The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.042  Monday, 20 January 2014


[1] From:        Robert Projansky <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         January 16, 2014 at 6:42:52 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER:  Scanning Shakespeare’s Verse 


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

     Date:         January 18, 2014 at 8:09:37 PM EST

     Subject:    Scansion: John Jones at Work 




From:        Robert Projansky <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 16, 2014 at 6:42:52 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER:  Scanning Shakespeare’s Verse


Gerald E Downs says: 


"2) ‘To be or not to be’ is corrupt. ‘And by opposing, end them, to die to sleepe’ doesn’t scan with eleven syllables."


Later, he adds:


"I also appreciate van Dam’s view of the number of syllables: “we [he & I?] are led to the conclusion that all our 5000 lines [of Shakespeare’s poems] consist of either ten or eleven syllables, with the sole exception of [two lines which must] be corrupt, the odds being [5000] to two.” By extending this thinking to the plays it seems advisable that rare usage, such as ‘them’ making an eleventh syllable in the wrong spot, should be questioned as corrupt."


I haven’t read van Dam and I have few credentials to display, but I do know that the line Gerald Downs wants to rewrite scans perfectly well. There is not the slightest reason to believe from its scansion that it is corrupt. The word ‘them’ belongs where it is and there’s nothing rare about it. The eleventh syllable is not in the wrong spot. The line does not have a feminine ending, nor does it contain an anapest, trochee, pyrrhic or spondee. It is ordinary iambic from stem to stern. 


The line is, quite simply, one of the many, many lines into which WS wrote a precise pause, like a rest in music, just like Mozart or Beethoven. He inserted, for dramatic effect, a one-beat pause right after “them” that also keeps the iambic meter going, just the way he wants it. 


It scans as follows (I suggest reading it aloud):


And BY/ opPO / sing END / them: [BEAT] /to DYE, / to SLEEPE 


da DUM / da DUM / da DUM / da DUM / da DUM/da DUM


Six iambic feet, twelve beats, one of them silent. That one-beat pause comes, in my FF, right after a colon. The next words, 'to die’, introduce a new thought, or at least a shifting of gears, so that one-beat pause is quite natural there — and also in the one zillion other places old Billy wrote them into his texts. Such pauses in Shakespeare’s play texts are as common as mud (even more common than the unscripted and meter-destroying pauses that ignorant actors insert). Many, like this one, come right after midline endings.  One can find, over and over, just as you will see below, that the actor must pause to conform to the meter in many places where you see a beat missing, right at a punctuation mark. 


That line Gerald Downs questions, an ordinary garden-variety 12-beat regular iambic line may not be recognizably pure iambic on its face on the page, and maybe not to someone reading it silently to himself in his study, but it should be regular iambic in the actor’s mouth if he knows what he’s doing. 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. 


With respect to Peter Groves’s examples, 


     His Ca|nnon 'gainst| Selfe-slaugh|{ter}. || O God|, O God|! 

     Possesse| it meere|{ly}. || <That it| should come| to this|:

     By what| it fed| {on}; || and yet| within| a month|? 

     <Let me> not thinke| {on't}: || <Frailty>, thy name| is wo|{man}. 

     My Fa|thers Bro|{ther}: || but no| more like| my Fa|{there},


Please note that all the syllables he puts into curly brackets are unpaired unstressed syllables, i.e., das without their DUMs. You will also note that each of them is followed by a midline punctuation mark; two full stops, one semicolon and two colons, all precisely where the lines seem to run off the metrical track. (Read them aloud and you should hear that.) The fix is simple: those lines get the same oral adjustment as Gerald Downs’s ‘corrupt’ example, i.e., a 1-beat pause. (One of those lines, however, includes  two choices for the actor to make it right.) Those Peter Groves lines should be spoken as follows: 


His CAN / non ‘GAINST / Selfe-SLAUGH / ter.  [BEAT] / o GOD, / o GOD! [11 syllables, 12 regular iambic beats] 


Pos SESSE / it MERE /ly.  [BEAT] / That IT / should COME / to THIS:  [ditto]


By WHAT / it FED /on; [BEAT] / and YET / with IN /a MONTH?  [ditto]


My FA / thers BRO / ther: [BEAT] / but NO / more LIKE / my FA / there,  [12 syllables, 13 beats (12 iambic beats + a feminine ending)]


But let's look at this 4th of Peter Groves’s lines a little more closely: 


Let me not thinke on't: Frailty, thy name is woman.


