Nov 10, 2017 in Literature

Iambic Pentameter and Open Verse

Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter and open verses quite a number of times within the book of Othello. Iambic pentameter denotes the use of five metrical lines in poetry or verse drama. The metrical lines establish a particular rhythm in the poetic lines in which they appear. It stems from certain groups small syllables that are conventionally known as feet. In the case of iambic pentameter, five of these feet must appear in one line. On the other hand, open verse denotes the use of a pattern of rhythm without setting limits to the number of stanzas like is the case in sonnet or limerick. These elements were used in traditional literature as quantitative meter of literary works, including poetry. Essentially, it was a way of using rhythm in a classical way to achieve maximum literary benefits, which is emphasis of the main poetic agenda. In addition, the two literary elements were meant to create musicality in the poem, considering that poems were mostly sang, not recited.

In Act 1, scene 1 of Othello, Shakespeare uses the line “To wake and wage a danger profitless”. This line contains stressed words in which the stress appears on the second syllable. This is typical of iambic pentameter and serves to create rhythm in the poem. For example, when two syllables appear such that a short one is followed by a longer one it qualifies to be a feet. This is clear in the word wake where “wa” is unstressed while “ke” is the stressed syllable. The same applies to wage where “wa” is unstressed while “ge” is stressed. According to literature, iambic rhythms and open verses appear naturally in English literature, especially in poetry (Shakespeare, 1988). Apart from the literary use of iambic pentameter, Shakespeare used it for quite a number of other reasons. At the time, this was accepted as the meter of ordinary speech. Thus, Shakespeare had to use something that was widely accepted by his audience. It was basically meant to make his works more accessible to the general population and to enable them understand his work without having to strain. In addition, iambic pentameter was a form of rhythm that would make his poems easy to memorize and recite. This was also the case for the use of open verses within Othello (Paul, 1965). 

Shakespeare also used these literary elements purposely to create pun as well as play word games in his work as was the case during his times. He knew that among the readers of his literary works were English literates who wouldn’t appreciate the value of his composition if they didn’t find something to analyze. Thus, as they read through the work they would assess how best Shakespeare has used iambic pentameter and give their opinion of his achievement. Indeed, he proved good at incorporating several elements in the same work, thereby creating an impression among intellectuals that he commanded a perfect mastery of literature (Hayes, 1989). In most instances, the stresses were placed on strategic words in order to emphasize something to the reader. In literature, people can understand the same thing quite differently depending on their own interpretation and expectation. This is why Shakespeare would give his readers a clue when he wanted them to understand it in a particular manner. By adding a stress to a syllable, this was always achieved as readers would stop and ask why the stress was placed at that point. In the end, they all get to pay attention to the literary meaning brought about by the stress (Derek, 1994). 

In conclusion, Shakespeare used open verses and iambic pentameter to showcase his mastery of literary skills. In addition, he used them to add stresses to particular words that he wanted his readers to pay attention to. This way, he influenced the manner in which readers viewed and interpreted his works.

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