Verse vs. Prose

The predominant form of verse that appears in Elizabethan Drama is known as blank verse. Simply put, in blank verse, the lines don’t rhyme (but they do share a common meter).

Modern writers try to create guidelines to explain when authors will write in verse and when they will write in prose. The formulas might sound like this:

Verse is more likely to be used:

  1. by persons of higher status or dignity,
  2. in speeches depicting emotion,
  3. when the author wishes to raise the level of action or expression.

In contrast, prose is more likely to be used:

  1. by persons of lower status, or dishonorable character,
  2. in colloquial speech,
  3. when the author wishes to lower the level of action or expression,
  4. when the speaker is insane, drunk, or otherwise not in his right mind.

All of these guidelines carry a large element of usefulness and correctness with them. But we must remember that there were no laws requiring an author to use verse or prose in given situations. Very simply, dramatists could choose to write in verse or prose depending completely on their whims and inclinations at a given moment, and so we need not get too worked up to find an exact formula to follow.

The early comedy writer George Chapman’s earliest comedies, for example, were written mostly in verse, but as he became more experienced, he came to rely more on prose, and so his later comedies contain less verse than prose.

As with most of the “rules” of writing, an author would choose to follow them only when it suits his purpose to do so.