The rapid and line-by-line interrelation between several figures in a dialog is called Stichomythie, also line speech. This means that the various speakers in the drama speak, with only one verse being omitted from each speaker, and they are alternating rapidly. Stichomythie is fast-paced and serves a strong counter-narrative. Thus it can be regarded as a stylistic device.
The term is derived from the Greek (stichomythía), whereby it is formed from the two guards stichos and mythos, which can be translated with line and speech. The translation tells us, therefore, that it is in fact a kind of lecture. This is an interchange of the protagonists, and in the ancient drama it often coincides with the anagnorisis, that is to say, the reasoning or recognition.
As a rule, this error is preceded by error. The dramatic figure is mistaken and recognizes how the situation actually is. That is why it often coincides with the peripetia, the turning point. Since such a scene is usually very charged, the Stichomythie is ideally suited to illustrate the excited speech exchange of the actors. Let’s look at an example.
Iphigenia: This is left to the Priestrin alone.
Arkas: The king is to know such a strange case.
Iphigenia: His advice as his command does not change anything.
Arkas: Often, the mighty is being asked to appear.
Iphigenia: Do not forfeit what I should fail.
Arkas: Do not fail what is good and useful.
Iphigenia: I’ll give up if you do not want to line.
This example is from Iphigenie on Tauris, a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Arkas, a confidant of the King, and Iphigenia alternate from line to line, thus greatly increasing the speed of the figures. It is striking that the conflict is amplified by the rapid change, whereby the rhythm of the language is nevertheless preserved. Another example:
Faust: What’s the matter? An ostrich?
Margarete: No, it’s just a game.
Margarete: Go! You laugh at me.
(She pluck and mumble)
Faust: What are you muttering?
Margarete: He loves me-does not love me.
Fist: You hold heavenly
Margarete: (continues) Loves me-not-loves me-not
(The last sheet, with joy.) He loves me! …
The example, however, comes from Goethe and is taken from Faust’s tragedy. Margarete and Faust are conversing in a dialogical manner, but only one single verse is thought of. Thus, the spinal moment is increased and the speech of the figures are bound together, which makes the dialogue seem lively.
Note: The two examples are distinguished by vivacity, which is characteristic of the Stichomythie, which is why it was often preferred to a longer monologue, especially since the 18th century, thus animating the dramatic text (see Literaturepochen).
Distichomythia and Stichomythie
In contradistinction to the punctomythia, which allows only one single verse for each speaker, the distichomythia provides two lines of verse. Thus, we are dealing with an interchange of double verses, which still causes a rhythm and vivacity of the spoken.
Marthe: The poor women are evil.
A Hagestolz is hard to convert.
Mephistopheles: It would depend on your own,
To teach me one thing better.
Marthe: Tell me, sir, have not you found anything yet?
Has not the heart tied anywhere?
Mephistopheles: The proverb says, “My own hearth,
A good woman is worth gold and pearls.
This example also comes from Faust. Here, Mephistopheles and Marthe, a friend of Margaret’s, enter into a dialogue. The double beam creates a connection of what has been said and is directly interwoven. In the course of the dialogue they also reveal a comedy, so that Marthe must stand, that Mephistopheles does not want to understand or understand them.
Brief overview: The main features of the Stichomythie
The Stichomythie is a kind of line speech. In this case, several figures enter into a dialogue, whereby only one single line of verse is confessed to each speech, which is why a very quick beat exchange takes place in the form of the interchange.
If a word of the interlocutor is taken up in his own verse, this is called anaklasis. An example of this is found in the first of the above-mentioned dialogues from Iphigenia on Tauris, when Arka’s failure is accepted.
Often, this speech has a stimulating, rapid effect and therefore appears to be mainly in lively exchange as well as controversy. By rhythmic and sonic similarities of the verses, this effect can be further strengthened.
The figure of the antilabel can be regarded as an increase in the stitchomythia. In this case, not only is a verse spoken on the other side, but the entire drama verse is divided over several of the figures, which results in a strong dramatization of the dialogue.
Special forms are the distichomythia, which describes a dialogue from double verses, as well as the hemistichomythia, whereby each of the speaking figures expresses only half a verse.