Copyright Bill Smith, 2002


     Included here are two handouts which I use when coaching Shakespeare. Dynamics of Verse is an overview of verse acting with samples from monologues and soliloquies.  Sonnets  offers a similar treatment to Shakespeare's sonnets.   Alas, much some things have been  been lost in the "translation" from a Word Perfect Document to ASCII format for this website --  I  regret the loss of footnotes, annotations and macrons and breves. My humble apologies.

     In the meantime, these materials are available for perusal by friends, colleagues and interested actors. If you care to comment, argue and offer suggestions, kindly share your thoughts by private E-mail (  I promise you that as you send your E-mail considerations, I will add you to the group list.

Also, I borrow extensively from what I consider to be the bible for Shakespeare actors.... John Barton's excellent text, PLAYING SHAKESPEARE. I am also indebted to my mentor, Cicely Berry.... and others. When I complete the final updated version, I'll supply a detailed bibliography, footnotes and annotations.


Notes by Bill Smith

    There are few absolute rules about playing Shakespeare. There are limitless possibilities for style and interpretation. Much of it is instinct and guesswork. But understanding how to experience Shakespeare's text can help solve the seeming problems of the text. Trained actors look for the hidden directions the Bard provides in his verse and prose. Every clue of where to breathe, what to stress, when to build momentum, what to toss away is there in the text.

    This approach, properly utilized, is not didactic or literary. Shakespeare's verse was meant to be spoken, not read. It relies a good deal on analysis, but just as much on common sense, so as to make the language work and come alive. The verse is not an end onto itself. Although verse heightens the experience of language, the goal is not good verse speaking, but rather good, inspired acting.

    This approach is not a different technique (or, god forbid, a different style) of acting, separate from the various contemporary processes of performing naturalistic plays. The actor always must always inquire into and respond to motivations, intentions and aims of the character. Stanislavski wrote, "If you speak any lines or do anything mechanically without fully realizing who you are, where you come from, why, what you want, where you are going, and what you will do when you get there, you will be acting without imagination."

    Elizabethan actors had an instinctive appreciation of this. They depended more than we do on the spoken word. To them, language was like food, and they probably used words more sensually, almost eating words. Elizabethan actors also responded to the music and cadence of verse and prose, the use of irony, antithesis (or opposites) and symbolism.

    Contemporary actors have to come to terms with the fact that a character is not just what he says, but how he says it.

    The main thing is to trust the language. Of course that's easier said than done when you first read Shakespeare and find yourself intimidated and confused by the verse, the vocabulary and the mythical references. A good, annotated edition of each play, perhaps a dedicated Shakespeare glossary, is helpful to unlock the more obscure references. But I discourage actors from becoming over-reliant on the "Cliff Notes Approach To Understanding The Bard."

    You will learn to trust the language, and unlock its apparent obscurity by speaking it aloud. That takes commitment. Be warned: curl up on the couch to read the verse silently to yourself, and you're likely to fall asleep before the second act. But if you speak the verse aloud, moving about as you do, by degrees the language and the character intentions will come alive. Let the language flow through you, just happen. You'll discover that the language is so potent that you'll "act" with less effort.


    Plan on 4-6 hours of rehearsal to get full value from the workshop.

    1)  First, select your monologue, soliloquy or sonnet.  Stick with Shakespeare, please  -- most plays in "The Folio" surpass Webster, Marlowe, etc.  Limit choices to characters in your age range and type. You must get my approval for your selection(s) at least one week prior to our sessions.

    2)  Purchase or pick up a library copy of the complete annotated edition of the play you have selected.  Annotations or a Shakespeare glossary will assist you with context, interpretation and archaic phrases.

    3)  Work from a typed, double-spaced copy of your sonnet.... in fact make several copies, as you'll want to score the copy and make notations.  Plan on providing me with one unmarked copy of your cutting.

    4)  Read your monologue aloud many times.  Then read the materials in the handout, taking the time to read aloud all included verse samples.  Then go back to your own monologue, and begin to employ the suggestions for rhythm, phrasing, alliteration, onomatopoeia and antithesis.

    5)  Personalize the material.  Make sure you know whom you are addressing.  Use your own experiences or use the magic "as if."

    6)  Make choices about staging and blocking.  You'll use an off-camera focus.

    7)  While dress is informal and casual, feel free to use rehearsal dress suitable to period styles.

    8)  Props?  You'll have a chair to work with, and yourself.

    9)  Bring a notebook and a pencil.  Also bring your video-tape if you want your explorations recorded for posterity.

    10) MEMORIZATION is recommended, but NOT necessary.  It's not even desirable, if you lock into playing the monologue with artificial rhythms and phrasing.  LEARN the piece, yes.  By that, I mean, become very familiar with it.  But by all means, feel comfortable with working from the copy.


    Look no further than Hamlet's advice to the plays (spoken in prose, mind you) to find what Shakespeare's advice actors of his time and today:

Hamlet: Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue... Be not too tame, neither. But let your discretion be your tutor, Suit the action to the word, the word to the action. HAMLET III, 2.


    HEIGHTENED TEXT means writing which is built on a rhythmic structure, where there is a compression of imagery, and where we understand as much through the logic of the imagery as through the factual reasoning.

     In NATURALISTIC TEXT, the structure of the story is built on a logical progression of ideas and the dialogue is rooted in everyday speech patterns. Here, imagery is more incidental than essential.

     While Shakespeare's heightened language usually is built upon blank and occasionally rhymed verse, not all verse is "heightened."  There are Shakespearian passages that strike our ears as being totally modern, where the sparseness and directness of a line can make us catch our breath in surprise at the contemporary ring.

     There are some delightful side-effects to the heightened language of verse:

     * Verse is usually much easier to learn than prose, because it creates patterns more easily retained by the mind.

     * It helps to give us our phrasing, and therefore is full of acting hints if you know how to look for them. Then too, verse is a more economical way than prose of saying something.

