Looking for the Rational Rationale (or You can’t have your poetry until you’ve eaten your prose)

Yesterday, we asked why Shakespeare chose to rhyme over 20% of the total lines of The Comedy of Errors (over 23% of the poetic line count).

wow, that’s an awful title…

Today, why are roughly 235 lines of the play in prose?

The standard, cliched answer is the ol’ “verse = nobility :: prose = common man” trope.

And while that’s true in many cases (and many in this play [for example, at no point does the Duke or Egeon or the Abbess speak anything but  verse]), it’s not true all the time (wait until we revisit this topic in February of 2011 [look it up, baby]).

So what’s going on?

Since Shakespeare didn’t leave us any dramaturgical theses (and since I can’t read Shakespeare’s mind over the vast expanse of over four centuries [heck, I can’t even read my wife’s mind…much to her disappointment])… we can only guess:

Verse by its very nature uses hightened language; this would be best for conveying both deep emotional content and complex rhetorical flourishes.

yeah, I got that last phrase from this week’s Sotomayor hearings… gotta LOVE topicality!

Then again, sometimes it’s just a poem in the text of the play itself.

sometimes a banana is just a banana

On the other hand, prose is perfect for conveying the mundane and banal… here, the concepts are not earth-shattering important nor deeply philosophical.  This includes the quick, mechanical responses to commands or questions (like the Jailer’s response to the Duke’s order to take Egeon into custody: “I will, my lord.” [I.1.156]).

As you can see, there’s no satisfactory one-size-fits-all answer here… Adriana and Luciana both drop in and out of verse (and back again) when talking to DE in Act Two, Scene One.  AS and DS speak in verse in Act Two, Scene Two, until AS beats DS; they then converse in prose until the arrival of Adriana and Luciana, after which the speak only in verse… go figure.

Like I said, no satisfactory answer… we can only look at each scene and try to devise a rational rationale.