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catty many of the groups are allowed to consist of three syllables, two of them being unaccented. . . . The number of syllables may therefore be greater than ten, while the accents may be, and generally are, less than five."
b. To illustrate this last point take Act I, sc. i, line 3, of The Merchant of Venice: —
But how | I caught | it, found | it or | came by | it.
If we read this line naturally, we have: —
xa \ xa | xa I xx | xa + x,
w I w I w I ww | w + w.
This gives us eleven syllables and four accents. The addition of the unaccented eleventh syllable, in plays produced by Shakespeare after his earliest period, is frequent, and helps to make the dialogue easy and musical.
c. The coupling of two unaccented syllables, as here in the fourth foot, is also frequent, and adds to the variety. If we were using formal terms, we should call it the substitution of a pyrrhic foot for an iambus. We also find similar substitutions of trochees and spondees; for instance, Act I, sc. i, line 18 : —
Plucking | the grass, to know where sits the wind; and line 106: —
I must be one of these | same dumb | wise men.
d. In line 5 of Act I, sc. i, we make another discovery: —
I am | to learn.
Here we have a line of two feet. These short lines, of one, two, or three feet, occasionally occur in Shakespeare, most frequently in impressive positions, as at the beginning or the end of a speech.
e. If we look at Act II, sc. vii, lines 5, 7, and 9, we shall see that each contains six feet: —
Who choos | eth me I shall gain | what man | y men | desire. Who choos | eth me I shall get | as much | as he | deserves. Who choos | eth me I must give | and haz | ard all | he hath.
Dr. Abbott contends that the Alexandrine, or iambic hexameter, rarely occurs in Shakespeare; and it is certainly true that some apparent Alexandrines may be explained away, according to theories of accent and contraction. But such lines as those last cited are quite clear. Dr. Ellis says that Shakespeare "seems never to hesitate to use a pure Alexandrine when it suits his convenience."
f. As we continue reading the scene just referred to, we find that the verse of the "written scroll," lines 65-75, is rhymed trochaic tetrameter, with a syllable lacking at the end: —
All that | glisters | is not | gold.
This form, though not always lacking the last syllable, and sometimes intermingled with iambic verses (as 72), occurs in Shakespeare in special passages, like inscriptions, and the speech of witches and fairies; in short, in cases where the writer has reasons for wishing to deviate from his usual form.
g. At the end of a scene, or before the exit of an actor, Shakespeare often gives us a rhyming couplet, without changing the iambic pentameter form. (The jingle, in such a position, was then thought effective; indeed, perhaps it was often necessary, on account of the deficient scenery of the time, in order to notify the audience of some transition.) See the close of the scene under examination, lines 76,77, before Morocco's exit, and lines 78,79 at the close.
h. The strongest reason for paying particular attention to this matter of Shakespeare's verse, is that the beautiful poetry of the plays was meant to be heard. We lose half of its beauty and of its moving power, if we do not read it aloud, or hear it delivered. And it cannot be delivered accurately and effectively without some understanding of the principles on which the verse is based. These principles once grasped, any one who is fortunate enough to possess a good ear may generally trust to it in his reading; bearing in mind, however, that (1) Elizabethan English, like the common speech of to-day, had many contractions which are not necessarily represented in print; that (2) it also had many convenient resolutions and expansions; and that (3) the accent frequently differed from that of our own time.
1. As an example of contraction, examine Act II, sc. iii, line 1, " I am sorry thou wilt leave my father so." Here we may, indeed, regard the first foot as an anapest, — that is, as composed of two unaccented syllables followed by an accented syllable, — illustrating Dr. Ellis's remark that practically many "groups" or feet are allowed to consist of three syllables. But it is highly probable that in rendering the line, the speaker slurred "I am" so that it became almost, or quite, "I'm." Whether a modern reader should so slur it or not, is a question of taste; but it is clear that such a rendering can do no harm.
One of these Elizabethan contractions is so common as to require special mention. The th in such a word as whether, either, whither, rather, was often dropped, and the word treated as a monosyllable. It is well that we should understand this fact, lest certain lines appear to us mysteriously awkward. Yet it would seem to most hearers a strange affectation, if, in reading Shakespeare aloud at the present day, we read "whey," " whi'r," "ra'r "; and it is simpler to fall back, in this case, on the theory of a three-syllabled foot, delivering the unaccented syllables lightly but perceptibly. Or we may be helped in rendering a line at once musically and intelligibly, by a knowledge of the apparent law that er final was sometimes treated like the French re, especially before a vowel or a silent h; and that el and le final were also dropped or softened under similar conditions. (All of the foregoing remarks are illustrated by the note on Act I, sc. i, lines 46-50.)
2. For an example of expansion, turn to Act III, sc. ii, line 18: "And so all yours. O, these naughty times." We see that this line cannot be read satisfactorily unless "yours" be pronounced as a dissyllable. It does not follow that the word was not commonly a monosyllable, as it is with us; but it was lengthened at need. (Indeed, we ourselves sometimes lengthen it unconsciously in conversation, though we do not in verse.) In line 20 we find the same treatment of "yours," followed by the ordinary usage: —
w w w w
And so, | though you | -rs, not | yours. Prove | it so . . .
Here the first "yours" and "not" are in emphatic positions. (See also the word "opinion," in Act I, sc. i, lines 91 and 102. In the former of these lines it has the customary pronunciation; in the latter the reader must go back to an earlier usage, and give it four syllables, as in Chaucer's English, where it occurs as "opinioun.") The treatment of final ed is also variable in Shakespeare.
3. Difference of accent is exemplified by Act II, sc. i, line 8. It is evident here, as in many other instances, that the accent was placed on the second syllable of "aspect."
V. EUPHUISTIC PROSE
For scenes of pure comedy, as well as for brief transitional scenes necessary to the action, Shakespeare generally employs prose. When the speakers are of the higher class, as in Act I, sc. ii, his prose style is often tinged with that fashion of discourse called Euphuism, which took its name from John Lyly's popular romance, Euphues, published in