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M.C. Bard: Hip Hop and Shakespeare

Teachers' Rating:
  27 ratings

Secondary School Shakespeare Festival

June 2006
Jacqueline Lawton and Emily Schuster, Folger Shakespeare Library

Plays/Scenes Covered

This lesson covers passages from a variety of Shakespeare's plays.

What's On for Today and Why

Shakespeare's works and today’s hip hop songs use a variety of literary devices to explore universal themes. Both art forms use the language of their times and are meant to be enjoyed in performance.


In this lesson, students will compare lyrics from hip hop songs with monologues from Shakespeare’s plays, and perform both for the class.


Note: This lesson contains some mature subject matter. Please review all handouts before sharing them with your students.


This lesson will take three to four class periods.

What You Need

Folger editions of your chosen play

Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Paper (perhaps card stock)

Common Themes Handout
Monologues Handout 1
Monologues Handout 2
Performance Handout
What To Do

1. Read the following quotation to your class (from Alexander, Robert and Harry Justin Elam.The Fire This Time: African American Plays for the 21st Century (introduction). New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2004):


"With its celebration of language, meter, poetic strictures, verbal play and display, [hip hop] hearkens back to earlier traditions of oral expression in African-American culture... and even to classical theatrical conventions and the productive wordplay of William Shakespeare.”


Ask your students: How do you define poetry? Drawing on what you know about hip hop and about Shakespeare, do you agree that both are forms of poetry? Why or why not?


2. If you would like to do a warm-up using lines from hip hop songs and Shakespeare to create found poetry, follow this link .


3. Next, students will examine common themes in hip hop songs and Shakespeare's plays, in order to familiarize themselves with the poetry of both. Cut out the individual passages on the Common Themes handout (attached below) and distribute them to the students. The passages are paired by theme. Have students stand in two lines, lining up the Shakespeare verses on one side and the hip hop lyrics on the other. Have the students with paired passages face each other. Once they are comfortable, instruct the students to perform the passages one at a time.


4. Then ask your students: Are the themes of these passages really all that similar? If not, how are they different? What literary devices did the poets use? (Examples include metaphor, simile, alliteration, hyperbole, imagery, rhythm, rhyme, point of view, personification, repetition, etc.)


5. Next, divide the students into groups of four. Give each group one of the two attached Monologue handouts. Each handout has a selection from a hip hop song, paired with a monologue from one of Shakespeare’s plays.


6. Let the students choose two students to perform, one to direct, and one to act as the scribe, taking notes on the discussion and later presenting the group’s experience to the class.


7. Have students prepare both passages for performance, addressing the questions on the Performance handout (attached below). Remind students to identify and utilize rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and other literary devices to enhance their performances.


8. Have the students perform their monologues for the class. After each performance, have the scribe present a summary of the group’s experience. Remind students to be active and attentive listeners during all of the presentations.


9. After all of the presentations are complete, have each student answer the following questions in a journal: What is the author’s purpose in each of your passages? How do race, gender, and position in society affect the speakers' points of view? What literary devices did the poets use to make their points? Has your definition of poetry changed since beginning this lesson? How would you define poetry now?

How Did It Go?
Were students able to connect the themes of William Shakespeare's text to the themes that hip hop artists are writing about today? Did students identify literary elements in both the Shakespeare text and the hip hop artists' lyrics?  Were students able to recognize hip hop lyrics as poetry? Did students understand Shakespeare's language more fully by the end of the lesson?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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  Common Core State Standards

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