I was watching the 1968 movie version of A Midsummer Night's Dream when a minor detail caught my ear.
One of them is a weaver named Bottom. (A hundred lines later, Bottom will magically become an actual ass.) He pipes up with a question for the director. Peter Quince?
What sayest thou, bully Bottom? responds the carpenter.
Saith the weaver, There are things in this comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe that will never please. Pyramus must draw a sword to kill himself, which the ladies cannot abide. I have a device to make all well. Write me a prologue, and let the prologue seem to say we will do no harm with our swords.
Eight? Six? These numbers are obviously poet's jargon that the playwright understands, but I do not. Does Bottom envision the prologue as a sonnet? Hmm, could be. A Shakespearean sonnet does have eight lines followed by six. The uncultured ass must want to supersize the sonnet! He prefers 16 lines to a mere 14.
I checked my answer online. From across the pond in Sussex, TabbyTom has posted the real solution. Alas, it involves not the structure of a sonnet but the meter of a ballad.
That makes sense. Not lines in a poem but syllables in a line.
However, when the incompetent Peter Quince composes the prologue, it's in ten and ten! And rhymed like a sonnet! I assume this is because Shakespeare preferred to write with ten syllables per line. It's called iambic pentameter, not tetrameter.
One wedding guest grumbles that Quince's rambling prologue is like a tangled chain. But that's all one; it is not done! And contrary to Bottom's request to avoid swordplay, Quince foreshadows the suicide with alliterative glee:
Are all Shakespeare's prologues in pentameter? I examined a few that I could recall.
By the way, vasty is an example of a word that Shakespeare invented because he needed an extra syllable.
The same meter also appears in the famous prologue to Romeo and Juliet, which I parodied for this article.
However, in the Scottish play the witches do introduce the action using eight and eight (more or less). Their prologue is actually Scene 1.
The third weird sister, after a beat, has broken the spell by invoking the curse of superstitious actors everywhere. She has dared to speak the name! Upon hearing it, the witches' familiars apparently start to howl offstage, and the sisters answer them in an awkward meter appropriate for a theatre in polluted London.