The Use of Prose and Verse in Romeo&Juliet
Table of Contents
Enjambment and End-stopped Line
Verse and Prose in Romeo and Juliet
Functions of the Use of Prose
Function of Variation
Comic Effect-Increasing Function
Function of Suggesting Mental Instability
Reasons for the Use of Verse
Function of the Sonnet Form
In this day and age, modern drama is usually composed in prose language and consists of everyday speech. If a play is written in verse language after all, it might even have an alienating effect on some members of the audience. In William Shakespeare’s time, however, the use of verse language in drama was not at all against the audience’s expectations and much more common than prose. Still, Shakespeare tried to combine both styles in his plays and thus developed his own techniques to unite two completely different modes of speech. Since the distribution of verse and prose language in Shakespeare’s plays is far from being arbitrary, I am not only going to analyse the difference between both styles, but also the reasons for their occurrence using examples of the well-known tragedy Romeo and Juliet.
In order to be able to recognize verse and prose language in Shakespeare’s plays, one needs to be familiar with certain technical terms. While the characteristics which are described below appear in verse language frequently, they cannot be found in prose texts whatsoever. Metre
The metre is one of the fundamental aspects of poetry and – among other factors such as the length of syllables, repetition of elements etc. – helps to establish the rhythm in a line of verse. The regular occurrence of stressed and unstressed syllables intensifies the rhythmical effect. Foot
A metric foot consists of stressed and unstressed syllables which can occur in several different combinations. One of the most frequent combinations in the English language is the iamb. The iamb consists of two syllables of which the first one is unstressed followed by a stressed one. The opposite order (i.e. a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed) is called a trochee. Other combinations are the dactyl (which consists of three syllables in the order: stressed-unstressed-unstressed) and the anapaest (three syllables: unstressed-unstressed-stressed) which do not occur so frequently as iambs and trochees. Two rather rare types are the spondee (two syllables: stressed-stressed) and the amphibrach (three syllables: stressed-unstressed-stressed). Additionally to the type of foot, a complete analysis of the metrical pattern contains the number of stressed syllables per line of verse. Again, there are several different kinds. However, the only relevant type for analysing Shakespeare’s plays (and other literary works) is the pentameter (Greek pente: “five”). The pentameter is characterised – as its name already implies – by five stressed syllables per line which occur distributed to five iambs. This makes a total of ten syllables per line of verse, namely five stressed and five unstressed ones. Enjambment and End-stopped Line
“When sentences, or syntactic units, extend beyond the end of a line, this incongruence between sentence structure and line structure is known as ‘enjambment’ (or ‘run-on-line’).” (Nünning 2009: 59) The opposite of a run-on-line is obliviously the end-stopped-line, where the end of a syntactic unit is in accordance with the...
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