     * It is more attractive to listen to and helps the actor keep the audience's attention.


    Prior to Shakespeare, playwrights worked with truncated or expanded verse-lines, from eight syllables and up to fourteen.  Consider these two passages:

All Hail! All Hail! Both blithe and glad!
For here come I, a merry lad!

O doleful day, unhappy hour that loving child should see
His father dear before his face thus put to death should be!

    The first is doggerel, the second a ponderous, stuffy dirge -- hardly expressive of naturalistic speech. The eight syllable line-verse seems to invite an unnatural sing-songy effect. A fourteen syllable line-verse, popular in its day, tends toward very "flowery" speech and complex logic patterns which are difficult to follow. Frankly, it's also hard to pick out where to breathe.

    Shakespeare set upon iambic pentameter as his verse line. Also called Blank Verse, it is less dry and literary-sounding and closer to natural speech. Like most verse, iambic pentameter, is built simply on the alternation of light and strong stresses. The basic rhythm of blank verse goes like this: "da dum da dum da dum da dum da dum. Ten syllables with light and strong stresses alternating, five light and five strong -- this is the norm, of iambic pentameter. It approximates more closely than any other our naturalistic everyday speech, and adapts quite easily to normal breathing patterns.

    Iago speaks to Othello in near perfect iambic pentameter:

"I hope you will consider what is spoke
Comes from my love. But I do see you're moved."

     But iambic pentameter is only the norm. When Shakespeare breaks away from the norm, we have clues to the character's state of mind and emotion. Breathless from the battle, needing to motivate his troops, Henry V proclaims:

"Once  more unto the breachdearfriends, oncemore,
Or close the wall  up with our English dead!

    Shakespeare gets his dramatic effects by the way he brings the changes on it. A basic norm is set up -- da dum da dum da dum da dum da dum -- and added stress is provided when that norm is broken. Shakespeare keeps going back, more or less, to the norm, and then adds extra stress by putting an important word in a typically off-beat rather than normal position. From the norm of da dum, we find deviations like dum da, or dum dum, creating counterpoint, as in contrapuntal music.

    Added stress is created in Henry V's first line because it contains seven stresses. The second line has the unusual double stress of wall up. The added stress reinforces the sense of Henry pleading to and urging on his men.

    The natural stress of words containing broad, rounded phonemes or diphthongs (like moon, ode, boy, all, odd, calm, bounce, bad, mine) is apparent when contrasted with words containing short, neutral vowels (like a, in, but, the.)  Common sense will help you sense the stresses of multi-syllabics (like Macbeth, intelligent, masterful, quantity.)

    Stress/unstress is essential to feeling and playing the meanings and emotions of Shakespeare. But don't make the mistake of taking stress literally, that all you do with it is to pounce on or punch stressed syllables. (Don't you all remember some high school English teacher pummeling you with "I think that I shall never see/ a thing as lovely as a tree.)

    Upward or downward inflexion is an alternative method of stress that affords subtlety and naturalistic variety.

    You could say   'To be, or not to be -- that is the question.'  without stress or inflexion and probably be understood.

    Or you could stress it: 'To be, or not to be -- that is the question'

    Or you could inflect it: "To be, or not to be -- that is the question." -- with rising inflection on "to",  falling inflection on "be", in the first phrase.  Then down-inflect on "not" and up-inflect on "be" in the second phrase;  Then down-flect in "is" in the last phrase.  Try it.  Experiment with it.

    The norm, offset, may also provide clues to pauses, as in internal caesuras, or between lines. Consider the placement of pauses in this dialogue from MERCHANT OF VENICE IV, 1:

Shylock: O wise and upright judge!
How much more elder art thou than thy looks!

Portia: Therefore lay bare your bosom.

Shylock: Ay his breast,
So says the bond, doth it not, noble judge?
'Nearest his heart', those are the very words.

Portia: It is so.
Are there balance here to weigh the flesh?

Shylock: I have them ready.

Portia: Have by some surgeon, Shylock, on your charge,
To stop his wounds lest he do bleed to death.

    Shylock's "'Nearest the heart', those are the very words." invites a pause between the stressed heart and those. More revealing are Portia's and Shylock's two short verse lines: "It is so." and "I have them ready." Three and five syllables respectively. A short line in Shakespeare usually suggests a pause and is some sort of hint to the actor about how to play the scene. Portia is desperately trying to get through to Shylock. So after her short line 'It is so', she pauses so that he and the court shall take in the gravity of the situation. Responding immediately with his short line, Shylock exudes confidence. But again, a pause is in order before Portia bids him to 'Have by some surgeon', to mark her disgust at his eagerness. In a sense, she weighs her words before she goes on.


    By antithesis, we mean the setting of one word against the other, as in Hamlet's "To be or not to be..." or Henry V's "Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage." In the latter line, we find two examples of antithesis: "Fair" is set against "hard," and "nature" against "rage." To shape and clarify the thought, an actor needs to stress or inflect these paired words and the verse rhythm helps him do so.

    Says John Barton in PLAYING SHAKESPEARE, "If I were to offer one single bit of advice to an actor new to Shakespeare's text, (it would be): 'Look for the antitheses and play them.' Hamlet's 'Suit the action to the word, and the word to the action' is a good example of double antithesis. We can easily overlook it because we don't use antithesis today, particularly in our everyday speech. Yet Shakespeare was deeply imbued with a sense of it. He thought antithetically. It was the way his sentences over and over found their shape and their meaning."

    Shakespeare called it 'setting the word against the word'. Look for this in Hamlet's soliloquy:

HAMLET: To be, or not to be --that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of trouble
And by opposing end them. HAMLET III,1.

    The antithesis of 'to be' and 'or not to be' is self-evident. But if we dig deeper, we also find that 'in the mind to suffer' is set against 'to take arms'. Also, 'by opposing' is set against 'end them'. If an actor doesn't recognize and subsequently, for the sake of the audience, point up antithesis, he will be hard to follow.


