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TOPIC: Questions about verse and prose

Questions about verse and prose 1 year 3 months ago #7231

  • TheGhostofOphelia
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OK, so I know what verse and prose are. I know what iambic pentameter is (da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM). I know what an inverted foot is (DA dum...), I know that when Shakespeare repeats a word and/or uses an inverted foot (a great example would be with Lear when he says "never, never, never, never, never"), I know what an Alexendrine line is, I know this stuff and there's always more to learn. Here's some questions.

What's the big significance when someone switches from verse to prose and vice versa? What's the significance of using verse instead of prose or prose instead of verse. I've heard it's a class thing, but plenty of Shakespeare's higher up characters use prose throughout (and switch between prose and verse). For instance in the break up scene Hamlet suddenly switches to prose ("are you honest, are you fair") And some of the most beautiful and meaningful stuff in Shakespeare is in prose (the "I have of late lost all my mirth" speech, Shylock's "if you prick us do we not bleed" speech, to name a couple. So my big question is, what's the significance of using prose or verse. I've been reading Shakespeare for a long time and I think to myself "I'm a little unclear on this... but I still dig it". And I personally think that's ok. But I still wanna know. B)

And speaking of verse, one of the greatest things I've heard from an acting teacher is that "rhythm exists to be broken". When I look through verse texts in Shakespeare I see it broken all the time. Or maybe my ear isn't good enough and I miss some. But I've heard people says that when the rhythm is broken (and when a word is repeated) it's Shakespeare telling us something big.

With all this stuff, is there any source you can direct me to, or any pointers you can give me.

Yeah, I really should be clearer on this stuff. :side: But like I said, I think it's ok but I still wanna know.
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Questions about verse and prose 1 year 3 months ago #7232

  • Ron Severdia
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First of all, these are great questions and it's great you are asking them. :)

Verse is also known as "heightened speech". It's the language used by the Elizabethan upperclass (which is a debate for another day). It's structured and using it meant you were educated. It was the way to recognize someone else from your class.

Prose is the common way of speaking among the lower classes. It's the way we naturally speak and doesn't adhere to any specific form.

A good example of Shakespeare's characters "crossing over" from one to the other is Henry V (4.1).

It's before the big battle with the French and Henry is afraid his troops are questioning their loyalty. Henry borrows a cloak to disguise himself as he then mingles with the soldiers. His speech changes from verse to prose as he tells them his name is "Le Roy" (French for "The King", but they don't catch on). He has to speak like a commoner in order to keep his disguise.

Characters also use this switch from verse to prose to also indicate they are dropping the formality and speaking a secret or very privately. They may do the opposite to indicate respect or reverence.

As for the rhythm, the regularity (da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM) or irregularity is often an indicator of the character's state of mind, emotion, or honesty. A character making a solemn vow or in a calm state would have a more regular rhythm than someone in a highly agitated state. Analyzing the rhythm ("scansion") can give you clues as to what the character might be thinking/feeling at that moment. More info is in our Scansion Overview here:

Hopefully, that helps!
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