What is an iambic pentameter phrase in Act III of Romeo and Juliet?

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Let us remember that an iambic pentameter is a line of verse that has ten syllables and a regular rhythm that can be expressed as "de-dum de-dum" and so on with the emphasis falling on the "dum" or the second syllable. Actually, it is not difficult to find examples of iambic pentameter in Shakespeare's plays because the majority of the text is written in blank verse. There are some sections of each play that are written in prose, and these can easily be distinguished by the length of the lines and the fact that they are written in paragraphs, whereas blank verse is identified by the shortness of its lines in comparison. Here is an example from Act III scene 5 when Juliet says farewell to Romeo and has a vision of their future:

O God, I have an ill-divining soul!

Methinks I see thee, now thou art so low,

As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.

Either my eyesight fails, or thou look'st pale.

If you check each line, they all have ten syllables, making them excellent examples of lines that are written in iambic pentameter. There is some irregularity in the rhythm, but on the whole it is regular. Now have a look at Act III yourself and see if you can find some more examples. Good luck!

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favoritethings's profile pic

favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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We can actually find an example of iambic pentameter in the very first lines of Act III.  Benvolio, speaking to his good friend Mercutio, says, 

I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire.
The day is hot; the Capulets, abroad;
And if we meet we shall not ’scape a brawl,
For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.  (3.1.1-4)
We can begin by counting syllables and accents:
 
I pray thee good Mer cu tio let's re tire (10 syllables, 5 accents)
The day is hot the Ca pu lets a broad (10 syllables, 5 accents)
And if we meet we shall not 'scape a brawl (10 syllables, 5 accents)
For now these hot days is the mad blood stir ring (11 syllables, 5 accents)
 
In Shakespeare's plays, people of noble birth tend to speak in a kind of poetry called blank verse which is, by definition, unrhymed iambic pentameter.  This means that the vast majority of lines will have ten syllables, divided into five "feet" (the "iamb" is the type of foot), each foot consisting of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable.  The last line of the above quotation does have an extrametrical syllable (an unstressed syllable after the final stressed syllable in the line), but the lines are regular enough to qualify as iambic pentameter: don't let this extra syllable confuse you.
 
Blank verse is what describes unrhymed iambic pentameter.  A line of iambic pentameter, however, need not necessarily lack end rhyme (or words that rhyme at the ends of consecutive or near-consecutive lines).  At the end of Act III, scene 1, the Prince says, 
Bear hence this body and attend our will.
Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill.  (3.1.157-158)
Although these lines rhyme, typical of lines at the end of Shakespeare's scenes, they are still in iambic pentameter:
 
Bear hence this bo dy and at tend our will
Mer cy but mur ders, pard ning those that kill.