How to Study Shakespeare: DIY Romeo and Juliet

Recently I read a book that had a profound affect on me – Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates. It’s a phenomenal book that immediately inspired me to dive into the words of Shakespeare and see if I could make sense of things. I mean, let’s face it, reading Shakespeare is intimidating.

I hadn’t looked at any Shakespearean plays in several decades, but this has been something I’ve “been meaning to do” for quite a while. You know, “someday.” It’s just that someday has taken me a very long time, because it’s hard to know where to go and how to start. The plays are PLAYS. They are scripts. It really doesn’t sound like fun to read a script but the book Shakespeare Saved My Life made it clear that there is so much more beyond the words in the scripts that I really needed to find some way to break the code. I think I’ve found some cool methods so I decided to go ahead and share what I’m doing for anyone else interested, or for my future self who wants to do this again and can’t remember what I did. Future self: take note.

Of course, the first step was to ask Google, What is the best way to study Shakespeare? –  and that kick started my journey. Thanks to my research results, I had a few stepping stones directing me, not only where to begin, but how.

Online Course

Through my research I found that I wouldn’t have to do this completely on my own. There is a great FREE online course that covers 6 of Shakespeare’s plays, kicking things off with Romeo and Juliet. Interested? The course is called Shakespeare: On the Page and in Performance and you can check it out here.

The course is the real deal – it’s a 12-week course that allows you to be a fly on the wall at Wellesley College, while English Professor Yu Jin Ko teaches. The class was filmed a few years ago so as online students, we get to take this “12-week course” on our own time frame, at our own pace. And the best part? No term papers! At least for the online audience…

Get the Play with Analysis

Once signed up for the online course, I watched a few of the introductory videos, then ordered a book from Amazon that includes the play, along with literary analysis. After a LOT of research, I decided to go with Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare Made Clear – I love the analysis so much I am very disappointed they do not have editions of every play!

With the book safely on it’s way from Amazon, I decided it was time to watch a movie version of Romeo and Juliet. Plays are not novels, they are meant to be performed, and watched. A movie is a great way to get started when learning about a play! For some reason, the 1968 version that traumatized me in high school is still recommended as the “Go To” Romeo and Juliet. I don’t understand the sentiment behind these recommendations. That movie is… terrible.

Watch a Movie

For a movie, there aren’t many options, but even so, the 1996 version directed by Baz Luhrman (staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) is excellent and I highly recommend it. The story is true to the original, complete with Shakespearean language, yet the setting is modern and the filming and directing help make the story clear to a modern day audience. Some critics of this film dislike Luhrman’s choice of using guns instead of swords and daggers, but today’s audience doesn’t have an emotional response to swords – we do however, to guns. Anyway, after watching the movie I felt it was time to dig in to the words on the page.

This is the part where having the proper edition of a play, with analysis that works for you, is very helpful. Even though I like the edition of analysis I purchased, I still wanted to supplement my text as much as possible to make this read-through very strong. Next up, study guides!

Read Some Study Guides

GradeSaver is an excellent site, and has a ton of free content. I bookmarked the GradeSaver Romeo and Juliet Study Guide on my iPad and read through the beginning material up to the point where the play begins. Then, I switched to reading my book and would read an Act through to completion, then switch to reading the analytical information provided from GradeSaver. About half way through the play, I added another analytical text to the mix – CliffsNotes! And would you believe, CliffsNotes are fully available online for free too?! So yes, CliffsNotes Romeo and Juliet got a bookmark from me too.

At this point, I almost felt like I didn’t even need the online course! That is, until I actually started the lectures. I’m learning an amazing amount from Professor Ko! He’s a great professor and very well suited for online students. His enthusiasm makes it feel like you’re actually attending a class, not just watching a lecture. In fact, I’m quite jealous of the students who get to attend his classes in person.

I’ve spent about two full weeks on Romeo and Juliet: watched a movie, read a book, some literary analysis, and watched a few lectures – yet I feel like I’ve spent 3 months on this play. And, at the same time, I feel like I could spend 3 more months studying Romeo and Juliet.

🚦Ding! Ding!

This week I had one of those, “Ah Ha” moments. I GET IT. Now I understand why people love to re-read the plays over and over again. There is so much depth to plays, much more so than you get from simply reading them or watching them performed. It takes studying the characters, their motivations, the language – so many words used by Shakespeare have double meanings that can allow an entire phrase to be interpreted in multiple ways. The deeper you dig, the more meaning you find.

