The first step of preparing your monologue for performance is to scan the text. Scansion is the process by which we mark the stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of verse. You will have an opportunity to work with one of our camp counselors to review your scansion before the audition. Scansion is simply a tool to help you get to know your text better.
Verse is a form of writing that transforms words into dramatic poetry. Shakespeare’s verse has a special rhythm called iambic pentameter. An iamb consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. These two beats complete one foot in a line of verse. There are five feet in a regular iambic pentameter line, or ten total syllables.
How to Mark Scansion:
Foot: a vertical line between the feet: |
Unstressed syllable: a curved u-like shape above the unstressed syllable: ˘
Stressed syllable: a small vertical or slanted line above the stressed syllable: /
Caesura: two vertical lines: ||
Caesuras are mid-line breaks which mark the end of a sentence or thought before the end of the line.
˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ /
He is | a dream|er; || let | us leave | him: || pass.
˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ /
Shall we| be sun|der’d? || Shall | we part,| sweet girl?
You may find that some lines scan irregularly. Here are some variations that you might discover:
Trochees: A trochee is a foot composed of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Words like beauty, error, vanish, and even Shakespeare are trochaic because we emphasize the first syllable in those words; BEAUty, ERRor, VANish, SHAKEspeare.
Spondees: A spondee is a foot composed of two stressed syllables. This line from Julius Caesar starts with a spondee: “Hence! Home, you idle creatures get you home.”
Feminine Endings: Lines with feminine endings contain 11 syllables. Hamlet’s famous line, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” has a feminine ending.
Shared lines: Shared lines occur when two or more characters share one line of iambic pentameter. In the following example, Lady Macbeth starts a line, “The sleepy grooms with blood,” and Macbeth completes the line by saying the last four syllables:
Lady Macbeth: They must lie there; go carry them, and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.
Macbeth: I’ll go no more.
Say it out loud:
Practice saying your lines out loud. Read the examples below while over-emphasizing the syllables in capital letters to indicate their “stressed” position.
ToMORrow AND toMORrow AND toMORrow
With LOVE’S light WINGS did I o’erPERCH these WALLS
–Romeo and Juliet
To BE or NOT to BE that IS the QUESTion
You BLOCKS, you STONES, you WORSE than SENSEless THINGS
Fun with syllables:
Shakespeare gives us clues to the meaning of lines by placing important syllables in stressed positions. Read the lines above again, but this time only say the stressed syllables. For example, Hamlet’s line would sound like this:
BE NOT BE IS QUEST.
These important syllables not only convey the meaning of Hamlet’s monologue, but they also capture the essence of the whole play: Hamlet’s questions about existence drive his quest for revenge.
If your character speaks in prose, or without a specific meter, then your first step should be to look for rhetorical devices in your character’s speech. Characters generally speak in prose if they are of a lower status or are in casual situations. You can easily distinguish verse from prose by looking at the beginning of each line; All lines in a verse speech begin with capital letters. Prose speeches continue across the line breaks without capitalizing the first word of each line. Below is an example from Much Ado About Nothing of a prose monologue:
The god of love,
That sits above,
And knows me, and knows me,
How pitiful I deserve,–
I mean in singing; but in loving, Leander the good
swimmer, Troilus the first employer of panders, and
a whole bookful of these quondam carpet-mangers,
whose names yet run smoothly in the even road of a
blank verse, why, they were never so truly turned
over and over as my poor self in love. Marry, I
cannot show it in rhyme; I have tried: I can find
out no rhyme to ‘lady’ but ‘baby,’ an innocent
rhyme; for ‘scorn,’ ‘horn,’ a hard rhyme; for,
‘school,’ ‘fool,’ a babbling rhyme; very ominous
endings: no, I was not born under a rhyming planet,
nor I cannot woo in festival terms.