Genre’s Name: Shakespearean Literature and Poetry
Definition: Shakespeare has written a variety of works, from historical plays to comedic plays to romantic sonnets. His writing is usually in verse form, and usually in iambic pentameter. He is known for his very sharp wit, complex plotlines, and use of humor and insinuation.
Genre’s General Purpose: For the vast majority of Shakespeare’s work, the purpose is to entertain a large audience.
Genre’s General Audience: (Originally) Adults interested in theater during the 16th and 17th centuries in England. (Today) Adults interested in theater or drama and students in high school who have no choice.
Genre’s Conventions: Very flowery, descriptive language; Shakespeare is known to have one of the largest writing vocabularies in history. Nearly everything that he wrote is formatted in an Iambic pentameter structure written in verse form. His sonnets are pretty much always English sonnets. Graphics and color are not, to my knowledge, used in any of Shakespeare’s original writing, though they often are in reprints today.
Background Information: William Shakespeare is obviously one of the most influential writers of the English language in history, but he wasn’t always so well-respected. Shakespeare was actually an actor in theater before he began writing, and when he did finally start writing, a lot of the famous and well-educated playwrights of his era wrote him off and scoffed him because he didn’t have the education that they had. Obviously he was able to move past that and win over the crowds of theater-goers because he became very rich and very famous even while he was alive. It’s interesting to note that he still acted in other people’s plays even after becoming famous for his own plays.
Clearly Shakespeare is THE Shakespearean writer. Though many people have tried to write in his vein, ultimately the genre is one that belongs solely to him. Perhaps the one writer besides Shakespeare that might fit this genre is John Keats. Keats was an avid fan of Shakespeare and wrote pretty much in the exact same style and form for much of his catalog.
Shakespeare was influenced by the plays that he acted in early in his life, but he very clearly was more of an influencer than an influencee. Shakespeare has a huge effect on culture even today, as many popular “modern” movies like “Ten Things I Hate About You” (The Taming of the Shrew), “She’s The Man” (Twelfth Night), “Romeo + Juliet” (…Romeo and Juliet), follow Shakespearean play plots almost perfectly. A lot of people wouldn’t realize that there are a ton of movies such as Lion King (Hamlet) that emulate Shakespeare’s writing to a lesser degree, too, and there are innumerable movies, songs, TV shows, etc. that make reference to Shakespeare, his writings, or famous quotes.

Shakespeare can be dull for some students; trying to make it more interesting by taking some creative approaches can make teaching Shakespeare a more rewarding experience for teachers and students alike, as somewhat seen in this rap song telling the basic plot of Romeo and Juliet:

Examples of the Genre

Sonnet XVIII
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Sonnet CXXX
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

Excerpt from Taming of the Shrew Act I

Marry, sir, to get a husband for her sister.

A husband! a devil.

I say, a husband.

I say, a devil. Thinkest thou, Hortensio, though
her father be very rich, any man is so very a fool
to be married to hell?

Tush, Gremio, though it pass your patience and mine
to endure her loud alarums, why, man, there be good
fellows in the world, an a man could light on them,
would take her with all faults, and money enough.

I cannot tell; but I had as lief take her dowry with
this condition, to be whipped at the high cross
every morning.

Faith, as you say, there's small choice in rotten
apples. But come; since this bar in law makes us
friends, it shall be so far forth friendly
maintained all by helping Baptista's eldest daughter
to a husband we set his youngest free for a husband,
and then have to't a fresh. Sweet Bianca! Happy man
be his dole! He that runs fastest gets the ring.
How say you, Signior Gremio?

I am agreed; and would I had given him the best
horse in Padua to begin his wooing that would
thoroughly woo her, wed her and bed her and rid the
house of her! Come on.

To see these and the rest of Shakespeare's sonnets, please visit:
For links to Shakespeare's full-text plays, please visit:

Teaching Resources/Reading Materials

Bristol, Michael D. Humanist Interpretations. Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide, New York: Oxford Printing Press. 2003. 333-342

This article lends some good insight on how human’s tend to think or interpret certain ideals and how this can be applied to reading or teaching Shakespeare. It discusses how interpreting certain lines of Shakespeare’s lines literally vs. figuratively can change the meaning drastically, or how a simple literal knowledge of a word is necessary to understand what is even being said. The article also talks about emotions, morals, and relationships and their role in Shakespeare’s works in relation to how a humanist would see them.

Kidnie, Margaret Jane. Shakespeare’s Audiences. Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide, New York: Oxford Printing Press. 2003. 32-42
This article discusses in depth the intended audience of Shakespeare’s works, looking at the culture of theater during his time as well as the morals and ethics of the people for whom his plays and sonnets were written. It gives great insight into how theater in general worked during Shakespeare’s time. It also looks specifically at the role of women in Shakespeare’s plays and how that might have affected the type of women who would have viewed plays in theaters during that time, bringing up a questionable but interesting idea that many prostitutes would have frequented theaters to target men afterwards due to the way that women in plays were being portrayed as promiscuous.