So, where do I stand with all this now? For one thing, the book Shakespeare Saved My Life has most definitely changed my life. I was motivated enough to learn how to do this, got my husband involved (we are going through this together), experienced myself transition from hating Romeo and Juliet to, dare I say, loving it. And this is just the first play! 

There are 5 more plays in the online course and after that I expect to continue because I think I may just be addicted to Shakespeare now.

I really didn’t see this coming.

Bonus Content

If you’ve read this far, you may find these links interesting.

Youtube Videos – Think of these as having a guest lecturer! There is a surprising amount of literary analysis on Youtube, here are some of my favorites (so far):

Online Study Guides for Romeo and Juliet – these are all free!

Mobile Apps

  • Shakespeare in Bits (awesome on the iPad) – has the play, audio, animations, and analysis – for the entire play. It’s like a book, movie and study guide all rolled into one. It’s pricey for an app, but considering what it contains, it’s well worth the price.
  • Folger Luminary Shakespeare Apps – includes text, audio, analysis and essays. Professor Ko has contributed his knowledge to this app (along with many other Shakespeare scholars).

Why so many extra sources? Well, I think that is part of the beauty of Shakespeare. There are so many different ways you can view a passage, a scene, a theme – that the more people you encounter and learn from – the deeper your knowledge can become.

I think that about covers it. Two weeks ago I admitted that I really hated Romeo and Juliet, and it took about a full week into this intense study for me to realize how much my thoughts have transitioned. If you read this entire post, thank you, and, I’m sorry it was so long. I hope this helps any of you would like to journey down this path, it’s quite fun!

Britt-Marie Was Here | Book Review + Recommendations

On Friday I mentioned that one of my Weekend Reads was Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman. I finished reading it last night and was tempted to go ahead and record my reaction then, but it’s a good thing I didn’t because I was half-asleep and it probably wouldn’t have made much sense.


I’m still much more comfortable writing reviews rather than speaking them, but I’d really like to get used to speaking on the fly more so I’m using Youtube to become more acquainted with just throwing the words out and attempting to get them to line up in the right order. Preferably the first time rather than the twentieth.

I really loved Britt-Marie Was Here and my review thoughts are now available now on Youtube, as well as some book recommendations! Click Here to see what I’ve got to say.

Nonfiction November Book Recommendation #2

Nonfiction November is still underway! So it’s time for another Nonfiction Book Recommendation.


I read quite a bit of nonfiction and enjoyed making this video to share my thoughts. What do you think of seeing book recommendations on Youtube?

If you like the video, please give it a “thumbs up” and subscribe! Click Here to get the latest book recommendation.

2015 Year in Review: 3,872 Miles Traveled & 53 Books Read!

If I had to describe 2015 in one word, I’d probably call it busy. If you grant me two words, I’d say life-changing. Can I have two words please?

We kicked off 2015 as new residents of Asheville, North Carolina. Not long after settling in we experienced the Asheville Snowmageddon 2015. It was fun… at first. Much better after we got a snow shovel. Though, I have to say the Fall of 2014 was a lot more fun – especially for Frodo.

Asheville 2015 Pisgah National Forest

We experienced the joy of living in a National Forest, definitely an experience I’ll never forget. This also included fighting a little bit with the creatures that lived near our house. There were the birds, and the spiders. And Dave protecting our house from critter invasion…

Dave on a Mission

I finally had a chance to photograph our bedtime routine with Frodo. Yes, we still brush his teeth every night. He loves it, and so do his teeth! You can tell from the photos he has a good time.

In May, we watched a life-changing documentary, and have been vegans ever since. It’s been almost 8 months now and I only wish we had made the change sooner.

Early in July we decided to take our life on the road, and began the process of downsizing our belongings. In a few short months we sold most of our stuff, our house, our car, and purchased a truck and a travel-trailer. It was a whirlwind of activities.

We hit the road October 17th, officially house-less, beginning our journey as nomads. After leaving Asheville, we traveled very quickly to South Dakota to get our driver’s licenses. On the way, we stopped through some pretty areas I look forward to re-visiting. Columbia, Missouri was gorgeous! 

Stephens Lake Park_The Lake

Rock Port, MO had a lot of character. I wouldn’t mind going back for a few days, especially during warmer months.

We were only in Amarillo, Texas for a short time, but long enough to see some interesting things. Like a donkey. And an emu.

And then, we got crazy with it. It was at this point we further downsized and sold our truck and travel trailer, and switched to a van. Once comfortably settled in our new van, the race was on to get somewhere warm. We headed to Arizona, yet at the same time, experienced a month without hot water. Go figure.

