Up until A Doll’s House took the theater world by storm, most serious plays were performed in verse (meaning that each line had a certain meter, or number of syllables, and lines usually rhymed). From the dramas of the Ancient Greeks to the tragedies of Shakespeare, characters spoke in verse to show that the theater was an elevated art form. Only comedic moments or less intelligent lines were spoken in prose, as everyday dialogue was considered less artistic and thus unsuitable for dramatic, romantic moments or scenes of heartbreak and death. However, as the 18th and 19th centuries progressed, theater floundered in Europe while realistic novels, like those of Austen and Dickens, flourished. Then, Ibsen determined that the realistic action and characters of his plays needed realistic dialogue, or prose.

Ibsen’s conviction about using prose for his dramas radically changed the future of Western theater. As industrialization and capitalism grew, a new scholarly class of thinkers emerged, and with them rose an interest in “thinking” plays that challenged the hypocrisy of conventional morality in the rapidly changing modern world. Ibsen saw this change and translated it to theater, writing plays that utilized everyday speech and creating characters that audiences could relate to. His use of prose allowed for the audience to more easily recognize its own society, making his condemnation of conventional values all the more shocking. After A Doll’s House sold out across the European continent, prose drama became the norm. Today, plays are rarely written in verse, instead following in Ibsen’s footsteps with prose dialogue. 

Read more about the use of contemporary speech in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.