What is meant by the use of 'prose' in Acts 2 and 3 of "Hamlet"? How do I explain it?

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luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 2, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern speak in prose and when Hamlet speaks to them, he also speaks in prose.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern speak in prose because they are supposed to be characters of somewhat blunted intelligence.  Hamlet is suspicious of them and their intentions and it is easy for him to avoid their questions and misdirect them.  Often when Shakespeare has characters of lower intelligence speak, he has them speak in prose.  When the players come in to the scene, Hamlet continues to speak in prose to them.  He probably does that because they would speak in prose because of their lower station in life and he is a polite person who would want to put them at ease.  In Act 3, Hamlet speaks to Ophelia in the first scene in prose after he's delivered his soliloquy and after he's become angry with her because he thinks she is spying on him along with her father.  He is putting on an "antic disposition" which means he shows his "madness", in part, by talking in prose.  Shakespeare shows madness by having mad characters speak this way.  The same mad ranting continues into the second scene before the play and so the prose continues also.