    PROSE is the accepted cornerstone of naturalistic language, but some prose text still relies considerably on poetic devices. Why does Shakespeare use Prose?  Prose is often used to designate characters who are peasants, commoners, domestics, fools, clowns and "low-lifes."   Yet there are exceptions.  Emilia (Desdemona's maid in OTHELLO) will shift from blank verse to prose, depending on her intentions and the needs of the scene.  In MERCHANT OF VENICE, Portia is eminently capable of speaking heightened language in verse form in both love scenes, as well as in the courtroom.  But when she commiserates with Nerissa, she joins in prose that is full of verbal wit and antithesis.

    Prose is associated with common people: the gatekeeper in MACBETH, the Nurse, in ROMEO, the clown in LOVE'S LABOURS LOST. Don't be fooled by prose, though, just because it uses a structure other than iambic pentameter. So-called "base" characters are as capable of irony, antithesis and metaphor as their superiors. Sometimes the simplicity of their meaning outweighs the heightened, flowery language of their superiors, royalty. Sometimes their "malapropisms" hit home, intentionally, or seemingly by accident.

    Often, Shakespeare unexpectedly allows those of "rank" to shift from verse to prose. And there's always a motivational reason. Sometimes it is because the character has suddenly become naturalistic and earthy. Sometimes it means that character has become more introspective.

    There is no reassuring da dum da dum, as a norm to compare against. Since prose has no set rhythm, it can be much trickier to analyze. Says John Barton, "Shakespeare's prose has very strong rhythms and if the actor doesn't get in touch with them, there will be a loss of definition and clarity.  There's also an awful lot of it..... twenty-eight per cent of the text (in his) plays is in prose, over a quarter.....  The most fruitful approach.... is the same one we used toward's Shakespeare's verse: look for the strong stresses and sense the rhythm from that."  Then look for antithesis and other verbal tricks. If those "figures" are not found, dialogue is hard to follow. Point up the antithesis, and the text becomes as clear as daylight.


    In England, monologues and soliloquies are referred to as set speeches, perhaps for the reason that English audiences know so many speeches by heart, that you often have a third of the audience mouthing under their breath the famous lines. Not very easy for actors to build the drama of a piece when the audience is focused less on the moment, and more on by-gone school days.

    Why do so many actors fail to hold the audience's attention with monologues and, even more so, soliloquies? I know my attention wavers if the actor doesn't engage me. And this tends to happen when the actor is generalizing the mood and emotions suggested by the piece. It is so easy to fall into the trap of giving kind of a summary of the speech, and not to discover it line by line.

    Too many actors play their speeches as if everything revealed at the end is a foregone conclusion. Some would call this "telegraphing the end." How predictable! No surprises, no revelations, no progression of the character, either for actor or audience!

    Most set speeches break into three major beats: (1) The character picks up something in the immediate situation and responds to it. (2) Then the character explores the situation, often using antithesis to seek out the pro's and con's of the issue. (3) Finally, the character comes to a conclusion, or perhaps decides there is no conclusion.

    The words must be freshly found or coined or freshly minted at the moment you utter them. They are not to be thought of as something which pre-exists in a printed text. In the theatre, they must seem to find their life for the first time at the moment the actor speaks them, because the actor needs them!

    You need to go for the argument if you are to take the audience with you. If you don't, the set speech usually becomes a generalized comment on the character's vanity, remorse, joy or passion, rather than an invitation to the audience to listen and share your thoughts.

    Well and good when the set speech is a monologue delivered to another character on the stage. At least that other character gives you the resistance, the obstacles with which to play the argument. But what about soliloquies?

    In PLAYING SHAKESPEARE, John Barton says, "I personally believe that it's right ninety-nine times out of a hundred to share a soliloquy with the audience. I'm convinced it's a grave distortion of Shakespeare's intention to do it oneself. If the actor shares the speech, it will work. If he doesn't, it will be dissipated, and the audience won't listen properly... If you're doing a speech on an empty stage, why are you doing it? I mean you can't be telling yourself things that you already know, so the whole-point must be to share it with the audience... to let them in on the character's private story, as opposed to his function in the play. It's a wonderful way of getting one-up on everybody else. It's just you and the audience and you're saying, 'Look, this is what I'm really thinking. And this is the way I'm going to behave after I've finished this speech. So you're all going to be in on what my innermost thoughts are.'"

    Barton adds, "....So are there in fact any rules here?  Only our basic points.  The speech must arise out of a situation, it must have a story and it must be spontaneous.  And it must be real.  So once again, the actor must make the language his own.

    Actors who perform soliloquies WITHOUT sharing with the audience run the risk of generalizing the mood, playing attitudes.  I call it "playing to the rafters."  When this happens, says Barton, "(As audience members).... we observe, but don't share.  We see someone generally under stress, but I don't believe we go along with his (or her) thoughts..... You must take us with you, you must work it out as you go, and you must not go at it too emotionally.  Of course, you must have emotions, but your intention is to make sense of them.  Imagine that the words have never been said or thought by any actor ever before.  Give us a taste or your 'rarefaction.'"

    There is evidence that soliloquies were played to and with the audience in Shakespeare's time. This is the tradition today at the Royal Shakespeare Company. And there is precedent for this approach in musicals of the American Theatre, where most "naturalistic" scenes are played representationally (i.e., "behind the fourth wall," and the songs are played presentationally (i.e., to the audience.)


     * Think on the line, instead of between the lines.

    * Actors should be very conscious of verse in rehearsal, but shouldn't think about it in performance. This assumes that during rehearsal, you've gotten the verse into your system, so that during performance, it works on your subconscious.

    * Two simple qualities will see an actor safely through the supposed mine field of stress, feminine endings, elisions, etc.: common sense and a feeling for what's right.

