[Milton-L] Re: Memorization

lschwartz lschwart at richmond.edu
Fri Feb 27 08:47:30 EST 2004


I think what people have been getting at is that acording to modern
pronunciation the word "never" is never pronounced with a stress on the
second syllable.  The line therefore must be, at bottom, a string of
trochees.  An actor or reader is free to grant any degree of relative stress
to the stressed syllables of each trochee (each word, in this case). That is
to say, you could recite each of the first four quickly and relatively
quiety and give a big stress to the last one.  For that matter, if you think
there's dramatic reason to do so, you could give big stresses only to the
second and third one, or the first and fourth, etc.--and you could insert
all the pauses you wanted--but whatever you do, in some degree, the stress
on each of the odd-numbered syllables will be stronger than the stress on
each of the even-numbered ones that follow.  This is an important
distinction.  In dramatic blank verse, certainly in late Shakespearean
dramatic blank verse, and actor or reader has a great deal of interpretive
freedom, but not *complete* freedom to pronounce works in *any* way he or
she sees fit.  If that were the case there would be no verse at all, no

The word derives from the French, so in order to argue that Shakespeare
meant the line as string of iambs we would need some evidence that in French
or Norman French or Middle English the word had (or could have) a stress on
the second syllable and that this pronunciation was current in the early
17th Cent.  I'm unaware of any such evidence, but I'm sure that someone with
a surer grasp of the historical/linguistic details could tell us.


Louis Schwartz
Associate Professor of English
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA 23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Jesse Swan" <swanjesseg at netscape.net>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at koko.richmond.edu>
Sent: Friday, February 27, 2004 1:59 AM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Re: Memorization

> Which dialect, at what moment in time, is the natural English stress
> pattern?  What scansion, conducted by which scanner, is the natural
> scansion?  An actor would do best, perhaps, to impersonate his
> character, drawing on the cues made available by prosody, among many
> other cues, which may well effect a proper scansion of an individual
> line, in a play.
> jesse
> Alanhorn3 at cs.com wrote:
> >An actor would do better to stick to natural English stress patterns. In
> >case, the possibility that a line may be performed with pauses and
> >phrasing would not affect its scansion.
> >
> >Alan H
> >
> ><<  Can we not imagine, in this dramatic circumstance,
> > "Never, never, never, never, never" being not only not all trochaic or
> > all iambic, but wildly syncopated, as in, spondee, trochee, (caesura,)
> > indeterminate trochee or iamb, iamb, pyrrhic?  There's "obviously" a
> > longish, dramatic pause between this line and the next, thereby
> > allowing, if not necessarily encouraging, such a wildly syncopated line.
> >  Wild syncopation could well reflect the state of being of the
> > character.  And all of this does not consider the possible recourse to
> > quantity. >>
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> >
> >
> -- 
> Jesse G. Swan, Ph.D.
> Associate Professor of English
> University of Northern Iowa
> Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0502
> University e-mail:  <jesse.swan at uni.edu>
> Home e-mail:  <swanjesseg at netscape.net>
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