Literary Device Glossary Assignment Of Contract
literacy,the ability to read and write a language. In Medieval England, the term literatus distinguished those who could read (but not necessarily write) Latin. There was no particular term for the "lay-literate," who read and wrote Middle English. Until around 1375-1400, Middle English was of interest only to craftsmen and peasants--the language of English court culture and law was Norman French, and the language of Christian religion was Latin. Of all named English poets of this era, only Chaucer and William Langland (author of The Vision of Piers Plowman) wrote only in Middle English. In late C14, vernacular literacy throughout England has been estimated at around 1% of the total population, but in London, among some aristocrats and merchants, the rate could be higher. Popular vernacular literacy becomes more common in the century after Chaucer's death, especially after Caxton begins printing in English (c. 1475-1491). By 1700, vernacular literacy in London becomes common enough that servants in Congreve's The Way of the World can read the titles of books, though they are not particularly "well-read."
orality,the literary quality of texts written to be read or sung aloud. Middle and Early Modern English literature was almost entirely intended for oral performance. Even solitary readers tended to read aloud to themselves and experienced literature as something "spoken to them by the book" rather than something imagined by the eyes. Non-literate people could experience and remember surprising amounts of literature by listening to their literate friends reading aloud. (See Margery Kempe, who "wrote" her book by dictating to scribes though she quite probably was illiterate.) Modern readers should practice reading early literature aloud to resolve difficult passages and to test interpretations of their significance.
performance of the text,in modern literary criticism, especially Reader-Response Criticism, the reader's construction of a reading of the text by applying the language's grammar rules and a standardized lexicon of word meanings, plus advanced reading conventions determined by genre (e.g., is it a sonnet, a novel, or an epic poem?) and sophisticated social conventions (e.g., when reading a Medieval romance, do you understand the significance of noblesse, gentilesse, villainy, or other cultural codes of the romance's noble audience?). In practical criticism of early literature, either the narrator's public recital of the text before an audience, or the modern reader's attempt to recreate, mentally, that experience.
interpretation of the text,in modern literary criticism, the act of examining a text's meaning (see Hirsch, "sharable . . . verbal meaning") to determine its significance as an aesthetic, cultural, political, or other type of phenomenon (see Hirsch, "object of criticism"). The interpreter asks "why is it beautiful"?; "what social codes and conventions does it transmit?"; "what political assumptions does it propound or challenge with respect to power and subjugation?"; etc. In dramatic criticism, a text can be "interpreted" by the performer who recites it (i.e., "Sir John Gielgud's interpretation of Hamlet"), but for most purposes in 211, we will use "interpretation" in Hirsch's sense as our attempt to explain why the text's construction and meaning are significant to its original audience, to later audiences, and to us.
social functions of literature,literature began life as something spoken, what we might call "oraliture," in the songs of illiterate poets who were supremely gifted memorists and composers. From Homer to the authors of Beowulf, "Battle of Maldon," and "Caedmon's Song," these illiterate singers usually sang epic verse in praise of great men and women, and occasionally condemned the bad behavior of miscreants (e.g., those who ran from the fight with the Vikings at Maldon). Medieval poets of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, under the influence of Arab-speaking poets, discovered a new language and purpose for literature in romances and lyric poems that celebrated heteroerotic and homoerotic human emotions, especially love, hate, jealousy, and despair, all feelings that would have felt unspeakably alien to the world of epic praise and blame. Verse satire's assault upon criminal and foolish behavior originated in Greek and Roman literature, and it appears to have spread mainly in Latin literature during the Medieval period, breaking into Middle English at the margins (literally, in short poems in the margins of more serious, longer ones) and then arising as a formal poetic function in works like Chaucer's "Wife of Bath's Prologue" and Parliament of Foules, and Langland's Vision of Piers Plowman. Didactic moral instruction in drama emerged in the ninth through the sixteenth century in the "morality" (allegorical moral drama) and the "mystery" (dramatized biblical narrative). Near the end of the Early Modern period, the spread of mass literacy led authors to experiment with descriptions of the experiences of people in all levels of society. Behn, DeFoe, Richardson, and others drew a combination of autobiography/biography, romance, history, and satire into the creation of the modern novel, whose functions largely have absorbed those of all other genres.
