David Scott Wilson-Okamura
Writing about Shakespeare

1.     The key to understanding Shakespeare’s characters is not their situation but their speeches: not what they “must” have felt, but what they actually say. You won’t discover their motives by imagining what it’s like to be them, only by studying their language: what they say and how they talk.

2.     An essay is more than a list of observations. Make sure that no one could title your essay "Some Things I Liked about This Play."

3.     Instead, argue a thesis: one that is not obvious to everyone who reads the play. Prove something that needs proving. “Two plus two equals four” is a true statement, but not a good thesis.

4.     Don’t start with a sentence like "Authors have always..." or "Since the beginning of time..." You weren’t there, so you don’t know.

5.     Instead, try starting your paper with a question or a problem. For example, why does Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy, begin with a scene of comedy?

6.     Adding I think, I believe or, worst of all, I feel at the beginning of a sentence doesn’t make it true. When you find yourself writing those words, it’s usually a sign that you don’t have any good evidence. Erase I believe and go look at the text again. You might find some evidence, or you might change your mind; either way, your argument will be stronger.

7.     Be explicit. Don't be wordy. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.’

8.     An essay that cites outside sources is not automatically better than one that only quotes Shakespeare.

9.     If you are stumped for a topic, compare one of the plays with its known sources and analyze the differences. What did Shakespeare change, add, or delete? Most importantly what do his changes add up to, collectively? What was he trying to achieve?