McDonald, Russ. Shakespeare’s verse. Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide, New York: Oxford Printing Press. 2003. 79-91
This is article deals specifically with poetry scanning and analysis. It offers many different examples of Shakespeare’s poetry and analyzes patterns, meter, rhyme, and form. It compares Shakespeare’s writings to those of other authors in an attempt to show similarities and differences between the two, mostly the latter. It also looks at how while Shakespeare had common patterns set, he often deviated from them to accomplish something new or to set emphasis on something that is happening.
Thomson, Peter. Conventions of Playwrighting. Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide, New York: Oxford Printing Press. 2003. 44-53
This article talks about what it takes to write a play. It lays out common practices among playwrights during Shakespeare’s time and also talks about how playwrights would have been viewed back then compared to how they are viewed today. It also explains how the established conventions of playwrights during the era contributed to how Shakespeare’s own plays were constructed.

Wells, Stanley. Why Study Shakespeare?. Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide, New York: Oxford Printing Press. 2003. 3-8
This article explains why it is important to study Shakespeare. It discusses how Shakespeare is relevant today in that the topics and situations that he wrote about so long ago are still relatable even today. It also points out how strongly literary elements such as plot, characterization, poetic language, and drama are represented in Shakespeare’s works.

CCGPS Instructional Activities

To teach this genre effectively, you will need to engage students with activities that are meaningful but bearable. This can be a very difficult genre for students, especially unreceptive ones, but giving assignments that are too easy will not be effective in teaching anyone how to understand the genre. The following two activities will help students understand how Shakespeare's works are finely crafted and how to replicate his craft:

Activity One:

Grade 12 CCGPS
Reading Literary (RL)
ELACC11-12RL5: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
Skills/Concepts for Students:
  • Analyze the effects of form in poetry (fixed and free, lyric, ballad, sonnet, heroic couplets, elegy, narrative poem, dramatic monologue) and drama (act, scene, line, stage directions)
  • Identifies and analyzes patterns of imagery or symbolism
  • Analyzes and explains the structures and elements of nonfiction works of British literature such as letters, journals and diaries, speeches, and essays.
  • Know the elements of plot structure and be able to identify those parts
  • Recognize various structural formats of fictional texts (stanza, act, scene, chapter, etc.)
  • Identify and understand the function of flashback, foreshadowing, beginning a narrative in the middle of action (in media res)
  • Be able to accurately identify rhyme scheme and basic metrical formulas
  • Analyze the impact of an author’s choice in disclosing narrative elements at a particular point in a text
Strategies for Teachers:
  • Provide explicit instruction and scaffolding as necessary for the skills and concepts students should acquire for RL5 British Literature (see above)
  • Allow students to explore texts that experiment with structure in interesting ways (such as magical realism)
  • Require students to isolate and analyze structural elements (such as identifying the climactic scene and defending their choice through text evidence)
  • Have students compare and contrast texts that are suspenseful, comic, or otherwise create an emotional/tonal response; direct students in identifying a variety of structural approaches to achieve a similar results (for example comic structural elements like surprise or dramatic irony)
  • Explore the structure of poetry including metrical terms and formulas (such as iambic pentameter) and rhyme scheme

Activity Steps: Total time: 25 minutes
  1. Have students write down definition of “Penta” and “Iamb” along with examples of Iambs. Use these definitions to explain what Iambic Pentameter is.
  2. Show students a sample line of poetry in Iambic Pentameter and have them read it aloud to see how the rhythm flows. Model poetry scanning by drawing in the stressed and unstressed syllable markings above each syllable.
  3. Show students the same line of poetry, this time splitting up the line into distinct Iambs, separating words and syllables. Ask several students to identify each Iamb.
  4. Show several different sample lines of poetry, each to its own PowerPoint slide, and have a different student identify where the stressed and unstressed syllables are. Have a different student each time identify whether or not the line is in Iambic Pentameter. Mix in contemporary popular songs with Shakespeare’s verse. Ex.: “Soulja Boy” is a good example of Trochaic Tetrameter!
  5. Have students break into groups of 3-4. Hand out a copy of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” (Without the title on the page, though) to each student. Instruct students to work as a group to map out the meter of the poem and determine what form of poem it is and whether or not it uses Iambic Pentameter throughout.
  6. Bring a close to the group work session by having a student read the poem aloud and quickly calling on different groups to mark the stressed and unstressed syllables on the board.
  7. Refresh students with the definition of “Rhyme” and “Rhyme scheme”. Show an example of rhyme scheme through the chorus of “Love the Way you Lie” by Eminem and Rihanna, pointing out the AABB rhyme scheme and explaining why it is AABB.
  8. Show several 4+ line different examples of Rhyme Scheme, again mixing in popular recent music with Shakespeare’s verse and have a different student identify the Rhyme Scheme of each one.
  9. Have students turn back to their original groups of 3-4 and quickly identify the Rhyme Scheme of “Sonnet 130”.
  10. Have a student read “Sonnet 130” to the class and have another student write the rhyme scheme on the board while the poem is read.
  11. Wrap up the lesson with a short quiz, giving the students a bank of 5 words, 3 of which are trochees and 2 of which are Iambs, asking students to identify the Iambs; Ask students what “Penta” means, Include a short 6 lines or less poem in which the students must identify the rhyme scheme; With the same poem, have students mark out its syllable stresses; Ask students what form of poetry Shakespeare is very famous for writing.

