ‘be’?

What I think attracts me is the idea of trying to show youngsters that such a consideration, such an awful thought is something which they can track their way through. Why did he come to this? How is it happening? And that's the beauty of Hamlet. The downside is that if you're to do that and you're to do it without imposing upon them then they've got to access the language. They've actually got to sit there. They've got to take on board how soliloquy works. They've got to take on board how verse works. And that means very often that what you're challenging is stuff that they've been taught in the classroom, and you're challenging their desire to go for fluency, their desire to give a speech, and I'm continually saying to them no, stop, go slower, find the thought, find the process, go from thought to thought.

Student:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or to take arms against the sea, sea, sorry, against the sea of troubles and by opposing end them. To die, to sleep; to sleep perchance to dream …

Tony Hill: Right, whoa, no, hold on, no, it’s fine! You read really well but you're pushing too hard.

Student: Okay.

Tony Hill:
You're going for a solution. You’re going, you're going, as it were, almost for a performance. Now back off! Shift back down two gears, go back into second or third. Be a little bit less certain. Keep that strength in your voice but just try and ease off the gas pedal a bit so that it sounds to them as though you don’t know where you're going.

Student:
To die, to sleep; to sleep perchance to dream.

Tony Hill: No, no, it doesn’t say to sleep perchance, what the hell’s to sleep perchance to dream?

Student:
Just like maybe …

Tony Hill: Well, yeah, it’s to sleep, perchance, maybe to dream, but whether it says perchance or whether it says maybe it definitely does not say sleep perchance, or sleep maybe, because there ain’t no such word as sleep maybe or sleep perchance.

Student:
Okay.

Tony Hill: Unless it’s a kind of funny little place in England. But it’s to sleep, what does that mean? Perchance to dream.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Marlowe  timeline Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Matanya via Wikimedia article icon

History & The Arts 

Marlowe timeline

A timeline of the life and times of Christopher Marlowe

Article
Motion on... Betjeman Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

History & The Arts 

Motion on... Betjeman

Andrew Motion enthuses over one of his predecessors.

Article
Living Shakespeare: Kalki Koechlin on India's women and Ophelia Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC video icon

History & The Arts 

Living Shakespeare: Kalki Koechlin on India's women and Ophelia

Ophelia's situation in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' bears a lot of parallels with Indian women and their place in society. Bollywood actor, Kalki Koechlin, explores her tragic story. 

Video
5 mins
Imagining the Bard: William Boyd Interview Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Jerry Bauer article icon

History & The Arts 

Imagining the Bard: William Boyd Interview

Acclaimed novelist and screenwriter William Boyd wrote a drama about William Shakespeare entitled "A Waste of Shame". His drama is based on academic research and clues in the sonnets. It brings to life the inner thoughts of the world’s greatest wordsmith, presenting Shakespeare to us as a man rather than a myth.

Article
Faustus Interviews: Janet McTeer, Evil Angel & Tanya Moodie, Good Angel Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team audio icon

History & The Arts 

Faustus Interviews: Janet McTeer, Evil Angel & Tanya Moodie, Good Angel

The two angels talk about their different roles in Dr Faustus.

Audio
5 mins
What was Lewis Carroll like? Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: Public domain article icon

History & The Arts 

What was Lewis Carroll like?

In her memoir, The Story of Lewis Carroll Told For Young People By The Real Alice In Wonderland, Carroll's young friend Isa Bowman describes a man whose behaviour might feel uncomfortable viewed from the 21st century; and a man who found the fame of being the author of Alice In Wonderland too much to take. This is an edited extract from her memoir.

Article
A reader's guide to Midnight's Children Creative commons image Icon Fronteiras do Pensamento under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license audio icon

History & The Arts 

A reader's guide to Midnight's Children

As BBC Radio 4 launches an ambitious dramatisation of the work, discover Salman Rushdie's 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight's Children.

Audio
5 mins
A reader's guide to Frankenstein Creative commons image Icon ensh under CC-BY-NC-SA under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

A reader's guide to Frankenstein

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, first published in 1818, tells the story of a scientist obsessed with attempting to create life and stop death.

Article
Living Shakespeare: Dr John Kani on South Africa and Othello Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC video icon

History & The Arts 

Living Shakespeare: Dr John Kani on South Africa and Othello

Shakespeare's 'Othello' still makes people uncomfortable because it tackles racism, so what was it like for John Kani who played the play's lead role at the peak of Apartheid in South Africa?

Video
5 mins