    * When the actor becomes too verse conscious, that is as bad as to ignore it. All acting is a balance between what is worked out (the heightened language or verse, in this case) and what is spontaneous (playing the moment and naturalistic impulses).

    * Look for the complexity of the language and the vocabulary. The more complex and sophisticated the vocabulary, the greater the indication that the character is in charge of the moment and his emotions. Other speeches, like Othello's "It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul," tend to be very monosyllabic. For these pieces, it's advisable not to rush, to take your time so that each word might "breathe." Shakespeare's characters tend to use them at moments of great stress and importance, where those simplistic monosyllabic words would have more poetic and humanistic resonance.

    * Above all, imagine that the words have never been said or thought before by any actor, and give the audience a taste of your rarefaction. Don't come on as if you are issuing a statement about the state of you mind. Open up yourself and work it out with the audience. Play even the seemingly most philosophical speech as if you are telling a story.

    * ON FRESHNESS:   The words must be found or coined or fresh-minted at the moment you utter them.  They are not to be thought of as something which pre-exists in a printed text.


1. Syllables:
    a. Stressed Syllables: Macron ( ) or ( / )
    b. Unstressed Syllables: Breve ( )

2. Foot: The unit or smallest combination of accented and unaccented syllables occurring in a line. The regular occurrence of this syllable arrangement determines the rhythm of the line.

3. Types of Feet:

Foot Scansion Examples

Iamb                da-Dum            de-light, to go               (rising meter)
Trochee           Dum-da            going, bread and         (falling meter)
Pyrrhic             da-da                in a, and the                 (weakest foot)
Spondee         Dum-Dum         huge sun, dogwatch     (strongest foot)
Anapest          da-da-Dum       in-ter-fere
Amphibrach   da-Dum-da       dividing, at evening
Dactyl              Dum-da-da       battlement, end of the
Amphimacer  Dum-da-Dum    antiwar, end the man

4. Number of Feet Per Line:
    a. Monometer 1 foot per line
    b. Dimeter 2 feet per line
    c. Trimeter 3 feet per line
    d. Tetrameter 4 feet per line
    e. Pentameter 5 feet per line
    f.  Hexameter 6 feet per line
    g. Heptameter 7 feet per line
    h. Octometer 8 feet per line

4. Number of Feet Per Line
    a.  Monometer  1 foot per line
    b.  Dimeter  2 feet per line
    c.  Trimeter  3 feet per line
    d.  Tetrameter  4 feet per line
    e.  Pentameter  5 feet per line
    f.  Hexameter  6 feet per line
    g.  Heptameter  7 feet per line
    h.  Octometer  8 feet per line

NOTE:  IAMBIC PENTAMETER consists of five iambs, for a total of ten syllables: da-Dum-da-Dum-da-Dum-da-Dum-da-Dum.

    It is the most speech-like of English meters, and this is especially true of its blank verse (unrhymed) form.  The meter of a line is its inner rhythmical structure, the relationship between stressed and unstressed syllable. A stanza  is a certain number of lines which conform to a meter.  A stanza is usually fairly uniform, but in selected cases, the meter may be maintained even though the stanza mixes short and long lines.  The stanza form in a sonnet include three quatrains (4 lines each) and a couplet (the final two lines) for a total of 14 lines. Meter lets us hear the line's inner relationships, stanza its outer connections.

5. Terminology

    a. ALLITERATION: repetition of similar initial sounds of words in close juxtaposition. (ex. Note the "s" sounds: "That the fixed sentinels almost receive/ The secret whispers of each other's watch." HENRY V, III, vii.)

    b. ANTI-MEBOLE: a figure in which a phrase is repeated in reverse to  shift the sense. (ex.: "Thy name well fits thy faith, thy faith thy name." CYMBELINE, IV, ii, 384.)

    c. ANTITHESIS: a form of oxymoron (direct juxtaposition of words of  opposite meaning) using 2 halves of the line or speech. (ex.: "To be, or not to be..." HAMLET; "I have hope to live, and am prepar'd to die." MEASURE FOR MEASURE, III, i, 4; "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action." HAMLET, III, ii, 16.)

    d. BLANK VERSE: unrhymed iambic pentameter.

    e. CAESURA: the main pause within a line of verse. (ex.: "Poor naked  wretched, (breath) where soe'er you are..." LEAR, III, iv, 28.)

    f. CLIMAX: a technique of reduplication of related words. (ex.: "His  virtue made him wise, his wisdom bought him wealth,/ His wealth won many friends, his friends made much supply." - Puttenham. Also see AS YOU LIKE IT, V, ii, 30-36.)

    g. ELISION: the technique of eliminating a syllable to preserve the  dominant meter, as when "Gallop apace, you fi-er-y footed steeds!" becomes "Gallop apace, you fi-ry footed steeds." Elision is sometimes marked by the printer, and sometimes not. When you see "Heav'n," it may or may not be a proper elision. The word "plumed" may in some texts be appropriately pronounced as a single stressed syllable (ex.: "PLUMED") or as a stress and unstress (ex.: "PLUM-MED," as in "Farewell the plumed troops..." OTHELLO, III, 3, 346.)

    f. END STOPPED: a definite pause at the end of a line. (versus ENJAMB,  in which a line's extra syllable, most often a feminine ending, compels the speaker to link into the following line.)

    g. FEMININE ENDING: an ending in which a line closes with an extra  unaccented syllable.

    h. FORCED PAUSE: when the meter forces a pause for breath.

    i.    HYPERBOLE: conscious exaggeration of description for specific effect. ("Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I." HAMLET.)

     j. MASCULINE ENDING: a line closed with an accented syllable.

     k. METAPHOR: A Metaphor takes different things or ideas and combines  in order to reveal new meanings. A Simile links the comparison with the words "like" or "as." A Personification is a treatment of inanimate objects or abstract ideas as though alive ("vaulting ambition".) A Synecdoche is a metaphor which uses a part of something to suggest a whole concept (ex.: "a serpent heart".) Metonomy is a metaphor based on an association of two things, as when the King is expressed as "The Crown."

    l. ONOMATOPOEIA: words whose sounds resemble the thing they describe.

    m. PROSONOMASIA: a figure created by a play on words close in sound, but contrasted in meaning. (ex.: "A little more than kin, and less than kind." HAMLET; "Good Sir, why do you start and seem to fear/ Things that do sound so fair?" MACBETH, I, iii, 51-2.)

