Lesson 4: Straight Outta Shakespeare or Iambic Pentameter

Lesson 4: Straight Outta Shakespeare or Iambic Pentameter


Objective: Students will be able to grasp basic iambic pentameter by scanning and rapping a Shakespearean sonnet.




Hook: Shakespeare vs. Hip Hop

Ask the students to raise their hands for either Shakespeare or Hip Hop.  Quotes from either plays sonnets or hip hop songs:

  1. To destroy the beauty from which one came. (Sean Carter or JayZ)
  2. Maybe it’s hatred I spew, maybe it’s food for the spirit. (Eminem)
  3. Men would rather use their broken weapons than their bare hands.(Othello)
  4. I was not born under a rhyming planet. (Much Ado About Nothing)
  5. The most benevolent king communicates through your dreams. (RZA WuTang clan)
  6. Socrates, philosophies and hypotheses can’t define.(WuTang)


Lecture: The Hip Hop of Shakespeare

Play the Shakespeare Rap (4:268:22).  Shakespeare used iambic pentameter to write his plays.  They put the words into an intrinsic rhythm; even rap artists can still use his work.  Point out that Shakespeare was writing in beats, lyrical beats so we can put them to hip hop beats.


Break down Iambic pentameter for the students.

  1. Iambic = 2
  2. Pentameter = 5
  3. So 5 sets of 2
  4. 2 is a foot, Stressed and unstressed, or a heartbeat or a gallop. Dee Dum
  5. Using syllables not words.


Activity: Scanning the Sonnet

Show Sonnet 18 on the projector and hand each student a copy of sonnet 18.  Show the breakdown of the first line into Iambic Pentameter.

  1. Shall I/ compare/ thee to/ a sum/ mer’s day

Have different students come to the board and break down a line. They can have help from other students, those sitting in their seats should try scanning the work themselves on their own paper.  Have the class read the sonnet out loud using the iambic pentameter rhythm.


Activity: Group Scanning

Give each student a sonnet handout and divide them into 3 groups.  Each group will choose one of the sonnets and scan it for iambic pentameter to the best of their ability.  Have each group recite the sonnet in unison based on their scanning.


Activity: Meter vs. Communication.

Point out to students that sometimes the iambic pentameter makes communicating the text awkward.  There is going to be a tension when performing between wanting to follow the rhythm but also wanting to communicate the text using word stress. It is okay to lose the iambic pentameter occasionally when performing as long as you keep the beat as your backbone.


Show the Hip Hop of Shakespeare video clip, until 7:22.  Point out that sometimes the rap artists aren’t exactly following Iambic pentameter but they always go back to the beat to guide them.  Play the Funky Drumline video clip and let student practice rapping their sonnet to the beat.  Have several students who are comfortable try rapping their sonnets for the class.



Point out to students that you don’t want them to abandon communicating for the meter, but use the beat to help you communicate.