Meter of A Midnight Summer's Dream

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jewish_scientist
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Meter of A Midnight Summer's Dream

Postby jewish_scientist » Thu Dec 01, 2016 1:49 pm UTC

I was under the impression that Shakespeare almost always wrote in iambic pentameter and had the rhyme scheme:

A
B
A
B

C
D
C
D

E
F
E
F

G
G

However, Act 1 Scene 2 of A Midnight Summer's Dream does not follow this at all! I understand that sometimes the pronunciation of words have changed from his time to now, which makes it appear that he has broken the patter, but this is not even close. I counted 14 beats in this line:

"Tyrant: I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to"

The only explanation that I can think of is that because these characters are commoners, they do not speak as eloquently as the nobles. That just seems like a lame cop out, especially when you consider that the porter in Macbeth Act 2 Scene 3 does talk in meter.

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Soupspoon
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Re: Meter of A Midnight Summer's Dream

Postby Soupspoon » Thu Dec 01, 2016 3:14 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:I was under the impression that Shakespeare almost always wrote in iambic pentameter and had the rhyme scheme:

(A B A B C D C D E F E F G G)

However, Act 1 Scene 2 of A Midnight Summer's Dream does not follow this at all!
You're describing the Shakespearian sonnet, there. (Alternate rhyme-schemes for sonnets exist, e.g. ABBA ABBA CDE CDE, but I can't usually remember them.)

Without checking, I don't think that (outside of maybe a suitable soliloquy of the correct length) the rhyme-scheme adheres to 14-line patterns so strictly.

I understand that sometimes the pronunciation of words have changed from his time to now, which makes it appear that he has broken the patter, but this is not even close. I counted 14 beats in this line:

"Tyrant: I could play Ercles rarely, or a part to"

The only explanation that I can think of is that because these characters are commoners, they do not speak as eloquently as the nobles. That just seems like a lame cop out, especially when you consider that the porter in Macbeth Act 2 Scene 3 does talk in meter.

For me, cold-reading, "Tyrant: / I could / play Erc/les rare/ly or/a part/to" has 13 beats to it, unless "Er-cl-es" ('Air cal ees', presumably "Hercules"). But (IIRC) this is Bottom, extemporising upon his misguided sense of oratory skills. This whole passage
is written with uncomfortable and awkward breaks (and probably emphasis) as he unwittingly demonstrates his total lack of actual competancy in the art (and yet his enthusiasm).

I the think (real) actor saying these lines would have a decision on how/if to munge the meter and pronunciation, to depict the Bottom that they and the director are looking for.

After some thought, the iambicism probably lasts almost the entire line, and then go for the classic "a part"!="apart" pun by running it together badly (skip an iambicity, reversing into a trochee) towards the awkward line-end.
"...Tyrant: / I could / play Erc/les rare/ly, or/ apart to..."

Perhaps find a filmed staging (or a staged filming) and see what they do?

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LaserGuy
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Re: Meter of A Midnight Summer's Dream

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Dec 14, 2016 6:09 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:The only explanation that I can think of is that because these characters are commoners, they do not speak as eloquently as the nobles. That just seems like a lame cop out, especially when you consider that the porter in Macbeth Act 2 Scene 3 does talk in meter.


Shakespearean characters do not generally speak in sonnets. Some speeches are given in sonnet form (often by kings), but this is rather the exception than the rule. Many important speeches are metered, but Shakespeare was quite flexible with his usage (eg. "To be or not to be" is mostly in iambic, but not pentameter, not rhyming, and Shakespeare occasionally breaks the meter See here for a discussion of the meter.)


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