Iambic pentameter verse consists of five feet (a foot is an iamb). Each foot is made up of two syllables – one syllable is stressed and the other is unstressed. Pentameter is taken from the Greek word “penta” meaning five. Therefore, iambic pentameter is a line of five iambic feet and contains ten syllables.
Shakespeare takes this basic form and then uses many variants. The variants allow his language to convey expressiveness, force and complexity. As these variants are explored, the actor will find that they provide a map or guide to the thought process of the character.
In this interview, Shane Ann covers the basics of the meter, a little of its history, why Shakespeare used this metrical form, and how speaking in verse can help the actors.
Podcast Ep. 82 Cassidy Cash
Welcome to Episode #82 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.
One of the aspects of Shakespeare’s plays known for causing the most eye rolls in a class for beginning Shakespeare students is the concept of iambic pentameter. For many other students, myself included, however, it is precisely the short lines, rhyming words, and systematic beat to the sound of the words in Shakespeare’s plays which causes them to enjoy Shakespeare’s works in the first place.
I think Kenneth Branagh demonstrates the meter best when he tap dances to iambic pentameter in the film version of Love’s Labour’s Lost. The bard’s metrical approach to word choice and phrases in his plays allows the words to flow off the page and onto the stage, or into the dancing shoes of some Shakespeareans, with a skill very similar to that of a musician learning how, when, and how long to hold a note when playing a musical score. Not only are pauses are important for Shakespeare’s lines, but we can see in even the stage directions of Shakepseare’s plays that often the action on stage is influenced by the words he chooses to write for a particular character.
The development and use of iambic pentameter in theater is unique to the time period when he was writing. It turns out that iambic pentameter has it’s own important role to play in each Shakespeare’s production and actors in Shakespeare’s theater like Richard Burbage or Will Kempe, had to learn where to place their emphasis and pauses just like Shakespearean actors today. Our guest this week trains just such actors in this particular skill, and she’s here to today to walk us through the history of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, please welcome, Shane Ann Younts.