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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: October ::
A Fragment of Style
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0586  Tuesday, 7 October 2008

From:       Robert Projansky <
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Date:       Saturday, 4 Oct 2008 20:12:37 -0700
Subject: 19.0579 A Fragment of Style
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0579 A Fragment of Style

I beg to differ about the metrical scheme of the Othello scene  fragment that 
Felix de Villiers cites. The verse therein is quite  regular, without even a 
trochee to vary the iambic pentameter. There  are several feminine endings, but 
there is nothing jagged about the  texture of the verse, if by "texture" he 
means meter. There are some technical things, however, that the actor needs to 
know to make those tiny adjustments necessary to find the completely regular 
meter of  this text.

1. The first "obedient" is pronounced o-BEED-yent, just as Romeo is usually ROM-yo.
2. Cassio is here pronounced CASS-yo.
3. "You are" is contracted to "You're".
4. "sufficient" is either pronounced suf-FISH-ee-ENT or, if that  sounds too 
weird, pronounced suf-FISH-ent and followed by a one-beat  pause.

   Ay, you did wish that I would make her turn:
   Sir she can turn, and turn, and yet go on,
   And turn again, and she can weep sir, weep;
   And she's obedient, as you say, obedient;
   Very obedient. Proceed you in your tears,
   Concerning this sir:  O well painted passion:
   I am commanded here: --- get you away,
   I'll send for you anon: --- Sir, I obey the mandate
   And will return to Venice: ---hence, avaunt!
                                          Exit Desdemona
   Cassio shall have my place; and sir to night
   I do intreat that we may sup together,
   You are welcome sir to Cypres, ---goates and monkies.
                                          Exit.

Lod.
Is this the noble Moore, whom our full Senate
Call all in all sufficient? Is this the noble nature,
Whom passion could not shake? Whose solid virtue,
The shot of accident nor dart of chance
Could neither graze, nor pierce?

WS's meter is much more regular than we usually hear it spoken. There  are a 
zillion words that should gain or lose a syllable (beginning  with any word 
ending in -ed or -est) to make the meter just fine. Sometimes the stress just 
shifts ("My Manors, Rents, Re-VEN-ues"). Shakespeare does vary the meter but he 
almost never makes his verse  clank along like prose. (But for prudence, I would 
say never.)

There is no doubt about the power of the cited scene, but it does not  come from 
WS undoing the meter. Repetition is the key, but that's not  enough by itself. 
When an actor finds words repeated in the verse in  close proximity to one 
another (s)he needs to vary the repetition in  volume, pitch or tone to 
highlight that repetition, and even more so  if the word appears thrice or, as 
here, even more. Here, in addition  to the previously noted 4x "turn" and 
3x"obedient" and 5x "sir",  Othello's speech also also includes 4x "I" (+ "Ay"), 
3x "she", and 5x  "you", all of which together tell the actor to intensify 
Othello's  speech hugely and incrementally. Reading it aloud you cannot help but 
  hear -- and feel -- the effect of stressing each new repetition. This  speech 
has a lot of repetitions for only 77 words, and every one  should add to its 
intensity. This technique gives us the line reading  of, "I'LL send for YOU 
anon", so that by the end of this speech we  should find Othello quite terrifying.

There's something else WS hid in plain sight in the verse here to  help power 
Othello's speech. The words

turn
on
again
can
obedient
concerning
painted
send
anon
return
Venice
hence
avaunt

all have an N down at the end, which consonance can carry a lot of  emotional 
freight. You can say all of those words with your jaw  clenched -- in anger, 
misery, despair, etc.

Here's another example of that same N consonance WS put there to take  the actor 
beyond the words themselves. See -- and hear -- the Ns multiply, thin out, then 
crowd in again:

That cannot be, since I am still possest
Of those effects for which I did the Murther.
My CrowNe, miNe owNe AmbitioN, aNd my QueeNe:
May oNe be pardoN'd, aNd retaiNe th' offeNce?
IN the corrupted curraNts of this world,
OffeNces gilded haNd may shoue by Iustice,
And oft 'tis seeNe, the wicked prize it selfe
Buyes out the Law; but 'tis not so aboue,
  There is no shuffling, there the ActioN lyes
IN his true Nature, and we our selues compell'd
EueN to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
  To giue in euideNce. What theN? What rests?
Try what RepeNtance caN. What caN it Not?
Yet what caN it, wheN oNe caNNot repeNt?
Oh wretched state! Oh bosome, blacke as death!
  Oh limed soule, that strugling to be free,
Art more iNgag'd: Helpe ANgels, make assay:
  Bow stubborNe kNees, and heart with striNgs of Steele,
Be soft as siNewes of the New-borNe Babe,
All may be well.

Best to all,
Bob Projansky

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