Three Final Verse Directions

Yesterday, we took a look at the many performance clues for actors and directors to be found in the verse of Much Ado About Nothing’s Act Four, Scene One wedding/fallout sequence.

And it was a long discussion, and normally, I might just end it there. However, there are three verse directions in Act Five that should not go un-noted.

In Act Five, Scene One, when Leonato and his brother Antonio accost the prince and Claudio, Antonio goes off on a tirade that descends into name-calling: “Boys, apes, braggarts, Jacks, milksops!” (V.i.91), with this final line comprising three feet (though not nearly iambic–it looks like a spondee, a trochee, and another spondee, with an added stressed syllable for good measure). Leonato cuts him off with a three-foot poetic line, “Brother, Antony–” (V.i.91), that returns the line to alternating stresses. Could the name calling be going too far for Leonato, who knows his daughter is alive and that this is all a ruse, and he must stop his brother from saying something irrevocable? Possibly.

Later in the same scene, Leonato and the prince have two consecutive short lines:

My lord, my lord,–
I will not hear you.
  • V.i.106-7

They could easily be put into a single line, but they’re not. This should be a clue for the director and actors to look very carefully at what is taking place physically on the stage at the moment. Is there a struggle? Is there an attempted escape by the prince? How to fill that intended gap?

The final verse direction comes from the last scene, when Benedick asks the friar to help him, and the friar responds, “To do what, signor?” (V.iv.19). It’s only a half line, so the pause creates a comic opportunity for the actor playing Benedick, whose response in the next line is the beginning of his public admission of love for Beatrice: “To bind me, or undo me–one of them” (V.iv.20).

After all the struggle and strife in the verse of the last two acts, it’s nice to see verse clues end on a comic, love-inspired note.

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