Talking Points, Prose:

 

Prose-- Why Read It?

One of the drawbacks of most undergraduate "period" courses is that we never read any prose. "Literature" is too often taken to be "poetry." We do offer courses in the novel and short story, and from time to time professors are able to teach courses in the Romantic novel, or Victorian novel, or Victorian prose. But mostly we just ignore the prose literature of a given period.

That's not a good choice with 17th-century literature, for -- like the poets -- the prose writers are busy experimenting with classical forms (e.g., the character) and developing English versions of continental prose forms (e.g., the essay). Also, they are carrying into prose the same interest in style that marks the poetry of the period.

We will not read any of the prose narratives of the 17th-century, but you should know that two kinds exist:

What we will read represents a variety of popular genres:

 

Style: Our first job, however, is to understand the two most common prose styles of the period. For convenience, I will call these the plain style and the fancy style. Both will deal with the following elements, but differently:

 Plain Style

Fancy Style

 monosyllabic words polysyllabic words
common, familiar words obscure words
English roots Latin roots
relatively few adjectives and adverbs and dependent elements within the clause lots of adjectives and adverbs and lots of dependent elements

  Plain Style

 Fancy Style

 simple sentences  
 compound/complex sentences, but fewer dependent elements compound/complex sentences with lots of dependent elements
   the periodic sentence (main clause introduced by a long series of parallel dependent clauses: "when it seems necessary to ..., when ...., when ..., and when ..., then x will occur.")
   lots of asides, appositives, parenthetical phrases

 Plain Style

 Fancy Style

 fewer, and less complicated instances  dramatic punctuation (!)
 fewer, and less complicated instances  comparative terms (similes, metaphors)
 fewer, and less complicated instances  parallelism & repetition, balance & rhythm
 fewer, and less complicated instances  imagery, allusions to folklore & myth
 fewer, and less complicated instances, often with English trans in accompaniment  lots of learned authorities cited, often in Latin