MLitt Thesis Festival 2015: Session 1

Marshall B Garrett: “‘Prosperous Art’: Rhetorical Direction of Measure for Measure
Garrett begins by introducing a page of directing tips from “John Jory” which includes an admonition “not to do the play until you can say all the words in contemporary English”. Garrett then examines the opening lines of Measure for Measure, using actors Fred Franko, Adrienne Johnson, Aubrey Whitlock, and Jordan Zwick to note the use of hendiadys, synecdoche, metaphor, and hyperbaton, wherein the Duke obscures his meaning through the use of deliberate rhetorical devices. Garrett asserts that while scholastic attention has been paid to helping actors use rhetoric to develop character, less has been done to help directors see the same clues for performance. “Since directors must be intensively aware of structure of their plays” and since rhetoric is, in essence, structure, directors must have a keen awareness of rhetoric.

Garrett moves to discussing his production of Measure for Measure, wherein actors had varying degrees of familiarity with rhetoric, preventing the use of rhetoric as shorthand during rehearsal. The rhetoric, then, had to inform his directing. Garrett points out that, in 1.2, Claudio notes that Isabella “hath prosperous art when she will play with reason”, but that Isabella has been “rhetorically uninteresting” thus far in the play. He then notes that the figures of antithesis, chiasmus, and antimetabole are the dominant rhetorical figures in the play. Actors Johnson and Zwick demonstrate the interplay between Isabella and Angelo in 2.2, with rhetorical explication provided by Franko, and directorial interrogation spurred by Garrett. Through this interrogation, “after Fred identified the forms, we weren’t really talking about rhetoric — and yet we were talking about nothing else.” The rhetoric is a gateway to character discussions.

As the actors move forward, Garrett and the actors examine how the characters build upon each others’ rhetoric. In response to the question of whether to follow the stresses indicated by scansion or by rhetoric, Garrett notes that “this is an art, not a science”. Garrett also notes the points of stress between playing the rhetoric and adhering to other, more modernly-developed, acting practices. In the next section, Whitlock points out that “the most rhetorically sophisticated line so far has been Lucio’s”. Franko points out uses of zeugma, alliteration, anaphora, and the antithetical chiasmus built between Isabella and Angelo. Garrett then has the actors continue, with Franko providing pop-up rhetorical commentary overtop of them, illustrating the rhetorical density of the scene, particularly in Isabella’s implorations. Garrett points out that Isabella moves from schemes manipulating language to tropes manipulating imagination, ultimately demonstrating her verbal superiority to Angelo. Garrett suggests that rhetoric can help find two specific options for when Angelo falls in love/lust with Isabella. Garrett concludes that while rhetoric is not a perfect map to production, it “can more firmly place the approach to the play” and the choices of the actors in the script itself.

Q – From a practical standpoint, not possible to spend weeks on rhetoric in rehearsal. Do you have a sense as a director of how much time should be spent on it in rehearsal?
A – Actually, none. Garrett states he thinks that’s on the director to figure out before hand, informing the directoral process rather than the rehearsal process.
Q – Can you be more specific how you communicated w/ actors unfamiliar with this terminology?
A – In terms of discussing stress patterns, bring out certain words. “Avoiding the Greek words became key” when working with actors unfamiliar with them.
Q – So the idea is that you want to bring in understanding of figures being used to help with actor choices?
A- Yes.
Q – How do you communicate to actors that an epizeuxis is happening without saying “epizeuxis”?
A – Terminology of amplifying or raising stakes.
Q – Menzer asks if it’s necessary to bring authorial intent into it.
A – No. But rhetoric is an avenue into potential choices that has not been much explored in current materials.
Q – When working w/ actors totally unfamiliar to rhetoric and to Shakespeare, are there some key Shakespeare figures that I should focus on?
A – Absolutely the antithesis. Chiasmus and figures of balance. Discusses theory that “every play has its dominant figure”, can be useful in productions w/o rhetorically trained actors.
Q – Spend any time on specific figures for each character?
A – If I found it was important. In Measure, different worlds had different things that were key.

Ian A. Charles: “Instrumental Shakespeare: Case Studies in Cross Training the Singer and Poet”
Charles opens by discussing the overlaps between “the world of musical theatre and the world of Shakespeare”, particularly with regard to the musicality of Shakespeare’s verse and the issues of breath, pitch, etc that speaking it involves. He states his intention to look at the spoken vs sung words in musical theatre as compared to prose vs verse in Shakespeare. Charles hopes “to cultivate a language of actor training” that incorporates both. Charles questions American theatre’s tradition of divorcing Shakespeare training so far from musical theatre training, when he sees distinct similarities and when poetry and music have a shared heritage dating back to ancient Greece. He argues that “dramatic poetry, intended for performance” links more nearly to music than other forms of poetry, particularly with regard to thinking of both as “enhanced speech”.

