Shakespeare's Blank Verse: (Giles Block)

If you read the text in the right way, you begin to hear voices that are hidden in the text. Speaking the verse, you can hear the emotion behind the thought. Prose is always more artificial than verse. It suggests something which is not  being expressed. It has a sub-text. When we speak in verse, we speak from the heart. When Shakespeare uses blank verse, he recreates the way that people actually talk as opposed to the way that we think or write. During the 1580's  a verbal revolution took place in London. Blank verse (unrhymed verse in iambic pentameter) stormed the stages of the public theatres.

Before that time, players had presented a much more elite form of theatre in the private theatres, Inns of Court, and guild houses. Aristocratic entertainments featured fantastic stories, and the general public was drawn more to public spectacles: blood sports, executions, and fireworks. Plays were written in anapests (di-di-dum, di-di-dum, di-di-dum.... There is something about that rhythm which just makes you smile.) The rhythm of iambics has a completely different character. (Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum). It is not funny; instead it possesses the rhythm of our heartbeat. After hearing a hundred beats, your heart has beaten a hundred times. Iambics possess steady consistency and deliberation. There is an underlying sincerity to words spoken in this rhythm.

Gorbuduc, the first play in blank verse is very dull reading. All the action takes place off stage, and the characters just talk about it. During the 1580's Christopher Marlowe harnessed the power of blank verse, mixed it with great stories, and found an enormous audience. In his Prologue to Tamburlaine the Great, Marlowe declared that he would have no more of 'the jigging rhymes of mother wit.' The simple beat of iambic pentameter pulsed through his lines and drove the action of his plays. The absence of rhyme made it easier for the poet to say exactly what he wanted to say. The words are carefully chosen. This is something I mean. I want to change your mind with my words. I am speaking from the heart.

Shakespeare took Marlowe's mighty line and turned it into a verse form of extraordinary flexibility. He  sustains the iambic rhythm and then varies it to indicate moments when his characters' emotions are heightened. Iambic pentameter's five beats per line present the amount of language that can typically be spoken in a single breath. We can speak longer numbers of syllables in a breath, like when we tell jokes we take an extra large breath, but when we deal with the situation in which we find ourselves, we disclose our thoughts in iambic pentameter. In normal speech we also typically build our thought to its conclusion. We leave people with a slight emphasis on the final syllable before we take a new breath and continue our idea. The last beat of any line should be emphasized even when it is in the middle of a thought.

The most important task an actor must perform is make the character's thought clear. When we see Shakespeare that is poorly done, we typically have no idea what the actors are saying or why. So we need to work out clearly where our ideas begin and end. The thought ends when we have satisfied the impulse to speak. New thoughts come to mind, and the speech continues. These thought units are expressed on the page with end stops: periods and semi-colons.