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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: March ::
Re: Chronology; Iambic Pentameter (Was Acting)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0187.  Thursday, 9 March 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Pat Buckridge <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Mar 1995 16:11:06 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0178  Re: Chronology
 
(2)     From:   Michael Swanson <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 Mar 1995 23:36:29 -0500
        Subj:   Iambic pentameter
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Buckridge <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Mar 1995 16:11:06 +1000
Subject: 6.0178  Re: Chronology
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0178  Re: Chronology
 
To Chris Bergstresser, who writes:
 
>Granted, in the absence of all external documentation, trying to
>arrange the plays chronologically would be impossible.
 
Grant me this and you've granted me all I want.
 
>But the fact is these
>plays do not exist in a vacuum -- there are many reports external to the
>productions which help fix certain plays to certain timeframes.
 
Correction. These plays *did* not exist in a vacuum - far from it - but in a
sense they do now, since the social and theatrical contexts which have been
built up around them are largely speculative in their relation to composition
and first performances. The 'many reports' you refer to - and there aren't that
many, actually - never have any bearing on either of these; but composition and
first performances are all that matter for dating purposes.
 
>Those plays that can be roughly dated can then serve as a sort of guide for
>dating other plays, based on stylistic similarities.  For two of the plays
>we've been working on for my acting class, _Two Gentlemen of Verona_ and
>_Measure for Measure_, there is a clear stylistic difference.  MfM is a much
>more complex work; the skill required to produce it is greater than that to
>produce TGoV.
 
I don't deny that we're able to judge (perhaps even measure) stylistic
similarity/dissimilarity within certain parameters.  I also don't deny that in
the absence of complicating factors (such as generic difference) stylistic
similarity probably is a reasonable indication of closeness in date of
composition. But without a skeleton anchored in real time (excuse the Gothic
metaphor) such clusters are not going to be of much use. And you don't have
such a skeleton.
 
>Once there
>is a skeleton of a chronology in place, filling in the details isn't quite as
>random as you make it out to be.  Just because one cannot know with certainty
>does not mean one cannot know at all.
 
But if you just keep piling conjectures and speculations on top of one another
you end up with no knowledge at all. Mere 'children of an idle brain,/Begot of
nothing but vain fantasy,/Which is as thin of substance as the air'.
 
To Bill Godshalk, who writes:
>
>Pat Buckridge's comments on stylistic dating reminded me of the 18th century
>commentator whose name I do not remember, but whose contribution to the dating
>problem I do. He claimed that Shakespeare developed from the Gothic excesses of
>THE TEMPEST to the classical unity of THE COMEDY OF ERRORS. Thus THE TEMPEST is
>an early play, and THE COMEDY OF ERRORS, a late one.
 
Just goes to show the arbitrary nonsense that results from *all* attempts at
stylistic dating.  Substitute some unfamiliar neoclassical criteria for the
more familiar post-Romantic ones and suddenly the canon does a backflip.
Thanks for your support, Bill.
 
Pat Buckridge.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Swanson <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Mar 1995 23:36:29 -0500
Subject:        Iambic pentameter
 
Certainly I respect the work of Roger Gross, whose work I studied as a Ph.D.
candidate about 10 years ago.  And I hope that in a future note he will give us
the definition of iambic pentameter that he has found useful. In the meantime,
I do have these observations:
1)  Berry's method of iambic pentameter has certainly not mitigated the power,
clarity, energy, or inevitability of my students' speaking of verse -- in fact,
I believe that it has enhanced those aspects of their vocal performance, as
Berrsuggests that it should;
2)  Why does the study of Elizabethan pronounciation, which I am not wholly
unaware of, lead one to the absolute conviction that Roger Gross implies?
3)  "Proper iambic pentameter" according to who?  If there is a period source,
I would truly like to know of it (Marlowe, perhaps?)
4)  The Shakespearean verse which I've heard spoken using Berry's ideas have
notsounded like prose to me -- they have sounded like strong verse, with words
and images tied together by rhyme, assonance, alliteration, rhetorical
structure, and, yes, even by rhythm.
 
While I don't wish to be disrespectful, I suspect that, as usual, there are
a number of ways of looking at this, and some disagreement about what's "right"
is par for the Shakespearean course.
 
Michael Swanson, Franklin College
 

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