Making Shakespeare Sound Natural


Students will demonstrate their understanding of scansion and making classical text sound natural by analyzing the text of their monologue/scene.



Recording of “Good Times Back” from The Little Mermaid Broadway Soundtrack

“Good Times Back” lyrics sheet  Good Times Back Lyric Sheet.Lesson 5

Lady Percy scansion monologue  Lady Percy Mono.Shakes & Contemp Speech.Lesson 5

Shakespeare Lexicon and other resources (if available)




Pass out lyric sheets for the song from “The Little Mermaid”.  Have students get a pencil out and be ready to make notations on the paper while they listen.  Ask them to circle or underline words that the performer, Sheri Rene Scott, really “colors” through elongating them, playing with the pitch, changing tone, etc.  They should note what she does to the word to make it interesting to listen to.  Also have them put a star by words or phrases that because of the way they are performed make sense and are funny, sarcastic, develop thoughts of the character, show character personality, sound natural to the character, etc.  The whole point of the notations is for the students to analyze WHAT Scott does with the lyrics and HOW she performs them to help portray this fantastic character of Ursula.


Play Sheri Rene Scott’s “Good Times Back” (see notes on the lyrics sheet).  If need be, play it through twice – once for the students to just listen to and once to make notes through the song playing.


Discuss together as a class WHAT and HOW Scott performs the song.  Get students thinking about how they can manipulate/explore/play with their own text and dialogue to convey meaning and thoughts, portray personality, and sound natural.


To apply this to classical Shakespeare text, together, go through four sentences written on the board:

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt.

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks.

Two households, both alike in dignity.

To be, or not to be? That is the question.


Review iambic pentameter and write the stressed/unstressed symbols above the top three sentences.  Play with the rhythm; say only the stressed syllables and then only the unstressed.  Clue from Shakespeare is that important (perhaps operative words) are on stressed.  Then do the fourth line – does not scan.  What does that mean?  What clues is Shakespeare giving to the dialogue?


If you can scan the text – it will help you know operative words and what Shakespeare figures is important, interesting, and different.  Then you can begin to play with the text to make it sound natural and do all the things that the class discussed about the song from the hook exercise.


Using the Lady Percy monologue (PowerPoint) as in the previous lesson, demonstrate how to analyze the text scansion.  Examine how the written language affects the sound of the piece and could affect the acting of the piece as well.


Then go through the monologue (with the contemporary translation side-by-side) and model the last few steps taught yesterday (identifying operative words, dividing up the text into phrases/beats, and discovering transitions). Be sure to read through the monologue once the steps have been taken in order to demonstrate the different performance value after doing these elements of text analysis. 


Encourage the students to allow themselves much freedom in their speaking on stage.  Often young Shakespearean actors err in being “too in-control” or holding too much restraint in their speech.  They need to use natural punctuation and idea beats/phrasing to provide naturalness, variety, and freedom in their vocal characteristics and levels.


Give students time to apply scansion to their pieces and divide the performance up into beats or phrases.  Using the index cards, have the students discover and score the phrases/beats in their performance pieces.  Prompt them to use scansion, follow punctuation, and to create transitions between their beats.  Guide them through this analytical process, encouraging them to read between the lines to find out the subtext of the scene or monologue and then play that vocally and physically.  Encourage students to keep the rhythm or pace of their piece always moving – have them think on the line and give the words the emotion.


Pair students up and have them speak their piece to their partner…let the partner just LISTEN with eyes closed to give feedback on how it sounds vocally.  Have partners give feedback on the scansion, interpretation, etc. 


Journal write: Have students jot down a personal application of the previous exercise—what did they learn about making Shakespeare sound natural that they can work on in their own piece?


Remind students to be working on their memorization.  Brainstorm ways to memorize their pieces – using the index cards, writing it out, etc.


Get some students up on their feet and coach the students to use transitions between their beats/phrases.  These transitions can be verbal, physical, blocking change, level difference, prop business, emotional adjustment, objective transformation, etc.  Promote the idea of starting the very beginning of the piece with a transition – a “boom!” – that provides a strong opening to the monologue or scene. 


Remind students how they can overcome the fearfulness of verse and elevated language in their classical performances:

  • Break down the poetic elements of rhyme and rhythm
  • Figure out proper word stress (no negatives or pronouns)
  • Know what you’re saying (look up nouns and verbs)
  • Paraphrase/translate dialogue into modern language in full sentences
  • Create objectives and tactics






Students can be assessed through their participation in the exercises as well as their scansion work with the index cards.