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Home :: Archive :: 2014 :: January ::
Scanning Shakespeare's Verse

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.052  Tuesday, 28 January 2014

 

[1] From:        Ros Barber < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         January 24, 2014 at 8:36:25 AM EST

     Subject:    Scanning Shakespeare's Verse 

 

[2] From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         January 24, 2014 at 1:27:02 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Scanning Shakespeare's Verse 

 

[3] From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         January 24, 2014 at 1:28:57 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Scanning Shakespeare's Verse 

 

[4] From:        Peter Groves < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         January 24, 2014 at 9:40:11 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Scanning Shakespeare's Verse 

 

[5] From:        Gerald E. Downs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         January 27, 2014 at 5:28:54 PM EST

     Subject:    Scanning Shakespeare's Verse 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Ros Barber < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 24, 2014 at 8:36:25 AM EST

Subject:    Scanning Shakespeare's Verse

 

Robert Pinsky can claim what he likes (‘English doesn’t have anapaests or other three-pulsed feet’) but I’d like to know what metre he thinks Byron used in writing ‘The Destruction of Sennacherib’ or Longfellow in ‘Evangeline’.

 

Ros Barber

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 24, 2014 at 1:27:02 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Scanning Shakespeare's Verse

 

> I think the debate over whether a beat, as opposed to a syllable, 

>can be counted as a metrical foot illustrates why rhythm is not the 

>same as meter. A beat has no effect on the scansion; otherwise, 

>the meter of any line varies with how the actor delivers it. But it 

>strongly affects how the line sounds and, of course, how it is 

>understood.”

 >

>I am sorry to be so dense, but I am not sure what you are 

>correcting about my post. I thought I said that the description 

>in question was accurate only in terms of sound, and not 

>technically accurate about the meter. Is there some other 

>level of distinction I am missing?

 

No.

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 24, 2014 at 1:28:57 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Scanning Shakespeare's Verse

 

>Larry Weiss is also correct: rhythm is not the same as meter, and a 

>beat has no effect on the scansion. (Although a small correction: a 

>syllable and a metrical foot are not the same thing. A metrical foot is 

>a pattern of two or three syllables. Perhaps ‘as’ was intended as ‘in’?)

 

Yes.

 

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Peter Groves < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 24, 2014 at 9:40:11 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Scanning Shakespeare's Verse

 

Ros Barber: my system of scansion is just as complicated as it needs to be to describe (and illuminate) a complex reality, but no more: it does not, for example, make any use of the antiquated Trager-Smith four stress levels, but it does recognise the need to distinguish different kinds of prominence in syllables. The de-DUM is certainly there, but not all de-DUMs are the same, and the differences are important for rhythm.  I agree that teaching a grossly simplistic scansion based on the metres of a dead language is always going to be ‘taxing’, because all it does is (vaguely) register subjectivities: look at the astonishing level of confusion revealed in this brief online discussion.  It tends to convince intelligent students that scansion is a kind of solemn but pointless game. I find that teaching a system that makes sense in terms of the structures of English is much more effective, and more rewarding.  I would also add that it’s a grave error to suppose that rhythm has nothing to do with meaning, as your last sentence suggests: the title of my most recent book is not <Esoteric but Pointless Metrical Analysis for Obsessives> but <Rhythm and Meaning in Shakespeare: A Guide for Readers and Actors>.  If you visit the publisher’s site http://www.publishing.monash.edu/books/rms-9781921867811.html you’ll find a couple of enthusiastic endorsements from practical theatre people.

 

Peter Groves

Monash University

 

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Gerald E. Downs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 27, 2014 at 5:28:54 PM EST

Subject:    Scanning Shakespeare's Verse 

 

 

Ros Barber responded to Robert Projansky’s remarks on scansion: 

 

> Could he please point us to ANY reputable scansion textbook

> where a caesura (a soundless pause) counts as a metrical beat?   

 

Glancing at his first lines, I saw Projansky accepts the First Folio as is, and I recognized the still-current belief that F transmits Shakespeare’s orders to players with seemingly anomalous punctuation, irregular verse, and short lines; where spoken performance is augmented by a presumably meaningful “silence of the hams.” Because I reject theory based on authoritative F transmission as textually naïve, I postponed reading the remainder with an attempt to remember its modern advocate (who, I guess, builds on Percy Simpson) and with a reflection that its rationale is “because it works.”

