Language

Prose and blank verse

William Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" consists of both prose and poetic sections. Prose means that the character speech is not bound by rhyme, rhythm, or verse, but resembles a natural way of speaking. Sections spoken in verse, on the other hand, are more artificial. The iambic pentameter in blank verse, meaning rhymeless verse, is predominant in these sections.

The moments when the characters in the drama speak in prose or in blank verse are not chosen at random, but can be traced back to the respective context. The more socially elevated members of court society, for example King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, and the ghost of the late King Hamlet, speak in blank verse throughout (with one exception in Act 3/Scene 2). The members of the lower classes, on the other hand, make exclusive use of prosaic speech, such as the gravediggers (Act 5/Scene 1) and the actors when they are not performing on stage.

More interesting, however, are those characters who make use of both. Hamlet, Ophelia, and Polonius, for example, speak in both prose and blank verse. In front of his mother Gertrude and the king, Hamlet almost never uses prose, but as soon as he speaks to members of a lower social rank, he abandons the more artificial idiom of blank verse and uses the more popular prose. With Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, for example, he speaks in prose over a long passage (Act 2/Scene 2), and when he violently insul...

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