Charles moves to discussing the difference between the musicality of verse and prose, with prose suggesting “less rhythm, less of an artifice”. When comparing Shakespeare to musical theatre, “verse is to song as prose is to spoken text,” and Charles suggests this leads to similar questions for actors in each genre. He also notes that Shakespeare and musical theatre can both be seen as “a push against naturalism”.

Charles moves to discussing his case studies, beginning with his observations during a LiveArts production of Les Miserables. He plays a segment conducted in 4/4, though with two separate melodies, and draws a comparison to the tempo created by iambic pentameter. Charles suggests that opera and musical theatre may be examined using “many of the same external terminology” as in Shakespeare. Charles introduces concepts from Peter Hall concerning the musicality of pentameter and its application in the rehearsal process.

His second case study examines the rare shifts from prose to verse in Much Ado about Nothing, with actor Sarah Wykowski speaking Beatrice’s verse lines at the end of 3.1. Charles notes that the discovery of love appears synonymous with the appearance of pentameter, and Josh Williams demonstrates Benedick’s failing attempts at singing later in the play. Charles then discusses how certain conventions in opera are analogous to the choices presented to actors within iambic pentameter for creating and breaking rhythm. He keys in on the need to play shifts between speech/song and prose/verse in order to bring forward the heightened nature of the emotions attached to song/verse. Rhyme further augments the unrealistic quality of speech, adding further complexity to the scale.

Charles concludes by reiterating the defined difference between normal and heightened speech in both musical theatre and Shakespeare. He intends that his full thesis, calling upon his experience in both genres, will “prompt an integrated approach for performers seeking a place in both worlds.

Q – Clarify that rhyming that you find in verse, beyond blank verse, is where the singing training should come into?
A – That it could come into, if you have more training in musical theatre than in Shakespeare. Looking for rhyme common ground between two genres of training.
Q – Then what do you do with blank verse?
A – Verse in general still has a beat, regularity and irregularity, knowing where you are in the pentameter, feel the ebb and flow of the line, that’s a very musical function.
Q – Beneficial in education?
A – Absolutely, b/c of inherently interactive nature of music.
Q – Found indication of extant cross-training between RSC and Broadway?
A – Not specifically, no.

Jess Hamlet: “‘A Deed Without a Name’: Macbeth, Richard III, and the Regicidal Fantasies of Civil War Virginia
Hamlet begins by noting the April-focused anniversaries of Shakespeare’s birth/death and the start of the Civil War, and her thesis focuses on the intersection of these events. She looks specifically at the ways theatres in Richmond, Virginia were using Shakespeare’s works in wartime “to process their trauma”. She argues that “the constant performances of Macbeth and Richard III” in Richmond during the Civil War enabled citizens to aestheticize and legitimize their desire for removal from President Lincoln’s authority. She notes that Macbeth saw 27 performances in Richmond during the war, the most not only of Shakespeare but of any play.

Hamlet notes that the local newspapers believed that the theatres were doing “crucial, necessary, and meaningful work” during the war, at least partially by keeping the idea of removing unwanted leaders from power in the public consciousness. Macbeth was, according to one theatre, frequently requested by the citizens, including soldiers, “illustrating that servicemen and not just civilians were eager to see the story of Macbeth and his wife”.

Hamlet then shifts to President Lincoln’s own commentary on Shakespeare, wherein he stated “I think nothing equals Macbeth; it is wonderful” and found Claudius’s soliloquy superior to Hamlet’s. She suggests that Lincoln found Shakespeare “a kind of secular scripture” to help him deal with both his personal and political challenges, “both to cope with and recover from” his experience in a war-torn country. Reports from Lincoln’s last days indicate that he spent much time with his intimates discussing Shakespeare, especially the murder of Duncan in Macbeth. “The fOCSination here is that both Lincoln and his enemies were using the same text” to work through their feelings about the war, with a central question of casting — who was Duncan, and who Macbeth? Hamlet, through actors Fred Franko, Merlyn Sell, and Marshall Garrett, illustrates how newspapers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon criticized and challenged Lincoln and his actions.

