Analysis Introduction

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The toolkit for analyzing these ten passages is not terribly extensive, nor does it require a Ph.D. in literature to operate. I've used two basic methods to explore the texts: scansion and close reading. The point is that by starting with the basic text on a line-by-line basis, you can work through Shakespeare's meaning and understand how verse and meaning come together.


Scansion is the process of analyzing poetry's rhythm by looking at meter and feet. A foot is a two- or three-syllable division of stresses. Meter is the predominant rhythm of a poem based on the type and number of feet per line.

Syllables are marked either as stressed (/) or unstressed (-) depending upon the pronunciation of a given word within the line. For instance, the word "example" would scan as:

-   /   -
ex  am  ple

Common Metrical Feet in English

Foot Syllables Stress Pattern Example
iamb 2
-  /
trochee 2
/  -
spondee 2
/  /
pyrrhic 2
-  -
anapest 3
-  -  /
dactyl 3
/  -  -


As stated before, meter is defined by the predominant type of foot and the number of feet within the lines of a poem. For instance, much of English dramatic verse was written in iambic pentameter, or lines of five iambs, because the rhythm most closely approximated natural speech patterns. In fact, unrhymed iambic pentameter was so popular, it had a term of its own: blank verse.

Although these speeches are all written in blank verse, there are other meters as well:

Lines of more than six feet are rare in English poetry.

Other Helpful Poetry Terms

Close Reading

Close reading is the foundation for studying literature. In the case of these readings, we're looking at the basic definitions of individual words, their literal and figurative uses, fundamental grammar and syntax, and the context in which words or phrases are used. In addition, these readings are all dramatic works; unlike novelists, playwrights are basically limited to dialogue and stage directions to tell their stories. That means the text is more subject to interpretation. We're looking for clues to meaning within the speeches. First, we make our observations. Then, we make inferences based on patterns that we see.

With Shakespeare, it's helpful to combine close reading with scansion because the verse itself can often help you understand the salient words within a speech. It gets much easier the more you are exposed to it. The following materials will help immensely when doing a close reading of Shakespeare: