To be sure, the line from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, written in 1591, reads:

There is no world with-OUT Verona walls.

However, a passage in John Milton's Paradise Lost, written in 1667, i.e. more than seventy years later, runs as follows:

No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture WITH-out end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.

With the stress on the second syllable, the line would not scan.

Was Shakespeare more colloquial and Milton more conservative? Was WITH-out the proper way to pronounce the word in those days?

And by proper I mean commonly accepted by the grammar Nazis of the day.

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    Or did one of Shakespeare or Milton put the stress on an off-beat syllable in these lines? Or was without accented on the second syllable when it mean outside and on the first syllable when it meant lacking? – Peter Shor Dec 28 '20 at 23:08
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    Not all lines of either Milton or Shakespeare scan in perfect iambic pentameter. But you seem to have noticed something real: Shakespeare almost always accents the second syllable, while Milton seems uncertain which syllable to accent. Consider these lines: "Cast out from God and blessed vision, falls // Ordained without redemption, without end.” – Peter Shor Dec 28 '20 at 23:26
  • @peterShor: 1. Intriguing. Definitely worth looking into.2. Shakespeare often deliberately switches to trochaic and back in order to avoid monotony. ... "without redemption, without end" - Yeah, that's a puzzler. – Ricky Dec 28 '20 at 23:32
  • Note that the two quotes are using the word in two entirely different senses. There are modern English words whose syllable stress varies based on local meaning. – Hot Licks Dec 30 '20 at 0:57
  • @HotLicks: Not entirely. – Ricky Dec 30 '20 at 1:31

With the stress on the second syllable, the line would not scan.

Herein lies the problem. Milton's "blank verse" is notoriously irregular, so much so that whole careers have been spent trying to elucidate the precise rules underlying its metrical structure. Indeed, an important part of Milton's poetic legacy was his challenge to the very idea of a metrical "foot" as the fundamental unit of rhythm. This is a fascinating topic but, alas, much too complicated to get in to here. (If you're interested, I would suggest this essay by John Creaser as an excellent entree to the subtleties of Milton's prosody.) Suffice it to say that one should exercise extreme caution when attempting to make inferences about historical pronunciation from considerations of scansion in Milton. For instance, in the passage you quoted from Book I of Paradise Lost, interpreting the third line as a strict iambic pentameter would yield:

 x  /   x   /  x    /   x    /       x    / 
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

Should we therefore, in reading this line, pronounce the first word as re-GIONS? No! As Robert Bridges wrote in his seminal 1889 study Milton's Prosody:

The intended rhythm in P.L. is always given by the unmitigated accentuation of the words of the verse as Milton pronounced them; nor does the qualification 'as he pronounced them' raise much uncertainty.

As a matter of terminology, the use of "Regions" in the line quoted above would traditionally be called inversion (i.e., the substitution of a trochee for an "expected" iamb). Yet, if one examines the first few hundred lines of Paradise Lost, one will find only a handful that scan exactly as "expected" without violence. Indeed, one can easily find far more radical deviations from the iambic "ideal." By way of example, Bridges offers the following line from Book III:

  /       /       /      /           /
Shoots invisible virtue even to the deep.

According to Bridges, we should read this as "SHOOTS in-VIS-ible VIR-tue EVen to the DEEP," which is both intuitively reasonable and clearly not iambic pentameter. I will refrain from discussing Bridges's actual theory of scansion, as it is irrelevant (and somewhat controvertial). However, the basic point about pronunciation is absolutely spot on: one must never torture Milton's verse into bizarre patterns of word stress just to bring it in line with some imagined ideal of iambic pentameter---let alone interpret its noncompliance with that imagined ideal as evidence of an actual difference in pronunciation.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, it is worth consulting some early modern sources to test our suspicions about the pronunciation of without. Shakespeare, as you have already pointed out, usually places the word so that its second syllable coincides with the ictus of a putative iamb (though even he will depart from this pattern when it suits him):

'Tide life, 'tide death, I come without delay.
(A Midsummer Night's Dream, 5.1.2047)

O villains, vipers, damn'd without redemption!
(Richard II, 3.2.1539)


As, by my faith, I see no more in you
Than without candle may go dark to bed
(As You Like It, 3.5.1691-92)

And all the number of his fair demands
Shall be accomplish'd without contradiction.
(Richard III, 3.3.1764-65)

And here is the entry for without in Thomas Dyche's Spelling Dictionary of 1723, the first such dictionary to indicate word stress (via accent marks):

Dyche's entry for "without" showing the usual iambic stress

Of course, Milton had already died some 49 years before this work was published (and Shakespeare some 58 years before that!), but this does at least establish that any hypothetical fad in the pronunciation of without would have to have died off before the 1720s. Surely the parsimonious explanation is that there was no such fad.

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    Thank you for the detailed reply. I'd scan the line you and Bridges quote as "Shoots IN-vis-IB-[u]l VIR-tue E'En t' the DEEP," but that's a whole different matter, I suppose. The iamb-trochee switch at the beginning of a line ("Regions") was a common practice in that epoch, I think. But thank you again for giving me a great deal to think about. Great stuff! – Ricky Dec 29 '20 at 7:43
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    You're absolutely right that the first position is a particularly common spot for inversion, not just in Milton. But what is unique to Milton is the pervasive willingness to run roughshod over metrical conventions governing the distribution of stresses in a line of verse. There's another interesting example from Book III which I almost mentioned: "So without least impulse or shadow of fate." I think it must be "SO withOUT least IMpulse or SHAdow of FATE," whereas a naive scansion might yield "so WITHout LEAST imPULSE ..." – SoupyTwist Dec 29 '20 at 8:01
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    My point, as with the "shoots invisible virtue" example above, is simply that it should give one pause if the obvious scansion seems to imply very unnatural pronunciations such as "IN-vis-IBle" or "imPULSE," which is just not the way anyone ever says those words. In the latter case, it's also particularly telling, I think, that a ditrochaic "SO withOUT least" sets up a double dactylic "IMpulse or SHAdow of FATE" while simultaneously reproducing the natural word stresses. That strikes me as a much better outcome than what results from forcing it into an iambic structure. – SoupyTwist Dec 29 '20 at 8:35
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    Also, it is almost universally accepted at this point that Milton was quite experimental in his metrical approach to blank verse. To suppose that a poet of his originality would be bound by convention to the iambic da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM does not give him enough credit, I think. (I realize this might seem rather circular reasoning, but I think his originality is plain to see in many other areas besides prosody.) – SoupyTwist Dec 29 '20 at 8:44
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    @Ricky: Is there any evidence at all that anybody pronounced invisible any way other than inVISible. Shakespeare accented the second syllable: Then shall you know the wounds invisible // That love's keen arrows make. John Donne accented the second syllable: Things invisible to see, Alexander Pope accented the second syllable: Abrupt, with eagle-speed she cut the sky; // Instant invisible to mortal eye. In that line, Milton is deviating from perfect iambic pentameter. – Peter Shor Dec 29 '20 at 12:13

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