Interrupting Lines: Shakespeare 101

Here is Exercise 3 in the series, ‘Shakespeare 101’, my preferred way to kick off a unit of Shakespeare in the Drama or English classroom. 

Shakespeare’s blank verse includes 10 syllables per line arranged in iambic pentameter. What happens when this rhythm is disrupted? It happens more than you’d think and is a neon sign pointing the actor to the idea that something has changed for the character. 

This can happen for a number of reasons. Just one of these is when two characters are interrupting one another for some dramatic reason or intention. 

A shortened version of this exercise can be found in Fiona Banks’ book Creative Shakespeare The Globe Education Guide to Practical Shakespeare. I actually like to extend this one and then use it as the basis for discussion of other reasons that arise for changes in rhythm. I have found that by using this as an exercise on building pace students are more able to experiment with changes in pace in the plays. This is particularly useful when exploring tension in the plays created through rhythm and pace.

Check out the whole Shakespeare 101 series for more exercises that can be used separately as warm ups at the beginning of a lesson. You may also like to use this exercise in conjunction with the other exercises in this series as part of a one hour introduction to Shakespeare as theatre at the beginning of a unit of work. I have used Romeo and Juliet as the text example here as this is often the play chosen as an introduction in Australian schools.

Introduction: Thought Experiment can be found here.

Exercise 1: Archetypes can be found here.

Exercise 2: Words as Weapons is linked here.

When should I use this exercise?

This exercise is a great way of introducing rhythm in Shakespeare’s plays without immediately delving into iambic pentameter. I use this as part of a one hour introduction to Shakespeare as theatre or as a warm up for another lesson in the unit of work.

How can I adapt this to my classroom space?

This exercise works well in any space, with or without desks. You may like to have two students perform the exercise at the front of the classroom with the rest of the class watching. Alternatively you may have students work on this in pairs or simply perform from their desks. You know your class dynamic best. 

Step by Step Instructions:

Step 1:

Choose a section of dialogue that consists of short or single lines between two characters. An example of dialogue between Tybalt and Capulet in Act I, Scene v is included here in PDF form as an extension on the Words as Weapons exercise.

Step 2:

Students read through the scene aiming to start speaking their line one or two words before the other character has finished speaking theirs. The aim is for there to be no pause between lines, quickening the pace of delivery and adding some urgency to the exchange of dialogue.

Step 3:

Students reflect on the impact of this exercise on the pacing of the scene. Did it feel right to continue the whole exchange or was there a moment where it felt too rushed and they wanted to take more time as actors?

Extension Option –

Students could then explore the opposite of the pace in this example by adding a five second pause between each line. Encourage them to consider what happens to fill this pause. For example, is there a physical action that fills the gap? Is it used as time for the character to ponder and consider their response? Does the character go to speak and then pause in order to gain control of their words before speaking?

The instructions for this exercise, and accompanying example dialogue can be downloaded in PDF form here.

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