Iambic Pentameter Defined: Examples in Film and Literature

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Definition: Iambic pentameter is a poetic meter consisting of five iambs per line, where an iamb is a metrical foot made up of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. This pattern creates a da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM rhythm, common in English poetry, resembling the natural flow of speech. In film, it’s mostly found in movie adaptations of the works of poets like William Shakespeare.

Iambic pentameter is notably used in many of William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and the works of other poets such as John Milton and Geoffrey Chaucer.

Iambic Pentameter Examples from Literature

examples of iambic pentameter from literature. Illustrative image

Here are three famous examples that showcase the rhythm and musicality inherent in iambic pentameters:

  1. From William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18”:
    “Shall I / comPARE / thee TO / a SUM / mer’s DAY?”
  2. From John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”:
    “Of MAN’s / first DIS / oBE / dience, AND / the FRUIT”
  3. From William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”:
    “To BE / or NOT / to BE, / that IS / the QUEStion”

Examples of Iambic Pentameter in Movies

iambic pentameter examples in movies. Illustrative image.

Iambic pentameter is mainly found in movie adaptations of the works of William Shakespeare or films about poets from Romanticism.

It’s less common in modern movies, but when movies feature Shakespeare’s plays, either in part or in their entirety, they naturally include iambic pentameter.

Here are a few notable examples:

Romeo + Juliet (1996): “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?”

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, this modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” retains the original text’s iambic pentameter.

The actors deliver lines in the traditional meter, such as Juliet’s famous balcony scene soliloquy, while set against a contemporary backdrop.

Hamlet (1996): “To be, or not to be, that is, the quest(io)n.”

Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, this film is a full-text adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

It preserves the play’s original language and, by extension, its iambic pentameter. Branagh’s delivery of Hamlet’s dramatic monologues (soliloquies), such as “To be, or not to be,” is a clear example.

Bright Star (2009): “Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art.

Focused on the romance between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, “Bright Star” explores the life and poetry of Keats, who often employed iambic pentameter.

The film closes with Fanny reciting Keats’s famous sonnet “Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art” from 1820.

Conclusion

Iambic pentameter, a rhythmic pattern of five iambic feet per line, has profoundly influenced English poetry, from Shakespeare to contemporary works.

Its natural flow mirrors human speech, allowing poets to blend verse’s musicality with everyday language’s nuances, making it a timeless and versatile metrical form.

In film, we mostly see iambic pentameter in movie adaptions of Shakespeare’s work or films about the life of a poet from the romantic era.

Up Next: Consonance in Literature, Music & Film (Definition & Examples)


Iambic Pentameter FAQs

Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about iambic pentameter

Blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter, characterized by ten-syllable lines with a stress on every second syllable.

It is closely associated with Shakespeare, who famously employed this versatile and natural-sounding meter to lend a rhythmic yet flexible quality to the dialogue in his plays, enhancing both its poetic and dramatic effect.

A classic example of blank verse is from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” in the famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;

– Hamlet

Author

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  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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