This is how _I_ read a Shakespeare play, and I’m not necessarily recommending it for anyone else. Also, I’m not an academic, and this is not a rigorous or systematic approach, merely the one that works best for my learning style. But it works for me, and it might for you, It’s a combination of different people’s advice over the years.
1. Plan to watch a performance. I think the reading of the play should go in tandem with a viewing. They were meant to be viewed, not read, though reading them brings its own rewards. For example, I am going to see a production of As You Like It tomorrow night.
2. The edition. I prefer single plays–they’re easier on the wrists. Yes, every house should have a collected edition for reference, but I buy individual books for each play I read. Because my dear and learned friend Thalia recommended the Arden editions to me many years ago, they are the ones I favor. They have all the background I could want for and more with footnotes on the page, so helpful when I want to know what that phrase means right now. My one complaint is that there is not a big enough visual difference/divider between the text and the notes.
3. The first reading. When I was in grad school, i.e. single and childless, I would read the play the first time through from Act 1 through Act 5 (no introduction or afterward) in one sitting, looking at the notes as little as possible. I was reading to get to the end, and divine as much meaning as I could before delving deeper. This usually took about 2 hours, depending on the play. Now that life doesn’t tend to have 2 hour stretches, I just read it from beginning to end as I can, picking it up and putting it down, but not adding anything else, even magazines or newspapers, in between.
4. The second reading. I re-read the play, starting with the introduction, with all the notes (or all the notes I can handle) and on to the afterward.
5. I see the performance and re-read or re-watch as is possible or desirable.
How do _you_ read Shakespeare?