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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Re: Accents
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1278  Thursday, 9 May 2002

[1]     From:   David Wallace <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 08 May 2002 17:13:10 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1260 Re: Accents

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 8 May 2002 22:46:22 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1242 Re: Accents


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wallace <
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Date:           Wednesday, 08 May 2002 17:13:10 -0700
Subject: 13.1260 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1260 Re: Accents

I read with interest Peter Groves' comments on metre. Professor Groves
endorses David Evett's earlier comments. Both gentlemen have disagreed
with my comments on metre but I am helpless to offer a rebuttal since
neither have offered a definition of iambic pentameter. From their
remarks I can draw two possible conclusions:

1) The metre of the line consists of whatever rhythmic pattern that
results from emphasized (or stressed or accented) words or syllables.
Which words to emphasize (or stress or accent) appears to depend on a
bewildering number of linguistic and contextual considerations.  OR

2) The "metre" they are talking about embraces the traditional
description: iamb - a metrical unit (foot) of verse, having one
unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.

If Professors Evett and Groves are arguing the first premise then they
are endorsing a rather...er...eccentric definition of iambic
pentameter.  Such a premise might offer a sensible way to deliver a
given line of verse, but it does not describe a rhythmic 'pattern'.
Aurally, a rhythmic pattern must repeat itself and its variations must
be predictable. In short, it must have rhythm. Otherwise it is only a
pattern in the sense that spattering paint on a wall creates a pattern.
If they are arguing the second premise this is what they get:

shall I com-PARE thee TO a SUM-mers DAY?
thou ART more LOVE-ly AND more TEMP-er-RATE.
rough WINDS do SHAKE the DAR-ling BUDS of MAY,
and SUM-mers LEASE hath ALL too SHORT a DATE.
some-TIME too HOT the EYE of HEA-ven SHINES,
and OF-ten IS his GOLD com-PLEX-ion DIMMED;
and EVE-ry FAIR from FAIR some-TIMES de-CLINES,
by CHANCE, or NAT-ures CHANG_ing COURSE un-TRIMMED;
but THY e-TER-nal SUM-mer SHALL not FADE,
nor LOSE pos-SESS-ion OF that FAIR thou OW"ST,
nor SHALL death BRAG thou WAND'rest IN his SHADE,
when IN e-TER-nal LINES to TIME thou GROW'ST.
so LONG as MEN can BREATHE or EYES can SEE,
so LONG lives THIS and THIS gives LIFE to THEE.

I use this sonnet as an example because it has no extra-metrical
syllables and no inverted stress. In general, it has a pronounced
"iambic character" inasmuch as it is a bit "bouncy". But no actor would
provide emphasis to every monosyllabic word in the "strong" metrical
positions and many might provide emphasis to monosyllabic words in
"weak" metrical positions (such as "MORE lovely and MORE temperate").
But you will note, in this example, EVERY SINGLE STRESSED SYLLABLE of
the polysyllabic words falls where my earlier posts predicted they
would. I reiterate - the metre in iambic pentameter is governed by the
position of stress of polysyllabic words. This is the clear and concrete
PATTERN evident here and virtually everywhere in the plays. If
Professors Evett or Groves are proposing a different pattern, could they
kindly explain it.

My comments here and elsewhere stem from my studies with Professor
Kristen Hanson (presently, I believe, at Berkeley) and from the theories
advanced by Professor Paul Kiparsky. There are a two basic principles.
Imagine that beneath each line of verse there are ten alternating
metrical positions. Let us designate them: weak STRONG weak STRONG weak
STRONG etc.

FIRST PRINCIPLE: No stress of a polysyllabic word may fall in a weak
metrical position EXCEPT after a significant syntactic break (typically
a period, comma, or conjunction). Monosyllabic words may fall in either
weak OR strong metrical positions (and, I might add, be emphasized or
not according to the dramatic or rhetorical occasion).

SECOND PRINCIPLE: The final unstressed syllable of a polysyllabic word
MAY be considered extra-metrical if it falls before a significant
syntactic break (typically a period, comma, conjunction or sometimes the
onset of a verb phrase or a prepositional phrase). This is the so-called
"feminine ending" which may occur at a medial position or at the
terminus to the line.

