Iambic Pentameter in Shakespeare

Shakespeare doesn’t really need much introduction today, as his writing is taught in high schools and colleges around the world. Known as the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare created some of the most enduring poetry and plays ever written. Aspiring poets would do well to study Shakespeare’s sonnets as well as his plays. He often wrote in iambic pentameter, a basic rhythm used in poetry. Much of Shakespeare’s work was done in this particular meter.

Why Does Shakespeare Use Iambic Pentameter?

You might ask yourself, “Why does any poet use iambic pentameter?”, or even, “What is iambic pentameter?” Iambic pentameter is a basic rhythm that’s pleasing to the ear and a popular poetry form. You can write any sentence and read it, and of course it has syllables. Some of them are stressed, just like in a poetic rhythm. But that doesn’t make it poetry–only writing with that meter, or rhythm, in mind can do that.

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Many poets today, and probably through the ages, have not used iambic pentameter, at least not intentionally. Many disregard rhythm at all and simply choose words that sound good to them that get their point across. This type of thing is like a painter who decides to paint a circle. He draws a circle on the canvas, and begins painting without even looking at the circle he just drew. The paint is going to get outside the circle and the entire circle might not even be filled in. That painter is not concerned with form or rhythm at all but is essentially just going with the flow and doing what feels right at the moment.

When poets sit down to write a poem but disregard form, rhythm and other poetic constructs, that’s what they’re doing. They might end up with something beautiful, but if they’d stayed within the lines there’s a much better chance that the finished product would be a good one. Shakespeare, like many poets through the years, use iambic pentameter because it gives the poem a certain flow and actually defines it as poetry.

William Shakespeare and Iambic Pentameter

Shakespeare and iambic pentameter go together hand in hand because he used the form so often. Look at any sonnet he’s written and you’ll instantly see examples of it. He also used it in some characters’ dialogue while writing his plays. A student of Shakespeare can’t avoid the study of iambic pentameter, any more than a budding poet could avoid reading Shakespeare’s sonnets.