When we talk about prose in Shakespeare, we are referring to all the lines of a play that do not conform to a specific poetic structure. The easiest way to identify prose on the page is that prose sections appear as full blocks of text, while verse is broken into lines, which all start with capital letters. Shakespeare switches between prose and verse often in his plays, with lower class characters generally speaking prose, and upper class characters speaking verse, though characters frequently speak both, sometimes switching in the middle of a speech. Prose is a more “natural” sounding way of speaking than verse, and characters use prose when they are speaking casually. Characters also use prose when they are in heightened emotional states. For example, Shylock’s well-known “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech in
The Merchant of Venice
is in prose, although Shylock speaks verse elsewhere. In the speech, he is overcome with passion, and his prose style of speaking reflects a headlong rush of emotion he cannot organize into tidy lines.