A verse line is called a blank verse, which is non-semitic and has a five-legged jamb, with male as well as female cadences. Thus the blank verse is either composed of ten or eleven syllables, and, in contrast to the Alexandrian, has a moving caesura. We often find the blank verse in the drama and rarely in the lyric.
The term is derived from English (blank verse). The word blank can be translated as empty or unified, but in this case it means mainly the fact that the blank verse manages without rhyme. Verse is the English equivalent for a line of verse. So we have to do with a rhymed verse [which is fivefold and iambic]. Let us look at an example.
He is it! Nathan! – Thank God forever,
That you will finally come back.
The above example is taken from the work of Nathan the Wise, an ideendrama by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. The passage is the beginning of the dramatic text, when Daja, a Christian who lives in Nathan’s house, meets him and greeted him. Daja speaks in ten-syllable blank verses, which have a cadence, that is, a male cadence.
For a better illustration, we emphasized the unstressed and emphasized syllables. It is seen that the emphasis is changing (alternating) and the selected lines begin with a lowering (unstressed), followed by an uplift (yambus). Furthermore, we see that both lines are five-fold, that is, five-pronounced syllables. Both lines are therefore blankverse.
υ – υ – υ – υ – υ –
υ – υ – υ – υ – υ –
The above structure is therefore the basic pattern of the blank verse: a jambically alternating verse line with five lifts and consequently 10 syllables. It is noticeable that the last syllable remains stressed, that is, a male cadence. The male cadence, however, is not absolutely necessary.
Since it is only decisive for a blank verse that it is iambic, and still has a maximum of five heights, a further syllable may be added, whereby the verse line becomes eleven syllable and ends with an unaccented syllable (female cadence). Let’s look at Nathan’s answer.
Yes, Daja, thank God. But why finally?
Nathan’s answer consists of 11 syllables and can nevertheless be interpreted as blank verse. This is because we clearly see the interplay between unstressed and stressed syllables, which are so clearly Iambic, and – even if there is a syllable – only have five lifts. Thus, only the cadence is different from that in the first example, since the extract ends unstressed: a female cadence.
υ – υ – υ – υ – υ – υ
All examples illustrate the basic principle. The blank verse is, therefore, a rhyme-free verse with an alternating iambic meter, consisting of 10 syllables for a male cousin and 11 syllables for a female cadence, and thus five-legged. The caesura is movable in the blank verse.
The caesura in the blank verse
A (mental) incision within a verse line is called a caesura. This means that the caesura marks the place in the verse where we make a speech pause when speaking. Thus it divides a verse into speech units and sometimes into sense sections (→ caesura).
The position of such a caesura may be prescribed in a verse line, as in the case of the rather severe Alexandrian (third-elevation caution), which determines the baroque seal, or movable, as is the case with the blank verse, where it sometimes does not appear at all. Let us take an example.
For alas! | me separates the sea from the beloved,
The above example is taken from the first elevation of Goethe’s Iphigenie on Tauris, and is clearly recognizable as a blank verse by virtue of the elevations and depressions, as well as the iambic metrum, which has five elevations. The caesura was marked in color and is found after the first elevation.
If we compare this section with the first example that has been investigated, we might notice that the caesura, ie, the linguistic incision, sits in a different place in the respective blank verse: it is thus movable in the blank verse and does not appear at all ( see second line).
He is it! | Nathan! – Thank God forever,
That you will finally come back.
Note: The moveable caesura in the blank verse makes him appear very dynamic and mobile, which is why, above all, in the epoch of the storm and the impulse, which turned against a too rigid poetics, he displaced the popular Alexandrian and became the verse of German drama.
Origin of the blank
After looking at the basic structure of the blank verse and the free caesura in it, we would like to offer a demolition over the origin of the blank.
The blank verse finds its origin in English-language poetry and was mainly used by William Shakespeare in his dramas. But other great English playwrights, such as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson, attacked and refined the blank verse.
In the course of a euphoric recording of the works of Shakespeare, the Blank verse found its way into the German lyric and drama in the 18th century. He seemed to be a much more dynamic, free, and agile than the Alexandrian, introduced by Martin Opitz, who had been used in all kinds of works since the Baroque poetry, and thus turned against a rigid poetry.
And so it could come that Gotthold Ephraim Lessing wrote his drama Nathan the Woman exclusively in Blankversen and did not omit the dominant Alexandrian verse lines, which helped the blank verse in the German literature landscape to the final breakthrough.
Numerous writers continued to write their dramas in Boldversen, and thus indirectly turned them into the actual verse of German poetry and the defining element of dramatic works.
Effect and function of the blank
As shown at the beginning, the blank verse is to be used many times more dynamically, ie more flexibly, since it does not follow a rigid standard. However, the triumph of the blank verse has other reasons which are decisively related to its function and effect.
Short overview as well as outlook on effect and function
The blank verse basically follows a quite clear structure, since it describes that a verse line must be five-legged and iambic, and should continue to contain five heights.
This shape is very flexible, which is especially noticeable in direct comparison with other versions or text styles. This is mainly due to the fact that there is no fixed caesura that must occur at a certain point in the verse.
Another reason is certainly the rhymingness of the blank verse, which can indeed be abolished, but does not impose a clear and rigid rhyme scheme on the work.
These freedoms enable the blank verse to be transferred effortlessly into dramatic works, thus loosening it from the lyrical environment and embedding it in a prosaic manner, yet a linguistic rhythm is still existing.
This results in many different styles of design. Goethe, for example, tended to adopt a rather rigid form and rarely deviated from the metrical schema. Other poets, however, skilfully mastered the scheme. For example, Friedrich Schiller loosened his blank verse by enjambements, and other poets broke away from the Jambian structure, and placed a Trochhaeus at the beginning of a verse line.
In the sum of its parts, the blank verse can therefore be more dynamic, and less like the Alexandrian, like a lyre box. Through the right-free design, tension can be generated in the design. It is precisely when the expectation of the recipient (reader) is interrupted or unexpected pauses are created by a set caesura, or the tempo is accelerated or decelerated.