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Cordelia’s “I am” and York’s “Six and Seven”

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0446  Tuesday, 6 November 2012

 

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

Date:         November 5, 2012 5:50:45 PM EST

Subject:     Alan Dessen’s Comment on “Cordelia’s ‘I am’”

 

Subject:   Cordelia’s “I am” and York’s “Six and Seven” 

 

I was delighted by Alan Dessen’s recent observation (in “Cordelia’s ‘I am,’” October 31) about the differences between the Quarto and Folio versions of King Lear, 4.2.69.

 

I experienced a similar epiphany a couple of decades ago when I was editing Richard II for The Guild Shakespeare (New York: GuildAmerica Books, 1989). Like most of my predecessors who have wrestled with this text, I was having problems with the uncharacteristically irregular verse of a long speech near the end of 2.2 in which the Duke of York bewails a “tide of woes” that have come “rushing on this woeful land at once.” After attempting in vain to address my difficulty by emending the lineation of the passage, I suddenly noticed something that no modern edition of the play had prepared me to observe. In both the Quarto and Folio versions of his concluding words (2.2.120-22 in the Riverside collection), York says:

 

     I should to Plashy too, but time will not permit:

     All is uneven, and every thing is left at six and seven.

 

As with the second “I am“ in the Folio version of Cordelia’s evocative reply in King Lear, the expressive power of this unrhymed couplet is, at least in part, a product of its hypermetric deviations from the pentameter norm. Appropriately for a lord who feels “left at six and seven,” the first line is a hexameter, and the second is a heptameter. And the word “uneven” accounts not only for the couplet’s own ungainliness but for the rough-hewn quality of several phrases in the reflections that precede it.

 

As Polonius would have been among the first to note, York’s creator here conveys a character’s perplexity through an “effect defective” that “comes by cause.”

 

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