While trying to ascertain the accentuation of certain names in Shakespeare, by analyzing lines of verse where they occur, I encountered a couple of lines that I was tempted to scan with a substitute foot consisting of three consecutive unstressed syllables. I would not even know how to call such a foot, if foot it be, but it falls out thus in what seems to me the best way to read either line.

My first instance is from the first act of Titus Andronicus (so we are more likely talking George Peele than Shakespeare, according to what seems a prevailing view among experts):

Behold I choose thee Tamora for my bride, (1.1.322)

My analysis of this and other verse lines where the name occurs satisfies me that Tamora is always accented on the first syllable, and can scan variously as / ˘ ˘ (end of iamb with pyrrhic or anapestic substitution following), or with secondary accent as / ˘ / (end of iamb plus whole iamb), or with syncope as TAM’ra, / ˘.

I scan this particular line with iambic first and fifth feet, spondaic second and third, and the mystery foot fourth, as follows:

   ˘   /      /      /            /      /       ˘  ˘   ˘      ˘      /
Behold | I choose | thee Tam | ora for | my bride,

The speaker is new emperor Saturninus, in a mode of public pronouncement, which the five consecutive stresses suit well. Given that mode, the syncope option that would reduce the fourth foot to a regular pyrrhus seems all too sloppy and unemphatic, and it is easy to fit the extra unstressed syllable in while keeping the basic five-beat pentameter rhythm intact.

One could also assign the word for to the fifth foot, making that an anapest and the fourth either a pyrrhus or (with secondary stress) an iamb; but a natural reading seems to place the fourth beat on that for rather than on the -a.

My second instance is Coriolanus 1.6.10:

The citizens of Corioles have issued,

Here the city-name Corioles, as it is spelled in F1 here and in most instances, seems elsewhere required by the meter to be pronounced sometimes kor-EYE-oh-LES ( ˘ / ˘ / ) and sometimes kor-YOHL-es ( ˘ / ˘ ). For the present line, KOR-ee-YOHLS ( / ˘ / ) is tempting but unlikely, since the two pronunciations are already a recipe for audience confusion. My scansion suggestion here is as follows, with the foot in question second:

    ˘    /    ˘  ˘      ˘      ˘  /    ˘ /        ˘     /    ˘
The cit | izens of | Cori | oles | have issued,

Again syncope (cit’zens) offers an obvious way out of the difficulty, but seems unnecessary in the natural rhythmic reading of the line, and likely to impair audience comprehension somewhat.

Should such a foot ( ˘ ˘ ˘ ) be admitted to the list of possible substitutions in Shakespearean iambic pentameter? And if so, what should we call it? Tri-pyrrhic?

P.S.: I see already a better scansion solution for the Coriolanus line, with secondary accent on -zens and an anapestic substitution at the third foot:

    ˘    /    ˘  /        ˘    ˘  /    ˘ /        ˘     /    ˘
The cit | izens | of Cori | oles | have issued,

The Titus line still stands as an example, though as noted maybe of Peele rather than of Shakespeare. I have added an English Renaissance Theater tag accordingly, though without deleting Shakespeare. I’ll be on the lookout for further bona fide Shakespeare examples.

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    Why did you delete this? It seems like a very interesting question that we'd love to keep on the site! Remember that if you've found your answer, you're encouraged to leave a self answer, not delete the question :) – Mithrandir Mar 17 at 18:49
  • I found more normal ways of scanning both lines. The first such realization is explained in P.S. The second, concerning the Titus line, which is probably not even Shakespeare's anyhow, left the question with zero valid examples, at which point it seems pointless. – Brian Donovan Mar 17 at 22:11
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    It would be nice if you could post your findings as an answer. – Christophe Strobbe Mar 19 at 12:07
  • A foot of three unstressed syllables is called a tribrach. When you have a long string of unstressed syllables in English, we naturally tend to put some amount of stress on one of them, so tribrachs are rare in English poetry. Googling, it looks like some people have claimed they don't exist. (It's hard to tell who, since these websites seem to have copied the phrase "the existence of the tribrach has been contested by some writers" from each other.) – Peter Shor Mar 25 at 21:21
  • Continuing on my previous comment, I think there are some phrases like continually remembered where English speakers generally wouldn't put any stress on the four syllables between tin and mem. So these would be natural candiates for a tribrach. (e.g. And év | er sínce, | our sóv | 'reign cít | y hás // contín | ually | remém | bered thát | sád dáy) I don't know how common phrases like this are in free verse. But in my opinion (maybe biased, since I wrote them) those two lines work fine as iambic pentameter. – Peter Shor Mar 27 at 13:01

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