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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: February ::
Re: Scansion; Q: Blank Verse
Second Mailing of SHK 8.0181

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0181.  Friday, 7 February 1997.

(1)     From:   David M Richman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 5 Feb 1997 06:26:46 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Scansion

(2)     From:   Peter L. Groves <
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        Date:   Thursday, 06 Feb 1997 15:25:00 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0161  Scansion

(3)     From:   Ron Dwelle <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 05 Feb 1997 13:49:05 -0500
        Subj:   Blankety Verse


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David M Richman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 5 Feb 1997 06:26:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Scansion

George Wright's book on prosody has many last words on the subject of scansion,
but here are a few observations that may be useful.  The poet and critic Yvor
Winters, who wrote well on scansion, defined metre as an arithmetical norm
governing the relations between syllables in a line of verse, and he defined
rhythm as controlled departure from that norm. In iambic verse, the normal foot
consists of two syllables, with the unstressed syllable followed by the
stressed syllable.

     "The door"

     "To be"

     "Enough"!

These are all normal iambic feet.  The pentameter line (penta equals five)
consists of five iambic feet.

     "To be, to be, to be, to be, to be."

Shakespeare wrings infinite variations on the normal foot.  (In what follows, I
quote from the Oxford text archive Folio, so I can't provide line numbers.)
From *Midsummer Night's Dream*:

     "Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson Rose"

The first foot "fall in" and the third foot "lap of" are inverted. That is, the
stressed syllable precedes, instead of following, the unstressed syllable.
Lear's famous

     "Never, never, never, never, never!" consists of five inverted feet.

Sometimes a syllable is dropped from a line, as in this from Ophelia's speech
in *Hamlet*.

     "He fals to such perusall of my face,

     As he would draw it. Long staid he so".

The fourth foot of the second line consists of one syllable "staid." The
juxtaposition of the two strongly stressed monosyllables "long staid" can be
taken as an implicit note to the speaker to slow down, giving a sonic echo to
the length of Hamlet's stay.

Sometimes, the unstressed syllable and the stressed syllable are equal or
almost equal in weight.  "Come come!"  "Move not."  Sometimes, an extra
syllable will be shoved into a line:  "Heaven's gate."  "Even sir." (Another
way of saying this is that the two syllables of "Heaven" or "even" are elided,
and become for metrical purposes one syllable.)

Sometimes, neither syllable in a foot is stressed "in the" "of the."
Occasionally, one will encounter a foot consisting of two very lightly stressed
syllables, followed by a foot of two very strongly stressed syllables.  Here
are Bolingbrook's lines from *Richard II* that occasion this question:

        I know it (Vnckle) and oppose not my selfe

        Against their will.

The first foot is "I know it", with "it" elided or crammed in as an extra
syllable.  The second foot is "uncle", an inverted foot, stressed syllable
preceding unstressed syllable.  The third foot has two unstressed or very
lightly stressed syllables "and op".  The fourth foot has two very strongly
stressed syllables "pose not".  Thus, a foot of two very strong stresses
immediately follows a foot of two very light stresses.  The fifth foot is
normal:  "myself".

A speech's rhythms, its departures from the metrical norm, remain among the
most important indicators or clues to the performer.  My course in Shakespeare
in the theatre devotes considerable time to scansion, to metrical analysis.  I
would argue (I may argue this in an article or a book, should I find the time)
that the greater the departure from metrical norm, the greater the agitation or
equivocation of the character. Bolingbroke's highly unusual rhythm in this line
may suggest that he is already equivocating, already indeed planning to oppose
heaven's will by usurpation.

Myriad other interpretations are possible.  I offer this one.

David Richman
University of New Hampshire offer this one.

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter L. Groves <
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Date:           Thursday, 06 Feb 1997 15:25:00 +0000
Subject: 8.0161  Scansion
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0161  Scansion

 Dale Coye asks

 "R2 3.3.18 Reads

 I know it, uncle, and oppose not myself.

 Cercignani, Koekeritz, and the OED2 make no mention of oppose being
 stressed on the last syllable or myself on the first.   So how does
 this scan?  Is there an anapest in the fourth foot with oppose
 carrying the two weak stresses?"

In traditional prosodic terms (admittedly unsatisfactory) it has a so-called
'feminine epic caesura' (an extrametrical weak syllable before a major
syntactic break) and a reversed third foot (*not* must be emphatic here):

x   / |x   / (x) |/   x |x    / | x /
I know it, uncle, and oppose not myself


 "Also how about RJ 3.2.87

 All forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers

 Was it headless with a broken back?"

Yes (it allows a special lingering on the final *all*).

Peter Groves,
Monash University

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ron Dwelle <
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Date:           Wednesday, 05 Feb 1997 13:49:05 -0500
Subject:        Blankety Verse

My undergraduate Shakespeare class was looking at blank verse, and one student
asked me about Laertes' line (I,iii,24), "Whereof he is the head. Then if he
says he loves you," with 13 syllables. It's in the middle of 30 or so straight
blank verse lines and would be a normal line, feminine ending, except for the
extra iamb.

How would I explain it? I couldn't find any textual notes to suggest the text
itself was suspect, and I couldn't think of a good explanation. Can anyone
help?

Along this line, is there any sort of counting or listing of odd lines in
otherwise straight blank verse?
 

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