6. SCANNING FOR METER RHYTHM AND LOGIC: Look for meter, look for logic, then look for the integration of the two. Always relate to character intention. Spice your delivery with discovery. The language is either "heightened" in prose or verse, or the language is naturalistic. Find the balance. Here is a list of the layers of rhythms, from those producing the smallest patterns, to those producing the largest:

    a.  The arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables
    b.  The division of these syllable patterns into feet and the tension   between word divisions and foot     divisions.
    c.  Variations within the basic foot pattern.
    d.  The placement of caesura within the line.
    e.  The manipulation of line-endings to form larger patterns.
    f.  The groupings of several lines into a verse paragraph.

7. SAMPLES:  Find the the stresses and unstresses of these lines from Shakespeare:

    A.  "To be or not to be, that is the question;
    Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
    Or to take arms against a sea of trouble
     And by opposing end them."                HAMLET, III, i, 56.

    B."Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
    To the last syllable of recorded time."   MACBETH, V, v, 21.

    C. "The love of wicked men converts to fear;
    That fear to hate, and hate turns one or both
    To worthy danger and deserved death."     RICHARD II, V, i, 66-68.

    D. KING: Death.

    HUBERT: My lord?

    KING: A grave.

    HUBERT: He shall not live.

    KING: Enough.
            KING JOHN, III, iii.

    E. "Poor naked wretches, where soe'er you are,
    That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
    How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
    Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
    From seasons such as these?  O!  I have ta'en
    Too little care of this.  Take physic, pomp;
    Expose thyself to feel what wretched feel,
    That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
    And show the heavens more just."
    LEAR, III, 4, 28.


    This study guide is based in large part on training I received from Cicely Berry (voice director of the Royal Shakespeare Company) and John Barton (director and teacher at the Royal Shakespeare Company.)

Recommended readings (arranged alphabetically by author)  include:

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO SHAKESPEARE, Isaac Asimov, Avenel Books, NY, 1970.

PLAYING SHAKESPEARE, John Barton, Methuen, London, 1985.

THE ACTOR AND HIS TEXT, Cicely Berry, Charles Scribner's Sons, NY, 1987.

FREEING SHAKESPEARE'S VOICE, Kristen Linklater, Theatre Communications Group, 1992.

ACTING SHAKESPEARE, Bertram Joseph, Theatre Arts Books, New York, 1960.

SHAKESPEARE'S METRICAL ART, George T. Wright, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1988.

    And how could I NOT add:

SHAKESPEARE FOR DUMMIES, John Doyle and Ray Lischner.  IDG Books, NY, 1999.



 Notes by Bill Smith

    Sonnets can be excellent exercises for actors working on Shakespeare verse, and may be used as audition material.  Most textual and verbal points that come up in working on his plays appear in his sonnets in concentrated form.  They are like little self-contained scenes in fourteen precise lines, yet have the basic ingredients found in all scenes or speeches.  A situation is reacted to, explored, and at the end resolved, in some way or other.  And just by speaking them aloud and feeling them on the tongue, we make ourselves more at ease with how to manage verse.

    So much has been written about sonnets in biographical context and to whom they were written, that those who perform them must acknowledge the attitudes and feelings of the writer.  Of the 154 sonnets, the first 126 are addressed to a man much younger than the writer and deeply beloved by him.  The remaining ones, excepting the last two, are addressed to a woman, dark-complexioned, and not at all fair, or it would seem, virtuous either, who has been trifling with the writer and the friend to whom the former sonnets are addressed.   Unquestionably, the sonnets are more difficult for women to enter into than for men -- they take us into a male world.  But your gender or sexual preferences don't really matter in Shakespeare's world, because all the sonnets may be personalized.  We all have experienced love, rejection, jealousy and even the agonies of a love triangle, haven't we?

    "But they seem so obscure, so.... literary!"  Of course, because most of us had a handful of sonnets crammed down our throats by English professors who think poetry is meant to be read (silently) and appreciated, like all verse, by your relation to the printed page.  Keep in mind that in Shakespeare's times, poetry was spoken aloud.  The common masses were largely illiterate, but loved to experience the spoken music of verse.  If Shakespeare's verse was an ORAL tradition, then the clue to understanding even the seemingly archaic references is to read it outloud, as if to a friend, or lover.  To repeat, READ 'EM ALOUD.
* And yes, it is useful to work with a well-annotated edition of sonnets (I recommend the one edited by W. C. Engram and Theodore Redpath  entitled "SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS," published by Hodder and Stroughton.)  My bibliography cites other annotated texts of Shakespeare's soliloquies, less expensive and more accessible.   Also cited are the titles of works by Cicely Berry and John Barth, my mentors at the Royal Shakespeare Company, from whom I deliberately plagiarize, while adding my own witty insights.


 A sonnet is a poem of 14 lines of iambic pentameter with a consistent rhyming pattern.  An "iamb" is a combination (or a "feet") of an unstressed and a stressed syllable; pentameter consists of five "feet" per line.  Our ten syllables in a line has a rhythm pattern that plays like da-Dum da-Dum da-Dum da-Dum da-Dum.  There will be variations to the scheme, and when the rhythm breaks from the expected, Shakespeare is telling us something.  The thought is given and argued in 14 lines.  This is what is important, for we can feel the structure palpably, and derive pleasure from its form.  A sonnet works like this:

  --  The subject is given in the first three or four lines as a general rule. However, this varies from sonnet to sonnet -- it can be given in one line, for example:  "My love is strengthen'd, though more weak in seeming;"  or over two lines:  "Farewell  -- thou are too dead for possessing,/  And like enough thou know'st thy estimate:"  or it can happen over eight lines, and occasionally it takes up almost the whole sonnet.

