Prose, Rhyme, & Verse, Baby!

Shakespeare Lesson #3

Prose, Rhyme, & Verse, Baby!


Lesson Objective: Students will demonstrate their understanding of how Prose, Rhyme, Verse and Scansion function within Shakespeare’s works by working in a small group to translate a Shakespeare piece into modern day ‘English’ and perform it for the class.




Hook the class

  • By pulling a “Mr. Keaton”, enter from the back of class whistling a lively tune, bid everyone a good morning/afternoon, ask students to take out a piece of paper and pencil for notes and take place at the front of class.  Load prose-worthy PowerPoint and dim the lights
  • Launch right into lesson/instruction


Explain that today we will begin process of unlocking some of the language barriers that keep folks from accessing Shakespeare.

  • Clarify that in this sense, access refers to their ability/desire to “get it” and understand what the heck is actually going on in the pieces


Explain that today will be focused on learning and internalizing the different writing forms that Shakespeare used in his plays and poems.

  • Why do you think he would use different forms?  If he’s going to write 37 plays and a bujillion sonnets, wouldn’t choosing just one form make the most sense for efficiency?


Slide 2-Listen to the answers of students; use their responses to point to 3 possible reasons why Shakespeare used different forms of poetry (on ppt)

  • 1-clue people into what was going on
  • 2-appeal to different emotions
  • 3-define characteristics of well…the characters J
    • Explain to students that they’ll want to take notes of the highlights/key terms in the PowerPoint (bolded items) they may very well get to use them in the future!


Prose Slide 3 [10 mins]

  • Ask if anybody knows what this is/wants to take a stab at defining it?
  • Prose: “a : the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing

b : a literary medium distinguished from poetry especially by its greater irregularity and variety of rhythm and its closer correspondence to the patterns of everyday speech” according to

    • Emphasize “closer to everyday speech”
    • What do you guys think they mean by everyday speech, ordinary language people might use?
    • Ask students to think of some characters in Shakespeare shows that might use everyday speech (common folks: ex-bottom and crew, High Class: when being direct with others ex-Hamlet at points, etc..)
    • Common people use prose a whole lot
    • Prose also used in situations where Verse (more passionate, poetic) doesn’t fit
      • Speeches, characters pretending to be/actually are mad, rational contrasted w/emotional, looking for straightforward
      • Ask students if they can think of any examples of characters/moments in plays that would fit these criteria?
      • Show clip of Ophelia from Kenneth B’s Hamlet to demonstrate “madness in prose”


Rhyme Slide 4 [10 mins]

  • This is a word we’re pretty familiar with. Ask class to come up with a definition for “Rhyme”
    • Ask for volunteers to share their answers
    • Share definition of Rhyme in terms of Shakespeare’s text
    • Ask if students can think of examples that they know of were Shakespeare uses rhymes in his text
  • Ask for three volunteers, give each a slip w/ an example of rhymes in Shakespeare’s text
  • Have a volunteer read the R&J epilogue example
    • Ritualistic/chorus effect
    • Used to define moral, give a prologue or epilogue, play w/in play (distinguish from story and real life)
    • Use Prologue Clip from Zeffirelli’s R&J
    • Demonstrates prologue, stating of morals
  • Have volunteer read Midsummer “Pyramus and Thisbe” example
    • Play w/in play (distinguish from story and real life)
    • Songs, give example of bad verse, this is comedy scene supposed to be common people putting on lofty play, ergo choppy verse


Verse Slide 5 [5 mins]

  • “Comes close to the natural speaking rhythms of English but raises it above the ordinary without sounding artificial (unlike the “singsong” effect produced by dialogue in rhyme).  Art elevates and distills the everyday; writing in blank verse helps sharpen that distinction. Blank verse, as opposed to prose, is used mainly for passionate, lofty or momentous occasions and for introspection; it may suggest a refinement of character.”
  • Introduce term Iambic Pentameter=type of verse.


Iambic Pentameter: stamping out a definition [10 mins]

  • Turn lights on, and ask for 5 volunteers who are feeling particularly relaxed today to come up to the front of the classroom.  Have them space themselves out evenly in the front of class.
  • Ask for 5 more volunteers to come up who are feeling a little more energized.  Have each stand in-between the “unstressed” students. 
    • Hand the unstressed students a note card with “Ta” written on it.  Give the energized students a card with “Tum” written on it.
    • Have the volunteers go down the line and read their sound, ask the energized students to stomp their foot when they say their sound. Have them repeat the exercise
      • Ask the class what they observed about the exercise
        • (ex-unstressed, stressed pattern, rhythm)
    • Ask the first two students in the line to step forward and link arms. 
      • Explain that this is an “iamb,” a set of stressed, unstressed syllables
    • Ask the whole line to link up with the person next to them to form 5 pairs. 
      • Explain that 5 sets of iambs = a line of iambic pentameter


Practicing Iambic Pentameter Slide 6 [10 mins]

  • Write “To be, or not to be: that is the question” on the board
    • Ask a volunteer to come up and divide the text into 5 sets of iambs by putting a slash after each set of stressed and unstressed syllables.
    • Ask volunteer to come up and underline the stressed syllables
    • Have class look at the example and take note of the stressed words and syllables (be, not, be, is, quest’n)
      • Ask class what these words might tell us about the piece?
        • Emphasize driving message, places to put stress vocally or emotionally, etc…


Instructions! [5 mins]

  • Ask students to get into groups of 3 or 4 and listen ever so closely!
  • Explain that their task will be to translate a soliloquy into modern English that we speak today.
  • Explain guidelines (write these up on the board)
    • Don’t have to translate word for word on every line, but there need to be at least 3 lines in the piece that stick to the original style
      • Model an example for them (“If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended” à “We’re actors and if we’ve offended you, just imagine that…yadda yadda yadda” etc.)
    • Extra credit if they can translate the whole piece into iambic pentameter
    • Have dictionaries available for students to use
  • Give Suggestions
    • Explain that they can choose how they want to work as a group but they might want to assign jobs to group members to maximize time (ex-can have one person look up words, one person be scribe, etc…)
    • Invite them to get creative. ex-if Shakespeare uses old school slang, come right back with some modern slang!
  • Ask if there are any last questions, while handing out the pieces
    • If yes, answer them/clarify for students
    • If no, have them launch right into it!


Translating Time! [15 mins]

  • Circulate room as the groups work together, clarify questions they might come upon


Bring the class back together [Last few mins] 

  • Explain to the class that at the start of the next period, each group will perform their translation. 
  • Explain that students need to research the plot of the play that their piece is from.  They can read the play (this is the best), watch film version, research online, but they need to have a solid understanding of the plot and how their character functions w/in the storyline.  Use the character analysis worksheet to begin thinking about character details.