Iambic pentameter in rehearsal and performance
(Click here for parts one and two) So you know what an iam is and you have begun to look at how to “scan” for where the stressed syllables might be. How MIGHT this START to TRANSlate TO performance…?
Try saying the lines out loud with iambic. Here’s my initial scan:
But SOFT what LIGHT through YON der WIN dow BREA ks
It is the EAST and JU liet IS the SUN
Now because the second line is funky, in order to see what I like best I would play around with a few different versions. Try these out loud:
IT is the EAST and JUL iet IS the SUN
It IS the EAST and JU li ET is THE sun
IT is THE east AND ju LI et IS the SUN
It IS the EAST and JU liet IS the SUN
How do they feel? As you start to work, try really exaggerating the stresses to feel it. Dance around, sing it out, use your whole body. If you go big, it can help you find the stresses and the operative words of the verse. Then you can soften it as you work. Eventually you will throw all the rehearsal away and let it rip, but the work you have done will be there to join you.
There are so many delicious clues in these plays.
I heard the wonderful actor/teacher/director Elizabeth Swain suggest that perhaps when a character speaks in verse (instead of prose), they are speaking truth. This is an interesting idea. We have only scratched the surface on all one can glean from the layers of these great works, but I hope I have inspired you to dig a little deeper.
And remember as you work, especially if you get frustrated, there isn’t ONE RIGHT WAY TO SCAN A LINE. The most important thing is that you look at the verse and see what clues are there before you make a choice. Key word here is choice. Don’t make zero choices. Are you choosing to stress the word “the” in that line or did you just sort of memorize it that way? Make sure you can support all of your choices with the play.
I think you’ll find there’s something sort of magical about playing Shakespeare. When you hit on the right rhythm, it just goes and takes you on the ride. It becomes almost effortless.
Courage and comfort, all shall yet go well.
— Shakespeare, King John