Something quite different today.
Over the weekend I gave myself a writing exercise. An experiment, really, that I’d been considering for a while. I wrote a scene from Dickens A Christmas Carol in “Shakespearean” iambic pentameter. Mostly.
I was going to do it, and talk about it today here on the blog. But, “show don’t tell,” right? So I’m including the actual scene I wrote for your perusal. (It starts after the picture.)
This was a fun and challenging exercise. It forced me to focus on rhythm in my word choice. It encouraged me to use more evocative imagery than normal. My thesaurus played larger role than usual, as I sought out new words to sound quasi-Shakespearean, thus enhanced my overall vocabulary in the process. I read the writing aloud more often than I usually do.
A literal, line by line transcription from Dickens to Shakespeare would not be practical, so of course I molded as needed, sometimes for clarity, other times to be more expressive, and evoke imagery. That being said, I did, by design, keep several of Dickens familiar phrases. You may be surprised to find how often a line from Dickens fits rather nicely into iambic pentameter in its own right.
So another side benefit of this exercise was remembering to read carefully. I know A Christmas Carol quite well of course, having been watching or reading it for most of my life, but this exercise helped me remember the advantages of deliberate reading.
I chose the scene with Marley’s ghost. It seemed one of the more naturally Shakespearean scenes in the whole novel.
This is of course no new idea. I’m sure somebody out there wrote Dickens’s whole novel into Shakespearean verse. Other non-Shakespeare stories have gotten this treatment. (Most recently, the bestselling Shakespeare version of the Star Wars stories.) Yet I myself had never tried it before, though as I said I’ve thought about it for a while. I wouldn’t want to do it all day every day, but I’m glad I did so.
And because I’m proud of the result, I present it here for you to enjoy. I encourage any writers out there to give this a try. It’s not second nature, but it’s also not as much of a killer as you might think.
I played around with scansion a bit, but tried not to get to fancy with it.
Formatting a script in WordPress is a bit of a pain. Did my best to make it clear.
The scene starts after the picture. I’d be curious to hear what any of you think.
Enter Marley’s ghost.
How now what frightful apparition comes
In form translucent as a London fog
The mere suggestion of a human man
And fettered as a rabid, mongrel cur?
What dost thou need from Ebenezer Scrooge?
If thy breast be made of corporal stuff,
Within it you have kept a full response
As to the nature of your purpose with me.
Reveal to me, cold specter, who thou art.
As, Ebenezer Scrooge, thou art yet man
It is for you to answer who you are:
To say, “I am”, “this is,” acknowledge now.
But I am merely spirit, I am “was,”
Inquire, therefore, to my former state.
As you command. I ask thee who you were.
When flesh and bone and entrails filled this husk,
When sustenance and air and water I
Required to prolong my human days
I was the avaricious Marley called.
[aside] The ghost of Jacob Marley? Seven years
Since I interred him in discounted land
Which even rats and vagrants do avoid.
Are you still capable of sitting down?
Then do it now. Sit in that chair.
You don’t believe in me.
No I do not.
The senses I now lack you do retain.
All five of yours allow that I exist.
Wherefore permit yourself to doubt them now?
The senses of a man are skewed with ease.
A faulty meal alone accounts for much.
An undigested bit of beef or cheese,
The fragments of potato underdone
Could all conspire in my timid guts
And cast illusions of departed souls.
Cans’t thou perceive this toothpick in my hand?
It lies within the bound’ries of my sight.
Those dewy orbs, thy orisons, look not
In the vicinity wherein it lies.
I see the toothpick notwithstanding this.
I do but need to swallow all of it
And be forever tortured by goblins
Created by my self and nothing more.
Bah humbug and bah humbug yet again!
Mercy! Mercy! Dreadful apparition!
Oh man of worldly mind, do you believe?
I do, I do, I do, I do, I must!
But why do spirits walk the face of earth?
And wherefore should you wish to come to me?
A writ inscribed upon the human soul
Requires same to travel far and wide.
As dandelion seeds upon the wind
Do scatter and commingle everywhere,
So too a living man must spread his soul
Among his fellow men of ev’ry stripe.
If in this holy mission he do fail,
His soul, perforce, shall do so after death
Eternal witness to the joys of life
Unable to participate in them.
You are impeded by a mass of chain,
With lock boxes and banks among the links,
Cacophony of clanking in your wake.
I wear the chain I forged in life.
I made it link by link and yard by yard.
Each sin committed by my living self
For which I could repent but never did
Brought forth another link to weigh me down
In my eternal wand’rings after death.
Oh hellish, hellish destiny!
But would you know the length of chain you bear?
I am insensible to any chains.
And so was I until my mortal life
Like paper in a furnace burned away,
Its embers blown into oblivion.
Speak comfort to me Jacob. Sooth my mind.
I have no comfort to convey to thee.
Nor may I tell thee more of what I know.
Or share the other punishments I bear.
You were a man of business. Is that sin?
My only business was my fellow man,
In which my soul went bankrupt in my life,
And thus in debtor’s prison of this world
I wander in perpetual remorse.
Yet still I suffer less than you shall do,
Should you remain upon the path you walk.
Now hear me, for my time is nearly gone!
I have procured for thee a special chance
To yet escape a fate vermiculate.
You always were a friend of mine. Thank you.
Three more ghosts will haunt thee, Ebenezer.
Is that that chance?
I’d rather not.
Without these visitations you will have
No opportunity to be redeemed.
Expect the first tomorrow night at one.
The second on the next night also one.
The third upon the next night, stroke of twelve.
Could not I see all three of them at once?
Look no more to see me, Ebenezer.
Remember what transpired here tonight.
And now, as is my lot I pass again
Into the hoary realm of tortured souls
Which even now your mortal ears can hear,
Screaming up to heaven for abatement
And pleading to do good upon this world
Forever lacking power so to do.
Exit Marley’s ghost.