There are many other linguistic considerations when dealing with lines
that appear to have too many syllables. Even in the example Peter Groves
provided, in his last post, there is a problematic line: "Be it lawfull
I love thee as thou lov'st those,". This contains eleven syllables
(which Professor Groves fails to comment on). At a glance I can see that
Shakespeare "hears" the words "be it" as occupying a single metrical
position. If necessary, I will provide a half dozen examples where he
does exactly the same thing. How do I know this? The stress in
"LAW-full" is in the wrong metrical position. Slur "be it" together and
problem solved. (In fact, Shakespeare more often renders it "be't" when
he requires it to fit a single metrical position.) Slurs, diphthongs,
schwa etc. all factor into the process of scanning the verse.

The advantage of the theory I am advocating is that it offers empirical,
concrete evidence of a metrical pattern. In Shakespeare, the rhythmic
pattern of the line must contend with the syntactic character of the
sentence. The rhythm is concrete (or absent in the absence of
polysyllabic words). The syntax is fluid. That is why iambic pentameter
sounds natural (not da DUM da DUM da DUM as the conventional theory
would have it). But no one has to take my word for it. Apply the
principles I've outlined. The majority of lines will adhere to the
pattern quite nicely. Where they don't, examine the linguistic
characteristics of individual words or, as in the case of "be it",
groups of words. I am quite used to the response that Professors Evett
and Groves have offered. No one seems to want to believe that it could
be this simple and be overlooked for so long.

Regards. David Wallace

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 May 2002 22:46:22 -0400
Subject: 13.1242 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1242 Re: Accents

Peter Groves taxes me with failing to recognize that "The <Sonnets>, to
take one example, are full of lines that are unmetrical unless
contextually determined focus and contrastive accent are taken into
account.'  I did, in fact, anticipate this objection: ."SOME words
(auxiliary verbs, pronouns, relational adverbs) are sometimes stressed,
sometimes not.  And special circumstances (like the ones that govern the
first phrase in the previous sentence) can shift stress from, say, a
noun to a modifier, according to principles that we also learn."  I
could, indeed, have noted that speakers and even writers of well-formed
English sentences can, under certain circumstances, place stress on ANY
monosyllabic part of speech: "I was coming FROM the supermarket, not
going TO it"; "We need to distinguish between THE roast beef sandwich
and A roast beef sandwich."  But the fact remains that in most English
utterances monolyllabic function words receive no stress.

David Wallace, who concedes that he is "an enthusiast not a scholar," is
"uncertain how Professor Evett is able to describe my (vocal) speech
patterns by examining my (written) prose." I confess that I have not, in
fact, listened to Mr. Wallace talk.  But having heard some thousands of
speakers of English representing many dialects and idiolects observe the
phonological principles I outlined in my post, I felt very comfortable
with an assumption that he would incorporate those principles in his own
speech.  If he can send me a tape recording of his ordinary discourse,
made while he was talking to his colleagues at the water cooler or
phoning his mom, that evinces frequent departure from the usual
practices, I will be forced, of course, to qualify my views.

His effort to make a distinction between *stress* (the phonological
term) and *emphasis* deserves some attention.  There is a big semantic
overlap here, marked by the OED definitions that refer to phonology (sb.
7, 8), and it would probably be acceptable to suggest that *stress* has
a more physical and *emphasis* a more generally rhetorical connotation.
We can certainly concede that it is possible to produce emphasis by
decreasing stress-dropping rather than raising the level of vocal energy
on a syllable.  But such a procedure only works rhetorically because on
the basis of phonological rule the auditors expect physical stress and
rhetorical emphasis to coincide.

I will also concede Mr. Wallace's assertion that the pattern of stress
in polysyllables is an important element in establishing meter in
English metrical verse: the handout on scansion that I have my students
for many years started out, "(1) Mark the stresses in all the
polysyllabic words," because that was and is the easiest part of the
analysis.  But most English verse has strings of words, perhaps whole
lines or even whole stanzas, in which there are not enough polysyllables
to determine the meter all by themselves.  The rules governing
monosyllables are equally necessary, as Mr.  Wallace's own example, the
firxt stanza of *Amazing Grace*, shows-only one polysyllable in four
lines:

> Amazing Grace how sweet the sound
> That saved a wretch like me
> I once was lost but now I'm found
> Was blind but now I see.