aesthetics,a system of rules for judging beauty. Most readers begin their careers using an unexamined set of aesthetic rules they have inherited from their cultural moment, though there is some debate about whether individual readers can "invent" an aesthetic rule without receiving it from the literature from which they learn to read, but at some point, competent readers and especially poets begin to collaborate with the given rules to forge new ones based on their psychological and physiological responses to what they read and write. Learning another culture's aesthetics can be one of the most satisfying achievements of the study of early literature.
poetic stress, as in "four-stress verse,"verse in which syllabic "feet" are not measured carefully ("metrical") but rather the poem's rhythm is organized by repeated strong emphases, which fall upon syllables which ordinarily would be sounded more strongly. In Old English and Middle English verse, stress often was emphasized by alliteration (repeating initial consonant sounds). "Four-stress" lines may contain many syllables, but should have only four strongly stressed beats, in Old English often separated in the middle by a space ("caesura") indicating a performance pause and parsing the whole line into two "hemistychs" or half-lines. Scholars debate when English poets began to measure or "meter" their verse by syllable length, but the dividing point between poets who did and poets who didn't occurs between Chaucer's time and Surrey's (1400-1530).
alliterative verse, verse in which metrical stress in each line falls on words or phrases which usually begin with the same consonant. (E.g., these two lines from "The Battle of Maldon":
Hyge sceal �y heardra, heorte �y cenre, [Spirit shall be so much the harder, heart, the keener]
Mod sceal �y mare �y ure m�gen lytla�. [Mindfulness must be so much more, as our might lessens.] (Notice that this metrical formula pairs two lines in which the first three stresses alliterate and the fourth does not--other combinations easily may be imagined, as first not and last three alliterated, second not but the rest alliterated, etc.. The play of stress with and against alliteration adds elegance to the line, even as rhyme with/vs. meter improves rhymed verse in the next era.)
kenning,one of a wide range of formulae representing familiar nouns by riddle-like metaphors, like "whale-road" for "ocean," or "battle-adders" for arrows. Common in Old English poetry as a means of avoiding mere repetition when composing oral-formulaic verse.
elegy,a mode of poetry originally limited to funeral verses remembering the dead, now applied loosely to any regretful memory of things passed (e.g., "an elegy for the Orioles' pennant hopes," "elegiac moments in Keats' odes").
epic,a long poem dealing with events crucial to the survival of a people or nation, centering on the deeds of one central hero but extending to multiple plots in which the hero's deeds may figure, often involving the intercession (real or allegorical) of the gods. Until Dante, epics always were about warrior-heroes. Click here for some other stylistic features of epic poems.
scop [hard "c" like "skop"], an Anglo-Saxon singer of tales who entertained and instructed warriors with remembered, recreated narrative songs celebrating in epic the heroic battles of their (sometimes mythic) ancestors and lamenting in elegy the impermanence of the human condition and the pain of loss. (E.g., in Beowulf, l. 496, the poet describes an evening in the mead hall called "Heorat" where "Scop hwilum sang hador on Heorote" [There then in Heorat the scop sang]).
stanza,a multi-line unit of poetic composition that may be a complete syntactic/logical unit, standing alone, such a complete unit functioning as part of a longer poem, loosely corresponding to a verse "paragraph," or a part of a longer logical development that extends to other stanzas in a longer poem. Stanzas are described in terms of their number of lines, their meter, and their rhyme scheme, as in the English sonnet: fourteen lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ababcdcdefefgg. Stanzaic sub-units of longer poems may become known by their own nicknames, as in the English sonnet's "four quatrains and a couplet" (abab+cdcd+efef+gg) or the Italian sonnet's "octave and sestet" (abababab+cdcdcd). Many other variations, obviously, are possible. Think about how a clever poet might invent the sonnet's architecture by playing math games with the basic rhyming couplet.
rhyme scheme,a poem's organization of rhymes at the end of lines, represented by arbitrary alphabetical abbreviations in which the first rhyme sound always is "a," the second "b," the third "c" etc. (See the rhyming couplet, balade and stanza definitions above for examples.)
