Shakespeare’s Words, Insults, & Sonnets
by Pollyanna Eyler
“I have studied eight or nine wise words to speak to you,”
-Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing, Act III Scene ii
The Long and Short of Iambic Pentameter
Shakespeare wrote both prose (natural dialogue) and verse (metered dialogue that rhymes) in Much Ado About Nothing and in his other scripts. Shakespeare tended to reserve verse for characters who were of a higher social status, although these characters may also slip back into prose. A standard line of verse in iambic pentameter structure contains ten syllables. Why do some lines of verse have more or less than ten syllables? One academic theory is that the type of line that is written is also indicative of the character’s mental acuity and emotional state.
Speaking a line with more than ten syllables may imply a heightened emotional state. A lengthy line with an odd number of syllables may be one that gives way to negative feelings of envy or madness. But an even number of syllables may direct an actor to say their line with peace or confidence. For example, read the following line of Claudio’s,
“Which I mistrusted not. Farewell therefore Hero.”
-Claudio, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II Scene i
Claudio’s line is twelve syllables. This theory would suggest that Claudio is confident and resolute in his surmise, even if he is sad, that Hero will be matched to someone else.
Speaking a line of verse that is shorter than the standard ten syllables, especially if it ends in an odd number of syllables, implies a character exhibiting weakness or feeling unhinged. Characters in a scene may also share two shortened lines of verse equal to ten syllables, indicating a stronger relationship (friend or foe) between them. This type of speaking is used today when one person begins a famous quote and the other finishes it. What famous quotes do you and your friends banter about with one another?
“There, thou speak’st reason”
-Leonata, Much Ado About Nothing, Act V Scene i
“The offender, did call me ass: I beseech you, let it be remembered in his punishment.”
-Dogberry, Much Ado About Nothing, Act V Scene i
In Much Ado About Nothing, there are several insults slung back and forth between characters. The study guide asked you to match these nicknames to their intended target and directed you to check here, on 4thWallDramaturgy.com for the solution, and so …
“I will owe thee an answer for that”
-Conrade, Much Ado About Nothing, Act III Scene iii.
“How answer you for yourselves?”
-Dogberry, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV Scene ii.
Did you notice that one character in the game is not insulted? No one would dare insult royalty in the renaissance, especially one as deserving as Don Pedro, a Prince of Aragon. The Kingdom of Aragon was an actual kingdom in Shakespeare’s lifetime.
“You always end with a jade’s trick”
-Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I Scene i
“A halting sonnet of his own pure brain”
-Claudio, Much Ado About Nothing, Act V Scene iv
A Symphony of Sonnets
“Sonnet” comes from the word, sonneto, Italian for “song.” A sonnet, like other poetry, may be set to music as lyrics; and a sonnet may, or may not, rhyme. Shakespeare is not the first to be credited with writing sonnets. At least three hundred years before Shakespeare, the first known sonnets were penned by Giacomo da Lentini. Shakespeare’s sonnets are distinct in that all 154 of his sonnets contain a pattern with 14 lines of iambic pentameter (10 syllables) that follow this rhyme scheme:
Want to try your hand at writing a sonnet? Write a declaration of your love in a poem in any form, using historic or modern language. Put a love note in the lobby and/or post it in the comments section below.
“Will you then write me a sonnet”
-Margaret, Much Ado About Nothing, Act V Scene ii