Poetry vs. Prose in Shakespeare's Hamlet
In any discussion of poetry vs. prose worth it's stanzas, questions regarding such tools as meter, rhyme, and format must come into play. These are, after all, the most obvious distinguishing features of poetry, and they must certainly be key in determining the definition, and in fact nature, of poetry.
Yet a term as broad as "poetry" is not so easily quantified as to simply attribute physical characteristics to it and let all writing either fall into or out of that category. Poetry is determined by the effect upon the reader. It is an individual opinion, and thus defined by the collected (individual) reactions.
There is a willow grows askaunt the brook,
That shows his hoary leaves on the glassy stream,
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cull-cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.
There on the pendant boughs her crownet weeds
Clamb'ring to hand, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up,
Which time she chaunted snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
-Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act IV Scene VII
Take, for example, the above text from Hamlet. One of the more stirring monologues of the play, it describes the death of Ophelia in specific, touching terms. Think of the audience reaction had it been in the form of obvious prose, and stated in unflowered terms. Shakespeare could have written it as:
"Ophelia fell (from a tree she was sitting in) into the water. She floated for a second, singing to herself like an idiot, then her clothes pulled her down. You know, to muddy death."
Thank goodness for English Literature as a whole that the Bard had more sense than that.
Poetry is impact. Shakespeare chose to list the flowers that Ophelia wove into her garlands because it brought an image to the minds of the readers. It gave the scene substance. The child's songs that she chanted played poignant irony to the fact that she would soon be dying, unaware of her own demise.
Yet the poetry does not lie entirely in the format. The relatively steady meter of each line is only a tool, a hypnotic effect to lull the audience into the feel of the speech with repetition of emphasis. "And mermaid like a while they bore her up," keeps rhythm so that, even were one not to listen to the meaning of the words, the melody of execution would remain still enthralling.
Sound is important to poetry. Alliteration, meter, rhyme- all help to convey a lyrical quality to...