Now we are wrapping up 2015, living in a van, living a vegan life-style, and currently chilling out in Lake Havasu City, Arizona – while we recover from the whirlwind that this year has been. And it’s been a doozy. With only traveling the last portion of the year, we still managed to cover 3,872 miles. The speed was purely insane and I hope to never need to travel that far at that pace ever again! But, we managed to get our domicile squared away, improve our travel setup, get our van repaired, and… rest in the quiet of the southwest. I’d say the travel part of this year was smashing, though speedy. But, it was worth it. Every crazy minute of it.

2015 - 3872 Miles Traveled

There’s still one aspect from 2015 I haven’t had a chance to address yet, and that’s my reading life. I set out to read 52 books, and did it (read 53 books actually), and though some were good, and some were great, many were fantastic. I figured I would highlight my favorites from this year and tried to narrow down my selection to a Top 5. I couldn’t.

Out of the 53 books I read this year, here are my Top 8 Favorites:

2015 was a great year, and 2016 will be even better. I wish everyone a happy, healthy new year!

Colors! My First Brandon Sanderson Book…

Warbreaker For years my husband has told me how amazing Brandon Sanderson is, but I hadn’t read any of his books until recently. We selected his book Warbreaker, as a book to read together – even though it was Dave’s second read-through. The story definitely lends itself to be read multiple times, so I can see why he chose it – aside from FINALLY introducing me to his favorite author!

So finally, I get it! And yes, I agree, Brandon Sanderson is extremely creative.

What makes Warbreaker so amazing, is the unique world-building and entirely original magic system Sanderson creates. The story itself is great… two sisters, one marries the God King they fear (who has never taken a living breath, so the fear is justified), and the other who… well, I don’t want to spoil anything. Let’s just say, the story is interesting and an enjoyable adventure.

But the world? It’s captivating! Who would have thought of having a way to bring objects to life by way of using color, have a city and its inhabitants who views this as normal – and a warring city who views this as blasphemous, ostentatious, and vain.

And, all the intricacies that go along with such a system… I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, the story, or the magic system upon which it was built. All in all, it may have been my first Brandon Sanderson book – but it won’t be my last!

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeI’m speechless. When a book is THIS good, I usually skip writing a review. For one thing, the reviews are already glowing off the charts, and the description on Amazon boasts a variety of awards and recommendations. What can I possibly add? But, I decided to share my thoughts anyway, just in case you’re in need of a good book to read today.

I went into this book blind, no knowledge of what it was about, or the reviews. I just started reading, and then, I couldn’t stop. I read Tell the Wolves I’m Home on my Kindle, but I’m eager to own it on paper, and read it again… and again… and again.

The main character is a young teen in the mid-80s and there are so many images this story brought back to mind. Some fun nostalgia, some painful memories. And the fear. I remember exactly where I was the day I first heard the word AIDS, and how I learned about it, and how it was presented in the news. I remember Ryan White.

Though I think this book may be enjoyed by anyone above the age of 13, I think there are some parts that will just wring your heart into a million pieces if you’re closer to my age or just a little older.

I don’t want to say much more than that so you can experience the story as the author intended. And even if you are younger, the story is a must-read, as it’s simply great on it’s own even if you didn’t live through that time.

Would you like this book? I’d recommended Tell the Wolves I’m Home for fans of Markus Zusak, Catherine Ryan Hyde, and those of us who came of age in the 80s.

Liked Coraline? Read Dust by Arthur Slade

Sometimes books listed as “for children” are really an “all ages” type of read – but the only way to find out, is to read them. Since I just read a book listed for ages 9-18 on Amazon, and loved it, I wanted to be sure to write a quick review. Because… I’m not 18 anymore…

Dust by Arthur SladeIf you’re in the mood for something that’s a quick read but has some serious creepiness, enough to make you want to keep turning the pages because you MUST find out what happens next, be sure to check out Dust by Arthur Slade. Part fantasy, part horror, it’s quite a unique story. Children go missing and an entire town is mesmerized… What has happened to the children, and why are people held captivated by the town newcomer? You’ll have to read to find out.

Then, if you want to continue reading more books that fit the same vibe, be sure to check out Coraline by Neil Gaiman, and Ashlyn’s Radio by Norah Wilson and Heather Doherty.

P.S. Isn’t that cover just awesome? I admit to purchasing this book because of the cover. See? Sometimes that choice pays off!