  --  This subject is elaborated on and given a general context, usually covered in the first 8 lines or octet.  In the last "half" of the sonnet, the sestet, the theme becomes more specific and related to the writer, most certainly the tone becomes more intense and inward.

  --  The last part is divided into two, with its first four lines exploring the theme at a deeper level.  The conclusion comes in a couplet which clinches the thought of the whole and sometimes completely turns the thought around.  There are three quatrains and a rhymed couplet:  a, b, a, b; c, d, c, d; e, f, e, f; g, g.   For a perfect example of this pattern of thought and rhythm, speak aloud this, probably the most famous sonnet of all:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

 Sonnet 18

    Note that the theme is stated in the first two lines in the form of a question and answer.  The answer is elaborated on through accumulated images of summer for the whole first half of the sonnet.  At the ninth line, it becomes more intense and more personal, and the tempo and tone changes as we approach the concluding thought.  There is also a kind of riddle implicit in these lines as we wonder what can halt oncoming age.  The answer comes in the final couplet, in the wonderful conceit that she (or whoever it is) will live as long as the sonnet is read or spoken.

    Whether the pattern is formal, as in Sonnet 18, or whether the thought is more sprawling as in Sonnet 29, one of the important things we learn from speaking them aloud is how to place the main thrust of the thought and hold it in the mind of the listener, while digressing and going up side-alleys of imagery -- painting pictures incidental to the thought.  In other words, we must learn to phrase well.


    As stated earlier, we do not fully understand the meaning of a sonnet until we speak the words.  Naturally, a glossary, or an annotated edition is useful to clarify archaic meanings of words and metaphors.  But often times, the speaker can arrive at a sense of obscure references by "feeling" how they are juxtaposed with other moments in the text.

    The language in the sonnets concerns extremes of feeling: they deal with love which is obsessive and which recognizes excess.  Because this extravagance is contained in a poem, we tend to soften it and make it poetic.  In fact it is this very extravagance that is important, and which lets us sense the humor, and even turns the thought around.  The humor comes from being able to look at our predicament, recognize its depths, and yet be able to express it in words with a certain objectivity.  If we can do this we will open up the ambiguity and ambivalence which they often contain.

    What we have to do then is clear our minds of misconceptions, take our time and go totally with the words.  Layers of "knowing" open up as you speak the sonnet, provided you allow yourself the time to explore it openly with a balance between analysis and intuition.  Allow the words to do their work -- tread deeply in them.  Let's look at another familiar sonnet:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, -- and then my state
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate;
 For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings,
 That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

 Sonnet 29

    This is a straightforward sonnet about times of despair.  There is no initial statement of the theme, rather it unfolds steadily through the sonnet.  Be very sure about making the main thought clauses clear, hook them in your mind, so you can hang the images on them.  The thinking goes something like this:

I    beweep my outcast state
With what I most enjoy contented least
Yet    myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state
    sings hymns at heaven's gate:

    This is a run-on sentence, so it is vital that you pick out what is important and what is less important.  It starts with lots of little sub-clauses which lead up to the main thought, the main clause at the end.  The acting trap is to break it too much.  These clauses mustn't be treated as self-sufficient sentences by themselves.  You need to keep the whole sentence going.  And though you seem in a sad mood to start, you must beware of being overtaken and swamped by your sadness.  The whole point of the sonnet is that when you're low, you think of your love and then you're joyful.

    The real secret to Sonnet 29?  Try to speak the first 8 lines on one breath, then breathe and speak the remaining lines like a sigh of pleasure.  (For those with real breath control, try for the end of line 9, or the mid-way point on line 10.)

    Now that you've found the basic thread, explore the images  that tell us accurately of his state.  To understand his state, you have to realize the language fully:

    disgrace   outcast
    bootless cries  curse
    despising   contented least

    We need to grasp the measure of what 'disgrace' is and how we are affected physically and emotionally by it.  At the same time, 'When' places it in time: so we know it is those moments when we feel in despair, and not all the time.  This 'When' also leads us to 'then' -- 'And then my state....'  All that follows is in antithesis to the first "half."  The more the first part is explored realistically, the greater will be the impact of the last part.  These feelings are extreme, specifically so we can move so readily from utter despair to euphoric joy, just on the experience of contemplating the one we love.

    The humor has to do with being able to look at yourself and understand these "moments."  And so the layers accumulate and the extravagance of the lark image bubbles up from inside.


    Forget that the sonnets are poems, or reflective poetic thought.  Use them as direct speech, as if they were part of a play and you are either addressing someone personally, or actively working out your thoughts.  Always personalize.... always address someone specific from your present or past;  sometimes you can imagine that person is present in the body, and sometimes in spirit only.

    For our purposes, the question of whom Shakespeare wrote to and how much the Sonnets are autobiographical is irrelevant.  (Read Sonnet 20 to dispose of the question or whether Shakespeare was homosexual, or not.  Does it matter?)  All you need to know is that the sonnets are all about either a beautiful young man or a dark lady who is.... wanton.  Shakespeare loved them both and they betrayed him with one another.  And we can all personalize these emotions, can we not?

    If you're working on a Shakespeare play, then it's an excellent idea to find a sonnet which corresponds to the emotional qualities of your character, and use it as a touchstone to tune the language and rhythm of the character, and then into expressing those ideas.  For example, if you are playing one of the lovers in MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, or Jessica or Lorenzo in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, then the sequence of Sonnets 43 to 47 would be good to look at, or Sonnet 118.  Or for very much more complex characters, like Angelo in MEASURE FOR MEASURE, Sonnets 129 and 147 would be excellent explorations.

