Shakespeare – Module 5: The Merchant of Venice – 15 and 16 of 20 – Shakespeare’s language

Shakespeare’s language

LO: in this session we will explore some of the key language devices Shakepeare uses in all his plays and we will look at where we see them occuring in The Merchant of Venice.

Note: there is enough material in this for 2 sessions. You can choose to do it all at once or split it into two

Iambic Pentameter

Iambic pentameter is the name given to the rhythm that Shakespeare uses in his plays. The rhythm of Iambic Pentameter is like a heartbeat, with one soft beat and one strong beat repeated five times.

Task 1: watch the video for an expalnation about iambic pentameter

Where will I find it in The Merchant of Venice?

Iambic Pentameter is used for the majority of the play. If you count the syllables in the very first line of the play, ‘In sooth I know not why I am so sad’, you can see that Antonio uses ten beats to tell his friends how he feels.

Prose and Verse

Shakespeare writes in a combination of prose and verse. Prose is a conversational way of speaking which doesn’t have a set rhythm or structure. Verse always has a set rhythm and structure.

Task 2: watch the video about prose and verse

Prose and Verse

Where will I find it in the Merchant of Venice?

Only 20 per cent of The Merchant of Venice is written in prose. You can identify it by looking at the page in the play text. Where it looks like a poem with capital letters at the start of each new line, Shakespeare is using verse and when it looks like writing in a book that goes the whole way across the page, prose is being used. Portia and Nerissa’s first scene together (1:2) is written entirely in prose.

Antithesis

Antithesis happens when two opposites are put together. For example, hot and cold or light and dark.

Task 3: watch the antithesis video below

Antithesis

Where will I find it in The Merchant of Venice?

In Act 1, Scene 1, Gratiano declares ‘let my liver rather heat with wine / Than my heart cool with mortifying groans’, contrasting opposite temperatures.

Rhyming Couplets

Rhyming couplets are two lines written in Iambic Pentameter that end in the same sound, or a rhyme. They are often used to sum up the end of a character’s speech.

Task 4: watch the video below explaining rhyming couplets

Rhyming Couplets

Where will I find it in The Merchant of Venice?

Rhyming couplets are often used to finish a scene or a character’s speech. Antonio closes Act 1, Scene 3 with the rhyming couplet: ‘Come on, in this there can be no dismay, My ships come home a month before the day.’

Task 5: complete the quick test below replacing the ? with the correct word

Shakespeare writes in a combination of ? and verse.

prose

Verse is like poetry and it has a set ? and rhythm.

structure

The rhythm Shakespeare uses in his plays is called ?
 pentameter, which is like a ?,
with one soft beat and one strong beat repeated ?
 times.

iambic

heartbeat

five

Sometimes it’s also interesting to look at lines that don’t match the rhythm of iambic pentameter and to think about why. In Shakespeare’s plays, you will find examples of antithesis, which is when two ?
 are put together, like hot and cold or light and ?
.

opposites

dark

Characters also often end speeches with rhyming ?
, which are two lines written in ?
 that end in the same ?
, or a rhyme.

couplets

iambic pentmeter

sound

Click to reveal correct text in full

Shakespeare writes in a combination of prose and verse. Verse is like poetry and it has a set structure and rhythm. The rhythm Shakespeare uses in his plays is called  pentameter, which is like a heartbeat, with one soft beat and one strong beat repeated five times. Sometimes it’s also interesting to look at lines that don’t match the rhythm of iambic pentameter and to think about why.
In Shakespeare’s plays, you will find examples of antithesis, which is when two opposites are put together, like hot and cold or light and dark. Characters also often end speeches with rhyming couplets, which are two lines written in iambic pentameter that end in the same sound, or a rhyme.

Well done. You have now concluded an exploration of some of Shakespeare’s language devices and seen where they happen in the play.