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Theatre History (Part 2)

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Shakespeare   ::   Neoclassicism   ::   Romanticism   ::   Realism   ::   Activities

The Stage of Shakespeare

Part 1

Sometime before you finish the lessons on Shakespeare, you will need to either read or preferably see a play written by Shakespeare. It does not matter which one. I highly recommend my favorite: the recent film, Much Ado About Nothing starring Kenneth Brannagh. Other good choices: Hamlet , starring Mel Gibson; Hamlet starring Kenneth Brannagh; A Midsummer Night's Dream , starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Kevin Kline; and Richard III , starring Ian McKellan. Most of these are at any decent video rental store.

You may be wondering just what all the fuss is about. It's as if people think that Shakespeare was the greatest writer of all time or something. Here's the secret to your quandry and the reason why people feel this way: Shakespeare actually was the greatest writer of all time. Well, many people think so.

I hope you'll lean toward this when this unit is finished.

Shakespearean Insult

First of all, go to this website and create your own Shakespearean Insult! Write it in your workbook and then find a victim. Time to do some acting! In a very acerbic and vociferous fashion, yell, growl or scream your insult at your partner. Do this at least three times, getting more and more virulent with each try (good acting takes rehearsal). Your partner may create an insult and yell at you, too, if desired! Please write in your workbook who your partner was!

Now apologize, give your partner a hug and tell them that "Dr. Dave made me do it!"

To be insulted randomly, you can go to this wonderful website .

Part 2

Shakespeare's Poetry

As a parent, I often speak in poetry. The other day, I saw my daughter drawing with permanent marker on the wall and I said to her, "Don't you do that again or I'll spank your bottom!" That is a poem. Say it out loud in an angry way. It'll sound like this:

"DON'T you DO that aGAIN or I'll SPANK your BOTtom." There is a real and logical rhythm to my words and the way the syllables are stressed.

Shakespeare and his contemporaries were no dummies. They realized that folks naturally speak in poetry quite often. They also discovered that writing in poetry creates a play text that is easy to memorize and can give clues to actors as to how they should deliver their lines.

Most of Shakespeare's plays are written, at least partially, in poetry. The type of poetry he used is called iambic pentameter . This simply means that he uses pentameter made of iambs . Pentameter can be divided to read penta-meter, or "five-meter", or meter with five stressed rhythms called feet . Iambs are made of two syllables, with the stressed syllable being second, as in the word "toDAY." Iambic pentameter is the most natural sounding poetry that can be spoken.

A simple example of iambic pentameter, often called blank verse , would be:

Today, today, today, today, today.

See? Five feet, and each foot is an iamb. Here is a line from Shakespeare:

"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?"

But SOFT! what LIGHT through YONder WINdow BREAKS?"

Bellieve it or not, this line can be said naturally. Try saying it as if you were looking up and seeing a light in a window above you (you can even pretend it is Juliet—or Romeo!). See how natural variation takes over when your mind tries to communicate images?

Shakespeare often broke his own rules, though. Take this famous line from Hamlet :

"To be or not to be; that is the question."

"To BE or NOT to BE; THAT is the QUEStion"

See how he messes his nice iambic pentamer in the middle. The words BE and THAT are back to back stressed syllables. Oops. On the other hand, see what it forces the actor and audience to do: we have to "trip" over that section of the line, giving it more attention, especially to the word THAT, which ends up being the loudest and most important word of the line. Say it out loud and see! See? Shakespeare did this a lot. Well, not a lot, but he did it quite often and when it was appropriate. It is true: rules were meant to be broken.

Here is another example of how Shakespeare "cheated" with is iambic pentameter. Take this line from Troilus and Cressida:

"Her bed is India, there she lies, a pearl."

"Her BED is INdia, THERE she LIES a PEARL."

In this line, he forces INDIA, a three syllable word, into two syllables: essentially, "Ind-ya" rather than "Id-dee-a." Clever fellow that Will! How does saying it like "Ind-ya" help create character? Who would speak like that? Someone aristocratic, no doubt.

And here's something cool: two lines of blank verse in succession (from Romeo and Juliet ):

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Shakespeare has many lines of blank verse in succession. Once you get the hang of it, and are into the rhythm of it, it's fun, easy, and it flows!

Shakespearean Compliment

Now that you have offended your partner, you must write a compliment to them. Write your compliment in blank verse (iambic pentameter) in your workbook. You may write more than one if you desire! For this exercise, keep it simple and keep it pure iambic pentamer. Here are some examples:

"Your hair is soft and lovely as the moon." = "your HAIR is SOFT and LOVely LIKE the MOON."

"I love your winning smile and gentle hands." = "i LOVE your WINning SMILE and GENtle HANDS."

"I like the way you walk upon the floor." = "i LIKE the WAY you WALK upON the FLOOR."

It is easy to see if you've done it right. Simply put your stressed syllables in capital letters and make sure that every other syllable is stressed, that you begin with an UNstressed syllable and end with a STRESSED syllable. No word should sound funny when you are finished. The word "today" should still sound like "toDAY" and not "TOday," which freaks everybody out.

You can check it yourself:

  1. Make sure your sentence has ONLY 10 SYLLABLES! No more. No less. Remember, every word in the world has a least one syllable in it.
  2. Make sure every other syllable is STRESSED. Every two syllables equals an iambic foot.
  3. Make sure you start with an unstressed syllable and end with a STRESSED one.
unstressed stressed unstressed stressed unstressed stressed unstressed stressed unstressed stressed

Hey, you Shakespearean poet guru, remember to say the compliment out loud to your partner!

For more Shakespeare Quotations, you can click here .

Part 3

Follow the links below and read the short articles found therein. They are all from Utah's own Shakespearean Festival's website, which has lots of other great information about Shakespeare, his plays, and other playwrights and their plays.


Write a 2 page newspaper article (about 1800-2000 words) about the opening of the play by Shakespeare that you viewed or read for the London Times. Write it as if your article will be published during Shakespeare's lifetime. Make references to the play's themes and how they apply to the "current" times (Elizabethan times). Describe the event in terms of theme, plot, character, audience, acting, the quality of the play, scenography, etc. You may have to make up some of the details, but it should read as if your article was written 400 years ago (or so).

Other Shakespeare websites that may help you:

Copyright 2008, David Sidwell. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, October 06). Theatre History (Part 2). Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License