Scansion: Textual Clues for Performance

[repurposed from earlier in the Project…]

Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii (3-26)

ROMEO
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
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:

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:


ROMEO
 ~     \     ~    \      ~     \  ~   \  ~    \
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
\   ~  ~   \     ~   \  ~   \  ~   \
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

That first line is a regular iambic pentameter line.  But look at the second line… it begins not with an unaccented (iambic) syllable, but a stressed one-a trochee foot.  Then take a look at Juliet’s name.  For the meter to work, for there to be the right number of syllables, her name must NOT be pronounced “JU-lee-ET” but rather “JUL-yet” with the last two syllables slurred as one… symbolically, just the thought, the mention of his love’s name speeds up her heart.

Now, look at the stressed words:  they tell the story:

Soft! Light breaks… east, Jul (jewel?) is sun.

Let’s continue…

~  \    ~    \    ~   \    ~  \   ~    \
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
\  ~  ~  \  ~  \    ~   \    ~     \
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
~    \   ~   \   ~    \   ~    \     ~   \
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
~  \   ~   \     ~     \  ~  \  ~ \
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
~   \  ~   \  ~  \   ~   \    ~    \
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
~   \    ~   \    ~   \   ~    \   ~  \
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.

There’s some cool stuff happening here… in the first line, “envious” is slurred from three to two syllables (not “EN-vee-US” but “EN-vyus”)… that fits the meter, but in the fourth line Shakespeare to keep out the meter regular stretches out the same word to its usual three syllables.  Why? In the first line, Romeo is powering through the verse, but in line four, the word comes at the end of the line, and stretching it out makes the plea fuller, flirtier, sexier.  (don’t overlook what is happening at the end of line one and the trochee beginning of line two, two consecutive stressed syllables, each with a long vowel U sound…ooooooo, very sexy.)

Except for the three-to-two syllable slurring of “livery” in line five, it’s all pretty straight forward iambic pentameter.

————————————————

UPDATE…
After listening to the wonder Playing Shakespeare by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s John Barton, I’ve re-examined the scansion, and thus this change:

 ~   \  ~   \  ~  ~   \   \    ~    \
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
~   \    ~   \    \   ~   ~    \   ~  \
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.

The change in that penultimate line makes it jumpier, unsure, as if he’s fighting for words, the right words to convince her… and he’s found it (thus, his “oooo, ooooo” repetition of “fools do” … ooooo, oooo, I’ve got it!

————————————————

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….

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