Cymbeline speech study: Radiohead

Let’s check out some of the major speeches of Cymbeline and see if we can find any clues for the enterprising actor or director in the scansion and poetry. First up: Iachimo in the Box!

So, here we are: Act Two, Scene Two. The Italian’s been hidden in the trunk, the trunk taken into Innogen’s bedchamber. The lady-in-waiting leaves, the princess sleeps. And out pops Iachimo:

IACHIMO
The crickets sing, and man’s o’erlabored sense
Repairs itself by rest. Our Tarquin thus
Did softly press the rushes ere he wakened
The chastity he wounded.—Cytherea,
How bravely thou becom’st thy bed, fresh lily,
And whiter than the sheets.—That I might touch!
But kiss, one kiss! Rubies unparagoned,
How dearly they do ’t. ’Tis her breathing that
Perfumes the chamber thus. The flame o’ th’ taper
Bows toward her and would underpeep her lids
To see th’ enclosèd lights, now canopied
Under these windows, white and azure-laced
With blue of heaven’s own tinct. But my design:
To note the chamber. I will write all down.
Such and such pictures; there the window; such
Th’ adornment of her bed; the arras, figures,
Why, such and such; and the contents o’ th’ story.
Ah, but some natural notes about her body
Above ten thousand meaner movables
Would testify t’ enrich mine inventory.
O sleep, thou ape of death, lie dull upon her,
And be her sense but as a monument
Thus in a chapel lying. Come off, come off;
As slippery as the Gordian knot was hard.
’Tis mine, and this will witness outwardly
As strongly as the conscience does within
To th’ madding of her lord. On her left breast
A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops
I’ th’ bottom of a cowslip. Here’s a voucher
Stronger than ever law could make. This secret
Will force him think I have picked the lock and ta’en
The treasure of her honor. No more. To what end?
Why should I write this down that’s riveted,
Screwed to my memory? She hath been reading late
The tale of Tereus; here the leaf’s turned down
Where Philomel gave up. I have enough.
To th’ trunk again, and shut the spring of it.
Swift, swift, you dragons of the night, that dawning
May bare the raven’s eye. I lodge in fear.
Though this a heavenly angel, hell is here.
  • III.ii.11-50

It’s wonderfully structured speech, with great shifts in meter at crucial moments. When Iachimo first exits the trunk, his meter is regular, iambic pentameter, with the only slight variations in the first four lines is feminine ending to line three and a caesura in line four:


~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

The crickets sing, and man’s o’erlabored sense
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Repairs itself by rest. Our Tarquin thus
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / -~-

Did softly press the rushes ere he wakened
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ | ~ /-~-

The chastity he wounded.—Cytherea,

Even when bringing up the idea of violation and rape (the reference to the “Tarquin”), this is all part of his plan, all what he expects. If the iamb is the rhythm of the heartbeat, then here he’s calm. It seems that the only thing that can throw him off his game, as it were, is the sight of Innogen herself, and he’s then thrown into palpitations, excitement:


~ / ~ / ~ -/- ~ / / / ~

How bravely thou becom’st thy bed, fresh lily,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

And whiter than the sheets.—That I might touch!
~ / / / / ~ ~ / ~ /

But kiss, one kiss! Rubies unparagoned,
~ / ~ / -/- / ~ / ~ /

How dearly they do ’t. ’Tis her breathing that
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / -~- / ~

Perfumes the chamber thus. The flame o’ th’ taper
/ -/- ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Bows toward her and would underpeep her lids
~ / -~- / ~ / ~ / ~ /

To see th’ enclosèd lights, now canopied
/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Under these windows, white and azure-laced
~ / ~ -/- ~ / / / ~ /

With blue of heaven’s own tinct. But my design:

