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Scansion: The music of speech

Anyone who has ever sang a song (any song), understands to some degree the human ability to convey emotional intent by using their voice to produce and manipulate melody and rhythm.

We use melody and rhythm all the time.

For the most part, when we are just communicating in everyday life, the melodic nature of our voices are a primary means to get what we want and need.

Without melody, the words we speak would not only be bland beyond belief; but they also would be much less effective If not completely ineffective.

If we take a simple phrase like “Excuse me” and just say the words with no underlying intent, devoid of point of view and thus lacking melody, It will mean nothing to anyone and because it means nothing it could be interpreted as anything to everybody.

Melody and rhythm reflect our intentions. As actor’s it is our job to use the language on the page, in tandem with our individual minds, bodies and voices to tell a story or convey an experience as honestly as we can in imaginary circumstances.

Just as we may not be dancing on stage; but we are using a heightened form of movement, we also are not singing in a lot of plays but we are using a heightened form of speech.

One of the most widely accepted canons that displays what popular Western culture accepts as its gold standard for heightened English language in theatrical form, is that of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare is revered for many reasons but the one I will draw attention to now is his penchant for writing in iambic pentameter.

Shakespeare wrote in prose (regular speech) and mostly in verse (a heightened speech).

The type of verse he wrote in is called iambic pentameter.

This is, most simply put, a line of text with ten syllables broken into five ”feet”. Each “foot”is made of two syllables. When spoken aloud, there is a rhythm of speech that serves as the main point of reference for all the other lines in the play.

There are also, many variations that can be made to a standard line of iambic pentameter that changes the rhythm of the text- or the meter. There are many different reasons for these changes in the rhythm or meter.

While working through Shakespeare’s text, differentiating prose from verse and verse from variations on the verse, will give you an endless amount of keys with which to unlock the souls of his characters with great depth and revelation.

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