Subject-Verb Inversion and Iambic Rhythm in Shakespeare's Dramatic Verse

Richard INGHAM, Michael INGHAM

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Studies of the interaction of metre and syntax in Shakespearean verse, though uncommon, are of great potential interest for the prosodic aspects of his work in performance. Culpeper (2001 : 202) has drawn attention to the often underrated significance of syntactic features in Shakespearean texts. His discussion is restricted to instances where syntactic features relate to cognitive organization of speech, but can be usefully complemented by considering what choices syntax makes available to the writer, and what their prosodic consequences are for the performer. One significant type of syntactic choice is the inversion of main constituents. Examples of inverted word order occur in a range of Shakespearean contexts, both verse and prose, with a range of textual impacts. The device is commonly assumed to have provided English verse writers, especially in the pre-contemporary period, with a ready means of complying with metrical exigencies. In this chapter, using an empirical database of 998 target instances sampled across Shakespeare's career, the validity of such an assumption is examined with respect to one particular syntactic option: the constriction in which a subject could optionally be inverted around the verb in the context of an initial non-subject constituent. We address the issue by means of dual approach: first a linguistic analysis across Shakespeare's dramatic verse career, and secondly a comparison of interpretative styles by contemporary Shakespearean performers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStylistics and Shakespeare's Language: Transdisciplinary Approaches
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9781441171726
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


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