What is a Witsling?
Well, it's very simple really. A Witsling is an original poem which takes as its
starting point a line of Shakespeare's verse. The poem is written in iambic pentameter and
can be any length from 3 or 4 lines upwards. That's all there is to it - easy, huh? You
needn't take too long over it - at LSW each week we allow ourselves just 2 or 3 minutes -
just write whatever comes into your head.
"But I can't think of a line of Shakespeare's that I could use!"
Worry not: we've supplied a bit of one of his poems (Venus and Adonis) that has some excellent lines for seeding
Witslings. If you'd rather go hunting for some other lines of his then this is a
good starting point.
Your poem needn't have anything to do with the original context of Shakespeare's line.
In the example given at the bottom of this page, the line is from Romeo and Juliet
where Romeo sees Juliet at her bedroom window; the poem I've created out of that line has
nothing to do with either love or windows.
"What is 'iambic pentameter'?"
Iambic pentameter (pronounced "eye-AM-bik pen-TAM-itter")
is the form of rhythm that Shakespeare used to write his verse. A verse written in iambic
pentameter has in each line five pairs of syllables: one weak syllable and one strong.
di DUM di DUM di DUM di DUM
di DUM. (notice, 10 syllables in all)
Or, as Romeo says: "but SOFT what LIGHT through YONder
Put your hand on your heart and feel it beating. Notice that the rhythm is the same! In
time with your heartbeat, gently tap out the rhythm on your chest: di DUM
di DUM di DUM di DUM di DUM.
Don't feel you have to stick rigidly to this rhythm - Shakespeare often used more
irregular rhythms when he wanted to indicate that a character was agitated - but each line
should have five strong beats (DUM), even if there are a few too many (or too few) weak
"What should I write about?"
Anything you like! Love, death, hangovers, politicians, children, parents, sex, food, the
weather, sport, television, soap operas, money, lack of money, marriage, divorce, pet
rabbits - absolutely anything. It can be funny, or serious, or sad, or silly, or
rapturous, or whatever you like. The only limitation we would ask you to make is to
consider that this site is aimed at people of all ages: please avoid using strong language
or imagery that a young person would find upsetting.
"How long should it be?"
As long as you like. Often the most exquisite poetry is found in just two or three lines,
but if you want to write another Hamlet then don't let us stop you! At LSW we
allow ourselves just two or three minutes to write our Witslings: it's a good way of
forcing yourself to be spontaneous - why not try it?
"Should I use words like 'thee' and 'thou' and 'thy'?"
Shakespeare simply used the language of his day, and we would encourage you to use the
language of the modern day. So unless you feel a particular urge to use old-fashioned
language, we recommend you stick to 21st century language. (NB: this
doesn't have to be English - if you want to write in Italian, French, Spanish - or
whatever your native tongue is - then go ahead.)
"Does it have to rhyme?"
No. Shakespeare often wrote what we call "blank verse" where the lines did not
rhyme at all. If you want to use rhyming then the two most common methods are either to
rhyme two lines together, thus:
Bad is the world and all must come to nought
When such ill dealing must be seen in thought
or to rhyme alternate pairs of lines, thus:
Good pilgrim you do wrong your hands too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers kiss.
"Alright then: give me an example!"
But soft what light through yonder window breaks (this line was by
Shakespeare, the rest is mine)
The lights are on I see, but no-one's home!
I wonder sometimes when his head he shakes
If brain cells rattle round the hollow bone.
So did he grasp a word of what I've said?
Or passed my speech unhindered through his head?
Ok, now it's your turn: click the "Back" button or the link below and
go back to the Witslings main page to submit a Witsling of your own!