    And this is so with all the sonnets:  there is an extravagance in the ideas which is expressed through the imagery.  And what they teach us is to be able to pursue the thought and imagery and weld it together.

    Let's look at another sonnet which is also a single 14-line sentence.  It contains further challenge because it is a terrific exercise in alliteration and antithesis.

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls o'er-silvered all with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard:
Then of thy beauty do I question make
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake,
And die as fast as they see others grow;
 And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
 Save breed to brave him when he takes thee hence.


    Do you notice how particular words and phrases are "set against one another"  -- in antithesis?  As in 'And see the brave day sunk in hideous night': a double antithesis?  Words work upon words, qualifying and changing the direction of thought.  One phrase is set up so that it can be knocked down by another.  So if you set up 'brave day' brightly, you can attack and destroy it with 'sunk in hideous night'.  The actual sounds of the words must work on one another.  The sound of the words 'brave day' is brave in itself, and the consonants in 'sunk in hideous night' are destructive and ugly, particularly the alliterative s's.  The same thing happens in the fourth line:  'And sable curls o'er-silvered all with white'.... and in the fifth line:  'When lofty trees I see barren of leaves'.

    Can you hear the same thing happening?  In the second of these lines, 'barren' is the key word, and its importance is reinforced because it is put in contrapuntal position in the verse-line.  Instead of the normal rhythm, 'da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum', we get da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, da-Dum, Dum-Dum, da-Dum'.  So the word 'barren' breaks into the line destructively.  Here is another example of some verbal contrasts.

And summer's green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard

    The same sort of thing again.  A lyric image, 'summer's green', is set up and then deflated and wiped out by 'white and bristly beard', and 'borne on the bier; should perhaps suggest the alliterative sound of a bell tolling.  Finally at the end of the sonnet the vital word 'Time' crops up once again.  In the midst of the rich language around it that word always needs to be picked out and stressed in Shakespeare.  In the penultimate line it is also given added stress by being put in the contrapuntal position in the verse-line:

And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence.

    A common error with heightened and lyric text is to take it too solemnly.  This is just as bad as throwing it away.  It's easy for an actor to overlook the hidden ingredients of wit and humor.  Let's take a lighter sonnet where the speaker is both mocking his own poetry and teasing the person he loves.

Who will believe my verse in time to come?
If it were fill'd with your most high deserts--
Though yet heaven knows it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts,--
If I could write the beauty of your eyes.
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say: 'This poet lies;
Such heavenly touches ne'er touch'd earthly faces.'
So should my papers, yellow'd with their age,
Be scorn'd, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term'd a poet's rage,
And stretched metre of an antique song.
 But were some child of yours alive that time,
 You should live twice -- in it and in my rhyme.


    If we have to point out the humor, or the absurdity, or the hyperbole, then we've failed to make our point.  Read it again, this time, more open to making fun of self and your lover.

    Now let's take a much sadder and darker sonnet.  Note three aspects:  (1)  First, the way in which the blank verse norm is again and again broken into by harsh contrapuntal stresses:  'DUM-DUM' rather than 'da-Dum'.  Eight of the 14 lines begin that way.  (2)  The word 'Time' turns up once again and is crucially important.  (3)  Listen to the way that the movement of the verse and the actual sound and timbre of the words give the feeling of waves breaking remorselessly on the sea-shore.  The text is rich in onomatopoeia.

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten toward their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd.
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow.
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.


    The text is richer and more obviously poetic than the previous one, so push it a bit further with the timbre and resonance of the language.  Give the listener the feel and sound of the sea.  Take the opening lines again and make us head the remorseless drive of waves across the beach.

    The onomatopoeia is rich, isn't it?  'Each changing place', 'In sequent toil all forwards do contend' -- these words capture the swish and chafing of the sea as it sweeps over the shore.  Often in Shakespeare, the rhythm and timbre of the language constitute the most important element of the thought.  But of course, an actor cannot simply make sea noises.  You mustn't simply play the poetry and hope for the best.  You need to marry the onomatopoeia with clear intentions and personalization.


    And now back to off-beat stresses and unstresses.  Our ears become attuned to the predictableness of iambic pentameter.  So when Shakespeare changes the pattern, we're ALERTED that SOMETHING IMPORTANT is happening.  Put it this way.... iambic pentameter is like the regularity of our own heartbeat.  But when we skip a beat, or add a couple, it's either due to a rush of adrenaline or pheromones or.... some powerful emotional stimulus.

    Earlier, we observed that SONNET 18 scans with an almost perfect iambic pentameter structure -- and for good reason, the speaker is in harmony with his love and his lover.  (In fact the talented performer will throw in a few counterpoints to the rhythm in order to avoid a sing-songy monotony.)  Some sonnets DEMAND counterpoint and irregularity, because the speaker's message is.... disturbed and turbulent.  An irregular rhythm makes a text vigorous and tough, rather than smooth and bland.  Listen to the opening lines of SONNET 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments:  love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds....

    Try the first line in pure iambic pentameter, and it sounds.... silly.  The first line has great emphasis because the verse is "broken" with two extra stresses at the beginning:

 ¯      ¯    ¯
 Let me not....

    Use common sense in stressing LET ME NOT, and you'll find the natural rhythm of the remainder of the line.  In acting terms, it is as if this sonnet is answering some other speech about how full of alteration love is.  If you make this a passionate answer to someone's insistence that love is fickle,  you'll realize, too, that 'Love is not love" scans as 'Dum-Dum, Dum-Dum'.  Four stresses in four words!

    Once again, the extra stresses help you drive the point home.  Look at the whole sonnet and spot another place where there's extra stressing:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments: love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh no!  it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
 If this be error and upon me prov'd,
 I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.


