The prose is a form of linguistic expression, characterized by the continuity of syntactic periods and not subject to the rules of writing in verse. The concept of prose must be considered in opposition to that of poetry: in fact, it indicates a structure that does not present the “start of a new line” of the verse (regulated by metric rules, rhythmic needs, will express) but proceeds straight, completing the line and using the “newline” only to indicate a non-metric-rhythmic but conceptual separation between sequences not obliged by formal constraints.

In post-modern prose, however, there is an accentuated use of the paragraph for purposes that are not only conceptual but above all rhythmic. This happens in particular in the novel and in the action story where it is necessary to give a more pressing pace.

The term prose is also used to refer to a theatrical genre.

The etymological origin and history of prose testify to these characteristics: Prose (anciently proversa and later prorsa) was in Latin the feminine form of the adjective prorsus (straight, following); combined with the noun oratio it indicated oral or written speech not in verse.

The functions of learned prose are many:

  • Narrative
  • Historiography
  • Didactic-scientific
  • Essayistic-critical
  • Oratory
  • Epistle
  • Dramatic

Despite this wealth of possible forms, prose was for a long time left to experiment freely. In Latin culture, prose was not linked to narrative genres but to oratory, which is the supreme model. Marco Tullio Cicerone (Marcus Tullius Cicero) in the Orator distinguishes three levels of style: low, medium and high, and deepens the musical characteristics of prose by establishing rules regarding the arrangement of the members of the sentence, the rhythm and especially the clause of the period, or its final part, arranged according to metric measures analogous to those of poetry.

Cicero’s theory passes through Quintilian and arrives in the Middle Ages influencing the artes dictandi of schools and chancelleries. In the thirteenth century John of Garlandia describes and classifies some types of prosaic style, and in this period a scientific and philosophical Latin prose is elaborated, which makes the rigor of logical-demonstrative schemes prevail over the taste for ornatus.

The Renaissance civilization proposes a wider range of genres in prose: the poetics of classicism tends to present models to be imitated in the different literal genres. The reversal of the trend occurs in the seventeenth-century Baroque, which withdraws its spectacular artifices from the use of imitation. In 1700 prose becomes an important tool for dissemination and narrative polemic, philosophical, satirical, but it is with 1800 that the distinction between prose and poetry is deepened by creating the distinction between the theoretical-narrative function of prose and poetry lyrical function, this distinction is referred to understand the domain of prose in naturalism.