Like the others, it goes all clunky after the midline punctuation if you try to say those twelve syllables iambically. Twelve syllables but a feminine ending. We know a feminine ending belongs with an odd number of syllables, so we can hear and see that there’s something wrong. 


This can be solved in two ways, and it is not obvious which one Shakespeare intended. The conditions are the same as the above examples, so you can insert a pause after the colon, just as above, and you get a result like the last previous example, 13 beats, 12 of them regular iambic plus a feminine ending:


Let ME /not THINK /on’t: [BEAT] / frail TY, / thy NAME / is WO / man.  [12 syllables, 13 beats (12 iambic beats + feminine ending)]


If you don’t like ‘frail TY’ (even though Shakespeare often shifts internal stresses) you might, using the same metrical solution — pausing for 1 beat—you might also, if you like, tweak this line by stressing ‘Frailty’ as a trochee, not to further solve the now-solved problem, but just to say it more familiarly. Shakespeare often launches a line or an idea with a trochee, so there’s nothing odd in that, and — the acid test: it still sounds OK: 


Let ME /not THINK /on’t: [BEAT] / FRAIL ty, / thy NAME / is WO / man.  [12 syllables, 13 beats (6 iambic beats, a trochee, then 4 more iambic beats + feminine ending)]


But I think Shakespeare really wants his Hamlet to conform to the meter here with a completely different solution. I think he wants him to spread out ‘Frailty’ without a pause, to find that needed beat by finding another syllable, to say the line like this:


Let ME /not THINK /on't: FRAY / il TY, / thy NAME / is WO / man.  [13 syllables, 12 iambic beats + feminine ending]


‘Frailty’ is a word, like ‘Romeo', ‘Juliet’, ‘nobly’ (and many, many others) that can be said properly as two syllables or three, just as ‘cruel’ and ‘hour’ and ‘heaven’ (and many others) can be said as one or two. That such a word occurs here, exactly where you need another syllable, suggests to me that that’s what Shakespeare intended. Primary, of course, is the dramatic question: which does Shakespeare want from the actor in this line, a meaningful little pause or plunging on with a word he can make bigger and important? I think, in this context, the latter.


Happy New Year to all,

Bob Projansky



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

Date:         January 18, 2014 at 8:09:37 PM EST

Subject:    Scansion: John Jones at Work


Ros Barber replied to my 'To be' scansion, where I follow van Dam:


> Trochaic and anapaestic substitutions are not difficult to find,

> both in Shakespeare and in his contemporaries, including texts

> completely under the author’s control and not corrupt in any way.


Van Dam addresses your comments: “Extra syllables are of somewhat frequent occurrence in the Heroic and Blank-verse line of our day. They are there generally looked upon as things of beauty . . .” (Chapters, 50); “True, one can hardly open a volume of poetry, without lighting in almost every page on verse-lines that would seem to justify the nineteenth [twenty-first] century prosodists as against the older brethren of the craft” (C, 66). We ought not to assume playtexts were authorially guided. (Shakespeare saw none through the press; the early publications are manifestly corrupt). And pronunciation wasn’t necessarily signaled by spelling in print.


> I opened Watson’s Hekatompathia and got no further than

> George Buck’s opening commendatory poem, where the 9th and

> 12th lines both contain anapaestic substitutions, making them 11

> syllables (even with masculine line endings).  The second of

> Watson’s sonnets (has this line:

> To view his own made flood of blubbering tears –

> To VIEW/his OWN/made FLOOD/of BLUB/ber ring TEARS.

> Now, armed with Van Dam’s theories, you decide that the

> ‘iest’ of ‘mightiest’ must have been pronounced as one syllable.

> This way, you can make Portia’s line fit the theory. But is it not

> more difficult to elide that pesky extra unstressed syllable in

> ‘Blubber-ring’? This is a text within the author’s control. If he

> wanted us to elide that ‘extra’ syllable, he would surely do as

> he does in certain other words, give us the apostrophized

> BLUB’ring? There are many more examples.