rhyming couplet,a two-line poetic sequence, each line of which ends in the same (or nearly the same) sound, rhyming aa, bb, cc, etc.. The simplest possible stanza form, rhyming couplets also can be complete poems in themselves, or they can be concluding or internal devices to bring closure to a longer lyric (e.g., a Shakespearean sonnet's last two lines), or the unit of composition of much longer poems, like the four-stress couplets of many of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or the "heroic couplets" (two lines of rhyming iambic pentameter) in which Dryden and Pope typically wrote. The following rhyming couplet is the entire poem, "To His Book's End," by Robert Herrick (from Hesperides and Noble Numbers, 1648), with the rhymes highlighted in red:To his book's end this last line he'd have placed:
Jocund his muse was, but his life was chaste.
balade, a medieval French lyric song usually composed of three seven-line, tetrameter or four-stress stanzas rhyming ababbcc. Topics usually derived from the "lover's complaint," but could be extended to philosophical and political topics, as in Chaucer's balades. Click here for the first stanza of "Truth" with the rhyme scheme in color.
estates satire, medieval culture was organized not by the Marxist notion of competing "classes" (groups of people linked by common economic status), but rather by "estates," modes of living that fit together to complete a culture: the clergy ("those who pray"), the nobility ("those who protect"), and the peasantry ("those who feed"). The "middle class" of modern culture arose from peasants who mastered crafts and emerging technologies, often established in guilds of the cities (the "bourgs," whence the "bourgeoisie" and Star Trek's "Borg" who parody the way collectivist city-dwellers must have seemed to the hierarchically-organized feudal nobles). Estates satire captures traditional behaviors and attitudes attributed to the three estates, and to the peasant craftsmen and guildsmen. The satire usually combines corrective allegations of criminal behavior ("Juvenalian") with more gentle satire of the human weaknesses we may tolerate ("Horatian"). The modern "estates satire" is the "doctor" or "lawyer joke." (E.g., A lawyer, a priest, and an English teacher were marooned on an island just ten yards from shore, but the surrounding water was filled with hungry sharks. The English teacher tried to swim ashore and was devoured. The lawyer jumped in and paddled safely to shore. The priest shouted over to him, "Why didn't they eat you?" The lawyer answered, "Professional courtesy!")
frame narrative,a narrative which contains other narratives within its "frame," most famously the 1001 Arabian Nights' tales of dervishes and genies, told by a princess bride on her extended wedding night to distract her murderous groom from his ambition to kill her (anon.), and the Decameron, 100 tales about love and sex told on ten days by ten noblemen and noblewomen who have fled the Florentine plague. Often, tales told reveal frame characters' hidden desires and motives, but in other instances the frame is more like a device to incorporate the widest variety of tale-types and to excuse the author from some responsibility for the tales' content ("I'm just telling you what they told me"--also see Chaucer.).
persona/ae, from the Greek word for the dramatic masks worn by tragic actors, a mask or character-projection created by an author to simulate the existence of a personality other than her/his own. The mask may be obvious, as when Milton invents a "Satan" to explain Genesis to his readers, or subtle, as when a lyric poet's work seems very like a direct statement from the poet, her-/himself, but may also be intended to be read as a hypothetical utterance of some other person in some situation other than that in which we know the poet.
implied narrator, a persona invented by the author to deliver the tale we are reading, operating like a character through whose eyes and ears we receive episodes and whose opinions may shade or even wildly distort the narrative. "Chaucer-the-Pilgrim" can be read as an implied narrator, an understanding first articulated in an important 1954 PMLA article by E. Talbot Donaldson. Such distorted narratorial points of view also can be called "unreliable narrators" (famously, the possibly hallucinating governess in Henry James' Turn of the Screw). The term was invented by Wayne Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), where you also can find other terms helpful for studying fiction, like implied author (Chaucer's "fat, dumpy and stupid" authorial persona), implied audience (i.e., the "you" our narrator addresses), and inscribed audience (the other pilgrims listening to and reacting to the tales). Most non-professional readers are not very alert to the presence of implied narrators, which has led to gross misreading of great works like the Canterbury Tales and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (implied author, Mark Twain, the fictional persona of Samuel Langhorne Clemons; implied narrator, Huckleberry Finn, a lying, rebellious, racist child; implied audience, "good people" of pre-Civil-War America, who Huck expects to be snobbish, Christian, and racist).
