4.3 - Attridge's Beat-Offbeat Method

To use Attridge's method, you begin by marking the stress of the syllables above a given line. You need only mark s's and w's, without trees, since he does not emphasize the relative nature of stress (though the rules you have learned should help you in making these more simple designations). The next step is to mark the beats and offbeats of the metrical pattern below the line and then to compare the two patterns. Doing so will allow you to describe the style or set of the poem or poet based on the types of complexity and tension the poet uses.

4.3.1 - The Base Rules

The simplest metrical markings are B for beat and o for offbeat. The underlying rhythm of an iambic pentameter line is a pattern of five alternating offbeat / beat units, represented as follows: o B o B o B o B o B. With each rule I give you Attridge's formulation with his marking symbol and one of his examples followed by an exercise for you to practice. Here are Attridge's Base Rules:

Beat Rule: A stressed syllable may realize a beat.

Offbeat rule: One (or two) unstressed syllables may realize an offbeat.
(one offbeat)(double offbeat)

Example (14 a) shows a line using the Base Rules only while Example (14b) shows the variant of the Offbeat rule using two unstressed syllables to realize an offbeat. This line is also an example of a common variant in iambic pentameter known as the INITIAL INVERSION, in which the first w s unit is reversed. It is this reversal that creates the double offbeat.


Example 14a


Example 14b

Exercise #5

Mark the stress and metrical beats and offbeats in the following:
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
Nobler desires, lest else that friendly foe,

But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
Nobler desires, lest else that friendly foe,

Of course, if every line of English poetry followed only the Base Rules, it would be hideously boring. But there are numerous variations on these Base Rules that Attridge terms Deviation Rules. His Deviation Rules are rank ordered, with every subsequent deviation producing more complexity and combinations of deviations producing even greater complexity. The first deviation is the Promotion Rule.