(Malia Wollan’s article appeared 11/22 in The New York Times; via Pam Green.)

 “Get up on your feet, and speak the words aloud,” says Jacqui O’Hanlon, the director of education at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Shakespeare wrote these lines some 400 years ago; the worst way to learn them is sitting down and reading them in your head. Start with a few image-rich lines from, say, “Henry V.” Young people should consider choosing something from star-crossed lovers, as when Juliet says, “Come, gentle night; come, loving, black-browed night, give me my Romeo.”

It helps to read through a synopsis of the play first to know the basic plot. Get a partner to whisper the lines while you repeat. With professional actors and students alike, the Royal Shakespeare Company begins with something they call “imaging the text”: Act out the images. It will feel silly, but making a window with your limbs or galloping like a horse embeds the lines in your mind. Listen for the playwright’s beat. Shakespeare mostly composed in iambic pentameter, a rhythm in which unstressed syllables are followed by stressed ones; O’Hanlon describes it as “the rhythm of your heart.”

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