Rhymed Couplets



Rhymed Couplets

Rhymed Couplet: Two lines of the same length that rhyme and complete one thought.  A prime example of a Shakespeare rhymed couplet, “When the hurly-burly’s done,/ When the battle’s lost and won” (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1; ll. 3-4). Although not a closing line, this rhymed couplet demonstrates the formatted sentence I was looking for when choosing my quotes. For the purpose of my paper, I want to focus on a number of rhymed couplets, specifically the significance of rhymed couplets in closing scenes of the 6 Shakespeare plays we have been studying this semester, Twelfth Night, Troilus and Cressida, Othello, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Winter’s Tale.  

Twelfth Night, being the earliest of the plays we read this year, has a quality amount of rhymed couplets I was interested in. The first of which, spoken by Olivia, being, “I do I know not what, and fear to find/ Mine eyes too great a flatter for my mind./ Fate, show thy force; ourselves we do not owe./ What is decreed must be, and be this so” (Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 5; ll. 298-301). After a long scene, Shakespeare closes with two rhymed couplets, which often indicated to all actors that the scene was ending and another drastically different scene would begin. In this case, that is exactly what was happening. Olivia had met Cesario and confessed her feelings about him/her to Malvolio in a rhymed couplet allowing scene 2 to begin on a completely new note where Sebastian and Antonio are discussing without knowing they are even in the same vicinity as his sister.      

Now Viola, “O time, thou must untangle this, not I!/ It is too hard a knot for me t’untie” (Act 2, Scene 2; ll. 40-41). Being our main focus, Viola closes the scene and slips in a common theme with her rhymed couplet. “Time”, a treasured aspect of Twelfth Night is important to include throughout the play so the audience comprehends the significance of it… a rhymed couplet would most definitely help it stick out and be remembered by listeners. On top of that, the metaphorical idea of time being in a knot is a clear visual for people to imagine and toy with in their heads while watching the following scenes unfold in correlation to that picture.     

Something I noticed while examining certain lines were the words that look similar, but don’t necessarily sound the same when read aloud. For example, “To her in haste; give her this jewel; say/ My love can give no place, bid no denay.” (Act 2, Scene 5; ll. 123-124). In correspondence to, “Yet come again; for thou perhaps mayst move/ That heart, which now abhors, to like his love” (Act 3, Scene 1; ll. 160-161). Today, the words “move” and “love” would never pass as rhyming words when spoken. But, having learned a bit about the great vowel shift, I assume the pronunciation of these words were different than they are now. I believe Shakespeare began writing at the tail end of the shift, so words could have still been pronounced at the back of the throat, making words like, “say” and “denay”, and “move” and “love”, be heard as if they rhymed. It is hard to say which word would sound like what, or to think, maybe none of the words sounded like our modern pronunciations? It is a fascinating idea to ponder, and one that could be interpreted adversely amongst readers and listeners studying Shakespeare everywhere.  

Although Troilus and Cressida is one of the most abundant in rhymed couplets when it comes to the plays read this semester, I found the ones most compelling were in Act 5. Troilus, one of our main players, stated,  “My love with words and errors still she feeds,/ But edifies another with her deeds” (Troilus and Cressida, Act 5, Scene 3; ll. 110-111). The theme of food is largely shown throughout this play, and we see it revisited in these lines. The term “Feed” is used to describe the letter he received and how the words essentially fuel his soul. The phrase inserted, “My love for words”, is quite fitting considering Shakespeare himself was a logophile and could very well have been giving Troilus characteristics that matched his own. Closing scene 3 with this couplet would surely have been the lines that triggered the actors to know they were about to begin the last few very short scenes to finish off the play entirely.    

In the final lines, “Till then I’ll sweat, and seek about for eases,/ And at that time bequeath you my diseases”(Act 5, Scene 10; ll. 56-57). Pandarus begins in pros and switches to verse, completely rhymed couplet verse to be exact, to give the end a special close. Shakespeare reiterates the tragedies being suffered by the characters. A sweating-tub was a treatment used for venereal diseases at that time, so, “sweat”, was alluding to the fact in which pain was going to need to be relieved due to the previous situations during the course of the play. Ending the play with this couplet would have left the crowd needing healing of their own, making Shakespeare’s choice to include it a powerful and useful decision.