OK, yesterday, we discussed the different rationales for using rhyme in the verse of the plays. Some of our purposes:
- singling out an entire body or block of content
- singling out a couplet of content (for emphasis, particularly at the end of a speech)
- content from outside the play itself–poems, songs, even entire plays that are performed within the context of the scene
- portrayal of other worldly-entities
But we also hinted at another possible purpose (and pointed you to Act Two, Scene One of The Comedy of Errors as an example):
Rhyme AS answer.
There are passages when two (or more characters) are involved in a dialogue, and one character will speak a line of verse that is responded to by the other person with a line of verse that creates a rhyming couplet. It’s a little difficult to explain or describe, so let’s take a look at some great examples from Adriana and Luciana’s first scene in Act Two, Scene One.
After Luciana advises patience to her sister, stating that men are servants to time, Adriana asks why a male’s freedom should be greater than a female’s:
Why should their liberty than ours be more?
To which Luciana responds:
Because their business still lies out o' door.
The rhyme “door” to “more” completes the couplet. More importantly, it is an “answer” to, a refutation of–a “topping” of–Adriana’s point. A man’s business is out in the world, a woman’s business is within the home. When a character can answer back in rhyme this way, s/he has “won” the argument. And Luciana starts with wins from her sister (ill/will, so/woe). At this point, Luciana goes on with five more couplets on her own (eye/sky, fowls/controls, these/seas, souls/fowls, lords/accords), all discussing males’ status as “masters to their females” (II.i.24). Adriana attempts to begin the argument anew:
This servitude makes you to keep unwed.
But Luciana responds,
Not this, but troubles of the marriage-bed.
Again, she answers and tops Adriana (responding with a reference to Adriana’s marital problems), and Luciana’s rhetorical dominance lasts another couple of couplets (sway/obey, where?/forbear). Adriana attempts to build an argument of her own, using five rhyming couplets (pause/cause, adversity/cry, pain/complain, thee/me), ending:
But, if thou live to see like right bereft,
This fool-begg'd patience in thee will be left.
Since Adriana completed her own couplet, Luciana can only resond with a couplet of her own–one so weak, that no listener can interpret her response as a winning one:
Well, I will marry one day, but to try.
Here comes your man; now is your husband nigh.
In this entire first half of the scene, Luciana’s answers of patience (and even pragmatic subservience) appear to win out over Adriana’s seeming shrewishness. But with that last non-answering, non-winning couplet, Luciana’s argument is weakening. And it is at this point that Dromio enters to reveal to the sisters his meeting with Antipholus (of Syracuse, though everyone in the conversation thinks it’s the Ephesian one) and the husband’s refusal to either come home (bad enough) or acknowledge his marriage (worse). Once Dromio leaves, Luciana comments on Adriana’s non-verbal reaction (check this out for a great in-dialogue/in-line stage directon for the actor):
Fie, how impatience loureth in your face!
But Adriana will have none of it, and completes the couplet,
His company must do his minions grace,
then runs on out with seven more couplets (look/took, it/wit?, marr’d/hard:, bait?/state:, found/ground, fair/repair, pale/stale), all hitting upon the same theme: it is HIS fault she is acting this way. He is out with him minions (girlfriends), and this is what has become of her “decayed fair” (I.1.98): she is but his plaything. Luciana attempts to break through to her:
Self-harming jealousy! fie, beat it hence!
But again Adriana can top it:
Unfeeling fools can with such wrongs dispense.
And again, she continues with six more couplets (otherwhere/here?, chain/detain, bed!/enamelled, still/will, name/shame, eye/die), never giving Luciana a chance to win the argument. And when Luciana does speak her single line to end the scene
How many fond fools serve mad jealousy!
It doesn’t complete a couplet. In fact, you can almost see how it is possible to stage the ending of the scene with Luciana alone on stage, with Adriana having already departed sobbing from the stage.
So who wins? Luciana takes more couplets (6-3), but Adriana’s victories all allow her to support her answers with longer speeches. Plus, like in any boxing match, the judges usually count those blows landed at the end of a round more highly than those landed at the beginning of the round… so I’d have to give the round to Adriana.
But that’s just looking at it from the rhyming perspective.
What about the content of their speeches?
In Luciana’s first speech (II.i.4-9), she is completely logical (maybe Antipholus ran into another merchant) and pragmatic in keeping with contemporary gender roles (a man is a master of his freedom, but the schedule is his master), so her call for “patience” seems rational. Adriana asks one simple question: why sould a man’s freedom be greater than a woman’s? And thus begins the argument, to which Luciana seems to claim a first-half victory (especally as she hammers home the contemporary belief of male superiority). The argument continues as Adriana begins to question Luciana’s ability to marry or be a wife; Luciana contnues the male superiority line of logic. Andriana, however, answers (I.i.32-41) with an “unaswered” speech about how since Luciana has never been married (nor “bruised with adversity”), she cannot possibly know what she’s talking about. And the argument is left off with Dromio’s entrance.
Following his exit, Adriana jumps immediately to thoughts of Antipholus’ infidelity (II.i.87-101). Paranoia? Maybe not. She makes references to her age: “homely age” (II.i.89) and “decayed fair” (II.i.98), and she uses a number of negative adjectives to describe herself (“homely”, “poor”, “dull”, “marred”, “ruined”). But more tellingly, she uses the term “barren” (II.1.91). Is her fear of his infidelity based upon either her age or her perception of her age? How old is she? Do they have children? None are seen or referenced, and is that absence based on her age?
Antipholus is a young man (most likely, 23 years old). Is she much older than he? Has she been around the block a couple of times? Is Luciana a much younger sister, without Adriana’s world experience, and thus more likely to have some naive and unquestioning views on contemporary gender roles? This is especially interesting given Adriana’s “you haven’t been in my shoes argument” near the end of the first half of the scene. Makes one think, doesn’t it?
In her final speech of the scene, Adriana says she “know(s) (Antipholus’) eye doth homage elsewhere” (II.i.104). And while this seems at the moment like unwarranted paranoia, we learn in less than an act that she’s right. And while Luciana is correct in general, saying “How many fond fools serve mad jealousy” (I.i.116), one has to question whether or not 1) Adriana’s jealousy is truly insane and 2) is Adriana either a “fond fool” or a paranoid shrew.
Makes for some very interesting questions for any actress playing Adriana or director tackling this seemingly light and farcical trifle.
[EXTRA CREDIT ASSIGNMENT: figure out what the heck is going on in Act Four, Scene Two (which includes: rhymng couplets, answering couplets, and more complex rhyme schemes)]