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Meter in As You Like It

Meter Examples in As You Like It:

Act I - Act I, Scene 1

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"As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion,--bequeathed me by will but poor a thousand crowns, and, as thou say'st, charged my brother, on his blessing, to breed me well: and there begins my sadness...."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 1)

From the opening words of the play, it is apparent that Shakespeare has decided to use prose to express much of the characters’ dialogue. Prose is language that is more conversational than poetic, structured according to meaning rather than sound. Shakespeare wrote a great deal of his dialogue in what is known as blank verse: lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter. Blank verse generally conveys education and royalty. It is thus notable that the characters in this scene do not speak in blank verse. In the case of Orlando, this makes sense, given his lack of education.

"Let me the knowledge of my fault bear with me:..."   (Act I - Act I, Scene 3)

As Duke Frederick enters the scene and his conversation with Rosalind begins, the language subtly shifts from prose to blank iambic pentameter verse. It is common for Shakespeare to pen the dialogue of aristocratic characters in the more formal blank verse and to give the more common characters passages of prose. It figures that Rosalind would craft her plea to the Duke by matching his blank verse, as she does in this line. Note how, even after the Duke leaves, the rest of the scene unfolds in blank verse dialogue.

"Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything. I would not change it...."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 1)

Shakespeare carefully uses rhyme and alliteration to convey Duke Senior’s point about country living. The Duke identifies the natural world as a tremendous source of wisdom, drawing up fanciful images of “tongues,” “books,” and “sermons” for illustration.

"He will have other means to cut you off; I overheard him and his practices. This is no place; this house is but a butchery:..."   (Act II - Act II, Scene 3)

The metaphor of being “cut… off” works on several levels here. Oliver means to cut Orlando off from the du Boys family, and thus from his inheritance and title. Oliver also means to literally and violently cut Orlando off, reiterated in the metaphor of “this house [as] but a butchery.”

"Ay, but the feet were lame, and could not bear themselves without the verse, and therefore stood lamely in the verse...."   (Act III - Act III, Scene 2)

Celia and Rosalind banter about the weakness of Orlando’s verse. The central pun is on “feet,” which refers to the metrical unit in poetry in addition to the body part. A foot is a beat within a line of poetry: usually a pair of syllables, one of which is stressed. In lines such as “Heaven would that she these gifts should have,” Orlando loads the line with an extra foot, resulting in “more feet than the verses would bear.” Rosalind adds that the “feet were lame” and thus, like human feet, cannot hold up the poem.

"Nay, then, God be wi' you, an you talk in blank verse...."   (Act IV - Act IV, Scene 1)

Just before exiting the scene, Jaques offers a few words of advice to Orlando. Understanding that Orlando has arrived to court Rosalind, Jaques suggests that Orlando “talk in blank verse.” Blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter, a formal style which Shakespeare employs in dialogue between upper-class characters. Jaques knows that Orlando’s courting will be more effective if he raises his level of speech. The irony is that Orlando ignores the advice; the rest of the scene unfolds in prose.

"Then learn this of me:--to have is to have; for it is a figure in rhetoric that drink, being poured out of cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other;..."   (Act V - Act V, Scene 1)

Touchstone assures William on the point of his lack of education with another philosophical remark. In essence, Touchstone says that if you have something—in this case, Audrey—you have it. In metaphorical terms, though a drink poured from cup to cup may leave the first cup empty, the second one is full nonetheless. In a word, William should not stress his areas of lack.

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