What is a Verse Translation?

A verse translation maintains as closely as possible the rhythm and line length of the original work. The lines below from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night are written in a type of verse meter called iambic pentameter, or blank verse. *

Shakespeare’s Original Iambic Pentameter Lines

There is a fair behavior in thee, captain;       (11 syllables)

And though that nature with a beauteous wall    (10 syllables)

Doth oft close in pollution, yet of thee     (10 syllables)

I will believe thou has a mind that suits     (10 syllables)

With this thy fair and outward character.     (10 syllables)

        —Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 2

The ENJOY SHAKESPEARE verse translations also employ iambic pentameter. Notice that they syllable count is the same, and the rhythm follows the constraints imposed by the style of iambic pentameter that Shakespeare employed.


I sense a decent man inside you, captain.     (11 syllables)

And although nature often hides what's foul   (10 syllables)

Behind a lovely wall, I can have faith          (10 syllables)

That you, sir, have a mind that matches well   (10 syllables)

This fair and outward character I see.      (10 syllables)

Prose translations, on the other hand, focus on capturing the literal meaning, without concern for the rhythm and structure of the original line. You will not sense a meter developing, and you will not feel like you are reading Shakespeare.

Prose Translation

You appear to be a decent person, captain, and although nature may hide inner corruption behind a beautiful exterior, I believe that you have a mind the matches your pleasant demeanor.

Simplified Prose Translation

Viola said, “You seem to be a decent man, captain. Although awful people can seem nice, I believe that your pleasant behavior means you are nice inside too.”

* For more information on Shakespeare's use of iambic pentameter, see the relate article "How Iambic Pentameter Works."

Or try this Wikipedia article on iambic pentameter or this one on blank verse.