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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Iambic Pentameter
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0034  Monday, 8 January 2001

[1]     From:   Harry Hill <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Jan 2001 11:55:29 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0032 Re: Iambic Pentameter

[2]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Saturday, 6 Jan 2001 17:52:11 +1100
        Subj:   Re SHK 11.2229 Re: Iambic Pentameter


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Jan 2001 11:55:29 EST
Subject: 12.0032 Re: Iambic Pentameter
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0032 Re: Iambic Pentameter

''...                   and there have sat
The livelong day with patient expectation"

says Marcellus in Julius Caesar, quoted by Gabriel Egan. The purpose,
surely, of a line-break after "sat", is emphasis, as this is from a
passage in iambic pentameter. The Falstaff passage he cites is in prose,
a mode calling for entirely different techniques of emphasis. The
focus-momentary indeed though it be-on "sat" allows for a physical
picture of near stasis, and to enjamb the line is to remove this.

Harry Hill

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Saturday, 6 Jan 2001 17:52:11 +1100
Subject: 11.2229 Iambic Pentameter
Comment:        Re SHK 11.2229 Iambic Pentameter

Gabriel Egan wrote:

"I found this a convincing argument that Shylock meant

(a) "many times, and, what's worse, quite a few of them in the Rialto,
you have rated me"

rather than

(b) "many times in the Rialto you have rated me"

That is, I preferred to think Shakespeare avoided the pleonasm "many a
time and oft". But here are three other occasions on which he used it:

1H4 1.2.49 SIR JOHN Well, thou hast called her to a reckoning many
1H4 1.2.50 a time and oft.

CYL 2.1.95 SIMPCOX'S WIFE Most true, forsooth, and many time and oft
CYL 2.1.96 Myself have heard a voice to call him so.

JC 1.1.37 MURELLUS Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
JC 1.1.38 Have you climbed up to walls and battlements ...

So the less-interesting paraphrase of Shylock's "many a time and oft /
In the Ryalto you have rated me", the (b) paraphrase above, is the right
one, isn't it?"

Unfortunately, yes: it's a fair cop, Guv.  I was so confident that
Shakespeare must have meant the more interesting construction that I
didn't bother to check other uses of the phrase.  It's a shame, though:
I still prefer the richer reading, even though Occam's Razor strongly
suggests that it isn't what Shaxberd intended.

Metre on its own cannot distinguish these two particular readings, but
it does sometimes discriminate between possible grammatical
constructions (on the grounds that where one construction produces an
unmetrical verse, it is less likely to be the one intended). Take, for
example, AYL 2.4.64-5, which the New Arden editor prints as prose, on
the grounds that the first line "scans badly, even with <question> a
trisyllable":

 I pray you, one of you question yon'd man,
 If he for gold will give us any foode,

But if the phrase <one of you> is read not as the subject of the
imperative verb (as F's punctuation requires) but as a vocative phrase
with its own tone-unit, the line becomes metrical:

 I pray you, one of you, question yond man,

Similarly, R. A. Foakes, in his New Arden Henry VIII, prints 3.2.305
(after F) as an unmetrical line:

 Now, if you can blush, and cry 'guilty' cardinal,
 You'll show a little honesty.

It's ironic that in the same footnote in which he complains that the
line is "rhythmically not very satisfactory" (116n) he should claim that
"Pope's addition of a comma after 'can' is needless, for the sense is
good."  Pope saw that <blush> must be imperative if the line is to be
metrical:

 Now, if you can, blush, and cry 'guilty', cardinal:
 You'll show a little honesty.

An explanation of the prosodic mechanics of this would be impractical
here, but may be found in my <Strange Music: The Metre of the English
Heroic Line>, ELS Monograph Series 74 (Victoria, B.C.: University of
Victoria, 1998).

Incidentally, a quick trawl of the electronic OED shows that the phrase
'many a time and oft' acquired a (partly) jocular vogue in the C19:

1760

 

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