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  • To someone first encountering the works of William Shakespeare,

  • the language may seem strange.

  • But there is a secret to appreciating it.

  • Although he was famous for his plays, Shakespeare was first and foremost a poet.

  • One of the most important things in Shakespeare's language

  • is his use of stress.

  • Not that kind of stress,

  • but the way we emphasize certain syllables in words more than others.

  • We're so used to doing this that we may not notice it at first.

  • But if you say the word slowly, you can easily identify them.

  • Playwright, computer, telephone.

  • Poets are very aware of these stresses,

  • having long experimented with the number

  • and order of stressed and unstressed syllables,

  • and combined them in different ways to create rhythm in their poems.

  • Like songwriters,

  • poets often express their ideas through a recognizable repetition of these rhythms

  • or poetic meter.

  • And like music,

  • poetry has its own set of terms for describing this.

  • In a line of verse,

  • a foot is a certain number of stressed and unstressed syllables

  • forming a distinct unit,

  • just as a musical measure consists of a certain number of beats.

  • One line of verse is usually made up of several feet.

  • For example, a dactyl is a metrical foot of three syllables

  • with the first stressed, and the second and third unstressed.

  • Dactyls can create lines that move swiftly and gather force,

  • as in Robert Browning's poem, "The Lost Leader."

  • "Just for a handful of silver he left us. Just for a rib and to stick in his coat."

  • Another kind of foot is the two-syllable long trochee,

  • a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one.

  • The trochees in these lines from Shakespeare's "Macbeth"

  • lend an ominous and spooky tone to the witches' chant.

  • "Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble."

  • But with Shakespeare, it's all about the iamb.

  • This two-syllable foot is like a reverse trochee,

  • so the first syllable is unstressed and the second is stressed, as in,

  • "To be, or not to be."

  • Shakespeare's favorite meter, in particular, was iambic pentameter,

  • where each line of verse is made up of five two-syllable iambs,

  • for a total of ten syllables.

  • And it's used for many of Shakespeare's most famous lines:

  • "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

  • "Arise fair sun, and kill the envious moon."

  • Notice how the iambs cut across both punctuation and word separation.

  • Meter is all about sound, not spelling.

  • Iambic pentameter may sound technical,

  • but there's an easy way to remember what it means.

  • The word iamb is pronounced just like the phrase, "I am."

  • Now, let's expand that to a sentence

  • that just happens to be in iambic pentameter.

  • "I am a pirate with a wooden leg."

  • The pirate can only walk in iambs,

  • a living reminder of Shakespeare's favorite meter.

  • Iambic pentameter is when he takes ten steps.

  • Our pirate friend can even help us remember how to properly mark it

  • if we image the footprints he leaves walking along a deserted island beach:

  • A curve for unstressed syllables, and a shoe outline for stressed ones.

  • "If music be the food of love, play on."

  • Of course, most lines of Shakespeare's plays

  • are written in regular prose.

  • But if you read carefully,

  • you'll notice that Shakespeare's characters turn to poetry,

  • and iambic pentameter in particular,

  • for many of the same reasons that we look to poetry in our own lives.

  • Feeling passionate, introspective, or momentous.

  • Whether it's Hamlet pondering his existence,

  • or Romeo professing his love,

  • the characters switch to iambic pentameter when speaking about their emotions

  • and their place in the world.

  • Which leaves just one last question.

  • Why did Shakespeare choose iambic pentameter for these moments,

  • rather than, say, trochaic hexameter or dactylic tetrameter?

  • It's been said that iambic pentameter was easy for his actors to memorize

  • and for the audience to understand

  • because it's naturally suited to the English language.

  • But there might be another reason.

  • The next time you're in a heightened emotional situation,

  • like the ones that make Shakespeare's characters burst into verse,

  • put your hand over the left side of your chest.

  • What do you feel?

  • That's your heart beating in iambs.

  • Da duhm, da duhm, da duhm, da duhm, da duhm.

  • Shakespeare's most poetic lines don't just talk about matters of the heart.

  • They follow its rhythm.

To someone first encountering the works of William Shakespeare,

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B1 TED-Ed shakespeare unstressed stressed syllable verse

【TED-Ed】Why Shakespeare loved iambic pentameter - David T. Freeman and Gregory Taylor

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    稲葉白兎 posted on 2015/02/01
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