Hamlet notes that Hamlet may have fallen behind Macbeth and Richard III in Richmond popularity because of its lack of action, with the decisive final battles indulging a sense of closure to war-weary citizens, particularly towards the end of the war. She suggests that the British origins of many Southerners may also have strengthened connections to Macbeth and Richard III that they did not feel with Danish Hamlet. Hamlet further suggests that thinking of themselves in Shakespearean terms may have helped Virginians to see their rebellion as a true revolution, returning to their origins and common cultural touchstone. This explains their dominance over plays like the Roman-set Julius Caesar, which might otherwise have seemed thematically appropriate for popularity.

Hamlet then questions the specific purpose of these performances, and provides the answer that the shows indulged their desire to “force the tyrant from his seat by war” and helped them “to purge their anxieties and doubts” about the war’s conclusion. The plays may also have helped Richmonders to place mental distance between themselves and the horrors of the war they were experiencing. She notes a potential difference in the plays’ purpose between the beginning and the end of the war. By 1864, many Southerners were hoping for a swift end to the war, even if that meant reconciliation, not wanting to see themselves as “beheaded Macbeth”. She draws a connection between the Civil War battles, audible within Richmond and visible in the form of hospitals and prison camps, and the advance on Dunsinane of Malcolm and his troops. The soldiers who saw plays in Richmond then took that experience with them back into the field, allowing them to use Shakespeare as a way to conceptualize their work and their worries. In focusing their own lives through the filter of Shakespeare, Hamlet suggests that soldiers would thus have cast themselves as Macduff rather than Macbeth. In regard to Richard III, Hamlet posits that the city of Richmond may have focused themselves on the character of Richmond, with Richard representing the North and Richmond the South, an interpretation that would seem to place Shakespeare on the South’s side. Hamlet concludes by reiterating that the production of Shakespeare in Civil War Richmond both expressed Southern regicidal desires and formed a lense through which citizens could process their experiences of war.

Q – Americans fOCSination w/ Shakespeare has to deal with fact that Shakespeare is so English, how does that fit in?
A – Thinks that Confederate citizens were reaching for the English heritage and the father country, esp since seeking English and French support for the war itself.
Q – Modern-day applications for veterans?
A – Yes, “so much potential in theatre in general for a healing process”, Shakespeare especially because he writes so much about war.

Megan Hughes: “Where are all the Weddings in Shakespeare?”
Hughes will be discussing staged and unstaged weddings in Shakespeare’s canon, but begins with a clip from the Zeffirelli Taming of the Shrew, depicting the wedding of Kate and Petruchio (only described later by Gremio in the play). She notes that this was her first introduction to Shrew, and she has since found that most filmed versions invent the scene. She then interrogates why Shakespeare left this wedding off-stage. Delving into research, she discovered that there are no plays published during the early modern period that include a complete on-stage wedding. Hughes takes a moment to define the difference between a wedding (the ceremony itself, in the period based on the 1559 Book of Common Prayer) and a marriage (the lasting relationship). A third category, spousals, were vows exchanged, but which could have varying degrees of formality and binding.

Hughes then identifies “three plausible restrictions” that may explain the lack of completed wedding ceremonies on-stage: socio-cultural, legal, and literary/dramatic. Socio-cultural reasons could have included reverence for the real ceremony and a level of discomfort in seeing it play-acted between two males on stage. Hughes notes that, since the prevailing thought in early modern England was that speaking the words themselves enacted the union, this may have caused superstitious audiences to fear the on-stage speaking of those words as perhaps resulting in the unintended marrying of the two actors. Educated audiences, however, would have recognized the invalidity of such a union, both on the grounds of the gender of the persons involved and the lack of appropriate ritual. Hughes suggests that plays may have chosen to stage espousals rather than weddings to avoid this anxiety, however. Hughes then notes the variations in Taming‘s wedding that might, to a certain mode of thought, rendered Kate and Petruchio’s wedding invalid — and, if staged rather than described, might have verged on sacrilege and alienated the audience.

Legal restrictions “would have been much more serious in repercussions”. Hughes notes the blurry line between law, ecclesiastical law, and common law during this era in England. A prohibition against enactments of the rituals in the Book of Common Prayer, intended to guard against Catholic rituals, might also have netted in the actions in theatres. Hughes suggests that censorship by the Master of the Revels may also have played a role in keeping weddings off-stage, as playing companies would not have wanted to risk offending church or state and thus losing prestigious opportunities to perform for Queen Elizabeth.