    In line 9, the phrase with extra stresses stands out.  'LOVE'S NOT TIME'S FOOL' -- the four stresses packed together give the statement a terrific insistence.  Note how Shakespeare places the two most important words, 'Love' and 'Time' in the contrapuntal positions.   Now, read aloud lines 5 through 9 to get the full effect.  Wow!  This is something very common in Shakespeare.  He writes a few lines which scan regularly and then he suddenly breaks that rhythm with an arresting contrapuntal stress.   And then, having made his point, he rounds off the sonnet with a couplet containing further extra stresses which reinforce the conviction of the closing sentence:

If this be error, and upon me prov'd,
   ¯     ¯   ¯                ¯       ¯    ¯
and than figure figure out the streses of the last line:

I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.

    Again, the off-beat stresses make us sit up because they break the norm and give us a jolt.  Try it aloud and see how the rhythm and surge and drive of the verse heighten your intensity.
And again, make sure that you speak it with a sense of "coining" or "fresh-minting" the words.


    I once asked Cicely Berry this silly question:  "If all else fails, and I just can't find the rhythm of the piece, much less understand the metaphors, IS THERE ONE SINGLE THING THAT I SHOULD LOOK FOR?"  "Antithesis," she answered.  "Find the opposites, the contrasts."  And Shakespeare is "full of" antithesis, starting with 'To be.... or not to be.'  Let's look at one of his most outrageous and whimsical sonnets:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head:
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go,--
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
 And yet by heaven I think my love as rare
 As any she belied with false compare.


    Take the contrast between the good versus the ugly full rein!  Set up 'If snow be white', a lyric image, strongly against 'her breasts are dun', a shitty image.  Play both the antithesis and the alliteration (on 'speak' versus 'pleasing sound') in 'I love to hear her speak,' and 'music hath a far more pleasing sound'. Sometimes, Shakespeare is begging you to play the piece flip, freely and with a sense of the outrageous.

    Antithesis works powerfully in a much more serious piece, the one in which Shakespeare struggles with the fact that the man and the woman he loves are having an affair together:

Two loves I have, of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turn'd fiend
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another's hell.
Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.


    Find and "SCORE" the opposites in this piece, and play them harshly against each other.  THEN, do it again, keeping the sense of pain and uneasiness, but NOW note the humor.  This is a classic example of how Shakespeare allows you to cope with suffering through the use of wit.  You need the words of humor to make the situation bearable.  The ingenuity of the thoughts work on the unpleasant experience and erase and relieve it.  This is something that Shakespeare is always demanding of actors: to play two or three contradictory experiences at once.

    The Sonnets are rich in that kind of clash, humor and pain, clarity and confusion, double meanings and contradictions.  Few of them, of course, are purely happy and set in a major key.   There's usually crisis and ambiguity and sorrow.

    But here is one exception.  The scansion is more regular because the thought is joyful and direct and the feeling is clear-cut.  The verbal detail must be brought out, but the important thing is the sweep and courage of the whole:

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this pow'rful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth: your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.


    Easier to render than the other sonnets, but don't let yourself become too sentimental.  This sonnet is full of vivid adjectives which need fresh-minting.  It is so easy to treat an adjective and its noun as one simple thought unit an miss the way in which the adjective qualifies the noun or brings out some surprising contrast.  'Guilded monuments', 'this powerful rhyme', 'unswept stone', 'war's quick fire', 'the living record' and 'all obvious enmity'.  Each of these phrases is surprising, and you will find them if you speak them with life and freshness.  And then there are the verbs, vital and active:  'You shall shine'  'besmear'd with sluttish time', 'When broils root out',  'nor war's quick fire shall burn',  'Shall you pace forth', and so on.  Each of these verbs should surprise us also.

    And don't forget the alliteration:

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme....

    Last, but not least, let's look at a sonnet that is actually in dialogue form and part of a scene, from ROMEO AND ULIET.  When the lovers first meet, they share a sonnet.  The text is full of metaphor.... find it, and you'll be able to feel your way to your first kiss.

ROMEO:  If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this.
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET:  Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much.
Which mannerly devotion shows in this.
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

ROMEO:  Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO:  O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do!
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET:  Saints do not move, though grant for prayers'           sake.

ROMEO:  Then move not while my prayer's effect I take.


    Ah, word play.... about prayers and saints and palmers.  If you miss playing up this first metaphor, 'This holy shrine', you'll miss it all.  What makes this scene delightful is that the two actors get to play and explore the metaphor with and off of each other.  Rising passion and wit combined!  Hmmmm!

    Hopefully, this has unlocked some of the basic elements of verse for you.  Rhythm, iambic pentameter, alliteration, antithesis -- at first it all seems.... like hard work.  But you can make friends with the text, if you have fun.  Remember, this treatment is called PLAYING SHAKESPEARE.  That's all the Bard wants you to do.  Speak it aloud, you will become, not bound, but more free.  Play!  Play the game, being zestful, using your wits, spending energy, personalizing, and enjoying yourself.  If you enjoy it, so too will your audience.


Look for meter, look for logic, then  look for the integration of the two. Always relate to character intention. Spice your delivery with discovery. The language is either "heightened" in prose or verse, or the language is naturalistic. Find the balance. Here is a list of the layers of rhythms, from those producing the smallest patterns, to those producing the largest:
The arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables
The division of these syllable patterns into feet and the tension between word divisions and foot divisions.
Variations within the basic foot pattern.
The placement of caesura within the line.
The manipulation of line-endings to form larger patterns.
The groupings of several lines into a verse paragraph.

NOTE:  Editions of the complete sonnets, with some explanations and annotations, are also published by AIRMONT Publishing, Dell Publishing (The Laurel Shakespeare Series) and Blaisdell Publishing (The Kittredge Shakespeare Series).