Shakespeare’s Heartbeat

There was once a time when I was mad about Shakespeare: Just after high school in Winnipeg I had the pleasure of playing Juliet in a 3-week run of a professional production of Romeo and Juliet.  Later on when I was living in England I visited Shakespeare’s home and grave in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I enthusiastically studied Shakespeare as early as I could including the first folio in theatre school and university.

Shakespeare’s first folio is the 1623 published collection of his works and my teaching Thespians conditioned me to rely on the first folio as my textual guide over the modern editions. The first folio was written in an old version of English but it gave clues and direction on how lines were to be read and interpreted based on the spelling of the words, the rhythm, and the breath.

Juliet’s lines are words full of vowels. Consonants for Romeo. So Shakespeare had a vision for how he wanted the character’s faces to look on stage.

romeo&juliet-speech

The firmest rule I never forgot as an actress: Never eat your words. Not a single one. Every letter, every sound is there for a purpose. Hollywood actors tend to butcher Shakespeare because they speak the lines as we would in a contemporary way. With over-emotional deliveries that garble up the lines – something that Shakespeare never intended. So for that reason, Shakespeare’s works in my opinion don’t belong on film.

The weight and the story is carried in the prose. Every play-on-word is intentional. There are no accidents.

Shakespeare wrote his sonnets in Iambic Pentameter; a kind of rhythmic pattern that consists of five iambs per line:

  • An iamb is a metrical foot that consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one.  (“daDUM”)
  • Penta means five.
  • Meter refers to a regular rhythmic pattern in poetry.

daDUM     daDUM     daDUM     daDUM     daDUM

It’s the sound and pattern of the heartbeat. Which is why he chose to write Romeo and Juliet in its entirety this way.

Beautiful, right? Let’s take a look:

[Romeo] But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

[Juliet]  For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,

Try reading those lines aloud to yourself and be sure to hear those daDUMs.

The best part for me when composing iambic pentameter poetry is this:

  • I put my hand on my chest and write with the beat of my heart
  • I tap my toes to check the rhythm
  • I write about all the love in my heart. Even if it’s fleeting. Even if it will be gone tomorrow. This moment is everything. Capture it. Now.

Juliet and Romeo met, fell in love, made plans to marry and dropped dead in a span of 48 hours. But it’s in that 48 hours where all the juice happened. Drop everything if you can to capture those emotions, no matter how foolish.

I’m following National Poetry Month’s theme of “The Road” for all the poetry I am doing this month. And to pay tribute to Shakespeare and to his sonnets, I decided to give it a whirl and write my own modern romantic love sonnet about “the road” —  in iambic pentameter. Every line is intentional. There are no accidents:

Spring Steps by Wendy Sinclair

Her heart sinks down into her boots
Every salty step like murder
She sings the bitter-sweet swan songs
All that could not out-live the storm
His body moves like Spring’s first thaw
Scents of creamy lilium
Melodically do dreams do touch 
The skip put back now in her step

 

For more Shakespeare info enjoy this short and wonderful TED Ed:

 

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