Poetry/Verse (I’m not so sure about this play, Part Three — The Not-So Thrilling Conclusion)

A couple of days back, when we were discussing the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew, I used the term Bard-olaters, saying it was someone who was such a Bard-ophile that he cannot believe that Shakespeare can do wrong (or poorly).

see: those who don’t believe Titus was written by him

I made the claim in that entry that I was no such person (even though I conjectured then [and I still stick to the guess] that it was Shakespeare’s intent [tricky here] that the Petruchio/Kate play-within-a-play is really a kind of fever dream for a drunk and horny Christopher Sly).  And today, I’m going to prove that non-membership in the Bad Boy Bardolotry Club:

I find the poetry in this play pretty bad: inconsistent, sometimes grossly mis- or un-metered, and with few moments of heightened language or emotion. [I pause to allow the surprised gasps from the collected audience to subside] OK, I’m no expert on scansion… I just play one on the internet; so, scholars, show me the error of my ways (like is Shakespeare using some different non-iambic non-penta verse and meter?)

Now we visited this concept a couple of months back when looking at Act Three, Scene One of The Comedy of Errors; but there, the (possible) doggerel was confined to two scenes.  Not here.

Throughout the play, we get short poetic lines…

~   /   ~    /   /  ~   ~    /
I pray you, sir, is it your will
~  /   ~   /   ~   / ~  /      ~    /
To make a stale of me amongst these mates?

— I.i.57-58

Now, in many cases, I’d attribute this to an in-line stage direction for a pause, but there’s no reason to pause at the end of the first line.  On the positive, however, in this case the second line is a regular iambic pentameter line.  In other cases, the following line is pentameter, but not filled with iambs:

/    ~
Nay then,
/    ~   ~   /     /  /    ~   /  ~  /
Do what thou canst, I will not go today.

— III.ii.207-208

Here, there are five feet, but they are a trochee, an iamb, a spondee, followed by two iambs.

In other cases, the following line is (reasonably) iambic, but too long by a foot:

/   ~   /
That will I.
/  ~ ~  /  ~   /    ~   /   ~    /   ~  /
Go, Biondello, bid your mistress come to me

— V.ii.77-76

Save for the opening trochee, it’s a wonderful iambic line, only hexameter not pentameter.

And in still others, the short line is followed by, well, I’m not sure what:

/   ~   /     ~    /   ~   /
How but well, sir? How but well?
/   ~   ~  /  ~  /  /   ~     /   ~ /
It were impossible I should speed amiss

— II.i.283-284

While the second line opens with a trochee and two iambs, it falls apart after that.  And in

/  ~ /    ~   /
Katherine the curst!
~  /  ~  /  ~   /  ~  ~    /  ~   ~   /
A title for a maid of all titles the worst.

— I.ii.127-128

the second line opens with three regular iambs, followed by two anapests.

Beyond the fact that the first line is short, the first lines have nothing in common; the meter is mixed.  And those second lines?  Talk about your motley crew.  They’re inconsistent, and that’s not good in verse (look, I’m not looking for thumpingly regular iambic pentameter, but I’d like to get some rhythm going).  What IS interesting and true to all the above examples (and the vast majority of the others in the play as a whole) is this:  Each of these short/long line combinations come at the start of the character’s speech.  I’m not sure what that means.  I’m not even sure it’s important.  I just know it’s there.

There are other inconsistencies as well.  Just as there are short lines, there are long lines throughout the play:

~    /~ / ~ /  ~    / ~   /  ~   /  ~
Some Neopolitan or meaner man of Pisa (I.i.203)

~  /   /   =  /    ~    /  ~    /    ~   /   ~  /
To make one among these wooers.  If thou ask me why, (I.i.244)

/   ~    /  ~  / ~   / ~    /  ~   / ~  / ~ /
Trow you whither I am going? To Baptista Minola (I.ii.162)

~   /  ~  /  ~   /  ~   /    ~    /  ~    /  ~   /
Are you a suitor to the maid you talk of, yea or no? (I.ii.227)

~    /   ~    /   ~   /    /   ~   ~      /   ~  /
Ay, but not frighted me; therefore I'll sleep again. (V.ii.43)

And those are just some of them! (from the first act [and the last scene, just to show that they continue throughout])

Now, I may be WAY off-base here, but with the whacked-out verse (the long, the short, and the jumbled of it), I’m wondering if some of these verse lines aren’t supposed to be prose instead.  This would raise the prose percentage greatly (from its current 21%), and might even bring it up to the exceedingly high prose percentages of Shakespeare’s other battle-of-the-sexes comedies, Much Ado About Nothing (by some accounts over 70% prose) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (over 80%).  When you think about it, Kate vs. Petruchio is very similar in tone (if not [some might say misogynistic] spirit) to the battles of Beatrice vs. Benedict and the Mistresses Ford and Page vs. Jack Falstaff.

Maybe the prose is supposed to convey that (though the wooing scene and Kate’s last speech are pretty solid in their verse and meter).  I just don’t know, but it is something to consider.

btw, it seems now that, as I re-read this entry, that I never got around to part of my thesis: the lack of heightened emotion/language in the verse … ah, well … then that’s something for all of you to ponder (unless I get around to it in the next two weeks…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *