previous next


Emphatic accents  

Emphatic Accents. The syllable that receives an accent is by no means necessarily emphatic. It must be emphatic relatively to the unaccented syllable or syllables in the same foot, but it may be much less emphatic than other accented syllables in the same verse. Thus the last syllable of "injuries," though accented, is unemphatic in “The ín | juríes | that théy | themsélves | procúre.” Lear, ii. 4. 303.

Mr. Ellis (Early English Pronunciation, part i. p. 334) says that "it is a mistake to suppose that there are commonly or regularly five stresses, one to each measure." From an analysis of several tragic lines of Shakespeare, taken from different plays, I should say that rather less than one of three has the full number of five emphatic accents. About two out of three have four, and one out of fifteen has three. But as different readers will emphasize differently, not much importance can be attached to such results. It is of more importance to remember, (1) that the first foot almost always has an emphatic accent; (2) that two unemphatìc accents rarely, if ever, come together ("for" may perhaps be emphatic in “Heár it | not, Dún | can; fór | it ís | a knéll,” Macbeth, ii. 1. 63); and (3) that there is generally an emphatic accent on the third or fourth foot.

The five emphatic accents are common in verses that have a pauseaccent at the beginning or in the middle of the line. “Náture | seems déad, | and wíck | ed dréams | abúse.” Macbeth, ii. 1. 50. “The hánd | le tóward | my hánd. | Cóme, let | me clútch
thee.” Ib. ii. 1. 34. And in antithetical lines: “I háve | thee nót, | and yét | I sée | thee stíll.” Macbeth, ii. 1. 35. “Bríng with | thee aírs | from héaven | or blásts | from héll.Hamlet, i. 4. 41.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: