What is iambic pentameter?

What is iambic pentameter and do actors need it?

If you have ever acted in a Shakespeare play or taken an English class, you may have heard about iambic pentameter, but if your introduction to iambic pentameter was anything like mine, you may be more inclined to study the bubonic plague.  Lucky for me, I eventually discovered that iambic pentameter is actually hidden treasure for an actor.

Okay, first things first:  What is iambic pentameter?  That’s what we’ll cover in this first on eof the series.  In the following two, we’ll dig into how to use it in your acting.

Iambic pentameter is like your heartbeat.  Ba boom, ba boom, ba boom.  Ba dum, ba dum, ba dum.  Shakespeare wrote in prose (regular old talking with no real structure) rhyming verse, and blank verse (non-rhyming).  Shakespeare’s rhyming and blank verse are written in iambic pentameter.

An iam is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one:  “ba DUM”.  That “ba DUM” is what we call one “foot”.   Five “feet” of “iams” give us the “pentameter” part.  If you count the syllables on your fingers, in a perfect foot of iambic pentameter you will count to ten.

         Ba DUM / ba DUM / ba DUM / ba DUM / ba DUM

Ok, hopefully I haven’t lost you yet.  It’s about to get juicy.

Of course as an actor you aren’t going to deliver this famous line from Romeo and Juliet like this (see video for demo):

But SOFT / what LIGHT / through YON / der WIN / dow BREAKS

However, it cannot be ignored, like I once believed and was taught.  So what should an actor do with it?

Well WATCH the NEXT two POSTS and YOU shall SEE!

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