Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Centos: Mix and match!!

~by Carol Kelly

A “centos” is a poem that has been created using lines from the works of other writers and is a form that has been around for almost two thousand years. The word cento comes from the Latin word for patchwork and allows creative opportunities for celebrating the beauty of language and poetry. An example, quoted on the British TV channel, BBC Two over the holidays shows how the lines can blend to from an organic unit:

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen (John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer)

But still I long to learn (Alison Chisolm, award-winning poet)

Tales, marvelous tales,

Of ships and stars and isles where good men rest, (James Elroy Fletcher, The Golden Road to Samarkand)

How others fought to forge my world. (Alison Chisolm)

What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What wild ecstasy? (John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn)

How far the unknown transcends the what we know. (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nature)

We are the music-makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams (Arthur O’Shaughnessy, Ode)

Step forward, (Walter Savage Landor, Interlude)

To feel the blood run through the veins and tingle

Where busy thought and blind sensation mingle. (Percy Bysshe Shelley, Fragment)

Come, my friends, ‘tis not too late, (Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulysses)

For we are movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems;( (Arthur O’Shaughnessy, Ode)

To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.(Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulysses)

beatles as shakespeare

Reading this reminded me of a classroom activity recently demonstrated by one of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s teacher/facilitators, Chris Shamburg.

Students are given a speech from Hamlet and then given the lyrics to Thriller by Michael Jackson which they then have to blend using fifty percent of each. The results are fascinating!

Check this activity out HERE!

As an alternative or extension, give the students a monologue and a selection of  popular songs (The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, etc) from which they can choose one to blend with the monologue, again fifty percent from each. Read the directions for this activity HERE.

This activity is most suitable for high school students, many of whom may well be able to suggest contemporary/popular songs to include in the choices!

Carol Kelly is Folger Education’s Festivals and Programs Manager. She arranges workshops for teachers around the country, and organizes our Secondary School Festival each spring, as well as our appearances at National Conferences like NCTE.


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