 

But Ros got me to wondering if there is any justification for that take on poetry outside Shakespeare or whether it’s a Wholly Folio phenomenon. Theory tied to belief in the purity of one textual amalgamation of demonstrably corrupt parts can’t be true. That’s especially so (if possible) when faith is placed in vagaries of punctuation and hypermetrical verse. Can things be “right” when the text is substantively a crapshoot? If Ros’s suspicions are correct, this thinking must be isolated. Yet I wouldn’t consign the sect to a fortress outside Waco; it is merely orthodoxy offshot. Ros and Peter Groves are F Troupers themselves, and Tony Burton believes recognition of corruption is “simply one more way of overruling Shakespeare.” But textual criticism is more than that. Editors generally accept their responsibility to get the texts as right as possible. In the case of Hamlet, that means Q2 overrules F (most of the time). This would be clearer if editors were not infected with the same bad assumptions; there are no shortcuts to Shakespeare’s text, maddening as the high road may be—and even if we can’t get there from here. “What he has left us” is not exactly what he wrote; far from it. So, returning to Robert Projansky’s argument it was interesting to see that

 

> If you know how to treat Shakespeare’s texts as Elizabethan

> players did, according to Patrick Tucker, you will find just

> about all of Shakespeare’s verse scans quite nicely,

> regardless of line length. The proof that Tucker is right is

> right there in the pudding: it works — aloud, onstage.”

 

“Elizabethan players according to Patrick Tucker” should not be confused with Elizabethan players. “Just about all of Shakespeare’s verse” means “verse according to F, no questions asked”; & “aloud, onstage” means “except for the moments of silence” while the modern actor counts ‘a-one, a-two . . .’ and the guy in the front row interprets the frown, not as an intro to Myron Floren, but as a sign of deep thought. Does this work? Why not? Is it right? Textual criticism that takes history into account says it isn’t.

 

Greg Woodruff advises:

 

> Robert Pinsky [says] there is always a greater and lesser

> stress in each foot, but some “greater” stresses are less

> than a neighboring foot’s “lesser” beat, thus one can hear

> three, or four, levels of stress, but they always occur in pairs.

> (He even argues that English doesn’t really have anapest

> and other three pulsed feet.)

 

Pinsky knew his van Dam, whether he knew it or not. The other day I cited his assertions from WSP&T: “The term accent or stress expresses a purely relative conception. In pronouncing a word of two or more syllables . . . we invariably give to one of these syllables a louder, clearer and perhaps comparatively slower intonation than to the others, and this . . . we call the accented syllable. . . . As a rule . . . the two accents exemplified in the word irreparability, are clearly distinguishable by the ear as differing in strength . . . which does not express an absolute quantity, but only a something more as compared with another quantity. . . . [In pronouncing] irreparability, the ordinary speaker lays less stress on the sixth syllable than on the first, while both . . . belong to the unstressed syllables of the word. . . . Whether a word of one syllable is stressed or unstressed, exclusively depends on its contextual position with regard to its neighbor-words” (174-75). Thus Ros Barber is partly in agreement when she notes,

 

> Conrad Geller is correct: there are more than two levels

> of stress, but traditional scansion only acknowledges two.

 

There may as well be innumerable levels of stress (but only one of laid-back; is that fair?); in the iambic foot what matters is the comparative stress of each syllable to its proper neighbor. 

 

> Larry Weiss is also correct: rhythm is not the same as

> meter, and a beat has no effect on the scansion . . .

 

I agree. We aren’t talking time, music, rap, Ovid, or Bunker Hill. But see Kurt Daw, below.

 

> Reading something ‘more recent and more scholarly’ wouldn’t

> really help.

 

That depends on how much more scholarly, which ‘recent’ is often not. The main thing is to avoid what is now called presentism, wherein some older scholarship is more careful. In Shakespeare’s case, example and authority from his era are all-important.

 

> . . . we’re much more interested in what the words . . . mean.

 

Sometimes scansion helps to decide what words mean, or even whether they belong.

 

Kurt Daw responded to Larry Weiss: 

 

> I thought I said that the description in question was accurate

> only in terms of sound, and not technically accurate about

> the meter. Is there some other level of distinction I am missing?

 

I read Daw as intended but I think Ros saw two distinctions: pentameter with more syllables doesn’t add up, sound-wise; and an imaginary silent syllable is impossible to categorize. More important, an invisible element is proposed to be instruction (by Shakespeare himself) beyond ordinary language. It’s worse when features taken as Shakespearian code are seen by sober authorities as corruptions.

 

Believers in F’s primacy are forced to ignore fundamentals. To compare a statement from another field: “An astronomer Concerned with the mechanics of the solar system will hopefully never dare to question the principles of mathematics.” Most Shakespeareans don’t question principles; they don’t even bother with them. F doesn’t have much in the way of an introduction but it’s the cat’s meow; so we can skip Jenkins’s (or anyone’s) discussion of F’s faults. Peter Groves demonstrates:

 

> Gerald Downs’ apparently more reliable Q2 version of

> the lines I quoted reveals God to be an early-adopting

> animal rights activist, forbidding not (as we thought)

> suicide but “seale slaughter”.

