When in Doubt,It's from Shakespeare

How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Presentation By: Casey Davidson

Stephanie Harris

English II

Third Block



"He's everywhere, in every literary form you can think of. And he's never the same: every age and every writer reinvents its own Shakespeare" (Foster 38).

Through chapter six of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster teaches the reader all about Shakespearian writings and how his writing style influences modern writers. He gives examples of similar techniques in plot, theme, language, irony, and character traits that authors use today. Understanding what Foster tells the reader about the relationship of modern writings and Shakespearian writings will help the reader to interpret all forms of literature.

The Language that Lasts Forever: Concept One

In the sixteenth century that William Shakespeare was born he invented a new language in the form of literature. He created phrases that have repeated themselves in writing all the way to the twenty-first century. The concept of Shakespearian language is most important to numerous modern writings. For example, you may recognize some of these phrases:

-All the world's a stage, / And all the men and women merely players

-By the pricking of my thumbs, / Something wicked this way comes

Or the classic most recognize,

-To be or not to be, that is the question.

Putting styles of writing like Shakespeare used into their own writings gives the author a sense of authority. Many more quotes and phrases from Shakespeare appear in modern writings.

-Example One: The phrase "O day and o night, but this is a wondrous strange!" appeared in the sixteenth century production of Hamlet; Lesley Livingston used the direct quote in her modern writing of Wondrous Strange written in 2009. Whether or not you recognize it, literature stumbles across Shakespearean lines every day.

Is it Literature Without Irony?: Concept Two

Prominently, irony shifts each century with different styles of writing. However, Shakespeare's use of ironic situations continues throughout each piece of literature.

Irony develops mainly through characters and their relationships.

-Example One: In Henry IV, Part II, the story of a man who must mature and put his old, partying ways behind him turns into King Henry when he learns of adult responsibility. In 1982, Athol Fugard created his play in apartheid south Africa where boys living in his story must mature to become responsible of their lives. In this case, Fugard turned to Shakespeare to create an ironic twist combining different cultures.

In order to interpret irony, readers must know that authors fortify Shakespeare's irony into their own by adding a different plot or character.

It's All About Plot: Concept Three

English literature would never be worth reading without a good plot. For many writers, they follow the normal timing of a story:

Exposition, rising action, turning point, falling action, conclusion.

What writer made this plot famous? That would be the one and only William Shakespeare. The crossing of romance and comedy is what made Shakespeare famous within literature because he was able to adequately combine the two without it being a disaster.

As one reads different novels and recognizes each plot, they will begin to realize that they relate to Shakespeare.

-Example One: The famous theatre play "West Side Story" by Arthur Laurents was inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.

-Example Two: Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston also tells a story that becomes as complicated as one of Shakespeare's plot twists from Hamlet. Livingston pulled the related plot twist from Hamlet and altered it slightly to put in her novel.

By knowing famous plots from Shakespearian times, readers will be able to interpret plot twists more easily because most are exemplified in past writings.

Shakespearian Themes Alway Stay: Concept Four

Writers use Shakespeare's themes every day and introduce them from their plots. Like any other aspect of writing from Shakespeare, modern day writers use his ideas and modify them into their own.

-Example One: The theme of the famous play, Macbeth portrays the theme of greed overtaking oneself and others. Animal Farm written by George Orwell portrays the same theme as Shakespeare's writing of Macbeth.

-Example Two: The theme of Wondrous Strange fortifies the themes of love, good versus evil, and secrets versus lies which was cast from Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

In most books, the theme is copied from some other writer; being able to understand where the theme comes from will help the reader interpret the theme because they can relate it to other stories.

Thousands of books that were written portray the same themes that Shakespeare used centuries ago.

Characters: Concept Five

Think of all the books you have read, now think of all the characters. Thousands of character traits exist in the world of literature. Once again the majority of personalities come from William Shakespeare. There are millions and millions of books in the world, all filled with many characters who may seem alike to one another.

-In chapter six Foster teaches the reader that not every character is built from scratch, a lot of times they are a mix of many different characters who are all combined to create one main person.

-Example One: In Wondrous Strange a main character, Sonny is cast as a character who shares the same traits as Puck from Shakespeare's "A Mid Summer Night's Dream." They share the qualities of a graceful, humorous character with evocative language.


Shakespeare is cast in every piece of literature in some way. Whether it is plot, irony, theme, Shakespearian language, or through character traits, writers repeat his writing techniques. Although Shakespeare was recognized during his life in the sixteenth century, he was counted to be in every literary form produced in the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. Shakespeare not only gives the writer an outlet for references, but a complete story line to follow.

"And the writer we know better that any other, the one who's language and whose plays we "know" even if we haven't read them, is Shakespeare" (Foster 46).

Activity: Found Poems

Works Cited

Foster, Thomas C. "Chapter 6." How to Read Literature like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading between the Lines. New York: Quill, 2003. N. pag. Print.

Livingston, Lesley. Introduction. Wondrous Strange: A Novel. New York: Harper Teen, 2009.N.pag. Print.

"Wondrous Strange." Introduction. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Wondrous Strange. Web. 06 Nov. 2013.