« Sixteen Lines: Fifth Line | Main | Sixteen Lines: Seventh Line »

Sixteen Lines: Sixth Line

Now. My character had just coerced the Governmental Authority to repeat Stumbling block?, allowing further explanation:

A substantial number of my flock believe this child, Pearl, to be of demonic origin, and that it would be better for Hester Prynne, the child, and our community of faith that the child be removed from her mother’s care.

Nearly-Legendary Director was talking to me about this line last night during rehearsal, pointing out the tremendous contrasts available to me. My flock: for. The child, Pearl: against. Demonic origin: very against. Better: for. Then, a ladder up the triple, as being better and better before plunging down in pitch to child: against. Removed: for. Her mother’s care: against.

What my character is really against is disorder, and (in his interpretation) (or, rather, my interpretation of his interpretation) any possibility of the Woman being seen to be happy or even not-entirely-miserable is a temptation to disorder amongst the populace. Further, children are inherently prone to disorder, and this child seems to be particularly irreverent and willful. The clergy cannot be soft or lenient in these matters or there will be chaos.

Not you, Chaos.

Anyway, the suggestion that the Child be removed into foster care has two obvious benefits: (A) it will make the Woman unhappy, and (secondly) it will make the child unhappy. It’s a win-win!

In this line, by the way, I turn to include the Man (who I know only as a somewhat soft-hearted clergyman prone to misguided compassion) as I suggest that my advice is best for the Woman and the Child, before capping the triple with the community of faith delivered directly to the Governmental Authority, who is responsible for it.

I will add another note about line reading… one of the tricky things about, well, about acting, I suppose, at least in the naturalistic style that is most common and popular in our culture, is that the character must act as if he is thinking up the words as he goes along. Yet doing so is not the best way to tell the story that must be told. If an actor pauses as long as a person really would pause who had no idea what was coming next, the audience would fret. Even if they didn’t notice it, they would fret. Even if they didn’t fret at the moment the gap was too long, they would fret when it came to be eleven o’clock and they weren’t on the way home. Thus, the pauses have to be quick. Infinitesimal, really. But still noticeable, still breaking the sentence into thought groups as a person might.

Nearly-Legendary Director will interrupt a line like this if it is flowing so smoothly that it doesn’t allow the listener any entrance points. A substantial number of my flock believe—believe what?believe the child Pearl to be of—to be what?of demonic origin! He is saying that the audience should be thinking (tho’ not verbalizing it) those questions at those points in the script. We don’t have time to keep them in suspense, but we have to allow them to think the thought. If they are quick. It’s a tough trick for me—I have written before about my tendency to creeping Shatnerism, which leads me to (correctly) mistrust my sense of pacing. I am having a great deal of difficulty with the pacing, but at least I am getting near-legendary directing. Stretch it out, I am being told. Slow it down. But without taking too much time.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Hm. Yes, we play characters as if they are thinking up the words as they go along, but the pace at which the speaking proceeds should also reflect the extent to which the characters are thinking up the thoughts that they express in words. When they are thinking aloud, the form of expression will be different than if they are stating points that have already reached the stage in their minds of considered opinions. If I understand the pace of events, this speech doesn't contain any elements that the clergyman himself hasn't already considered: he is articulating an idea that is already well formed in his mind, and as he is an accomplished speaker, he is likely to articulate that idea with fluency. That's how I would construct the claims of psychological realism. Now, that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be pauses--the effective speaker knows how to pause--but that the pauses are not reflective of the pace of the speaker's own thoughts but of the pace that the speaker wants his listener's thoughts to maintain. That, it seems to me, is the thinking that is going on behind this line.

That's convenient, in this case, since the N-LD wants the audience to have an opportunity to think of questions before you answer them, and the character wants his statement to carry the maximum weight with the attentive Governmental Authority, whose thought process is likely to resemble that of the audience.

It also struck me that this is a speech in which the trick of writing out verse as prose might be reversed, to some effect, as the speech has rather the rhythm of blank verse:

A substantial number of my flock believe
This child, Pearl, to be of demonic origin,
And that it would be better for Hester Prynne,
The child, and our community of faith
That the child be removed from her mother’s care.

The lines of verse suggest possible units of thought, with longer pauses coming at the line breaks separating the groups of five stresses from one another, with lighter pauses or shifts of emphasis marking the caesuras within the lines. This may be a silly or even counterproductive exercise, but as I was reading over the pacing of the lines, the five-beat units stood out to me very strongly, so I thought I'd mention it.

Thank you, Chris! I did not notice the pentameter, and that may be extremely helpful.

As for thinking and speaking, as you allude to, there's a difference between the character trying to decide what to say and the character trying to decide how to say it. Still, the speaker is thinking on his feet, coming up with the words that will achieve his purpose. The audience is watching something happening that has not happened before. But yes, it's also true that a successful public speaker will allow just those entrance points for the listener to think ahead of the speech, even if the speech is rolling along on the teleprompter in front of him.


Post a comment

Please join in. Comments on older posts will be held for moderation. Don't be a jerk. Eat fruit.