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What is the use of iambic pentameter?

When you are analysing poetry or Shakespeare, iambic pentameter will probably be something you hear quite frequently. It is important that you don't just tell the examiner that a poem is in iambic pentameter, but also why you think that the poet decided to write it like this. Don't just say something like "because it is a sonnet". That will not get you very many marks.

Although it is ​important to identify what kind of poem you are dealing with, the majority of your essay should focus on WHY you think the poet decided to use that technique there. Usually, iambic pentameter has a metaphorical use as well as just a structural one.

For example, a poem about horses could use iambic pentameter to make the reader think of the sound of hooves when a horse is galloping. In a poem about boredom, iambic pentameter may be used to make the poem sound monotonous like its subject.

It is also interesting to consider the absense of iambic pentameter where it would usually be. For example, Shakespeare tends to write mainly in it. However, for his lower ranking characters (usually the fools of his play), he can write in prose. This suggests that these characters are not as eloquent or well-educated as the higher ranking ones. In "Hamlet", Shakespeare makes the prince speak in prose when he would usually speak in iambic pentameter. Why is this? Is it because Hamlet is trying to trick people into thinking that he has become a fool?

Also, you may be familiar with the famous line from the same play:

"to be or not to be? That is the question"

It starts off in iambic pentameter ("to be or not to be"), but then "that" is also stressed, which draws attention to it because it broke the iambic pentameter.

As well as identifying where iambic pentameter is, make sure to also show where it is not and say why you think that is the case. This will strengthen your analysis about Shakespeare or poetry.

Shani T. GCSE English Literature tutor, A Level History tutor, A Leve...

1 year ago

Answered by Shani, an A Level English Literature tutor with MyTutor

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