Iambic Pentameter Exercises:

1. Physical Warm-up:

  • Warm up: Always ask or explain why we warm up as actors. Try as much as possible to relate the warm up to the forth coming session. Still standing in a circle - ask them to stick out their right elbow and imagine that it is a pen. They must write their name in the air as big as they can while calling out the letters. Left elbow - could be the name of their school or the street they live on. Then with right and left knees - choose place names from the play eg for The Comedy of Errors it would be Ephesus and Syracuse. With right and left feet - get them to write two themes from the play eg. love and jealousy. Then with their head and their bums get them to write in the air two character names (Dromio or Antipholus), still calling out the letters. They should be out of breath and will probably be laughing especially if you finish with the bum. They will be warmed up and you can then ask them why you chose the words you did and how they relate to the play.

2. Socialization Warm-Up

  • In a circle - A walks across the circle towards B, A wants Bís space in the circle. A and B swap places which means B must now walk towards some one else to get a new space. This exercise must be done with out speaking. It relies on eye contact and concentration. A lot of young people will find the eye contact and walking alone across the circle embarrassing and challenging. Often the girls will only approach girls and boys will only approach boys, this tells you a lot about the gender relations of the group. These issues can then be discussed with the group.

3. Concentration Warm-Up:

  • Count From One to Ten going around the circle and clap on #1 and #10
  • Move and Clap on #1 and #10
  • Don't Call #1 and #10, just clap.
  • Move and Clap on #1 and #10

4. Follow the Bouncing Ball:

  • Ten people line up and speak each syllable of the following line:
  • But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
  • Each syllable has equal weight. Sounds odd, doesn't it? 
  • Now every stressed syllable should crouch and jump up on cue. Sounds better, huh?

5. Beat the following lines from Romeo and Juliet's Balcony Scene:

  • Two knees, two claps, two clicks, two knees, two claps:

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

  • b. Now do three lines, clapping on the iambic only

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon...

  • Ride a horse around the room with these three lines.
  • Drop a crumpled up piece of paper in front of you and as you speak the following lines, kick the piece of paper around the room on the last syllable of each line.
  • Stop and feel your heart: note how your heart is beating to iambics. Verse is speaking from the heart (as opposed to speaking from the head which in Shakespeare occurs in prose.)
  • Compose a line of iambic pentameter of your own. Go around the circle and recite each original line.
  • (From Discovering Shakespeare's Language by Gibson and Field-Pickering)   In Shakespeare's early plays the rhythm of the verse tends to be very regular. The lines are often 'end-stopped', each line making sense on its own, with a pause at the end of each line. In Titus Andronicus (a very early play) Titus speaks in a measured formal style, even at the most melodramatic moments, as for example, when he threatens the two men he intends to kill and bake in a pie:

Hark, villains, I will grind your bones to dust,
And with your blood and it I'll make a paste,
And of the paste a coffin I will rear,
And make two pasties of your shameful heads.

  • As Shakespeare's playwriting developed, he used fewer end stopped lines. He made much greater use of enjambment (running on), where one line flows into the next, seemingly without pause. For example, from the end of Macbeth:

I have lived long enough. My way of life
Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf.

6. Group Collaboration: Sonnet 12:

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime
And sable curls all silver'd o'er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard;
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defense
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.
  • Go around the circle and whisper the speech line by line. 
  • Walk and change directions on each full stop punctuation mark (semi-colons, periods). (Note the thought structure of the speech.)
  • Choose the key four words from each line and go around the circle speaking the speech line by line. (Me Tarzan... You Jane) 
  • Choose one word from each line and go around the circle. 
  • Assign a gesture to the word and go around the circle. 
  • Break into four groups (one for each quatrain and the couplet), and make up a play which incorporates each word and gesture into it. 
  • Present your group's play. 
  • Return to the full circle and do the speech line by line incorporating the movements from the plays.
    Say your lines four times to the sky, four times to the earth, four times to the center, and four times out.  
  • Drop your scripts and perform the speech, going around the circle.

7. I take from the sky all that I need....