THAT Discussion, Part Two

Yesterday, we started discussing scansion and meter (using a re-purposed presentation I gave a couple of years back), with a brief metrical overview.  We also started a close reading of beginning of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.  Today, let’s finish up the scene, and then we’ll hit the Melancholy Dane, Prince Hamlet…

Allrightythen, where we we?  As yes,  Romeo had compared Juliet to the sun, and had dismissed the moon as sick and pale.  Now he turns his attention from metaphor to the flesh and blood girl before him:

\  ~   ~  \ ~  \  ~  \   ~  \
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
\    ~   ~    \   ~   \      _      _
O, that she knew she were!
~    \     ~   ~   \    \  ~      \  ~   \
She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?
~   \   ~  \   ~   \  ~    \  ~  \
Her eye discourses; I will answer it.
\  ~  ~   \      \   \   ~ \   ~     \
I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks:

This first line kicks off with another trochee (two syllable foot, stressed followed by unstressed), it gives the line a bounce to start; but look what happens in the second half of the line.  He repeats the “it is my” construction, but look at the stresses: it has gone from an unstressed “is” (my lady) to an emphasized “is” (my love).  He’s getting a little ahead of himself.  Then look at line two.

That’s a short line.  Only six syllables. That’s a two-foot pause.  He’s supposed to stop talking.  Why?

Look at line three: “She speaks yet she says nothing.”  The actress playing Juliet should sigh in the pause.  She has to make some kind of audible sound (“she speaks”), but it cannot carry meaning (there’s no dialogue for her, and “she says nothing”).  And look at the rhythm of that next line.  It’s jumbled.  Romeo is confused, and his confidence from the first line is shot.


ROMEO
\    \   ~   \     ~    \   ~ \   ~   \
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
\    ~  ~  \   ~   \   ~ \    ~    \
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
~   \  ~     \      ~    \
That I might touch that cheek!
JULIET
\   \
Ay me!
ROMEO
~     \
She speaks:

Is this part of the scene, five lines long?

NO, we’re talking three poetic lines here, with that third poetic line encompassing two script lines for Romeo and one for Juliet.

ROMEO
\    \   ~   \     ~    \   ~ \   ~   \
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
\    ~  ~  \   ~   \   ~ \    ~    \
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
~   \  ~     \     ~     \
That I might touch that cheek!
\  \
JULIET                         Ay me!
~    \
ROMEO                               She speaks:

That third poetic line has ten total syllables, ONE iambic pentameter line… to be spoken WITHOUT PAUSES…  If iambic pentameter is the sound of the human heart, then Romeo and Juliet are sharing a heartbeat (though Juliet’s heart is pounding in a spondee foot)… ain’t that sweet….

OK, from sweet to melancholic:

Ex. 2: Hamlet
Hamlet, Act III, Scene i (64-96)

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.--Soft you now!

It’s only the most famous speech in all of Shakespeare… so let’s dig deep!

HAMLET
~  \  ~   \   ~  \    \  ~   ~    \   ~
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
\  ~    ~   \  ~  ~   ~   \    ~  \  ~
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
~   \     ~  \  ~   ~   ~  \  ~    \  ~
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
~   ~  \   \    ~  \    ~  \  ~    \   ~
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
~   \ ~  \ ~    \    ~    ~  \    ~   \
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

Notice all the extra unstressed syllables at the end of the first four lines.  These are called “feminine” endings; the lines trail off…there’s no power at the end of those lines, no resolution.  And the extra syllables lead us to see that Hamlet has too many thoughts going through his head.  The trochees in the first line (plus a second [“or not”] that is open to debate) and at the beginning of line four throw off the natural rhythm of the speech… not that there is a natural rhythm of the speech: check out all the extra unstressed syllables in lines two and three, and the completely awkward rhythm of line four.

This fifth line is even more problematic… it’s like there’s an syllable missing at the end of the question (before the next sentence)… Is that a direction for the actor to pause a full breath?

 ~  \    ~    \ ~   \    ~  \   ~  \
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
~    \    \    ~   ~    \   ~   \  ~     \
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
~    \   ~   \    ~    \  ~  \  ~  \ ~
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
~ \   ~  \  ~   \      ~  \    ~   \
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;

Again, we get two syllables slurred into one in “natural” (NA-tral), and then another line with an extra unstressed syllable…too many thoughts?

 ~   \     ~   \     ~   \    \     \      ~   \
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
~  \    ~    \   ~    \     ~    \     ~   \
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
\   \  ~     \  ~   \     ~   \  ~   \
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
~    \   ~   \   _   \       ~  ~  \
Must give us pause: there's the respect
~    \    ~ \ ~ \  ~  \  ~    \
That makes calamity of so long life;

. . .
There are only 8 syllables in this last line… actor needs to take a breath… because the next sentence covers the next 13 lines!

  ~   \    ~      \   \    \ ~    ~  ~   \
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
~    \   ~   \ ~    \  ~   \ ~ \  ~
And thus the native hue of resolution
~   \   ~    \    ~    ~   \    \   ~    \
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
~  \  ~  \  ~  ~    \    \   ~    \ ~
And enterprises of great pith and moment
~     \   ~ \     ~    \  ~     \   ~  \
With this regard their currents turn awry,
~   \    ~   \   ~  \  ~      \    ~   \
And lose the name of action.--Soft you now!

Again, irregular rhythms… this is a disturbed young man…

We get another feminine (extra unstressed syllable) ending in the second line; and the next couple of line are filled with awkward rhythms; his resolution really IS “sicklied o’er.”  And the speech ends when he’s interrupted (someone walks in on him); it happens quickly… no pause (10 syllables).

Conclusion

No lies: Shakespeare can be difficult. … all those pesky words, and shoe-horned into poetic lines, no less.  BUT… With work, including listening and saying the words aloud, understanding the language and the mental/emotional state of the characters (not to mention the stage directions) can be done.

Just take your time.  We’ve got a month per play, and three years to go… we’re in no rush.

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