A prayer in the dog pound

Over the course of the next few days, I want to take a closer look, a deeper dive, into a couple of related speeches in Timon of Athens.

Both are prayers of a sort.

Let us begin with our cynic, Apemantus…

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Prose, verse, and rhyme: an Othello case-study

Much of any given Shakespeare play is poetry, mostly blank verse, unrhymed iambic pentameter (more on that here). Sometimes some of those poetic lines rhyme, but mostly not. And some of the play (just over a quarter by average; just over 16% in tragedies, though Othello has closer to 20%) isn’t even in verse; it’s just prose.

So, the question always comes up, “Why do this in verse and that in prose?” Well, the standard, cliched answer is the ol’ “verse = nobility :: prose = common man” trope. And while that may be true in many cases, it’s certainly not true all the time.

So what’s going on?

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Twelfth Night: prose, verse, and rhymes (oh my)

In Twelfth Night, as with most of the plays in the Canon, Shakespeare uses multiple avenues to convey his content. In the past, we’ve spent time in this project on the differences between the uses of prose, poetry, and rhyming verse. And yes, we do get some of that nobility-speaks-in-verse/lower-class-in-prose stuff. But what I find interesting in this play are the transition points.

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Foreshadowing of a Love Cut Short: Sonnet Interruptus

Yesterday, we discussed the lovers’ first conversation in Romeo and Juliet, a dialogue that took the form of a sonnet, and that led to their first kiss. That’s pretty much where the story ends, or at least where most teaching ends. What most people don’t know is that IMMEDIATELY following that sonnet, the lovers begin a second sonnet.
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Love at First Sight in Sonnet Form

Yesterday, we talked about how Romeo and Juliet begins with a Prologue in sonnet form .  It’s not the only time Shakespeare uses the sonnet format in the play. He uses it again with the Chorus at the beginning of Act Two, but before that, and even more importantly, he has the titular characters speak their first lines to each other in that particular rhyme scheme:
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Prologue in Sonnet Form

Romeo and Juliet, as we noted in last week’s plot synopsis , begins with a Chorus that speaks the introduction in fourteen lines of iambic pentameter:

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

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No Rhyme, But a Reason

Act Three, Scene Two of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, begins with Oberon’s entrance and pondering of whether Titania has yet awaked (and found an object for her potion-ed dotage).  Within five lines, Puck arrives, and with him a sequence of rhymed couplets.

From line 5, and through the next (nearly) two hundred lines, the verse remains composed of rhyming iambic pentameter couplets (with a side trip into “fairy verse”: catalectic* trochaic tetrameter).  Even with changes of speakers (Oberon and Puck, Hermia and Demetrius, Oberon and Puck again, Helena and Lysander… joined by Demetrius and then Hermia), the rhyme continues.

Around line 194, the rhyme comes to a grinding halt:
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Language: The “I was rhyming; ’tis you that have the reason” Edition

We’ve done quite a bit of discussion on the various uses of rhyming in the Canon:

  • 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
  • rhyme as answer

Now, The Two Gentlemen of Verona has MUCH less rhyme than last month’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, about half as much as our opening The Comedy of Errors, and about twice as much as The Taming of the Shrew.  So… how’s it deployed?
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Heavyweight Championship Poetic Throwdown

In Act One, Scene One of Love’s Labor’s Lost, we are audience to a battle in verse between Berowne and his three compatriots, the King, Longaville, and Dumaine.  Like many poetic skirmishes we’ve talked about in the past, we hear answering and “topping,” in both rhyme and content.
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You’re a Punny Guy with Those Rhymes: Language and Wordplay, Part One

For the sheer amount of different uses of language, Love’s Labor’s Lost marks a departure from Shakespeare’s earlier works.  While we have seen some wordplay before (answering rhyme, antilabes, and rhetoric) before, never before have we seen such sheer volume.  Over a third of the play is in prose (the former champ Taming had just over a fifth), and of the remaining poetic lines, nearly TWO-THIRDS rhyme (the former champ was Comedy which had just under a quarter).  But beyond simple prose vs. verse, unrhymed vs. rhymed, we have HOW the language is employed.

Here are but a few…
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