Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).

Theatre

Seeing Shakespeare in a new light

Understanding Shakespearean texts through rap

Subjects

Subject: Language & Literature

Stats

Level: Lower Secondary


Recommended time: 2h 30mins

For Educators

Lesson Objectives:

  • Identify how artists interpret Shakespeare into original works
  • Draw parallels between the new (lyrics of the rap) and original Shakespearean texts by identifying the different literary devices and techniques used to convey plot, character traits, moods and/or themes
  • To write their own verses based on a Shakespearean play/part of a play, which has been recontextualised to contemporary times.

This lesson utilises a performance of Shakespeare-inspired rap songs to demonstrate how art forms and mediums can be used to deconstruct, understand and contemporise Shakespeare's works. At the end of this lesson, students should be able to demonstrate skills in text analysis, creative thinking and adaptation. Students should also have developed the ability to identify various literary devices and see how words, phrases and lines have different effects on the reader.

This resource can be used in a traditional or flipped classroom convention. A suggested Educator's lesson plan has also been provided below. The overall lesson can be broken into smaller sections over the course of several sessions. We encourage educators to adapt the resources and lesson to fit your students' learning needs. 

For students

Shakespeare and... rap songs? What is the connection between the two? In this lesson, you will observe how Shakespeare's text can be reinterpreted and understood through contemporary forms and writing, and try your hand at writing your very own Shakespeare-inspired rap verse! 

To help you along through the different activities, you can download the handouts available at the bottom of this page before you begin. 

Activity 1: Watch and identify

What you need: Student Handout #1 – Prop Bop Lyrics

In this activity, you will watch a video to identify specific words, phrases and lines used by the performers in describing specific objects from Shakespearean plays.

You should look out for words or lines that are striking to you, or contain literary devices. Perhaps there’s a certain phrase that sounds cool or a word that stands out! Highlight them as you watch the video and read its lyrics. 

Choose one of the objects mentioned in the performance video above and answer the questions that follow.

a. Poison Vial – Romeo & Juliet
b. Flower – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
c. Skull – Hamlet
d. Dagger – Macbeth
e. Handkerchief – Othello

Questions for discussion

1. How does the artist describe the object? What specific words/phrases are used? List them in the handout.
2. What can you tell about the play based on the description of the prop?
3. Does the overall story remind you of any other movies, television shows or songs out there? How so?

Activity 2: Analyse and Compare

What you need: Student Handout #2 – Comparative Texts

In this activity, you will compare the introduction of the witches in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth against two different interpretations, one from a movie and another one from a performance at Esplanade. Identify any similar words, phrases or lines that you find and answer the questions that follow.

The three texts are excerpts from:

1. Toil & Trouble Inc. by Patch & Punnet x Cherilyn Woo
2. Double Trouble by John Williams
3. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

1. Toil & Trouble Inc

2. Double Trouble by John Williams

3. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

First Witch
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.

ALL
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch
Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

ALL
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

Enter HECATE to the other three Witches

HECATE
O well done! I commend your pains;
And every one shall share i' the gains;
And now about the cauldron sing,
Live elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in.

Music and a song: 'Black spirits,' & c
HECATE retires

Second Witch
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks!

Enter MACBETH



Questions for Discussion

1. How are Toil & Trouble Inc and Double Trouble different from the original text (Macbeth) by William Shakespeare? What similarities are there in terms of the choice of words used?
2. Why do you think the respective writers and composers have chosen to use these words? What is the effect created?
3. Which of the three texts do you prefer, and why?

Activity 3: Adapt and Present

What you need: Student Handout #3 – Rappable Shakespearean Passages 

In this activity, you will examine three Shakespearean texts and choose one to adapt into a rappable verse of your own.

Your rappable verse should be inspired by the artists presented previously and include common specific words, phrases or lines from the original passage, as well as literary devices like rhythm, imagery and rhyme.

The three passages are excerpts from Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare.

Romeo & Juliet

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.

 

From Romeo & Juliet, Act I, Scene 5, by William Shakespeare.


Macbeth

MACBETH
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.

 

From Macbeth, Act II, Scene 1, by William Shakespeare.


A Midsummer Night's Dream

HELENA
Call you me fair? that fair again unsay.
Demetrius loves your fair: O happy fair!
Your eyes are lode-stars; and your tongue's sweet air
More tuneable than lark to shepherd's ear,
When wheat is green, when hawthorn buds appear.
Sickness is catching: O, were favour so,
Yours would I catch, fair Hermia, ere I go;
My ear should catch your voice, my eye your eye,
My tongue should catch your tongue's sweet melody.
Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated,
The rest I'd give to be to you translated.
O, teach me how you look, and with what art
You sway the motion of Demetrius' heart.

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act I, Scene 1, by William Shakespeare.


Questions for Discussion

1. What is the feeling or mood expressed in the original excerpt that you have chosen? Does your new verse reflect the same feeling and atmosphere?
2. Why did you choose to change or keep certain words/phrases/lines?
3. Has the overall message / intention of the text changed or stayed the same?

Activity 4: Reflect & Share

In this activity, you will reflect on your process of creating your own verses, and compare that to the experiences of the artists who created the original videos.

Watch the following video. Identify three things the artist(s) said that stood out to you. Why were they memorable or applicable to your own experience?

Questions to ask yourself at the end of this project

1. What was the process like to write and/or compose your own Shakespearean rap verse? Where did you begin?
2. When you started writing your own verse, what was your objective? Did you manage to convey that objective by the end? Why or why not?
3. How much about the different stories/texts did you have to understand in order to write the lyrics to your own rap verse? Compare this to the artists’ experiences.
4. The stories and original texts are from a different era. What do you do to ensure that audiences can relate to what you are writing or rapping about?
5. What did you find most challenging about adapting and/or performing Shakespearean rap verse?
6. What are the similarities between your experience of adapting your own rap song and that of the artists from the videos?
7. Has reinterpreting Shakespearean texts or language helped you better understand Shakespeare’s intention? How? Why?

Contributed by:

Ian Goh

Ian Goh currently teaches Literary Arts at School of the Arts (Singapore). Previously, he taught English Language & Literature at CHIJ St. Nicholas Girls’ School. He has spent more than eight years in education inspiring students through the power of literature. He recently attained his MA in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths University of London (LASALLE College of the Arts).


Acknowledgement by:

Patch and Punnet, Cherilyn Woo and Bennett Bay

About Patch and Punnet

Patch and Punnet works collaboratively to create fresh original work made from the soul. By millennials for millennials, they aim to tickle, tease and treat their audiences with an irreverent and playful experience, that provokes thought as much as it does fun.

About Cherilyn Woo

Cherilyn Woo is a freelance theatre director and writer. She spends most of her days directing plays in English and Mandarin in Singapore. Most of her nights are spent dreaming of being a female rap artist.

About Bennett Bay

Bennett Bay is a musician and composer based in Singapore. To date, he has released 2 full-length albums, Compass and In Memory Of.