Numbers: Genetics, Heredity, Nature vs. Nurture

I know what you’re thinking… [actually, I don’t… much to Lisa’s never-ending disappointment, but I digress] “What do you mean by numbers and genetics, etc. etc.?”

Let’s play with line counts to check some stuff…

But first, a little more scansion:  when a poetic line, particularly an iambic pentameter line, has an extra unstressed syllable at the end (like that of our Hamlet/scansion discussion earlier in the month), it’s said to have a feminine ending.  These line endings usually signify a lack of conceptual resolution to the line.

Here, though, we’re not looking at the content of the lines so much as the number of lines… but only for our four related characters: Egeon, Emilia the Abbess, and our Antipholi.

Egeon speaks over the course of his two scenes in the play (I.i and V.i) a total of 143 lines, with no prose.

Emilia speaks in her single scene (V.i) a total of 73 lines, with no prose.

Antipholus of Syracuse speaks over the course of the six scenes he’s in (I.ii, II.ii, III.ii, IV.iii, IV.iv, and V.1) a total of 278 lines (57 of which are prose).

Antipholus of Ephesus speaks over the course of the four scenes he’s in (III.i, IV.i, IV.iv, and V.i) a total of 249 lines (46 of which are prose).

So what?

Well, try this on for size:

Of Egeon’s 143 lines, only 6 have feminine endings; that around 4%.  Emilia, on the other had, speaks only 73 lines, but 16% have feminine endings; that’s a whopping 22%.

Let’s say, for completely unscientific argument’s sake, that the offspring of two parents carries one-half from each parent, a kind of statistical average of the parents.  One would then expect the Antipholi to have somewhere between 10% and 16% of their lines as feminine.

Of AS’s 278 total lines, 30 have feminine endings, or eleven percent.  Of AE’s 249 total lines, 37 have feminine endings, or over fourteen percent.  (if you take the percentage of poetry-only lines,jthe percentages go up to 14 and 18, respectively)

If we take the “nature” view of nature vs. nurture here, we see that the boys turn out pretty much how we would expect.  If you toss in the fact that AS was raised by Egeon, AS’s slghtly lower feminine percentage seems fitting.  On the other hand, AE did not have Egeon’s example and was probably raised (in an orphanage) by women, so his slightly higher feminine average fits as well.

Did Shakespeare plan this?  Is it a happy accident?  Who knows? but it certainly works.

File this under: Amazing but True!