How can we define the complexity of Shakespeare's language? Where do literary critics begin when developing their interpretations out of Shakespeare's language? This handbook on close reading provides some practical answers to these questions. It offers a systematic survey of how Shakespeare's language works, and an introduction to the critical methods of linguistic interpretation that have been used since the eighteenth century. The book comprises seven chapters, each on a single unit of dramatic composition-Word, Line, Image, Passage, Play, Text, Performance. The examples in these chapters provide students of Shakespeare with a practical means of understanding, and expressing in their own interpretations, three fundamental assumptions about the language of his plays: (1) that poetic structures are both intertwined with and independent of the plays' content; (2) that the plays' language often expresses multiple, contradictory meanings simultaneously; and (3) that the things any given passage says are often surprisingly different from what that passage seems to mean.This is an ideal teaching text for introductory courses on Shakespeare, offering a welcome return to close textual analysis and showing students how to read and analyse the plays in close detail to build sustained critical readings of their own.