fabliau,a relatively short medieval French poetic narrative about the bawdy and deceptive behaviors of town-dwellers, guildsmen, students, and other character types who often live on the boundaries between the traditional medieval estates (nobility, clergy, and peasantry). Often, the deviant sexual or criminal behaviors are not punished, but the audience may be invited to see the plot as satirizing the characters who commit them. The modern "dirty joke" often resembles a fabliau with a shrunken plot.
parody,any ironic, and/or comic imitation of a genre (parody-epic), character (parodic hero), mode (parodic elegy), or form (parodic couplet). The parodic spirit may not be overtly "humorous," but may rather be intended seriously to draw attention to the original model's potential significance for a later audience.
plot,the events or actions in a work of literature. Not all works of literature have "plots," but those which do either operate as a narrative "telling" or merely imply such a narrative by indirect reference (e.g., Browning's "My Last Duchess"). The way a plot is told to us sometimes is called the "diegesis" (Gerard Gennette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method ). For instance, Some events in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby are told to us in the simple past tense of the narrator, Nick Carraway, which means they follow the unmodified chronology of his memory of a stream of time, whereas other events are told to us in "past imperfect," the tense indicating the speaker is not specifying exactly when in the past events occurred. Those past imperfect events, like things his father once told him or things he heard previously about Jordan Baker, relate uneasily to the ordinary narrative flow's claim to be truthful. If we did not distinguish between the plot and how it was told to us, describing that effect would be difficult.
flat and round characters,E.M. Forster's attempt to distinguish between "flat," undeveloped, minimalist characters whose behaviors are highly predictable (Roadrunner and Coyote), and "round," highly developed, evolving characters who can grow and learn during a plot's development, and who may never be fully knowable. (Aspects of the Novel, 1927).
romance,as a genre of literature (vs. the Mod.E. word for an erotic affair), a narrative in prose or verse which concerns the deeds of medieval knights and the ladies they served, usually complex in plot, with large casts of characters and episodic development, frequently depending on coincidences which tend to demonstrate the rule of Fate or Divine Providence in the world. Romance plots typically take place in an oscillation between the court and the forest, the world of medieval feudal politics and the world of mystery or the marvelous. Sometimes, as when a giant green knight rides into Arthur's court and challenges the knights to cut off his head, the two worlds cross paths rather directly. Erotic relationships between the knights and ladies frequently turn on issues of betrayal and loyalty worked out in circumstances which complicate following the conventions which courtly behavior dictates. Great examples in Middle English are Chaucer's "Knight's Tale" and "Troilus and Criseyde," as well as the miniature Arthurian romance told by the Wife of Bath.
autobiography,technically, any writing about one's self, but generically a narrative (usually prose) seeking to explain one's life to one's culture, or to one's God. A famous early example in Latin is St. Augustine's Confessions, but the first surviving autobiography in Middle English is "The Boke of Margery Kempe." Pseudo-autobiography is a popular form of fiction, including the Wife of Bath's Prologue, and many early novels like Defoe's Robinson Cruso and Moll Flanders, Richardson's Pamela, and Fielding's Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones. Authors writing pseudo-autobiography actually may be incorporating parts of their real lives into the fiction, but the persona (q.v.) of the pseudonym allows them to take liberties with the account.
anti-feminism,preceding "feminism" by millenia, anti-feminism became a commonplace literary genre in the period between Paul's epistles (c. C1 CE) and the advent of Continental Humanism, which tended to encourage education of women and their treatment as equals. Building upon Paul's basic assumptions that women were "daughters of Eve," weak and pliable and dangerous to men's souls, influential early Church fathers like Jerome (Adversus Jovinianum) and Theophrastus (Liber aureolus de nuptiis) built their theology around a gendered universe in which the feminine was secondary, weak, earthly, and removed from the primary, strong, heavenly masculine power of the Deity. The most famous exposition of these ideas in Middle English, though satirizing their validity, is the "Wife of Bath's Prologue," which summarizes them in Jankyn's (husband #5's) "book of wykked wyves."
