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Exercises on this page:
1. Tap the Text
2. Found Meter
3. Unearth the verse
4. Minimal Scripts in Iambic Pentameter

  • Read related background information
  • View additional resources
  • A Guide to the Poetry of Shakespeare's Drama: Four exercises

    These exercises are available in English only.

    1. Tap the Text

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    OBJECTIVE: to get a feel for the alternating sound/silence patterns in different styles of language

    DIRECTIONS: Divide the group into pairs and give each pair a copy of one of the language samples below. Let them explore the natural rhythms in their language sample by tapping out the syllables in each word at the same rate they would be likely to speak them. Remind them to leave pauses of appropriate lengths to indicate any punctuation marks. When everyone has had time to practice tapping their text sample, have the pairs "perform" the tapping version of the text in front of the whole group. How do the rhythms differ from one text to the next? Go around the group again and have each pair tap the text, and then read it aloud with feeling.

    • Shave and a haircut: two bits.
    • In the dull, cheerless garden, overlooked by so many windows that were ready to open with a message not to do this or that, or a reminder that medicines were due, he found little attraction.
    • She was just seventeen,/ And you know what I mean,/ The way she looked/ Was way beyond compare./ How could I dance with another,/ When I saw her standing there?
    • travail (truh-VAYL), noun--Painfully difficult work; agony, anguish; the pain of childbirth; verb intransitive--To work strenuously, toil; be in labor. [From Old French travailler (to work hard), from Vulgar Latin tripaliare, (to torture with a tripalium). A tripalium was a three-staked instrument of torture.]
    • There once was a lady from Niger,
      Who smiled while she rode on a tiger.
      They returned from the ride
      With the lady inside,
      And the smile on the face of the tiger.
    • When he with wise mind this wall-stone
      and this dark life deeply thinks through,
      the wise one in mind oft remembers afar
      many a carnage, and this word he speaks:
      Where is the horse? Where the young warrior? Where now the gift-giver?
      Where are the feast-seats? Where all the hall-joys?
    • "Are there any apples left?"
      "Yes, there's one left."
      "Only one?"
      "I'll leave it then."
      "Have it."
      "No, I won't take the last one."
    • I do believe you think what now you speak,
      But what we do determine oft we break.
      Purpose is but the slave to memory,
      Of violent birth but poor validity,
      Which now like fruit unripe sticks on the tree,
      But fall unshaken when they mellow be.
    • Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
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    2. Found Meter

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    OBJECTIVE: to make connections between Shakespeare's meter and students' lives

    DIRECTIONS: Give students a few days to collect and/or create ten examples of sentences that naturally fall into iambic pentameter. Have them list their examples and record the provenance of each, i.e., found in newspaper article; overheard in the hall at school; composed during a commercial last night, etc. Share the lists with the whole class.

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    3. Unearth the Verse

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    OBJECTIVE: to re-construct a blank verse passage by counting syllables and determining the meaning

    DIRECTIONS: Have students re-draft the following lines with punctuation in their original blank verse form. Remind them to look for the characteristic iambic pentameter rhythm. Speaking them aloud can really help.

    • now entertain conjecture for a time when creeping murmur and the poring dark fills the wide vessel of the universe from camp to camp through the foul womb of night the hum of either army stilly sounds that the fixed sentinels almost receive the secret whispers of each other's watch fire answers fire and through their paly flames each battle sees the other's unbered face steed threatens steed in high and boastful neighs piercing the night's dull ear and from the tents the armourers accomplishing the knights with busy hammers closing rivets up give dreadful note of preparation
    • blow winds and crack your cheeks rage blow you cataracts and hurricanoes spout till you have drenched our steeples drowned our cocks you sulphurous and thought-executing fires vaunt-curriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts singe my white head and thou all-shaking thunder strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world crack nature's moulds all germens spill at once that makes ingrateful man
    • for God's sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings how some have been deposed some slain in war some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed some poisoned by their wives some sleeping killed all murdered for within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples of a king keeps death his court and there the antic sits scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp allowing him a breath a little scene to monarchize be feared and kill with looks infusing him with self and vain conceit as if this flesh which walls about our life were brass impregnable and humoured thus comes at the last and with a little pin bores through his castle wall and farewell king
      [A. Henry V, IV; B. King Lear, III.2; C. Richard II, III.2]
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    4. Minimal Scripts in Iambic Pentameter

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    OBJECTIVE: to give students practice in speaking in meter to have fun

    DIRECTIONS: Sometimes Shakespeare divided a single line of blank verse up into speeches for more than one speaker. The most famous example is from Henry VI (III.3, 65-6), where King John and his accomplice Hubert du Burgh plot the death of a boy:

    King: Death.        
    Hubert:   My lord?      
    King:     A grave.    
    Hubert:       He shall not live.  
    King:         Enough.

    The exchange makes up one full line of iambic pentameter:

    My lord/ a grave/ he shall/ not live/ enough

    Have students work in pairs or small groups to come up with conversations between two or more characters that mimic this shared verse-line technique. Suggestions for location, occupation, or object may help. When they are satisfied with their scripts, have them rehearse and then perform them for the class.

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