Finally, Hughes discusses the literary and dramatic reasons for keeping a wedding off-stage, which would have been self-imposed by playwrights. She suggests that Shakespeare found that “by restricting the audience’s view of a scene, he could more strictly control their interpretation of that scene.” Actors Marshall Garrett, Ryan Odenbrett, and Stephan Pietrowski then act the Taming scene where Gremio relates the story of the wedding. Hughes notes that Lucentio and Tranio stand in for the audience, feeling scandal on the audience’s behalf. She concludes by declaring that, while it is impossible to determine which restrictions were most significant, socio-cultural, legal, and dramatic restrictions all played a part in keeping weddings off-stage.

Q – Any difference between plays set in English vs plays set in Catholic countries?
A – Still medial and interrupted, doesn’t seem to be change in the interruption or avoidance that she’s found so far.
Q – Considering clandestine marriages something different from proper weddings?
A – Would classify that as espousal, not as a wedding, as wedding needs the ceremonial language and the right place and time. Clandestine weddings also generally take place off-stage between scenes, move the plot along, hidden from audience as well as from other characters.
Q – Time and place so important to creating an actual wedding, wouldn’t it be impossible to have a real wedding in a play b/c those would never be correct?
A – Yes, that’s what arguing – but superstition still surrounded just saying the words.
Q – Along those lines, As You Like IT
A – Yes, definitely.
Q – How might you take your research into the rehearsal room?
A – Definitely in raising the stakes in certain scenes. Ex: Celia’s “I will not say the words”, not wanting to initiate. Priest in Much Ado forced to jump to the end, disorders the ceremony.

–This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, OCS Academic Resources Manager

Pirates and Pentameter

Recently, as I prepared to write my paper for the upcoming SAA seminar Playhouses and Other Early Modern Venues, I pulled out the binder of material I collected at one of my first Shakespeare-specific ventures, The Rose Playhouse Institute at Shakespeare and Company. When, as a second year teacher, I won the NEH award to study for the summer with the team of Educators in Lenox, Massachusetts, my most vivid Shakespeare experiences were all from high school, community theatre, and my own attempt to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my high school students in Texas (let’s just say the special effects were brilliant–trees flew!).  At that time and until I started graduate school, this binder was my biggest link to Shakespeare; in it, I placed everything I thought I needed to direct and to teach Shakespeare. Opening it yesterday took me on a journey back to a time when teaching Shakespeare was harder than it needed to be and I felt like I was winging it constantly.  Don’t get me wrong; the folks at Shakespeare & Company gave us a lot of good information. I learned so much about voice, a lot about taking the text out of context (to help dissolve some fear — my feelings about that I will get to shortly), Elizabethan dance steps, and lessons on tying today’s theatrical practices to Shakespeare (given circumstances, motivation, all the Stanislavsky and Method stuff).  What I didn’t find is anything that cracked the plays, and Shakespeare’s genius, open for me.

Like most high school teachers, I began teaching Shakespeare after experiencing it only in high school classrooms in which we sat and read every. single. word. of the play aloud. Now, I loved that. But I know now that that method of teaching will not work for every student and does a disservice to the author and to the rich material these works contain. Material to mine, figure, construe, and, eventually, apply.  Methods that we want students using when they graduate and pursue further study, careers, and life in general. By the time I reached the status of classroom teacher, however, I had never been introduced to them. Not in high school, not in college, not in community theatre, and not, sadly, at my Institute. I found the tools that help to expand the text in the professional practice at the American Shakespeare Center and in the Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare and Performance Program, both places where we work hard to introduce them to every student and every teacher who crosses our threshold.

My time at the Rose Playhouse Institute was valuable in many ways. It helped shape me as a person; it gave me confidence at a time when I sorely needed it; it supplied me with life-long friendships that I treasure. What it did not teach me how to do is to plumb Shakespeare for meaning.  Instead, sort of like with the recent TEDed video, Why Shakespeare loved Iambic Pentameter, I got a false sense that I knew stuff that mattered. My kids could do text lay-ups, create a sculpture garden of Shakespeare moments, but they couldn’t dig down into a passage, they couldn’t wrestle with the ins and outs of why it mattered. It’s not that the stuff that matters is so difficult, or so hard to teach; it’s that we don’t give it to our future (and present) teachers so that their students can experience the joy of discovering Shakespeare themselves.

In most “on your feet” or “performance-based classroom activities,” the material dodges the matter. It steers clear of looking at too much text (might scare the kids), at text in context (we don’t perform like that anymore), at using the tools Shakespeare’s actors used (they are dead, so they must not be very good).  When, however, we have the ability to study plays across the canon with techniques that take very little time to grasp but that astronomically expand the possibilities for students’ ownership of the text, we are opening the world — and not just the world of just of Shakespeare and literature — to them.  Through this, we say to them: you are good enough, smart enough, and talented enough to get and play with this revered text.

