It can seem simple in a single line, but Richard III has over 3800 lines. That’s one of the main reasons Shakespeare’s works can be so challenging to learn and teach.
To counter this, Charlie Thompson, a JCU Bachelor of Arts (Honours) student, is taking Shakespeare and breaking it down.
“When we’re looking at Shakespeare and we’re dealing with poetry and rhythm and rhyme, I like to connect that language to hip-hop music and contemporary music,” says Charlie, who is also the Head of English at All Souls Saint Gabriels in Charters Towers.
“In Shakespeare a lot of language has an iambic pentameter rhythm and a lot of hip-hop has a rhythm to it, so I try and make those links with the students and encourage them to identify that and analyse it.”
Charlie strives to take a holistic approach to Shakespeare’s works by viewing them as the plays they are.
“Another big focus is looking at poetic devices and how Shakespeare used those and how contemporary hip-hop artists also incorporated those into their songs,” he says.
Poetic devices include everything from rhythm and rhyme to alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia.
“Then you look at the performance side of Shakespeare, where you’re performing a soliloquy or a scene as part of the play, and when you’re performing a rap a lot of those skills are the same and apply,” Charlie says.
That hip-hop and Shakespeare have so much overlap is no accident, as these seemingly different cultures have a lot in common, according to Charlie.
“We also look at the four elements of hip hop culture and how they link to Shakespeare: the dance or performance side, the visual art side with the costumes or sets and which make up the visual component of plays, and obviously the MC-ing with the language and DJ-ing and music.”
While the average adult might pale at the thought of having to write in iambic pentameter, it’s a staple exercise in Charlie’s classroom.
“The other way I’ve used is encouraging students to write their own poetry, their own raps in response to certain things within the plays,” he says.
“More often than not it’s a really positive reaction and I think students really enjoy when a classical text and a dated text has a contemporary spin on it.”