Nine lines, only three iambic iambic: but even these have elisions (“flame o’ th’ taper” and “th’ enclosed”) and/or feminine endings; the one that doesn’t has a dash between what seem to be sentences (“the sheets.—That I might”) creating the expectation of a caesura, a pause; but it doesn’t come. So even with metric regularity, there’s something irregular in the execution of the line. The other six lines are are irregular in meter. His heart is rushing, skipping beats. He is excited. But as he returns to his “design,” the variations to the meter lessen


~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

To note the chamber. I will write all down.
/ ~ / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Such and such pictures; there the window; such
-~- / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

Th’ adornment of her bed; the arras, figures,
~ / ~ / | / ~ / ~ -/- ~

Why, such and such; and the contents o’ th’ story.
/ / ~ / -~- / ~ / ~ / ~

Ah, but some natural notes about her body
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Above ten thousand meaner movables
~ / ~ / -~- / ~ / ~ / ~

Would testify t’ enrich mine inventory.
/ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

O sleep, thou ape of death, lie dull upon her,
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

And be her sense but as a monument
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / / / /

Thus in a chapel lying. Come off, come off;

Here, he’s “back to work,” back to his “design.” His heartbeat regulates. There is the occasional variation, a trochee or two, a couple of spondees, but only a single caesura. There isn’t time to pause for Iachimo; time is of the essence. Mainly, he’s down to business here. Until he finds the bracelet, and takes it from her arm. The dual spondee “come off”s are a deviation from the norm, from which he recovers nicely through some elisions and a feminine ending.


~ / -~- / ~ / -~- / ~ /

As slippery as the Gordian knot was hard.
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /~

’Tis mine, and this will witness outwardly
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

As strongly as the conscience does within

But then he sees something. Her left breast. And any calm, any measured, regulated response, is shattered:


~ -/- ~ / ~ / / / / /

To th’ madding of her lord. On her left breast
~ / / / ~ / ~ / ~ /

A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops
-~- / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

I’ th’ bottom of a cowslip. Here’s a voucher
/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / / / ~

Stronger than ever law could make. This secret
~ / ~ / -~- / ~ / ~ -/-

Will force him think I have picked the lock and ta’en
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / / / / /

The treasure of her honor. No more. To what end?
/ ~ ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

Why should I write this down that’s riveted,
/ ~ ~ / ~ / / ~ ~ / ~ /

Screwed to my memory? She hath been reading late
~ / ~ /-~- / ~ / ~ /

The tale of Tereus; here the leaf’s turned down
~ / ~ / / / / ~ / ~

Where Philomel gave up. I have enough.

This section is filled with deviations. If we include the elisions, there is not a single line in this ten-line stretch that is perfectly iambic. Feminine endings. Elisions. Trochees. Spondees. The first time I read this, even without marking the elision, I scrawled in the margin: “Big time excitement.” What I find fascinating here is that in this ten line section, not only do we find deviations from the iambic, but in two lines, we have deviations from the pentameter as well: two of the lines (“The treasure…” and “Screwed to my memory…”) have six metrical feet instead of five. What you don’t find in this stretch though is a caesura. There are no mid-line pauses. And a majority of the lines are NOT end-stopped (meaning there’s no punctuation at the end of the lines) so there’s not much pausing there, either. Not only is his heart beating faster, but it’s breathless as well. The section ends with period-spanning “GAVE UP. I have”… I’ll argue that this is practically orgasmic. He truly has enough. He’s satiated. Because what follows


~ -/- ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

To th’ trunk again, and shut the spring of it.
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

Swift, swift, you dragons of the night, that dawning
~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ /

May bare the raven’s eye. I lodge in fear.
~ / ~ -/- ~ / ~ / ~ /

Though this a heavenly angel, hell is here.

save for a couple of elisions, is perfectly iambic pentameter. He’s past the excitement, and back to the plan, back to the trunk. And maybe a smoke; but definitely to sleep.

I love this speech. (and frankly I doubt that I’ve even scratched the surface on this bad boy).

Oh, btw, the title reference of course is to Radiohead’s “Creep”…

So, while I’m at it… here’s Prince’s cover

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