Lorianne Tika Lemba of 'Hip Hop Shakespeare Company' compares Shakespeare’s verse rhythms to hip hop. Placing her hand on her chest to feel the rhythm of her heart, she explains that the rhythm of the human heart consists of two beats, which make a ‘Da-dum’ sound. She tells us that Shakespeare used this double-beat five times in each line of blank verse in his plays. She explains that the technical term for this is iambic pentameter. It is similar to the beat that runs through hip hop music. Lorianne then shows how anyone can rap Shakespeare by selecting a piece of verse from a favourite play, adding a hip hop beat and fitting the words to the beat. She demonstrates with her own favourite play, Romeo and Juliet.
Pupils could practice feeling the beat of their own hearts and notice the double ‘Da-Dum’ rhythm. Teachers could then select a short piece of original blank verse from a Shakespeare play – i.e. one that is written with five double beats per line and where each line begins with a capital letter. Pupils could practice fitting this to an existing rhythm or one they create using computer software. The rhythm of iambic pentameter is similar to the rhythm of a child pretending to gallop on a horse, so pupils could practice moving in a gallop around the hall whilst reciting their ten beat lines in time with the gallop. When confident, they could rap their performances of their line back to the class, either individually or in small groups. Finally, iambic pentameter is a very natural speaking pattern (e.g. I’d like to have another cup of tea) and pupils could investigate this by creating their own iambic pentameter sentences or poems with ten beats per line.