As long-time readers of the blog can attest, I love to take a day toward the end of our time with a play to look at some interesting things in the scansion–places where an interruption or pause is called for, or maybe where the iambic pentameter goes so awry that the verse just screams to be looked at and reacted to. But to be perfectly honest, I think I’ve been getting into a bit of a rut. So we’re going to switch things up a little here with Timon of Athens.
I want to look at moments when the scansion disappears altogether, those moments when a speech moves from prose to verse and/or vice/versa. Note, I say speech and not scene. Those instances are common. Mid-speech changes are much fewer.
In particular, I want to take a look at a moment during the first feast.
O Apemantus, you are welcome.
You shall not make me welcome;
I come to have thee thrust me out of doors.
Fie, thou ‘rt a churl. You’ve got a humor there
Does not become a man. ‘Tis much to blame.—
When Timon first greets Apemantus, the host’s line is short by half a foot, an antilabe the cynic completes with an emphatic “No!” He then has a shortened line, saying, “You won’t make me feel welcome,” as if to allow Timon to respond to complete this antilabe. But Timon doesn’t take the bait; so Apemantus then ups the ante by saying he’s come to make Timon kick him out. Timon insults the cynic but doesn’t kick him out. And this is where it gets interesting. After these lines of verse, Timon shifts–mid-speech–to prose. Timon also shifts his audience away from Apemantus and to the attending lords. So we get a shift in form and content, but why?
Is it because Timon and Apemantus do (or will) share something in common–let’s call it a worldview), one that needs to be exhibited in an antilabe? Apemantus sees it; he completes Timon’s line. But Timon either can’t or won’t or–maybe more likely–doesn’t even see the connection. Is this worldview such that it demands the heightened language of verse, whereas the lords are more prosaic?
But if that’s the case, why then (after this section) does Apemantus respond to Timon’s insult and turning away, with prose speech? I’m not entirely sure (but maybe because he’s not longer showing that shared worldview… of course, maybe not). Timon responds in prose again, telling Apemantus that he’s no longer listening to him.
I scorn thy meat. ‘Twould choke me, for I should ne’er flatter thee. O you gods, what a number of men eats Timon, and he sees ’em not! It grieves me to see so many dip their meat in one man’s blood; and all the madness is, he cheers them up too.
Methinks they should invite them without knives.
Good for their meat, and safer for their lives.
Great men should drink with harness on their throats.
Thus, alone in conversation, Apemantus responds, continuing the prose, commenting on the relationship between Timon and his flatterers. He then breaks off for three lines of blank verse, the last two a rhyming couplet. In these lines, it’s as if he presents a precept of some kind, or a truism, one voiced in a more artificial language. The truism done, he returns to his commentary on what he sees, and the danger it presents to Timon, only then to finish his speech with yet another couplet, another truism.
The shifts are interesting.
But are they purposeful? Are they helpful for the actor or director?
Or is this an example or haphazard writing (in this case, by Thomas MIddleton)?