We’re not talking about a unit of measure… at least not in the inches sense.
A foot – a poetic metric foot – is a unit of rhythm in verse.
Types of feet:
Iamb: an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed
To be or not to be that is the question (this line has a feminine ending – an unstressed syllable at the end of the iambs) – Shakespeare, Hamlet
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day (a masculine or strong ending) – Gray, “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard”
Anapest: two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed
The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold – Byron, “The Destruction of Sennacherib”
Trochee: a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed
There they are my fifty men and women (regular trochaic meter) – Browning, “One Word More”
Tyger! tyger! burning bright / In the forest of the night (when a trochaic line ends on a stress it’s called cataletic) – Blake, “The Tyger”
Dactyl: a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed
Eve with her basket, was / Deep in the bells and grass – Hodgson, “Eve”
Spondee: two stressed syllables in succession that begin a line
Good strong thick stupefying incense smoke (a spondee followed by trochaic meter) – Browning, “The Bishop Orders his Tomb”
Pyrrhic: two unstressed syllables in succession
My way is to begin with the beginning (pyrrhics interspersed with dactylic meter) – Byron, Don Juan
Meter denotes how many feet are in a line:
Monometer – one foot
Dimeter – two feet
Trimeter – three feet
Tetrameter – four feet
Pentameter – five feet
Hexameter – six feet
Heptameter – seven feet
Shakespeare usually writes in iambic pentameter – five iambs per line. Homer wrote in dactylic hexameter – six dactyls per line (and he was writing in Greek).
Why did Shakespeare choose iambic pentameter?
and other grammatical tricks
Words words words
Thee/thou/thy/thine – an informal form of address, typically used when speaking to a friend, a friendly equal, or a vassal.
You/your – a formal form of address, typically used when speaking to an unknown equal, a person whose rank is unknown or unclear (and may be higher than your own), or a superior.
So what happens when they get mixed up? When Bolingbroke addresses Richard using “thee” or “thou,” what are the possible implications? When someone addresses Richard using “you”?
We – when used referring to the first person singular (as when Henry or Richard calls himself “we”), the so-called “royal we” denotes the king, but the king as head of the royal body politic, including the nation in the personal pronoun.
I – when used by a monarch (or former monarch), this indicates the personal self, the body natural.
Again, what are the implications for the use of each? Why might an individual fluctuate between them? Under what circumstances?
And word order
Take a look at the following sentence:
By being seldom seen, I could not stir
But like a comet I was wondered at,
That men would tell their children “This is he.”
What is the actor of this sentence (the thing or things doing the action)?
What is the action of the sentence (what is happening or being done)?
What is the actee (object) of the sentence (what is the thing or things receiving the action)?
How does the sentence structure stress certain words or phrases? Why are those elements stressed?
Where does Shakespeare use enjambment?
How does the sentence begin? How does it end?
Does Shakespeare use assonance or alliteration? What does it do?
Where are the breaks? Why are they in those particular places?
If you recognize the speaker and circumstances of the passage, who is speaking and to whom? How is this reflected in the language? If not, can you guess the nature of the passage?
How about this one?
And in that very line, Harry, standest thou,
For thou hast lost thy princely privilege
With vile participation. Not an eye
But is aweary of thy common sight,
Save mine, which hath desired to see thee more,
Which now doth that I would not have it do,
Make blind itself with foolish tenderness.