The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0586 Tuesday, 7 October 2008
From: Robert Projansky <
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!
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.
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
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
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,
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
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