Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Iambic Midsummeter

So after my daughter told me that she wants to be able to read Midsummer in the original, my brain started working on which parts I could extract and use to teach her, since I don't want her to approach it and feel that it is 100% over her head. "I know!" I thought, "It's a great opportunity to teach poetry, and meter."

I immediately think back to A Midsummer Night's Lorax, a post I did comparing something that kids aren't supposed to understand with something kids inherently understand.

"DUM, da DUM da DUM da DUM da," plays itself out in my head, "IF we SHAdows HAVE ofFENded, DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da, THINK but THIS and ALL is MENded..."

"Wait a second," I think. "That's not iambic pentameter. That's only 8 beats, and the beats on the first part."

ONE two THREE four FIVE six SEV'N eight

What the heck is that? I'm sure there's an official name for it.

By the same token, I go back to "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows" and wonder what meter that's written in.... is it me or does that line have nine syllables? WTF?

Where OXlips AND the NODding VIolet GROWS

Ok, the next line is iambic pentameter.

What happened?


Cass said...

A two-syllable foot with stress on the first syllable is a trochee. Four feet per line is tetrameter, rather than pentameter -- so Puck is using trochaic tetrameter then. (The witches in Macbeth use this a lot, too).

If you make "wild" two syllables, that line has 10 -- but it still scans oddly.

My only answer for *why* on both of those is that fairies get to break rules. ;)

Stacie said...

Oh, meter. How I both love and loathe thee.

I love iambic pentameter, I really do. It's also the only one I can successfully recognize, thanks to Shakespeare (and when lines are OUT of said meter).

My seminar advisor recently began our revision meeting with "You're going to hate me...I think this should be metered."
He was right.

JM said...

I think Cass is right. "Wild" could very well be two syllables in the dialectic pronunciation of the time --OR, one could simply chalk it up to being a 'headless line' ( 1 silent, but there, 9 voiced beats) because even in F1 the two previous partial lines of Puck and Oberon scan together to equal ten beats. HOWEVER--it doesn't mean that it couldn't be a headless line, given the space for business which might possibly be indicated.The stressed beat would then be on the "I"
and result in a reversed front foot proper with a trochee sense following
through as well, and ending on a spondee. BUT, there are some CHOICES to be made here, as there are in so many instances in his work.

"I" know a PLACE where the WILD THYME BLOWS

Sort of gives it an incantatory feel proper to Oberon's reverie--and station.
The same goes for witches' and sprites' spells of only eight beats. S. did it
often to vary the rhythms, make it stand out from 'normal' speech, and to break and set tones.
I agree, Cass, "...fairies get to break rules." But so do humans. In their
case, varying the stress patterns makes it just the opposite--more like 'normal,
yet heightened, patterns of speech.
This abandonment of the regular 'dah DUM' is far more common in the work than
one might suppose Duane, even with ten beats. Sometimes there are eleven,
twelve, and even fourteen. And the stress patterns can sometimes vary wildly.
That's why Shakespeare's work is so good. He wrote for actors. He chucked the "rules" out the window whenever it suited his purpose."Iambic pentameter" is the foundation. S. kept the form and adjusted it at will. But you'll find far less of the evidence of variance in modern editions where they've 'adjusted' the beats; far more in the Folio.

JM said...

Sorry, I was thinking of Titania's "special place" and wrote it instead of "bank".

Duane said...

You know something, JM? Comments like these from you are far and above my favorite. We can all see the words, we can all understand the options in emphasis and pronunciation (once it's pointed out to us :)), and then we can all get in on the discussion of what various interpretations might mean. Given the time, I could do such exercises on just about any major passage in any of the plays. (Crucial difference that makes me not an actor/director, I think I would find it hard to maintain the same level of enthusiasm for literally going through every single syllable in the entire play that way!)

When Cass first wrote, I was going to comment about how I always think of this Oberon line as a sort of "time stops" moment, almost a magic spell of its own cast upon the audience, that we're forced to stop whatever we were focusing on and listen only to Oberon until he's done talking. Then I realized that I might be projecting my own ideas, and that I'd equally seen productions that just stumble right into the speech with no real discernible pause, so I figured it was all in my imagination and chose not to make the comment.

JM said...

Well thanks Duane.
Although it's actually going through it "syllable by syllable", I prefer to think of it as beats which affect the rhythm and tempo of whatever parts make up the whole of a piece or movement. If I constantly thought of it as the former, I'd be a raving lunatic by now. x)
But isn't it nice to have your instincts somehow proven correct by hard and fast evidence? And the 'detective' work pays such great dividends, that in the case of a role or in directing, no stone is left unturned; one which might provide that extra spark or suggestion for a choice that might amount to a stroke of interpretive genius. Even if we choose not to take it, we know it's there. We might choose to move in an entirely different direction, but that particular direction has become an option, even in the adverse, that we wouldn't necessarily have been privy to before. (Remember Barton talking about choices NOT taken?)
PS--also note the assonance in every word in Oberon's line. All very open and breathy. It also slows us down. --Some emotional direction and coloring which can also affect the choices we might make. Another reason I keep harping on "out loud" so much. :)

Duane said...

You're right, it's more accurate to speak of beats or rhythm than syllables. I know why I do that, though. To me it's still ultimately words on a page to be read and transformed into thoughts in my brain -- the actual speaking of the words plays a far smaller role. I mean, I know it's there, I know the importance of it, but it's not front and center in my awareness and appreciation of the particular passage.

I also love, as you mention, looking at how particular word choice strings together and what that might mean (or at the very least, what it does for the passage). The comparison I'm about to make might be brutal to some, but go back and click on that "Midsummer Lorax" link from above and you'll see one of my favorite passages from the good Doctor, for exactly that reason:

"At the far end of town where the grickle grass grows, and the wind smells slow and sour as it blows, and no birds ever sing excepting old crows, is the Street of the Lifted Lorax."

Count the alliterations. Count all the S sounds. Look at how they roll into one another ("smells slow and sour as it blows"), and more importantly where that pattern stops, and why. It rises, it falls, it pauses for dramatic effect. It is genius.

For my money this might be the best thing Dr. Seuss ever wrote. It is far and above my favorite, and I read it regularly. I look forward to reading it to my children's classrooms again this year.

I could see Shakespeare folk feeling the same way about certain passages. :)

JM said...

Yup. You got that right. In fact, I feel that way about the Good Doctor sometimes. Case in point:

I taught a residency recently, grades 1-5. The powers that be, for some strange reason neither I nor my sponsors could quite understand, wanted "no Shakespeare"--explicitly stated. How do I teach theatre & drama and wind up with a performance for the students without Shakespeare? (Ultimately I don't--they get the Bard in exercises and classwork, anyway. Some of their favorite stuff I'm proud to say. So there! powers that be).

Anyway, the upper grades did standard scenes and monologues for their final presentation.
Whose material did grades 1-3 perform theatrically for the school, teachers, and parents at the end? I'll give you 3 guesses. :)

Duane said...

Perhaps a good response to the "No Shakespeare" clause would be to offer Ionesco? If they balk at that as well you can compromise on Beckett.

"Mr. M?"

"Yes, Billy?"

"I don't understand who this Godot person is that we're supposed to be waiting for."

Because, you know, other plays are in *English* and therefore *easier*.

(I don't need to wrap that in sarcasm quotes, do I? ;))

JM said...

LOL Great ideas!
I had thought of a similar ultimatum: Hand them sets of 2 complete works, Shakespeare's and Mamet's--now choose for your pupils.