The must have Shakespeare resource: Shakespeare’s Words
Shakespeare’s Words by Ben and David Crystal is an incredible book. For actors it is an essential resource.
It is a glossary and language companion that gives accurate definitions of Shakespeare’s words. Often with a conventional dictionary a single word has a multitude of definitions. It can sometimes be hard to discern the correct, or appropriate, definition for a particular word. Secondly, language has morped so much since Shakespeare’s time (over 400 years ago), and sometimes words have changed entirely in meaning. This means that a conventional dictionary is not good enough when trying to understand a Shakespeare monologue or scene.
Shakespeare’s Words offers accurate definitions and even references for where the particular word has been used (from what play and what line). This means you can find a precise definition and be confident that you understand its meaning. Context is so important for understanding the nuance of Shakespeare’s work. It is essential for speaking Shakespeare.
Understanding what you say is fundamental in any acting scene or monologue. However, it is the most important factor in speaking Shakespeare; yet it is often overlooked. Actors can hide behind the beauty of Shakespeare’s language and get away with speaking a whole speech without understanding the sense of the piece whatsoever. You have to understand every word, and reference, or else how is an audience going to? For more on preparing a Shakespeare monologue.
This book is also available online, so there is no excuse not to make use of it. I promise you that having a bedrock of understanding is far more important than character or emotion. My work with students is always focused on understanding the language of a monologue or scene, and from there you can play and have fun.
Shakespeare’s words also includes Play Synopses, Dramatis Personae, Character Names and much more. This book is a staple item for any Shakespearean actor. I cannot recommend it highly enough.