Analysis: Writing Style
Verse And Prose
Othello, like Shakespeare's other plays, is written in a combination of verse (poetry) and prose (how we talk every day). (Note: The play Richard II is the one exception to this rule—it's the only Shakespeare play written entirely in verse.)
Reading Othello often feels like reading a lengthy poem, and that's because Shakespeare's characters often speak in verse.
What kind of verse do they speak? Well, the nobles typically speak in unrhymed "iambic pentameter" (also called "blank verse"). Don't let the fancy name intimidate you – it's pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Let's start with a definition of "Iambic Pentameter":
An "iamb" is an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one. "Penta" means "five," and "meter" refers to a regular rhythmic pattern. So "iambic pentameter" is a kind of rhythmic pattern that consists of five iambs per line. It's the most common rhythm in English poetry and sounds like five heartbeats: ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM.
Let's try it out on this line from Othello:
FareWELL the TRANquil MIND, fareWELL conTENT (3.3.401)
Every second syllable is accented, so this is classic iambic pentameter. When the lines have no rhyme scheme, we call it "unrhymed iambic pentameter," which is also known as "blank verse."
Blank verse, as we've said, is typically reserved for the nobility and other important characters, since it's kind of a formal way to speak.
Not everyone in the play speaks in blank verse, which we've established is the elegant, high-class way of talking. Characters lower on the social scale don't talk in a special poetic rhythm; they just talk.