2010

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0218  Thursday, 3 June 2010

[1]  From:      Richard Waugaman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:      May 27, 2010 4:21:20 PM EDT
     Subj:      Feminine Endings in Hamlet

[2]  From:      Martin Mueller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:      May 27, 2010 5:05:51 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0211  Hamlet's Feminine Endings
 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Richard Waugaman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:         May 27, 2010 4:21:20 PM EDT
Subject:      Feminine Endings in Hamlet

Thanks to all who responded. Peter Groves wrote:

'As many others will no doubt point out, the word "feminine" in "feminine ending" refers to grammatical gender, not biological or cultural gender -- specifically to the fact that feminine adjectives in French tend to have an extra final schwa that may be pronounced in metred verse.'

True, as far as it goes. Yet, what about Sonnet 20 ('A Womans face with natures owne hand painted')? Surely, it is no coincidence that, as Booth put it, 'Only this sonnet about gender has feminine rhymes throughout.'

Best wishes,
Richard Waugaman

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Martin Mueller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:         May 27, 2010 5:05:51 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0211  Hamlet's Feminine Endings
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0211  Hamlet's Feminine Endings

It is interesting to learn that the term 'feminine ending' is attested in Samuel Daniel's Defence of Rhyme of 1603, and the evidence of Sonnet 20 persuades me that Shakespeare knew the term and played with it. Fourteen 'feminine' endings are not an accident, especially in view of the fact--which I have not checked but take on trust--that there is no other Shakespearean sonnet where all fourteen last words have feminine endings. 

But it is a very long way from such playing with a technical term to assuming that the use of a feminine ending ipso facto justifies a thematic interpretation of a particular prosodic device. You need a lot more evidence for that. Fortunately, this is a field where counting and elementary statistics help. Fourteen consecutive weak endings are a statistical outlier by any standard. It's a relatively straightforward if slightly tedious exercise to mark the line endings of, say, Hamlet and Othello, with plus and minus signs, and see whether the sequence of such signs in Hamlet's "How all occasions do inform against me" add up to a signal or stay within the noise of expected patterns. 

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