As an example, we worked on The Taming of the Shrew the last weekend in January with teachers from several states and disciplines. Cass looked at rhetoric (I know, surprise!) and early modern courtship as it relates to the play; I, ostensibly, looked at textual transmission (how the play changes from edition to edition) and acting in the play within the play. I say “ostensibly” because I ended up looking at scansion, rhetoric, second person pronouns, and stage directions. Why? Because once you see those things, you can’t un-see them.  Or, to say it another way, once you know their value, scenes and entire plays take on a depth of possibility that students who don’t know them can’t see.  It doesn’t take long to say de-DUM 5 times, or to walk around like a pirate (why a pirate? are we really encountering that many pirates that we use that as our “easy way” into Iambic Pentameter? I digress) but it can make a world of difference in looking at a scene if students know that actors use it as a clue to character and understanding.  Cass has already shared a textual variants activity with you from our study guide, but I would like to dig into that beast a little deeper and show you the things we couldn’t help but talk about last weekend.

TamingSnippetAt right is the page showing different versions editors made of the same passage in 2.1 (by the way, I pulled 9 editions to consider the stage directions in 4.1 and found that every single one constructed them differently — thus painting a different Petruchio). Look at the first 14 lines Petruchio speaks in this passage — ha! another thought, this is 14 lines, the length of a sonnet, but, I digress (again).

Marry so I mean sweet Katherine in thy bed:

And therefore setting all this chat aside

then in plain terms: your father hath consented

that you shall be my wife: your dowry greed on,

And will you, nill you, I will marry you.

Now Kate, I am a husband for your turn,

For by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,

Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well,

Thou will be married to no man but me.

Enter Baptista, Gremio, Tranio

For I am he am born to tame you Kate

And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates:

Here comes your father, Never make denial

I must and will have Katharina to my wife.

As we discovered in last Friday’s teacher seminar session, this passage’s stress patterns and use of the informal second person pronoun lends some weight to the argument for the stage direction remaining where the folio places it, and thus, not moving it as later editions do (though, I am pleased to acknowledge that the Arden 3, edited by Barbara Hodgdon, leaves it and other important stage directions from the Folio, in 4.1 for instance, in tact).  It is somewhat unusual, and always revealing for an actor/student, when a pronoun falls in a stressed place. Here, we see four to six pronouns in the stressed position in just 14 lines. Moreover, the nature of the pronouns changes from the informal to the formal to the informal and, finally, back again (the second return to formal coming when the Folio signals the return of Kate’s father).  After we noted all of these things in the group (and pulled our collective hair out with the scansion of the first line–trochee, iamb, iamb, trochee (elision), weird feminine ending? or, entirely trochaic with a catalectic final foot?), we played with it. We made some big choices with the pronoun shifts, trying distance in the formal uses and closer proximity in the informal. We tried being really formal, with Petruchio kneeling the first time he uses the formal pronouns and then transitioning into a more intimate exchange in the informal.

In short, we looked at the text for what clues it could provide. We considered easily identifiable traits like beat and pronouns to create playing choices. We didn’t give just one line; we didn’t gloss over the challenges of the scene. We talked about playing possibilities. We gave the text back to the students (teachers in this case) to make of it what they wanted to. Returning the authority to tackle text is how we roll, and we do it by showing all of the details that are too often not taught but make the text accessible.

Sarah Enloe
Director of Education

PS: For an in-depth guide to exploring those possibilities in the classroom, join us on August 7th for the Summer Teacher Seminar: Shakespeare’s Toolbox.

“These be the stops that hinder study quite”: In Defense of Enjambment

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my current project is building a scansion workbook — a practical guide to understanding, marking, and performing meter in Shakespeare’s plays. This workbook follows a far different structure than our usual Study Guides, based on the scaffolding of language skills rather than on elements of a play’s plot, history, and staging challenges. Once we get through the basics of syllables, feet, and pentameter, we get to play with the aspects of scansion that pertain more to character and performance.

