A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most light-hearted and whimsical comedies. I recently discovered that fairies speak in trochaic tetrameter! At least, Shakespeare’s often do… but what is that? I had to find out.
In Iambic Pentameter with Macbeth, we learned about iambic pentameter. One of the main differences is that a tetrameter has four accents instead of five. They are both meters of poetry. Meter is a unit of rhythm, and the rhythm of trochaic tetrameter is the opposite of that for iambic pentameter.
Midsummer Eve (painting by Edward Robert Hughes c.1908)
In this case, the accents are called trochees. A trochee is a long, or stressed, syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. This means that the full line is eight syllables long, accented on every first beat. Visualize it like this:
We can count the beats of Puck’s famous ending to A Midsummer Night’s Dream the same way:
Hermia and Lysander (watercolour by John Simmons 1870)
The name ‘trochaic tetrameter’ may be a mouthful to say, but using it results in memorable, quick-paced lines. Even the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth chant in trochaic tetrameter!
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.