At the American Shakespeare Center, one of the first things the actors do when they receive their scripts is paraphrase their lines word for word.  While 98.5% of the words Shakespeare writes into his plays are still in common usage, English is a highly versatile and inventive language, with its multiplicity of word choices for a single meaning, as well as its multiplicity of meanings for a single word. As such, word definitions may have changed over the last 400 years, leaving room for exploration and discovery within each one.  Moreover, since Shakespeare used over 30,000 words in his plays, and the average English speaker only uses a vocabulary of about 5,000 – 8,000 words on a regular basis, paraphrasing can help ensure that our campers have made the strongest playing choice when it comes to the meanings of various words.

The benefits of a word for word paraphrase extend beyond word meaning.  Syntax and word order inform actors about character options and choices. If a character always chooses a 3 syllable word where a 1 syllable word will do, or mis-orders her words, or never comes to the end of a sentence, paraphrasing can help actors to recognize those traits, providing them with more playing choices.  

Following the example below, try to create your own word-for-word paraphrase of your monologue text. Be creative and use words that you think are both fun to say and fit the meaning and moment of the story you are telling. Try different words if you feel stuck. Use a dictionary or thesaurus to help you.

How to paraphrase:

  • Replace all verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs even if the words are familiar.
  • Try not to change the order of the words.
  • You do not need to replace prepositions (in, before, above), pronouns (she, he, we, them), conjunctions (and, so, but), or proper nouns (characters’ names and geographical places).

Example:

Romeo and Juliet – Act III, ii  
JULIET PARAPHRASE
Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds, Sprint, swiftly, you blazing-hoofed horses
Towards Phoebus’ lodging: such a wagoner Approaching Phoebus’ house: such a driver
As Phaeton would whip you to the west, As Phaeton will lash you to the setting sun,
And bring in cloudy night immediately, And usher in dark evening urgently,
That runaways’ eyes may wink and Romeo That truants’ peepers will sleep and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalk’d of and unseen. Jump to these limbs, not spoken of and unnoticed.