realism,a literary effect designed to fool readers into believing that a fictional creation is historic fact, as when characters are given extensive and historically verifiable backgrounds, or mannerisms which one might not expect from a character (e.g., awareness of the reader, confusions or subversions of the routine retelling of narratives, etc.). Huckleberry Finn usually is cited as such a character because in the first chapter of his eponymous novel he talks about his "creator" and about his previous appearance in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as if he were an actor talking about a previous part rather than a character unaware of the readers. So-called "realism effects" also have been noted in the frame narrative of Canterbury Tales (e.g., the narrator's claim that he must tell the tales as the pilgrims told them to him, though Chaucer made the whole thing up), and within the "Wife of Bath's Prologue," especially when she loses her place in her own "autobiographical narrative" at the point where she deceives her future husband, Jankyn, with the false report of a dream.
beast fable,a short satiric tale whose characters include, or are solely, talking animals whose behaviors and adventures are intended to illustrate human frailties. The most commonly known collection of beast fables in the Anglo-European tradition are those attributed to the African Aesop, a perhaps legendary 6th-century Roman slave. The genre is widely distributed in cultures all over the world, from Native Americans' tales of the trickster, Coyote, to the famous Chinese Zen narrative, Monkey. Like most fables, the narrator often closes a beast fable with a "moral," a sententious saying which the tale is supposed to illustrate, though the moral cannot possibly foreclose the fable's other significances for the modern reader.
debate,a formal argument between two speakers, based on legal disputation, but also a late classical and medieval genre which often involves representative social figures (husband vs. wife, servant vs. master, angel vs. devil) or allegorized figures of ideas (body vs. soul [see Marvell], man vs. death [see Everyman]) in which the conversation demonstrates the full range of philosophical positions on relevant issues. Serious debates usually are intended to move the audience toward choosing a "correct" side, but comic or mock debates often illustrate the failings of both sides.
Breton lai,a short romance, typically in verse, usually involving some element of the supernatural. The romance interest in knights' and ladies' erotic lives usually is preserved, but the narrative's compression and its use of magic produces effects also found in fables, like the readers' sense that there is a moral or social lesson to be drawn from the plot's outcome. Click here for a web page on "Franklin's Tale" [no longer in the Norton 7th edition]. For an expanded discussion of lai features and a link to a page on paper ideas related to "Sir Gowther," "King Orfew," and other lais, click here.
courtly love,a notion some say was invented in the C19 and C20 by critics who mistook a romance literature convention for real social behavior. Medieval Anglo-Europeans certainly debated love's proper character and the right and wrong behaviors of lovers, and from this, one may deduce that they spent a while practicing erotic relationships which were as illicit and varied as those which go on in a typical modern city. Whether there was a "religion of love" which subverted Christianity's prescriptions for proper (i.e., chaste, even virginal) human conduct is a notion still hard to prove (or to disprove). Andreas Capellanus ("Andreas the Chaplain") wrote a three-part discussion of the art of "honesti amandi," or the love of the well-born, which twice reports lists of formal rules for love (392.6 A55Bp). The 1185 book, whose title usually is translated "The Art of Courtly Love," perhaps written at the court of Marie de Champagne, also undercuts its tactical advice to the lover by spending the third section denouncing love in surprisingly anti-feminist terms. [for "Franklin's Tale," no longer in the Norton 7th edition!]
"fredom" (NF),the condition of being able to dispose of one's life, goods, actions, etc. without hinderance from any overlord; generosity; liberality. [for "Franklin's Tale," no longer in the Norton 7th edition!]
Dante's Francesca da Rimini,a character damned in the circle of the Lustful (Inferno V) whose tale of seduction by a book suggests the sins authors may be capable of committing via their works, even centuries after they were written. Since Plato, at least, we have records of literary criticism which concern themselves with literature's moral effects. Medieval readers, in particular, would have known of Francesca da Rimini as a classical example of the dangerous powers of the text.
personification allegory,an allegory in which abstract ideas or qualities (e.g., Lust, Knowledge, Graduation) are made characters whose actions and speech illustrate truths about those ideas or qualities. Allegories may be narrative, dramatic (i.e., in plays) or lyric.
moralities and mysteries (dramatic genres),moralities were medieval dramas which employed personification allegory to explain moral doctrine to the populace. Mystery plays, performed usually at Easter in towns for which they were written, dramatized events from the Bible. The Norton contains the "Second Shepherds' Play" from the Wakefield Cycle (late C15), which dramatizes the shepherds who heard the angels singing on the night of Jesus' birth.
