Introducing "The Taming of the Shrew" Using Living Iambic Pentameter

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SWBAT understand iambic pentameter and see "The Taming of the Shrew" as a play within a play.

Big Idea

Shakespeare wrote "The Taming of the Shrew" for performance.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

How should we study and teach Shakespeare's plays? From the earliest days of my career, this question has echoed in my mind. Yet despite my drama certification, I allowed myself to be influenced by prevailing pedagogy and for years eschewed what I knew in my heart, soul, and mind: Plays are meant to be performed. This is how actors study a play, by blocking and close oral reading of lines.

Not until I studied with the Folger Shakespeare library did I return to my roots. Thus, this unit showcases my pedagogical philosophy that performance pedagogy represents best practices for teaching Shakespeare in ELA classrooms. 

Lesson 1 for The Taming of the Shrew

  • Living Iambic Pentameter
  • Notes on the "Play within the Play"
  • Line Tossing Activity
  • Interactive Summary

A note on the text: I use the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of The Taming of the Shrew; consequently, all textual references correspond to that text. It's available online as a digital edition (free) from the Folger Shakespeare Library. 

*A Character list helps students keep track of the many players in TTotS.

Living Iambic Pentameter

15 minutes

I introduce students to to Shakespeare with Living Iambic Pentameter, a physical activity designed to give students a sense of Shakespeare's language. Knowing iambic pentameter contributes to student understanding of the play and gives them a sense of accomplishment, as the accompanying tutorial from the Folger Shakespeare Library shows.

Before the tutorial, a few reasons iambic pentameter matters:

  • It's the metrical pattern that most replicates everyday conversation. I tell students they often speak in iambs.
  • Deviations from iambic pentameter often signals an important plot turn in Shakespeare's works.
  • Shakespeare makes visible class structures with iambic pentameter. For example, in Macbeth the Porter does not speak in blank verse, nor do the mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream. This matters because such characters, those not from royal lineage or upper social structure, mirror the groundlings (common folk who stood in the round of the Globe Theater). Shakespeare is all-inclusive in terms of his characters and audience considerations.  

As is the video, I have the Living Iambic Pentameter.docxprepared and ask for student volunteers. 

Students vocalize the Ta/Tum sounds in order to replicate iambic pentameter. 

Additionally, I gave students notesIambic Pentameter: Teacher Notes & Student Work. I simplify the notes by breaking the term into parts and by showing students the symbolization for unaccented and accented syllables. 

Finally, we talk about why understanding iambic pentameter matters in terms of class, status, power, etc. Students take Iambic Pentameter: Notes on importance.

This fun activity tells students they're in for a good time studying Shakespeare, and it shows them that Shakespeare's language isn't as difficult as they imagined it would be. 

A Few Notes on the Play within the Play

10 minutes

Since The Taming of the Shrew is one of the three plays Shakespeare wrote that has a play within the play, I explain this to students. I also tell them that often the "Induction" scene is omitted from staged performances but that it is so important to understanding the play that we need to read it, too. 

I put Teacher Notes: The Play within the Play to show the structure of "Shrew."

  • Induction: The first play
  • The Taming of the Shrew: The main play
  • Return to the Induction: The first play (w/ only a few lines)

Line Tossing Activity

10 minutes

Before reading I want students to have experience playing with Shakespeare's language and becoming familiar with the play, so we play a line tossing activity. 

  • I distribute Tossing Lines.docto students. Each line is on a note card.
  • Students mill around the room, sharing the lines with one another. 
  • After a short time, I have student switch lines to give them even more experience with the text. 

The video shows students having fun with the line tossing. 

After the line tossing, we engage in a processing discussion. I ask students to stand in a circle, and we each share 

  • something you noticed,
  • something you heard,
  • something you learned,
  • something you liked,
  • something you think,
  • etc. 

Students typically say things such as,

  • "I noticed some people got more into it than others did."
  • "I learned how to read some Shakespeare."
  • "I think it was fun."
  • "I liked that we got to move around and talk."

It's important that all students share. I start and rotate to my left. I give prompts as we take turns and someone gets stumped. 

Interactive Summary: A Shared Reading Experience

20 minutes

After line tossing, students stand in a circle for theInteractive summary.doc An interactive summary is a written summary of the play with numbering so that students can insert their numbered lines into the summary as the teacher reads it. An interactive summary accomplishes several things: 

  • It teaches students to summarize and incorporate quotes into their summaries, so it's a good preparatory activity for the research paper later in the year.
  • It gives students a sense of the plot so they are more comfortable working with Shakespeare's language.
  • It's an example of writing I expect students to do in later units.

The process: 

  • Begin reading the summary.
  • Say #1 when you get to that point. 
  • The student with line #1 reads.
  • Continue with the summary until #2.
  • The student with #2 reads the line.
  • Continue in the preceding way until the summary is complete. 

If time, discuss what the students observe and learn about the play from the summary. This we'll do next as the period was almost over by the time we finished the summary.