As I’ve stated, van Dam bases his theories on contemporary and near-in-time writings. One of his best authorities seems trustworthy because his assertions are not matters of “poetical” or “Shakespearian” controversy. John Jones had other fish to fry, yet The New Art of Spelling (1705) addresses these issues after all. The little book (Practical Phonography, 1701, with a new title page) is meticulously analyzed by Eilert Ekwall in Dr. John Jones’s Practical Phonography (1907, 500 pages). Both are available free from Google (as are van Dam’s works on prosody; His Hamlet is somewhere on the Net). Ekwall credits Jones and his opinions (despite an abundance of error); the editor is concerned more with pronunciation than loss of syllables, which he seems readily to accept. I haven’t yet read all Ekwall’s analysis. As for Jones:


“English speech is the Art of signifying the Mind by humane Voice, as it is commonly used in England, (particularly in London, the Universities, or at Court.)” (1). Jones avers that “all words were originally written as sounded” and “all Words that have since altered their sounds, (which causes the difficulty of Spelling rightly) did it . . . From the {harder/harsher/longer} to the {easier/pleasanter/shorter} Sounds, which therefore became the usual Sounds: It follows, that all Words which can be sounded several ways, must be written according to the hardest . . . and most unusual Sound. Which is an universal rule, without any exception . . . . The more unusual Sound is known to all by common Practice” (1-7).


Jones contends that words learned as written (such as those of dead languages) will be pronounced as spelled; but words learned by hearing (native English) are apt not to be spelled properly. Nevertheless, he advises the unsure speller not to sound, but to visualize a word, because memory of it in print may help to overcome a more usual pronunciation that leads to poor spelling. He is not a “spelling reformer”; readers knew many words both ways. Ironically, the traditional (“correct”) spellings implied alternative, but less used pronunciations. He hoped to teach spelling by this principle, which presumably applied in Shakespeare’s day.


Jones’s semi-graphic method is to specify questions under the headings, When is the sound of (. . .) written as (. . .), which he answers by a hundred pages of examples: When is the sound of a written ua? When it may be sounded ua as in annual, continual, perpetual, and 21 others. So, annual is usually pronounced annal, though it may be said annual. I will list some instructive examples and comments.


Sound ai, spelled ayo—In Mayor sounded Mair


ivory, sounded iv’ry :  ant, if it—In an’t for if it please you


e, ie__as in audience, loftier, spaniel, mightier [mightiest?], &c.


b, ab—as in abate, about, which are often sounded without the a


v, inv—as in veigle, venom, vest :  e, eve—as in ever, sounded e’re


l, all—as in allow . . . which are often sounded lay, lowable, lure,  &c.


traveling sounded trav’ling, and many such :  enlighten, sounded  lighten, &c.


r, er—as in bravery, every, livery, &c. sounded brav’ry, ev’ry, &c.


hemorrhoids, sounded emerods [see Timid of Athens]


We see that English was once pronounced so as to eliminate a syllable in blubbery, and such-like words: it still happens; ‘Your chow mein is rubb’ry.’ ‘So is your wife.’ I switch between probly and prolly myself, as Othello has probal. Buc and Watson may be excused. However, George Buc said that shorthand could record plays as they were spoken. What did he know? Who’d he think he was—Master of the Revels?


Nowadays, pronunciation in poems is indicated by spelling more than it once was. Van Dam quotes Ben Jonson’s posthumous Grammar: “Apostrophus is the rejecting of a Vowell from the beginning, or ending, of a word. The note whereof, though it many times, through the negligence of Writers and Printers, is quite omitted, yet by right should [have], and of the learneder sort hath this signe and marke, which is a Semicircle  ʼ placed in the top. . . . [Ben adds:] In the end a Vowell may be cast away, when the word next following beginneth with another . . .” In 1665, Owen Price commented that “Apostrophus is a note written just over the place of a Vowel that is cut off; as clos’d for closed, it’s for it is.” But I think we should keep in mind Jonson’s (and OED’s) distinction that apostrophus is the rejecting of a vowel, the mark of which is our modern apostrophe.


There’s instruction on this matter closer to our subject: Presumably, somehow, Shakespeare speaks for Holofernes in LLL at 4.2.119, after Sir Nathaniel reads a poem (of alexandrines, 12 syllables per line).

. . . . .

Celestiall as thou art, Oh pardon loue this wrong,     117

That singes heauens prayse, with such an earthly tong.


