[Milton-L] Re: Memorization

Jesse Swan swanjesseg at netscape.net
Fri Feb 27 23:55:31 EST 2004

I thought the word was from Old English.  Be that as it may, I don't 
mean to suggest that an actor should render an impossible verse.  Even 
in wild syncopation, such as the one I suggested, the line remains 
accentual-syllabic, with each of the 10 syllables weighed against all 
the other 9 of the line, so that five are more stressed than the other 
five, even as the degree or quality of stress among most or all of the 
syllables may well not be identical.  The caesura I proposed in the wild 
syncopation suggests the dramatic change of the character's emotional 
response and / or energy.  In an all trochee line, which I have heard 
produced, and which I can well imagine and even quite appreciate, the 
best place, I think, for the caesura is before the final foot.  My point 
is that this line is so glorious because, in part, it offers such nice 
intellectual and theatrical possibilities and challenges, even as it 
appears to be so simple, so singular.  I also wanted, perversely, 
perhaps, to register my ability to hear the line as all iambic, in part 
to celebrate Shakespeare's command of the language -- unlike most others 
or even any other, Shakespeare can make iambs out of trochees, in a play.



lschwartz wrote:

>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.
>>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. >>
>>>Milton-L mailing list
>>>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
>>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>
>>Milton-L mailing list
>>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
>Milton-L mailing list
>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu

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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