Iambic pentameter is a style of poetry, which refers to a certain number of syllables in a line and the emphasis placed on the syllables. While he did not invent it, William Shakespeare frequently used iambic pentameter in his plays and sonnets. Here are some examples that you’ll probably be familiar with. Read them out loud:
They flow nicely when read aloud, don’t they? So what makes them examples of iambic pentameter? Let’s quickly break down the term itself.
In poetry, two syllables together are called a foot. So in a line of poetry, the cat would be considered one foot. If you say the words, and the is unstressed and cat is stressed (i.e. the CAT), it can be represented as da DUM. An unstressed/stressed foot is known as an iamb, which is where the term iambic comes from.
In poetry, meter refers to the pattern of syllables in a line. Penta means five (think “pentagram,” a five-sided figure in math, or “Pentatonix,” a super-popular a cappella group with five members). Therefore, iambic pentameter refers to a line of poetry that has five feet of iambs (an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). So, going back to one of Shakespeare’s examples above, it would sound like:
but SOFT | what LIGHT | through YON | der WIN | dow BREAKS
da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM
Great! Go back and read the original examples above and think about the unstressed/stressed syllables.
Some more modern sentences that use iambic pentameter might be:
Now it’s time for students to try creating their own pieces using iambic pentameter. The following exercise has two parts – an individual warmup and a group writing portion. See below for a worksheet to guide students through the process of the exercise.
Part One consists of an iambic pentameter warmup. Students do this individually.
Part Two consists of a group writing exercise.
by Julie Hartley
Shakespeare is one of the greatest resources a drama teacher can have. But teaching it can be a challenge. Practical Approaches to Shakespeare in the Drama Classroom helps drama teachers break down the Bard to make his themes, language and characters accessible to all.