Shakespeare's language

Learning to speak Shakespeare 

William Shakespeare is famous for his language. It is estimated that he created around 2,035 new words or phrases, and many of these are still in use today, such as “critical”, “excellent”, and “be cruel to be kind”. Also, his texts are crammed with literary devices.

Below, we explain the meaning of verse, prose, and various types of rhyme before briefly outlining language devices often used in Shakespeare, such as antithesis, imagery, and puns.

Verse vs. prose 

While prose is ‘ordinary language’, verse refers to lines that follow a specific pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Each verse pattern has a metrical rhythm called meter (British spelling: metre). Two of the most common types of verse in Shakespeare are iambic pentameter and trochaic tetrameter. 

If you find it tricky to tell verse from prose, we have a shortcut for you: Try to compare the length of the lines. In a prose passage in a play, the lines typically look much longer. 

Verse: iambic pentameter

Iambic pentameter is the dominant type of verse in Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays. It consists of a line of verse written with a five-beat rhythm where an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. The unit of an unstressed syllable and a stressed one is c...

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