From Patsy Rodenberg’s Speaking Shakespeare
Sometimes the rhythm of the line will break or change if the character is emotionally distressed. Here are some of the variations in the iambic you need to be aware of:
Now is the winter of our discontent (Richard III)
Gallop apace you fiery footed steeds (Romeo & Juliet)
I take the offer then: pay the bond thrice. (The Merchant of Venice)Â
-Flip the first foot’s stresses so the first word is stressed.
- Mid line ones show interruption of thoughts.
- Will only happen at the beginning of the line or after punctuation!
-They mark when something important has happened and stresses the more important word.
To be or not to be that is the question. (Hamlet)
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, (The Tempest)
- Shows indecision
-Softens the line
-Ends on an extra unstressed syllable and one half feet.
Love, and be silent. (King Lear)
- Beat out the remaining feet- that is how much silence you need to put after the line. The above example has 2.5 feet of silence after the last word.
SHORT COMBINATION LINES:
LEAR: But goes thy hear with this?
CORDELIA: Ay, good my lord.
HAMLET: Consent to swear.
HORATIO: Propose the oath, my lord.
- The combination of the lines makes a perfect 5 foot line.
- The actors need to reahearse these to come right after each other with no hesitation. (The continuation of the perfect line shows that there is no pause between the short lines.)
- This means you not only have to scan (mark the stresses) on your lines but the lines before and after yours- AND while acting be paying attention (remember the listening activities?!).
It wearies me; //you say it wearies you (Merchant of Venice)
- This is a full pause in the line, marked by a //
- Not every line has them, be aware of where there could be a full silence. Don’t be afraid of silence on stage!!
In’t, as’t, hea’en, o,Â lock’d, accomplish’d
- In Shakespeare’s time the “ed” at the end of the word was frequently pronounced. (Now we would mark it as “pronounce-ed”- but that is not the case in Shakespeare’s text!) If there is an apostrophe then you can use the modern pronounciation because it is shortened.
- “As it” becomes “as’t”… “It were” becomes “twere”… it’s a contraction of words we no longer contract.
- The letter “v” also frequently dissapeares to make words like “heaven” a one syllable word “he’an”.
-Take a monologue and a pencil and scan the first two lines
** Proof it by reading it out loud using the stresses. Does it work?
** Make necessary corrections.
** If you think something is “wrong” figure out if it can work both ways.
-Have someone else scan a speech and try to read it with their scanscion marks.
Final Thoughts: You can spend hours examining iambic and line length. Each time there is an irregularity, the content will be highlighted and sense and intention made clearer. This is not easy, and often takes much, much practice for it to come naturally. Keep working at it!!