 

As I’ve noted, Q2 is corrupt; but this is a minor error that Q3 and Q4 repeat, which shows what can happen in reprints. F corrects Q2 in many places. We can’t justify F’s errors by that fact, however.

 

> If he were to look at some scholarship a little more recent

> than Van Dam, Dover Wilson and Harold Jenkins, he would

> find a widespread view that F1 represents (as it clearly does

> in this line) not a corruption but a revision of Q2.

 

By “revision of Q2,” if there’s a point, Peter Groves must mean, “by Shakespeare.” But too much of F is thoughtlessly revised to set that notion against the corruption and the printing history. F is a revision (so is Q2), but that in itself says little. When discussing scansion Q2 should be consulted and differences from F should always be reported.

 

> George Wright’s excellent and highly-regarded Shakespeare’s Metrical Art.

 

Unless I’m mistaken, Wright never even mentions corruption. A quick tour of his book seems to confirm the lapse. But Wright is a good judge: “Gascoigne, in particular, observed that English stress does not always come in two weights . . . . He realized that certain words had a kind of middle stress value and were capable . . . of occupying either stressed or unstressed positions in the line . . . . Words of this kind evidently puzzled the Elizabethan, who derived from Latin poetry the belief that individual syllables . . . were inherently long or short . . .” (52).

 

As I noted, van Dam believed the puzzlement continues with the use of classical terms (such as Wright employs) that have no English analogies. George Wright’s point can be seen in Dr. Thomas Campion’s “Observations in the Art of English Poesy” (1602). The well-known Latin and English poet compares the two, where the ‘quantity’ (duration) of Latin forms seems to be forced onto English:

 

“I haue obserued, and so may any one that is either practis’d in singing, or hath a natural eare able to time a song, that the Latine verses of sixe feete, as the Heroick and Iambick, or of fiue feete, as the Trochaick, are in nature all of the same length of sound with our English verses of fiue feete; for either of them being tim’d with the hand . . . they fill vp quantity (as it were) of fiue sem’briefs. . . . The pure Iambick in English needs small demonstration, because it consists simply of Iambick feete. . . .”

 

It seems to me that timing Latin and English verse with the hand in such fashion as to equate six feet of the one with five feet of the other wouldn’t work any better than Gerald Ford’s walking and chewing gum. The same objection applies to “beats” in F, which could not be measured by Campion’s ‘sem’brief.’

 

Robert Projansky observes,

 

> That one-beat pause comes, in my FF, right after a colon.

 

Q2 has ‘end them,’ but F’s heavier punctuation is general. Punctuation was the province of the printer, always so when texts were gathered willy-nilly. In these instances it doesn’t really matter. Campion, for example: “Though, as I said before, the natural breathing-place of our English Iambick verse is in the last sillable of the second foote . . . yet no man is tyed altogether to obserue this rule, but he may alter it . . .” What difference do colons, extra syllables, beats, or silent treatments make if our only criterion is that “it works”? If by ‘end,’ Hamlet refers to his own end, couldn’t a pause “work” itself in before ‘to die’? One trouble with advocating theories of this kind is, there’s too little tie-in with prior knowledge. That’s what R. M. Alden had to contend with in 1924 (PMLA) when he took on Simpson, Pollard, and J. D. Wilson over their similar claims; and why I hinted that 1H4’s printing history precludes ad hoc special guidance in F. (According to Alden, Simpson held the magical punctuation to be in the quartos, and that Wilson moved it to F.) I agree that actors should obey their creative artists (directors, compositors, Shakespeare, Patrick Tucker); theirs is not to reason why. I may look at this again but a specific refutation is not necessary in light of textual history. A bit inconsistently, I see my discussion with Ros Barber differently. She says:

 

> I am not going to reply to Gerald Downs; I have long ago

> learnt not to continue conversations where there is clearly

> no room for agreement, especially not such time-consuming

> ones. We must agree to differ.

 

Continued conversation is what inquiry is about. I seldom hope to convince those with whom I take issue, but a reply might be helpful to others (might not). The evidence John Jones brings to bear seemed worthy of remark, especially where he contradicts Ros. Besides, time is consuming us; why not get even? Is one obliged to get things right for teaching, or does one teach “no room for agreement”? I’ll try one last time, again with T. Campion:

 

“The Synalaephas or Elisions in our toong are either necessary to auoid the hollowness and gaping in our verse, as to and the, t’inchaunt, th’inchaunter, or may be vsd at pleasure, as for let vs to say let’s; for we will, wee’l; for euery, ev’ry: for they are, th’ar; . . . . Also, because our English Orthography . . . differs from our common pronunciation, we must esteeme our sillables as we speake, not as we write; for the sound of them in a verse is to be valued, and not their letters . . .” Interestingly, when Campion uses to or the in his own verse before a vowel, he always drops one vowel, and thereby one syllable.

 

Gerald E. Downs

 
 

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