Homework (or next day): Have students write a sonnet.

Recommended Vocabulary for Teaching and Learning:
Rhyme Scheme Heroic Couplet Fixed/Free Lyric
Stanza Meter Verse Sonnet

If students argue that poetry is stupid and that they are wasting their time, you can always explain to them that poetry is cool:

Files needed for Activity One:

Activity Two:

Grade 12 CCGPS
Reading Literary (RL)
ELACC11-12RL4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
Skills/Concepts for Students:
  • Analyze the effects of diction, figurative language, and complex language constructions, including: alliteration, end rhyme, slant rhyme, internal rhyme, consonance, assonance, personification, imagery, metaphor, conceit, simile, metonymy, synecdoche, hyperbole, symbolism, allusion, controlling images, extended metaphor, understatement, hyperbole, irony, and paradox, as they relate to underlying meaning) on poems, drama, and novels in works of British and Commonwealth Literature
  • Identifies and analyzes patterns of imagery or symbolism
  • Acquire and review knowledge of strategies for making meaning, such as word patterns and Greek and Latin roots
  • Identifies and correctly uses idioms, cognates, words with literal and figurative meanings, and patterns of word changes that indicate different meanings or functions
  • Keep a notebook of words and phrases that you particularly like
  • Understand the difference between figurative language, idiomatic language, and poetic (sound) devices and be able to readily identify each
  • Make a practice of actively identifying the tone of a text, remembering that all literary analysis should examine diction, syntax, tone, imagery, and figurative language
Strategies for Teachers:
  • Provide explicit instruction and scaffolding as necessary for the skills and concepts students should acquire for RL4 British Literature (see above)
  • Have students routinely identify diction, syntax, tone, imagery, and figurative language in every work they examine
  • Practice all recommended strategies for making meaning of unknown words (context, roots, word structure, reference materials, etc.)
  • Require students to keep a journal of phrases and quotes that they particularly like (these can be analyzed for patterns periodically, giving students insight into their personal aesthetic preferences as readers)
  • Integrate new vocabulary into lessons and lectures

Activity Steps: Total time: 30-45 minutes
  1. Review passage from Macbeth on Handout # 1 and explain what exactly Shakespeare is saying and why his word choice, or diction, is important.
  2. Have students determine what Shakespeare is implying, illustrating, and saying in the passage.
  3. Pass out Handout # 2 (There should be at least two different Hand Out #2’s, each one with a different passage from Macbeth) and instruct students to paraphrase the entire passage into modern day English, changing the word choice to fit how they would speak in a brief summary.
  4. Instruct students to determine the tone of the original passage and to then look at their own summary and evaluate their tone; does it reflect the same tone as Shakespeare?
  5. Have students get into groups of 3-4 based on which passage they received and share their paraphrased summaries of the passage. As a group, students should determine how each of their rewritten soliloquies is different, but also noting any common phrases used to describe the passage.
  6. Have groups swap papers with one another, making sure that each group receives a set of papers focused on a passage that they themselves did not analyze already. Have each group member take one of the papers and rewrite the paraphrased passages that they’ve received in the style of Shakespeare.
  7. Now have each group pass their original passage to the group who just rewrote their summaries. Now no student should have their original passage nor their initial paraphrasing, but instead they should each have another person’s paraphrased summary, the passage from which it came, and their own rewritten passage in Shakespeare’s language. Students should examine each rewritten Shakespeare passage and see how closely their own versions resemble that of Shakespeare.

Recommended Vocabulary for Teaching and Learning:
Sound device
Root word
End rhyme
Slant rhyme
Internal rhyme
Controlling image
Extended metaphor

Files needed for Activity Two:

Student Assessment

To assess students' mastery of Shakespeare's language and his overall writing style, you must make students show that they can not only identify elements of Shakespeare's writing style, but replicate it as well. If a student can replicate or even translate Shakespeare's style, they truly understand it. The following two part assessment will be simple but effective in gauging students' understanding of Shakespeare.

Students will be required to bring in lyrics for one of their favorite songs. Every set of lyrics must be approved by the teacher prior to being used. Students will take the lyrics and rewrite them into Iambic Pentameter using Shakespearean language and a set rhyme scheme. Extra credit will be given to students who also arrange their rewritten songs in the form of a sonnet (or multiple sonnets). Students will be graded on consistency of meter, rhyme scheme, and retention of the meaning of the original version of the song.

The following day, students will take a quiz. The quiz will consist of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 written in its original, unedited form. Students will be required to completely rewrite the sonnet into modern terms on their own while retaining the Abab cdcd efef gg rhyme scheme of an English Sonnet. Students will be graded on consistency of meaning of the original poem and on rhyme scheme.

Additional Resource: A How-To Guidebook for writing like Shakespeare