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Why Shakespeare loved iambic pentameter - David T. Freeman and Gregory Taylor

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Shakespeare sometimes gets a bad rap in high schools for his complex plots and antiquated language. But a quick peek into the rhythm of his words reveals a poet deeply rooted in the way people spoke in his time — and still speak today. Why do Shakespeare’s words have such staying power? David T. Freeman and Gregory Taylor uncover the power of iambic pentameter.

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TED-Ed Original lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed original? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator David T. Freeman, Gregory Taylor
  • Director Brad Purnell
  • Sound Designer Ross Allchurch
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Narrator Dan Simpson

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
While interesting to explore in his plays, the idea of Shakespeare as a poet isn’t new. He wrote many poems. Most famously, he penned 154 sonnets that are often as studied and celebrated as his plays. His sonnets feature a specific format that uses iambic pentameter to reflect great meaning and emotion in a short burst of verse.

If it’s the words themselves that grab you, take a plunge down the rabbit hole of Open Source Shakespeare: a beautiful marriage of the bard and technology that allows you to search every poem and play Shakespeare ever wrote for individual words and phrases. Just how many times does the world “blood” show up in Macbeth?

You’ve seen some of the similarities between Shakespeare’s meter and music. This has led many people to draw connections between the bard and a popular modern form of poetry: hip-hop. The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company explores that connection through events, workshops and many other media. You can watch a fantastic TED Talk by Akala from TedxAldeburgh that explores some of the links between Shakespeare and Hip-Hop. And if you’re wondering how the bard stacks up with modern MC’s (beyond their affinity for “swagger”), then check out this NPR feature about the number of unique words used by modern wordsmiths.

If all of this wordplay makes you want to get up on your feet and speak the words, you should research the English Speaking Union’s National Shakespeare Competition – an annual recitation competition featuring some of Shakespeare’s greatest speeches. If your school doesn’t participate, then start a movement to make it happen!

Want even more Shakespeare? You can find more on his affinity for insults and views on dating in other great TED-Ed lessons! And if you want more TED, then seek out Steven Pinker on what we learn from the words we use and Stephen Burt on Why People Need Poetry.

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About TED-Ed Originals

TED-Ed Original lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed original? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator David T. Freeman, Gregory Taylor
  • Director Brad Purnell
  • Sound Designer Ross Allchurch
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Narrator Dan Simpson

Share

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