Anna’s a Pest but She Dances to the Soundtrack of Romantic Comedies

As we noted yesterday, an anapestic foot is an alternative three-syllable poetic meter.  Like most three-syllable feet, it allows for a rhythmical, almost musical poetic line.  And if you start an anapestic line with an iamb, and end it with feminine ending, you practically have a limerick.  So it’s no surprise that the anapest is used quite often in comic verse.

So we have this comic poetic type, and for the first time in the Project we get widespread use of it in Love’s Labor’s Lost.  But, what to make of it?

Well, first, we don’t get a use of an anapest until Act Two.  So even though we have comic moments in the first two and a half scenes (Berowne’s discomfort with the specifics of the King’s contracted agreement; Costard’s reaction to Armado’s letter; the wackiness of Armado and Moth), we don’t get our musically comic rhythm until the French party has arrived in Navarre.  In fact, the moment we get the “music” is the moment the men learn the names of the women from France:

ROSALINE
~   \      ~   \    \ ~
And yours from long living!

BEROWNE
~  \  ~    \    \    \ ~
I cannot stay thanksgiving.
[Exit]

DUMAINE
~   ~  \    ~   ~  \     ~    \ ~ \    ~   \
Sir, I pray you, a word: what lady is that same?

BOYET
~  \   ~  \ ~  \    \ -~-     ~   \
The heir of Alencon, Katharine her name.

DUMAINE
~  \  ~    \ ~   ~  \      ~    ~   \
A gallant lady. Monsieur, fare you well.
[Exit]

LONGAVILLE
~  ~  \    ~  ~  \     ~   ~   \  ~   ~   \
I beseech you a word: what is she in the white?

BOYET
~  \ ~   \   \     ~   ~    -\-   ~   ~   \
A woman sometimes, an you saw her in the light.

LONGAVILLE
~   ~     \    ~   ~   \     ~  ~ \~   ~   \
Perchance light in the light. I desire her name.

BOYET
~   \    ~   \   ~   ~  \     ~  ~ \     \   ~   ~  \
She hath but one for herself; to desire that were a shame.

— II.i.191-199

At the beginning of the sequence, Rosaline and Berowne speak in (roughly) iambic trimeter (only roughly, because of the trochee in the first line and spondee in the second).  But from the point at which Dumaine asks Boyet about Katherine’s name, we begin to hear the anapestic influence: Dumaine’s lines both include two anapestic feet; Boyet’s sandwiched response has only a single elided anapestic foot.  With Longaville’s question, however, the anapests really begin to flow: His two lines are pure anapestic tetrameter, and Boyet begins to use more and more anapests.  This anapestic use (though not to the exclusion of other poetic feet) continues through Berowne’s question to the end of the scene, Boyet’s conversation with the four French ladies.

But why now and not before?  Is it that Shakespeare is sending us clues that the play is changing gears, from education and wordplay to romantic comedy.  The anapest is a jauntier rhythm and befits a lighter subject.

Uses of the anapestic crop up again throughout most of the rest of the play:

Act Three, Scene One:
at the end of Moth and Armado’s quick banter before Moth exits to retrieve Costard;

 ~  ~ \     ~ ~  \  ~     -~-    \  ~     ~     \
He reputes me a cannon; and the bullet, that's he

— IV.i.62

again in Costard’s responses to Armado’s l’envoi discourse:

 ~  ~   \   ~  ~    \  ~   ~     \    ~  ~   \
Let me see; a fat l'envoy; ay, that's a fat goose.

— IV.i.101

Act Four, Scene One:
one speech of the Princess upon the arrival of “Berowne’s” letter:

~   ~   \  ~    ~   \  ~    \   ~  ~     \    ~   \
O, thy letter, thy letter! he's a good friend of mine:
~   ~ \     ~    \  ~    ~ \    ~   ~   \
Stand aside, good bearer. Boyet, you can carve...

— IV.i.56-57

much of the remainder of the scene, including the French party’s debriefing after the letter and the incredibly bawdy post-hunt double-entendre-fest:

~  ~    \  -~-    ~     \    ~    ~   \    ~   \  ~
A mark marvelous well shot, for they both did hit it.

— IV.i.131

Act Four, Scene Two:
Holofernes’ insult and Nathaniel’s defense of Dull

Act Four, Scene Three:
some of Berowne’s asides during the reading of the other men’s letters:

 ~   ~  \ ~ ~   \    ~  \ ~   ~    \
Like a demigod here sit I in the sky...

— IV.iii.75

parts of the sequence after Berowne’s forced confession:

DUMAINE
~   ~   \  ~  ~  \ ~
Now the number is even.

BEWORNE
~     \    ~  ~   \
True, true; we are four.
~    ~     \   ~  ~   \
Will these turtles be gone?

— IV.iii.207-208

Act Five, Scene One: none used
And then we get to the final scene.  Up until THAT final scene, the sequences all have a rollicking movement for buoyant moments: banter, acceleration into romantic-comic confusion, nudge-nudge-wink-wink naughtiness, response to insult, romantic-comic climax.  It’s all fun.  But–as anyone’s who’s read my take on that last scene knows, I think–then fun ends.

And as the fun ends, so do (for the most part) the anapests.

There are no anapests in the mocking of the Muscovites.

There are no anapests in the continued mocking of the men (undisguised).

The few anapests we get begin to creep in only when Costard enters to begin the show of the Worthies (V.ii.485).  The anapests continue, but they decrease in frequency during the show itself.  And as the Midsummer-like biting commentary–(mostly) the men–grows in its mean-spiritedness, the anapests end completely.

And we never hear them again.

The rollicking rhythm of romantic comedy is dead.  The play ends with no romantic comedic conclusion:

Our wooing doth not end like an old play;
Jack hath not Jill: these ladies' courtesy
Might well have made our sport a comedy.

— V.ii.858-860

Might well have.

But not so much.

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