Editor's Choice

What is the difference between drama and prose?

Quick answer:

Prose and drama differ in form and function. Prose, which includes both fiction and nonfiction, is written or spoken language without a metrical structure, often used to express individual thoughts and feelings. It's typically read privately, aligning with the rise of literacy and affordability of printed matter. Drama, however, is a performing art that uses dialogue and actions to convey a story to an audience. It's traditionally linked to cultures with lower literacy and is often community-oriented. Dramatic scripts, unlike prose, can be written in verse, prose, or a mix of both.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Prose refers to written or spoken language that is not in poetic form, whether in rhythm, rhyme, or structure. Drama is a performing art in which actors use dialogue and actions to tell a story or convey a message to a viewing audience. In most cases, dramatic works are written down so that the performers can memorize and rehearse the lines before performing them live. The written form of a drama takes the structure of a script. While prose is written in paragraph form, dramatic scripts are written as lines of dialogue, with the speaker's name clearly designated before each line. Instructions for the director about the set or for the performers about their actions are written in notes, usually set in italics, before or between the lines of dialogue. These notes are usually quite sparse, because the director will determine a significant amount of the choreography and will teach it to the actors during rehearsals. Thus, when one reads the script of a drama instead of seeing it performed, one misses out on a great deal of description that would explain the characters' movements and expressions. Prose allows the author, depending on the chosen point of view, to describe inner thoughts and feelings of characters. Drama requires that characters' thoughts either be spoken aloud or portrayed via body language and movement.

Another factor to consider when differentiating between drama and prose is that dramatic scripts can be written in either prose or verse or in a combination. William Shakespeare wrote much of his drama in iambic pentameter. However, he often alternated between prose and poetry in his plays, with the lines of lower-class characters written in prose and those of upper-class characters written in poetry. A scene that contained great import might use more obvious rhyme and meter, while a less significant scene would be written in more prosaic language.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Drama refers to plays, which are written to be acted on a stage by people playing the parts of characters. Prose is usually meant to be read privately by an individual (though speeches are almost always written in prose) and is the kind of writing we associate with both fiction and nonfiction books. Think of drama as plays and prose as novels, short stories or essays.

Drama is more traditionally connected to cultures with lower literacy, where people could watch and listen to stories they might not be able to read. Prose is connected to the rise of literacy, as well as the ever-lowering costs of printing. Both being able to read and afford printed matter meant people could go off privately with a book, journal or pamphlet and read and ponder the work in solitude, though prose works were often read aloud as well, both in the home and, in the case of pamphlets, on the street.

Though the division is not sharp, drama is associated with community: the idea is that people go en masse to see a performance. Prose is often tied to the rise of the private individual, reading alone.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial