Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0602. Sunday, 10 July 1994.
Date: Saturday, 09 Jul 1994 11:03:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Metre and Reading
Rick Jones is to be thanked for reminding us that iambic pentameter lines, as
any metrical verse lines, contain inverted feet and other variations on the
basic pattern. But let's remember the line--and the reading of it--that began
I love thee not, therefore pursue me not
(MND, II, i, 188)
The delivery suggested by Douglas Lanier was "I love *thee* not." Presumably
the second part of the line would then be delivered, "therefore pursue *me*
not." Rick Jones would seem to hold that this delivery is defensible, even
perhaps "bold" and "strong." The only problem is that it makes no sense at all.
Usually the stressing of personal pronouns at the expense of a verb is
nonsensical, but especially when one is found in an unstressed position in
verse. In this case, and as is often the case in Shakespeare, the metre guides
us to the antithesis in the line:
I *love* thee *not*, therefore pur*sue* me *not*
"Thee" can only sensibly be stressed if "love" and "not" receive equal or
greater stress. The line could then be delivered, "i LOVE THEE NOT, therefore
purSUE me NOT," though this strikes me as unnecessarily insistent, and in
performance would give the actor nowhere to go (the scene, for Demetrius,
should probably build towards his threat of violence some lines later, and not
begin too near that note). One could also say "i LOVE THEE NOT, therefore
purSUE ME NOT", though again, I think it inappropriate.
Shakespeare does vary the regularity of the iambic pentameter line for
particular reasons, or better, to particular effect. He also exploits its
regularity, as this example demonstrates. The second point is probably the one
we're in danger of forgetting. It is easy to be fond of placing stresses where
we wilfully want them (or rather, where WE wilfully want THEM); it is difficult
and demanding, and perhaps feels too reverential, to surrender to the complex
rhythms of verse.
What does the regularity achieve here, in this entrance line? A clean setting
of the scene, which reminds us who these characters are and what the terms of
their conflict. Neatly done in 10 syllables. Douglas Lanier urged the
delivery in question to remind us that Demetrius loves another. Of course,
Demetrius himself reminds us in the next two lines. Stressing "thee" in
isolation is plainly wrong, stressing it at all unnecessary.
Harry Hill reminded us that the metre "is of course in itself the best guide to
the clean interpretation of such moments." Further, it is clearly inadvisable
to urge *any* reading without considering a line's metre.