# Scansion: Meaning and the Actor’s Guide

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Scansion: Meaning and the Actor’s Guide
Shakespearean Verse Scansion: Meaning and the Actor’s Guide

Language is the Key… WHY?
No (or very limited) stage sets No (or very few) stage directions in the text No (or very limited) special effects

Language is the Key… WHY?
No (or very limited) stage sets No (or very few) stage directions in the text No (or very limited) special effects All of this information must be conveyed through LANGUAGE

Shakespearean Vocabulary
HUGE! Used between 17 and 26 THOUSAND different words in his plays and poems “Invented” over 1700 words (including…) arouse bet eyeball lonely obscene puking swagger torture

So… Listening was the KEY
Who attends a play?

So… Listening was the KEY
Who attends a play? Audience What is the root of that word?

So… Listening was the KEY
Who attends a play? Audience What is the root of that word? Latin: audientia … to hear

The Actor’s Dilemma At the deepest level: what am I saying? What am I feeling? On the simplest level: How do I remember all those lines? Hamlet has over 1300 lines Is it easier to remember a paragraph or the words to a song?

Scansion Songs have rhythm… so do poems
Reading a poem for rhythm and meter is called “scansion”

Feet and Meter A poetic “foot” is a multi-syllable “chunk” of the line that has a particular order of stress iamb: unstressed followed by stressed Examples: aRISE, aGAINST, reSPECT trochee: stressed followed by unstressed Examples: WINdow, NOthing, TWINkle, FORtune Other feet: anapest, dactyl… and more

Feet and Meter (continued)
“Meter” refers to the number of “feet” in a line of poetry One foot: Monometer Two feet: Dimeter Three feet: Trimeter Four feet: Tetrameter Five feet: Pentameter

Blank Verse Shakespeare wrote many of his plays in “blank verse”… UNrhymed iambic pentameter Sonnets are written in iambic pentameter as well, but with a very specific rhyme scheme How many syllables per line?

The Sound of the Human Heart
iambic pentameter: five unstressed/stressed feet per line… ten syllables per line baBUM baBUM baBUM baBUM baBUM

An Exercise I need ten volunteers…

Two Examples… Two of the most famous scenes in Shakespeare:
The balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet Hamlet’s soliloquy (dramatic monologue) Graphic symbols: ~ = an unaccented syllable \ = an accented syllable _ = a caesura, or metrical pause

Ex. 1: Romeo and Juliet ROMEO
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Ex. 1: Romeo and Juliet ROMEO ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \
~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. regular iambic pentameter line: 10 syllables trochee foot two syllables slurred as one Look at the stressed words: they tell the story: Soft! Light breaks… east, Jul (jewel?) is sun.

Ex. 1: Romeo and Juliet ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \
~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ Who is already sick and pale with grief, ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ That thou her maid art far more fair than she: ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ Be not her maid, since she is envious; ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ Her vestal livery is but sick and green ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ And none but fools do wear it; cast it off. two syllables slurred as one all three syllables… why?

Ex. 1: Romeo and Juliet \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \
only three feet (six syllables)… so a two-beat pause… WHY? \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ It is my lady, O, it is my love! \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ _ _ O, that she knew she were! ~ \ ~ ~ \ \ ~ \ ~ \ She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that? ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ Her eye discourses; I will answer it. \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks: awkward rhythms: Romeo is confused and lacks confidence

Ex. 1: Romeo and Juliet ROMEO ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \
~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ O, that I were a glove upon that hand, ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ That I might touch that cheek! ~ \ JULIET Ay me! ~ \ ROMEO She speaks:

Ex. 1: Romeo and Juliet ROMEO ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \
~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ O, that I were a glove upon that hand, ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ That I might touch that cheek! ~ \ JULIET Ay me! ~ \ ROMEO She speaks: Three poetic lines?

Ex. 1: Romeo and Juliet ROMEO ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \
~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ O, that I were a glove upon that hand, ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ That I might touch that cheek! ~ \ JULIET Ay me! ~ \ ROMEO She speaks: Three poetic lines? NO! Ten total syllables, ONE iambic pentameter line… to be spoken WITHOUT PAUSES! (they’re sharing a heartbeat… ahhhhh)

Ex. 2: Hamlet HAMLET To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

Ex. 2: Hamlet HAMLET ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ \ ~ ~ \ ~
Notice all the extra unstressed syllables at the end of the first four lines; The lines trail off… And yet the extra syllables lead us to see that Hamlet has too many thoughts going through his head. HAMLET ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ \ ~ ~ \ ~ To be, or not to be: that is the question: \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ ~ \ ~ \ And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; This fifth line is even more problematic… it’s like there’s an entire line missing at the end of the question… Is that a direction for the actor to pause a full breath? It makes sense, given what follows…

Ex. 2: Hamlet ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ No more; and by a sleep to say we end ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; two syllables slurred into one another line with an extra unstressed syllable… too many thoughts?

Ex. 2: Hamlet ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ \ ~ ~ \ To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ For in that sleep of death what dreams may come ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, ~ \ ~ \ _ \ ~ ~ \ Must give us pause: there's the respect ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ That makes calamity of so long life; . . . only 8 syllables in this line… actor needs to take a breath… the next sentence covers the next 13 lines!

Ex. 2: Hamlet … ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \
~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ And thus the native hue of resolution ~ \ ~ \ ~ ~ \ \ ~ \ Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, ~ \ ~ \ ~ ~ \ \ ~ \ ~ And enterprises of great pith and moment ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ With this regard their currents turn awry, ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ ~ \ And lose the name of action.--Soft you now! extra unstressed syllable here awkward rhythms; his resolution really IS “sicklied o’er” He’s interrupted (someone walks in on him); it happens quickly… no pause (10 syllables)

Conclusion No lies: Shakespeare can be difficult BUT… Vocabulary
Written in poetry BUT… With work, including LISTENING and SAYING THE WORDS ALOUD, understanding the language and the mental/emotional state of the characters (not to mention the stage directions) can be done