Short Lines as an Ensemble Acting Hint

You'll probably get more benefit from this page if you first read the page Short Lines.

What happens if the short line comes at the beginning or end of character's speech? Shakespeare has written in a pause, but what is the pause's dramatic purpose?

Here's a passage from Love's Labor's Lost, with the only short line marked in blue. The Princess of France and her three attendant ladies, Maria, Katharine and Rosaline (escorted by Boyet and other lords), have come to Navarre on a diplomatic embassy. The scene is set in the countryside, where the King of Navarre has persuaded three of his lords, Berowne, Longaville and Dumain, to join him at a three-year-long academic retreat, a sort of secular monastery. The Princess has never met any of these men, and naturally, she's curious (as Charlotte Corday said about the guillotine, when she was in the tumbril).


  Act II Scene 1 lines 37-80

Who are the votaries, my loving lords,
That are vow-fellows with this virtuous duke?

Lord Longaville is one.
Know you the man?

The two lines above are not short; they must be put together to make one complete line of iambic pentameter. When Shakespeare divides a line between two characters, he (probably!) wants the meter to continue through it, and for the second actor to pick up his/her cue. The Kindly Editor has inset the second part of the line to show that it isn't the beginning of a new line of verse. Unfortunately, Kindly Editor sometimes screws up--but that's another dissertation.

Note that although the Princess has apparently addressed the Lord, MARIA, eager to talk about Longaville, jumps in before the Lord can answer.
I know him, madam. At a marriage-feast, 40
Between Lord Perigort and the beauteous heir
Of Jaques Falconbridge, solemnizèd
In Normandy, saw I this Longaville.
A man of sovereign parts he is esteemed;
Well fitted in arts, glorious in arms; 45
Nothing becomes him ill that he would well.
The only soil of his fair virtue's gloss
(If virtue's gloss will stain with any soil)
Is a sharp wit matched with too blunt a will,
Whose edge hath power to cut, whose will still wills 50
It should none spare that come within his power.
Some merry mocking lord, belike--is't so? is it
For perfect scansion, you'd have to say "ist." Since that word doesn't exist in English, my suggestion is that you say "is it," thereby doing minor damage to the scansion but happily avoiding turning your audience into fence-posts.
They say so most that most his humors know.
Such short-lived wits do wither as they grow.
Who are the rest?
Line 55 is short, implying a pause. The Lord has learned that the ladies want to talk about the Navarre's companions, and he says nothing. And indeed after a (brief!) pause, KATHARINE answers the Princess.
The young Dumaine, a well-accomplished youth,
Of all that virtue love for virtue loved:
Most power to do most harm, least knowing ill;
For he hath wit to make an ill shape good,
And shape to win grace though he had no wit. 60
I saw him at the Duke Alençon's once;
And much too little of that good I saw
Is my report to his great worthiness.
Katharine's last line is not short. It has been established that the ladies can talk to the Princess about the lords, and ROSALINE jumps in without a pause when Katharine finishes.
Another of these students at that time
Was there with him, if I have heard a truth. 65
Berowne they call him; but a merrier man,
Within the limit of becoming mirth,
I never spent an hour's talk withal.
His eye begets occasion for his wit;
For every object that the one doth catch 70
The other turns to a mirth-moving jest,
Which his fair tongue, conceit's expositor,
Delivers in such apt and gracious words
That agèd ears play truant at his tales
And younger hearings are quite ravishèd; 75
So sweet and voluble is his discourse.
God bless my ladies! Are they all in love,
That every one her own hath garnishèd
With such bedecking ornaments of praise?
Here comes Boyet. (II.1.37-80)

So by inserting one short line into this passage of 44 lines, Shakespeare has told us the following things about the characters in the scene.

The PRINCESS is curious about the men she'll be meeting.

MARIA, KATHARINE and ROSALINE each knows one of the lords personally, and is already romantically interested in him, which the PRINCESS notices: "God bless my ladies! Are they all in love?"

The LORD has the information the Princess requires, but he is also discreet, and once Maria speaks up, he lets the ladies do all the talking.

Attention: you do not have to accept my interpretation of this passage, or anything else. But you should notice that Shakespeare has written that short line, and the diligent actor will try to figure out what the playwright had in mind.

Résumé.                                  Acting Shakespeare's Verse
©  Deloss Brown 2009