Here are lines from "Richard III":

Farewell. The leisure and the fearful time

Cuts off the ceremonious vows of love

And ample interchange of sweet discourse

Which so long sundered friends should dwell upon.

Not just these lines, but the entire monologue scans perfectly. Except for the line that contains the word "ceremonious." Which, according to today's dictionaries, has five syllables. For the line to scan properly, it should be four.

This is, perhaps, the opposite of the "ambitious" thing (the word oft-repeated in Antony's monologue in "Julius Caesar": "But Brutus says he was ambitious." For the line properly to scan, it requires one more syllable. The one hypothesis I ran across somewhere stated that back in Shakespeare's time, the word ambitious was pronounced "am-bi-shey-es," providing that necessary extra syllable).

Has "ceremonious" undergone the ... uh ... reverse transformation? Was it pronounced "ce-re-mon-yes" or something like that back in Shakespeare's day?

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    Such "extrametrical" unstressed syllables can be elided, or spoken so lightly the meter is not disturbed. For another example you need look no farther than the second line of the same speech, Who prays continually for Richmond's good. Oct 29, 2015 at 0:48
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    Both ceremonious and ambitious probably had two pronunciations back then ... ious could likely be one or two syllables, depending on what the meter needed. I don't think anybody pronounces ambitious with four syllables today, but pronouncing ceremonious with four sounds fine to me. Oct 29, 2015 at 1:08
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    @Ricky Fersher. Bridges' classic essay on Milton has an entire Appendix on "The Extrametrical Syllable". Oct 29, 2015 at 1:12
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    @Ricky: That's exactly what I meant to say. Oct 29, 2015 at 1:37
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    I think ceremonious is acceptable with four syllables today. But if you look at other -ious words in Shakespeare, he has both a two-syllable and a three-syllable pronunciation of curious, and the two-syllable pronunciation doesn't work today. So it appears that -ious for Shakespeare was either one or two syllables, no matter what word contained it. Oct 29, 2015 at 1:45

1 Answer 1


There are many English words where elision of syllables is perfectly common, and therefore acceptable in stage speech.

In this case, the actor will say seh-reh-mone-yus and the audience will understand him perfectly.

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