Prose | Language Techniques
Prose Language Technique
- Is like every-day speech
- May have run-on lines, or fragments of speech. (unlike iambic pentameter)
- No rhyme or metric scheme.
Dialogue written in prose appears as a block of text, unlike the strict rhythmic patterns of Shakespeare’s verse. Many of Shakespeare’s low-class characters speak in prose to distinguish them from the higher-class, verse-speaking characters. However, this should be treated as a general “rule of thumb”. For example, one of Hamlet’s most poignant speeches is delivered entirely in prose, even though he is a Prince:
I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercise; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory. This most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire – why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2
In this passage, the immediateness of the prose presents Hamlet as genuinely thoughtful – we are in no doubt that, after dropping the verse, Hamlet’s words are solemn.
To make dialogue more realistic
Many short, functional lines like “And I, my lord,” and “I pray you leave me” are written in prose to give the play a sense of realism. In some longer speeches, Shakespeare allowed the audience to identify more closely with his characters by using everyday language.
To create comic effect
Some of Shakespeare’s low-class comic creations aspire to speak in the formal language of their superiors, but do not have the intelligence to achieve this and therefore become objects of ridicule. For example, the uneducated Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing attempts to use more formal language, but keeps getting it wrong.
In Act 3, Scene 5, he informs Leonato that “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons.” He means “apprehended” and “suspicious”.
To suggest a character’s mental instability
In King Lear, Lear’s verse deteriorates into it as the play unfolds to suggest his increasingly erratic mental condition. We can also see a similar technique at work in the above passage from Hamlet.
In Shakespeare’s day, it was conventional to write in verse, which was seen as a sign of literary excellence. By writing some of his most serious and poignant speeches in prose, Shakespeare was fighting against this convention.
It is interesting that some plays like Much Ado About Nothing are written almost entirely in prose – an exceptionally brave move for an Elizabethan playwright.
Summary of Prose
- Prose is regular, everyday speech.
- No rhyme or rhythm.
- Written as a block of text instead of lines.
- Hamlet’s dialogue e.g.“This majestical roof fretted with golden fire – why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.”
- Prose is the opposite of versee. lines in iambic pentameter and is used by lower class characters. “And I, my lord.”
- Makes dialogue more functional and natural, especially short lines like
- May indicate sincerity. Because it is less sing-song, prose can sound more honest, especially when a Prince like Hamlet drops into prose, which he does often. This may also indicate that Hamlet’s dilemmas are not just faced by kings and queens but everyone.
- Prose can also be used to create a fractured train of thought, especially if lots of em-dashes are used e.g from Hamlet’s speech: “I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercise.” This can suggest mental instability.
- Shakespeare was a pioneer of using prose in plays.
- Prose was considered an uneducated form in the Renaissance, but it allowed a much greater range of experiences to be shown onstage.
Puns, Wit and Wordplay
- Puns involve clever plays on words.
- They were widely popular in Renaissance writing and show characters like Hamlet to be intellectual and educated.
- e.g. the pun “A little more than kin, and less than kind.”