OK, so last week when talking about the choric character Gower in Pericles, I mentioned that the historical poet Gower–when he was composing what would become one of the sources for this play–employed iambic tetrameter in rhyming couplets.
Let’s take a look at how Shakespeare re-creates Gower…
There are eight choric speeches:
- In the prologue to the play as a whole, there are 42 lines of iambic tetrameter; the first six of which have no rhyme; the meter changes from four-feet to five-feet (the usual Shakespearean expectation) for the couplets at lines 9-10, 17-8, 27-8, and 41-42. I find it interesting but most likely coincidental that it’s a pentameter couplet that ends the speech and pushes the audience into the action of the play (and its expected blank verse).
- The chorus bridging Acts One and Two, contains 40 lines, all in rhyming couplets. All but one single line is in iambic tetrameter; line 4 is in pentameter. Following line 16, Shakespeare–or Wilkins, if the co-authorship speculation is true–has inserted a dumb-show that acts out the next ten or so lines of the speech (with the addition of Pericles knighting the messenger from Tyre).
- The chorus between the second and third acts is a longer one, 60 lines in length, all in rhymed iambic tetrameter couplets. This one, too, contains a dumb-show that acts out the next 20 or so lines; here it’s after line 14.
- After Act Three, there’s another chorus, this one of 52 lines, all of which are rhymed couplets (I know, it seems that the final couplet doesn’t: appear/murderer. But using The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation (Oxford University Press, 2016) by David Crystal (and more importantly, the super-duper cool web accompaniment sound files), it turns out the both words have a secondary or tertiary pronunciation ending in “er” sound that sounded more like “air” than either “ear” or “er.” The first four lines of the speech–which focus on Pericles and Thaisa–are in iambic pentameter; the following forty-eight, beginning with his invitation for us “to Marina bend [our] mind” (IV.Chorus.5), are all tetrameter. No dumb-show.
- In the midst of Act Four, as Scene Four itself, is the next chorus. Fifty-one lines. Let that sink in. Odd number. No way to have all of the lines rhyme (at least not in couplets). Save for line 33, there are 25 rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter. There are no lines of tetrameter. And that line 33? Not only un-rhymed, but also un-pentameter. It’s an incredibly short line. Well before this, after line 22, we get another dumb-show, acting out the next ten lines of speech.
- Before Act Five, we get a 24-line chorus, with no dumb-show. It’s all iambic pentameter. But the rhyme scheme is completely different. The speech is comprised of six quatrains, all with an a-b-a-b rhyme scheme. There is no apparent reason for this.
- As in the fourth act, a separate scene in the final act is carved out for a Gower chorus. This one is 20 lines, all iambic tetrameter in rhyming couplets, with no dumb-show.
- The play ends an 18-line epilogue spoken by Gower, all rhymed couplets, all iambic pentameter save for the single tetrameter line 16. No dumb-show needed.
So eight choric speeches. All of them overwhelmingly rhymed. Of them, four of them primarily tetrameter (1.Ch, 2.Ch, 4.Ch, and Epi.), and two completely tetrameter (3.Ch and 5.2). Two of the speeches (4.4 and 5.Ch) are primarily or all iambic pentameter. So why the bizarre deviations in 4.4 and 5.Chorus (with the latter using that more complex a-b-a-b rhyme scheme)?
I do not know.
I’ve got a suspicion. But I need a second read-through to confirm or reject the theory…