I came to scansion through Latin long before I came to it through English. Years before anyone had bothered to explain to me what iambic pentameter is, beyond perhaps a token mention of “that’s the stuff they make sonnets out of,” I was beating out the long and short vowels of Ovid, Catullus, and Horace. In my AP class, we had to recite Latin poetry aloud, which meant careful attention to the cadence of the lines. I learned a lot about elision — particularly when it comes to slurring vowel sounds together — and I learned about enjambment. One of the things my teacher hammered into my adolescent head was the concept that you don’t stop at the end of a line unless that’s actually where the thought ends. Of course, where the thought ends can be a tricky matter to determine, since Latin originally had no punctuation, and no spaces, for that matter. You either have to choose to trust the editor of your text (which I did far more readily at 16 than I do now), or else you had to figure it out for yourself through the translation. Once you made the determination, you had to put it into your voice during the recitation. Taking an unnecessary breath docked points from our grade.

Enjambment means, quite simply, that the thought or sentence continues past the end of the line. Here’s an example from Macbeth (click to expand):


Now, this speech is a goldmine of information when it comes to both scansion and rhetoric (elisions! stressed conjunctions and pronouns! antithesis!), and my markup is far from the only potential choice in many of those lines. For the purposes of this conversation, however, just look specifically at those little right-pointing arrows. Each of those indicates an enjambed line. Many of them, as you can see, then lead to caesuras — those mid-line breaks — and many involve feminine endings, a final unstressed eleventh syllable tagged on to the end of a pentameter line.

Compare that to something like this speech from Richard II (click to expand):


It’s one of the most rhetorically dense passages in Shakespeare — but not a single enjambed line. I could make an argument for ignoring the comma at the end of line for, after “head”, perhaps, and enjambing that line, but all the others are very clearly end-stops. They vary between full-stops, like periods, and partial stops, like commas, but in this passage, there is a sense that each line completes a thought or clause of some sort, even if the sentence continues. On the whole, Shakespeare’s later plays are more enjambed than his early ones — but you can certainly find end-stops in Macbeth, Othello, Coriolanus, and The Tempest, just as you can find enjambed lines in the Henry VIes, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew. Plays which are heavily rhymed, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are more likely to have more end-stops as well, as enjambment tends to obscure the rhyme.

Enjambments and end-stops are one of the topics I’ll be covering in this new workbook. As I’ve been researching and discussing the process, however, I’ve run across the doctrine — apparently far more dominant, at least in some spheres, than I’d ever imagined — that an actor should take a brief pause at the end of each line of iambic pentameter, whether or not the punctuation and sentence structure make that indication. I’ve heard it justified as “the way the verse works” — which ignores the fact that enjambment is, itself, part of how the verse works, a conscious choice by an author to go on rather than to create a break. I’ve also heard that it’s necessary, because ten syllables is about how much an actor can say with one breath — which seems not only to undervalue the lung capacity of actors, but to ignore the playable value of that breathlessness, should it occur.

This is a weird concept to me. How can you ignore enjambment like that? Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that punctuation alone is unreliable, what with the variant preferences of typesetters. From my explorations of the Folio and quartos, however, it’s generally pretty clear where a line is end-stopped versus enjambed, even if the precise nature of the stop as a period, semicolon, colon, or question mark might be up for debate. Even where you can’t trust the punctuation, you can also figure out where a thought terminates or turns. (Rhetoric can help here, too, by identifying shifts in focus or alterations to a pattern).

End-stopped lines and enjambed lines operate differently. If you pause indiscriminately, you lose the crucial information that the enjambment gives you — that breathless, rushing quality which is a character clue and a clue for performance. Pausing at the end of each line in that speech of Macbeth’s doesn’t just interrupt the flow of thoughts — potentially obscuring comprehension of an already-difficult bit of text — it also misses out on something critical about Macbeth himself. The entire speech is, after all, about his attempt to squish time together and “jump the life to come,” to get to the end without pausing at the middle. It makes sense that, metrically, he’d be rushing, eliding, and running ahead of himself. His cadence transmits emotional information.

One of the comments that the OCS most frequently gets from our audiences is that our plays are accessible, easy to understand. I believe part of the reason for that lies in enjambment. Our actors speak their lines with attention to scansion and stressed syllables, but also as though they are… sentences. Things that people would actually say, in the manner they would actually say them. Enjambment is a part of pentameter. I have to think that our actors’ acknowledgement of that piece of the pattern, following a thought through to its natural end rather than carving it into bits, contributes to our audience’s ease of understanding. So, when it comes to the OCS Scansion Workbook, we’re going to promote what’s worked here at the Playhouse and in our classrooms: pause when the thought indicates you should, not just because you’ve said ten syllables and need a break.

What were you taught? What do you use in practice or teach others? Can you hear a difference when listening to Shakespeare in performance?

–Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager