PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource
PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource
PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource
PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource

Scansion Overview

Scansion is very helpful in determining the natural rhythm of speaking blank verse. There can be multiple ways to scan a line of verse to find the natural pulse.

What is scansion?

A system of scansion is a way to mark the metrical patterns of a line of poetry. In classical poetry, these patterns are based on the different lengths of each vowel sound, and in English poetry, they are based on the different stresses placed on each syllable. In both cases, the meter often has a regular foot.

How do I read scansion marks?

Over the years, many different systems have been established to mark the scansion of a poem. Classical notation uses a macron ) for long syllables and a breve˘ ) for short syllables. Now the macron is commonly replaced with an ictusʹ ) above a long syllable.

What are feet?

A foot is a group of two or three syllables. There are three common types of feet—disyllable feet, trisyllable feet, and tetrasyllable (ionic) feet:

Disyllable Feet:

  • iamb (  ˘ ʹ  ) - A two-syllable foot where an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.
  • trochee or choree (  ʹ ˘  ) - A two-syllable foot where a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable.
  • pyrrhic or dibrach (  ˘ ˘  ) - A two-syllable foot where both syllables are unstressed.
  • spondee (  ʹ ʹ  ) - A two-syllable foot where both syllables are stressed.

Trisyllable Feet:

  • anapest or antidactylus (  ˘ ˘ ʹ  ) - A three-syllable foot where the first two syllables are unstressed and the third syllable is stressed.
  • dactyl (  ʹ ˘ ˘  ) - A three-syllable foot where the first syllable is stressed and the last two syllables are unstressed.
  • amphibrach (  ˘ ʹ ˘  ) - A three-syllable foot where the first and third syllables are unstressed and the second syllable is stressed.
  • molossus (  ʹ ʹ ʹ  ) - A three-syllable foot where all three syllables are stressed.
  • bacchius (  ˘ ʹ ʹ  ) - A three-syllable foot where the first syllable is unstressed and the last two syllables are stressed.
  • antibaccius (  ʹ ʹ ˘  ) - A three-syllable foot where the first two syllables are stressed and the third syllable is unstressed.
  • cretic or amphimacer (  ʹ ˘ ʹ  ) - A three-syllable foot where the first and third syllables are stressed and the second syllable is unstressed.
  • tribrach (  ˘ ˘ ˘  ) - A three-syllable foot where all three syllables are unstressed.

Tetrasyllable (Ionic) Feet:

  • tetrabrach or proceleusmatic (  ˘ ˘ ˘ ˘  ) - A four-syllable foot where all four syllables are unstressed.
  • primus paeon (  ʹ ˘ ˘ ˘  ) - A four-syllable foot where only the first syllable is stressed.
  • secundus paeon (  ˘ ʹ ˘ ˘  ) - A four-syllable foot where only the second syllable is stressed.
  • tertius paeon (  ˘ ˘ ʹ ˘  ) - A four-syllable foot where only the third syllable is stressed.
  • quartus paeon (  ˘ ˘ ˘ ʹ  ) - A four-syllable foot where only the fourth syllable is stressed.
  • major ionic or triple trochee (  ʹ ʹ ˘ ˘  ) - A four-syllable foot where the first and second syllables are stressed.
  • minor ionic or double iamb (  ˘ ˘ ʹ ʹ  ) - A four-syllable foot where the first and second syllables are unstressed.
  • ditrochee (  ˘ ʹ ˘ ʹ  ) - A four-syllable foot where the first and third syllables are stressed.
  • diiamb (  ˘ ʹ ˘ ʹ  ) - A four-syllable foot where the first and third syllables are unstressed.
  • choriamb (  ʹ ˘ ˘ ʹ  ) - A four-syllable foot where the second and third syllables are unstressed.
  • antispast (  ˘ ʹ ʹ ˘  ) - A four-syllable foot where the second and third syllables are stressed.
  • first epitrite (  ˘ ʹ ʹ ʹ  ) - A four-syllable foot where only the first syllable is unstressed.
  • second epitrite (  ʹ ˘ ʹ ʹ  ) - A four-syllable foot where only the second syllable is unstressed.
  • third epitrite (  ʹ ʹ ˘ ʹ  ) - A four-syllable foot where only the third syllable is unstressed.
  • fourth epitrite (  ʹ ʹ ʹ ˘  ) - A four-syllable foot where only the fourth syllable is unstressed.
  • dispondee (  ʹ ʹ ʹ ʹ  ) - A four-syllable foot where all four syllables are stressed.

What is meter?

Meter defines the number of feet in a single line of poetry. For example:

  • monometer - One foot
  • dimeter - Two feet
  • trimeter - Three feet
  • tetramter - Four feet
  • pentameter - Five feet
  • hexameter - Six feet
  • heptameter - Seven feet
  • octameter - Eight feet

What is iambic pentameter?

Iambic means to have two syllables, one stressed and one unstressed. Pentameter indicates there are ten syllables in the line. So iambic pentameter describes poetry written in a ten-line, alternating stress structure. Iambic hexameter (otherwise known as an an alexandrine) is a longer line containing twelve syllables.

What is rhythm?

The rhythm of the line is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables over the course of the line or passage. It may be regular or irregular, which usually conveys information about the speaker and their feelings or motivations.

What is a caesura?

A caesura (indicated by a double-pipe  || ) is an indication of a brief pause outside of the metrical rhythm. It may be an initial caesura (near the beginning of a line), a medial caesura (near the middle of a line), or a terminal caesura (near the end of a line).

 
Banner