Language

Prose and blank verse

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet consists of both prose and verse. Prose means that the character speech is not bound by rhyme or rhythm, but resembles a natural way of speaking. Sections spoken in verse, on the other hand, are characterized by a specific metrical rhythm, which sometimes also includes rhyme. The dominant type of verse, or meter, in Hamlet is called iambic pentameter, or simply blank verse.

Whether a character speaks in verse or prose can tell us something about that character’s social status or even state of mind. Often, blank verse reflects a high social status, which is why for example King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, and the ghost of the late King Hamlet generally speak this way. In contrast, members of the lower classes speak in prose, such as the gravediggers (Act 5/Scene 1) and the actors hire...

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