Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shakespeare's Use of Monosyllables

Shakespeare was a master of the use of monosyllabic phrases. These are phrases, or sentences, composed of words of only one syllable.

Of course, the most famous monsyllabic phrase is:

"To be or not to be".

A monosyllabic phrase is, among other things, a verbal stage direction to the reader or the actor to slow down. This way Shakespeare forces the reader to bring attention to the words, which are intended to be read in an even, deliberate tone.

Here are a few favorite monosyllabic phrases. Note that the number of syllables in the phrase has meaning beyond its place in the structure of the verse form - the number of syllables has esoteric significance to various esoteric traditions:

O my soul's joy! (4)

Brief let me be. (4)

The Winter’s Tale:
Be stone no more. (4)

Julius Caesar:
Lend me your ears. (4)

Henry V:
O for a Muse of fire (6)

King John:
How green you are, and fresh in this old world. (10)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
It is not night when I do see your face. (10)

I go and it is done. (6)

The time is out of joint. (6)

The Queen, my lord, is dead. (6)

Sonnet 18:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee. (20)

Sonnet 147:
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night. (20)

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