But see how the example supports my argument.  Most of the stressed
monosyllables are nouns (grace, sound, wretch), active verbs (saved,
lost, found) substantive modifiers (sweet, blind).  The remaining
stresses we might call rhetorical rather than metrical, in that they
fall on words (pronouns and adverbs) that in ordinary discourse can be
be need not receive stress.  Here, I would suggest, *me* gains emphasis
by its position in the foot (the previous 14 syllables have firmly
established an iambic expectation) and from its position at the end of
the line.  The adverbs (now, once, now) are promoted to emphatic
positions by their adversative relationship and the repetition of *now*.

Contrary to Mr. Wallace's suggestion, this kind of "sing-song" pattern
appears in hundreds of Shakespearean lines--enough to establish and
sustain a generally iambic expectation--which, indeed, helps draw some
phonologically neutral monosyllables toward stress.  It is certainly
true, as he says, that there are also many hundreds of lines in which
RHYTHMIC variation from the METRICAL pattern appears-a fact we can state
only because our familiarity with the rules of English phonology allows
us to detect departures from the norm.

Opening my Arden *Cymbeline* at random, I come upon Iachimo's speech at
1.7.169-78.  According to the principles I have presented, none of the
lines is as purely iambic as line one of *Amazing Grace*.  But there is
enough clearly iambic work to establish and sustain the expectation
(certainly no other meter can be proposed).  Here's a proposed
stress/slack scansion, with the stresses in caps (merely metrical
stresses-those not necessarily receiving actual stress when spoken-are
in square brackets, and pronominal I in lower case); reasonable people
might reasonably disagree about some of the details, but not, I think,
the generality:

He SITS | 'mongst MEN | like [A] | deSCEND | ed GOD;
He [HATH] | a KIND | of HO | nour SETS | him OFF,
MORE than | a MOR | tal SEEM | ing.  BE | not ANgry,
Most MIGHT | y PRIN | cess, [THAT]  | i HAVE | adVENtur'd
To TRY | your TA | king [OF] | a FALSE | rePORT, | which HATH
HOnour'd | with CON | firMA | tion YOUR | GREAT JUDGment
[IN] the | eLEC | tion [OF] | a SIR | so RARE,
Which YOU | KNOW CAN | not ERR.  | The LOVE | i BEAR him
MADE me | to FAN | you THUS, | but the  | GODS MADE you
UnLIKE | ALL O | thers CHAFF | less.  PRAY, | your PARDon.

Thirty-three of the 50 metrical feet are phonological iambs according to
the rules; only 14 of those are wholly or partly determined by
polysyllabic stress, and it is worth nothing that 2 of the 10 lines
consist entirely of monosyllables.  The proposition that the meter is
being determined by polysyllables alone seems therefore highly dubious.
Another 5 would normally be pronounced without a stress, and hence
neither confirm nor positively challenge the iambic pattern;
substituting one such foot (sometimes called a pyrrhic) for one of the
iambs (almost never the final one) is very common in the writing of
iambic meter in English from Chaucer to the present day.  The third,
sixth, and ninth lines begin with trochees; this is also a very common
substitution; so is the spondee, of which I find 2. The marked
departures from the norm occur at the ends of lines-6 of the 10 have an
extra syllable, and it is this, more than any other single feature of
the versification, that draws *Cymbeline* (and other late plays)
relatively far from the iambic base.  But 6 out of 50 is still only 13
per cent; the remainder are plenty sufficient to produce iambic verse,
which I do indeed define as "a pattern of alternating
unstressed/stressed syllables"--not, normally, with a sing-song
metronomic regularity, but with the kind of variation around an
underlying predictability that I have illustrated here.  A useful
analogy is with the human hand or face--lots of more or less obvious
variation in the particular features or digits, but no doubt about the
underlying structure.

Prosodically,
David Evett

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