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From Hamlet:O that this too too solid flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fix’dHis canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God! (Act 1, Scene 2) What is Iambic Pentameter?Iambic Pentameter has:Ten syllables in each lineFive pairs of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables The rhythm in each line sounds like: ba-BUM/ ba-BUM/ ba-BUM/ ba-BUM/ ba-BUMMost of Shakespeare’s famous quotationsfit into this rhythm. For example:If mu-/ -sic be/ the food/ of love, / play onIs this/ a dag-/ -ger I/ see be-/ fore me?Each pair of syllables is called an iambus. You’ll notice that each iambus is made up of one unstressed and one stressed beat (ba-BUM).Rhythmic VariationsIn his plays, Shakespeare didn’t always stick to ten syllables. He often played around with iambic pentameter to give color and feeling to his character’s speeches. This is the key to understanding Shakespeare's language..Feminine EndingSometimes Shakespeare added an extra unstressed beat at the end of a line to emphasizea character’s sense of contemplation. This variation is called a feminine ending and Hamlet’sfamous question is the perfect example:To be, / or not/ to be:/ thatis / the ques-/ -tion InversionShakespeare also reverses the order of the stresses in some iambi to help emphasize certain words or ideas. If you look closely at the fourth iambus in the Hamletquote above, you can see how he has placed an emphasis on the word “that” by inverting the stresses.
Occasionally, Shakespeare will completely break the rules and place two stressed syllables in the same iambus, as the following quote from Richard IIIdemonstrates:Nowis / the win-/ -ter of / our dis-/ contentIn this example, the fourth iambus emphasizes that it is “our discontent,” and the first iambus emphasizes that we are feeling this “now.”Iambic pentameterFrom Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaIambic pentameter(from Greek: αμβικός πεντάμετρος, ἰiambikos pentametros, meaning a measure with five iambs) is a commonly used type of metrical linein traditional verseand verse drama. The term describes the rhythm that the words establish in that line, which is measured in small groups of syllables called "feet". The word "iambic" describes the type of foot that is used (in English, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). The word "pentameter" indicates that a line has five of these "feet".These terms originally applied to the quantitative meterof classical poetry. They were adopted to describe the equivalent meters in English accentual-syllabic verse. Different languages express rhythm in different ways. In Ancient Greekand Latin, the rhythm was created through the alternation of short and longsyllables. In English, the rhythm iscreated through the use of stress, alternating between unstressed and stressed syllables.