Pedan. You finde not the apostraphas, and so misse the

accent. Let me superuise the cangenct [canzenet].              120


Nath. Here are onely numbers ratefied,


Arden3 observes, “there is no obvious word in the poem in need of elision.” But van Dam holds that celestial would be pronounced celestal (as Jones lists marriage, Spaniard, valiant). ‘You finde not the apostraphas, and so misse the Accent’ doesn’t mean Nathaniel missed an apostrophe mark, but that he failed to see a vowel needing cutting out. In turn, he put the accent on the wrong word(s). Holofernes double-checked to find ‘the numbers are ratified’; Woudhuysen glosses, “in which there is a correct number of feet and syllables.” However, the inference (van Dam’s, if not the Pedant’s) depends on the accuracy of the text; if ‘celestiall’ is recorded as spoken, van Dam may well be right. Arden3 suggests ‘singeth’ instead of ‘singes’ to reach 12 syllables, attributed to “Proudfoot, privately.” Furness gives it to Frank Marshall; van Dam suggests it without attribution. As the line stands it hasn’t enough syllables.


If LLL is a shorthand report (there’s no better guess) we can’t trust the text: speech prefixes, spelling, wording, and meter are all suspect; As usual, Shakespeare himself is “outa sight.” I agree with H. R. Woudhuysen (a very good scholar) and others that all of the last lines belong to the pedant, Holofernes. (In any shorthand transcription speakers are guesswork: the fact that Nathaniel and Holofernes are confused in speech prefixes throughout the scene has no other explanation (not that it is ever explained that way, outside van Dam and me). F follows suit, of course). Van Dam has written of the various ways that corruption and revision affect syllable count.


“Note that the Vowel before n (as before l and r) is very apt to be silent . . . as in Commoner, Falconer, &c. sounded com’ner, Falc’ner, &c. and allow’d in Poetry” (75). Obviously, apostrophus was ‘llow’d in poetry because the ambiguity Jonson and ‘Holofernes’ complained of was outlawed. And yet the gripes were different; Holofernes expected the reader to find the elision; Jonson wanted the printer and writer to help readers recognize the syllables retained by common usage; and Jones understood that poets at last were required to spell it out, else the written word would bump the spoken. That’s the way it works now; not then.


> Even as the sun with purple-coloured face

> Had ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn,

> That's 'Even', not 'E'en' (unlike the clear 'ta'en of the line below


My guess is that e’en was too common and obvious to mark.


> ‘Be-ing WAST/ed


I know the feeling. John Taylor: ‘Be’ng strong . . . .’ Ornarily too common to mark, but the Water Poet was another Apostrophe Man.


> (iest can just about be said as one syllable, at a squeeze;

> I don’t believe the same can be done with ‘Being’).


But that isn’t what happens. Over time, the spoken word changed to something like our bing. (Oddly enough, every time I’ve yelled ‘bing’ someone else had just hollered ‘o’); ‘be-ing’ was optional, but not called for in this instance. Pronunciation is about change; in L.A. we listen to a newscaster’s ‘communi opportuni’ without batting an ear but we would be surprised if the newspaper followed suit. For what it’s worth, Jones says the sound of ee is written i when i in ing is “added to such as end in ee, as seeing, freeing, &c.” (48); and that the sound of ee is written e in “six words of one Syllable, be, he, me, she, we, ye” (47). Therefore, being also elides to beeng.


Jonson was probably not taking trouble with his texts merely to exhibit the pronunciation of lowbrows but to have his playtexts conform to the general speech. For instance, he corroborates Jones’s sound of m spelled as em “as in emaciate, emulgent . . . sounded often without the e after the, or a Vowel” (72). The’mulgent was a term the herd hadn’t heard.


The ‘harder to easier’ evolution resonates with me: I made some inferences along those lines as a kid. Long before James Garner repeated an old joke on “Laugh-in” I had evidence of the punch line: “What are a little Okie’s first words? ‘Mama, daddy, and Bakersfield.’” For all the ribbing my hometown got for its Dustbowl transplants, I noticed that few imitated them well. Attempts treated the accent as difficult; the secret is, it’s easy. It is harder to say than hit. Th'engineer pushing my train up the hill (I pulled) was a hepper. He couldn’t hep it.


Gerald E. Downs


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