dramatic irony,a double meaning which is transmitted because something a character does or says can be taken in two ways due to the dramatic circumstances in which it was done or said. Dramatic irony differs from a character's deliberately ironic speech or action because the character is unaware of the ironic circumstances, which the audience must interpret.
mysticism,belief that true wisdom can be obtained (only?) via direct contact between the mind/soul and a divine being
book (pre-printing def.),a container for written knowledge, a package of wisdom, often used generically as in Chaucer's "Book of the Duchess," when the insomniac narrator says "I bad one fetch me a book." Single books might contain many individual works by different authors. They also might contain the entire lifetime output of an author.
anchoress,a woman who inhabits a cell built into the walls of a cathedral or other religious site and who lives a life of meditation and prayer, contacting the outside world only through her confessor and receiving food etc. through a narrow opening designed to shield her from outside contact. She is "anchored" to the church by her vows and by the strictness of her regime. Julian of Norwich is England's most famous anchoress, but Ancrene Riewle (mid-C14) is a handbook written for several sisters intending to become anchoresses, to the practice might be more common than one might suppose.
utopia/utopian,a kind of thought devoted to imagining an ideal human culture or place, a rational experiment in idealization of the human condition, named for More's book, whose title means either the "good place" or "noplace" depending on how the Greek "U" is sounded in English. It's your choice. Utopias typically are the constructs of intentional human design, and are intended to stand as rational challenges to the happenstances of history and nature.
dystopia/dystopian,the opposite of utopian thought or an utopia, a place made wretched in as many ways as one might imagine, often by human reason.
speculative fiction,a very broad genre of narrative prose which takes liberties with historical or natural facts in order to lead readers to speculate upon possibilities which might inform our understanding of our current condition. This broad category includes both utopian and dystopian narratives, as well as science fiction and some fantasy narratives.
travel narrative,a narrative recounting travelers' adventures, strange customs, and concepts challenging to the travelers' home nations, a genre popular in the post-Columbian era when explorers' narratives were routinely used to drum up support for more expeditions and for exploitation of the lands described. Also see Ralegh's "Discovery...".
Neoplatonism,("new-platonism") a philosophical school descended from Platonic teaching (c. 2nd century CE) and originating in the Athenian Academy, which taught that true knowledge was philosophical in nature, achieved by spiritual experience, and depends upon a merging of the self with the thing/being/concept known. Major ancient neoplatonists were Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblicus, and Proclus. The medieval world rediscovered neoplatonism in the works of Origen and his patron, Augustine of Hippo. The Christian church used neoplatonic theories of illumination, revelation and spiritual discovery of non-obvious truths to interpret the events of Jesus' life and death. Hegel recovered and reapplied many of Proclus' ideas in the C18, and through his work and that of Schelling, the English Romantics were influenced by neoplatonism to rethink their view of poetic creation.
Rensaissance "self-fashioning" (also a book title),a 1980 book by Stephen Greenblatt ( 820.9 G798r), based on biographical and literary studies of Wyatt, More, and other authors in Henry VIII's court, which argued that the court's emphasis on a courtier's personal evolution by imitation of good models, and the presence of the king as a kind of "super-reader" of all acts and texts, created conditions under which successful courtiers became psychologically split between the selves they had brought to court and the selves they fashioned from imitative behavior and from following advice they found in literature. An early example of "New Historicism," Greenblatt's work drew upon letters, personal narratives, early biographies, and the authors' works to resituate interpretation of their works within the political structures within which the authors' personalities developed, and repositions the works' language and forms within the special expectations of the era which created them. (See Abrams for a more full description of this important recent critical movement.)
Renaissance,from "rebirth" (Italian), a name for any period of cultural re-invention (e.g., "Harlem Renaissance") derived from the work of Jacob Burckhardt, Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) and a line of thinkers who followed his argument that such a name accurately described the sweeping changes which altered literature and culture in the period between 1300 and 1600. An initial stimulus was the recovery of Greek classics, the "new learning" which challenged a millenium of church-sponsored authority by offering grounds for criticism of the current interpretations of doctrine, and which offered alternative definitions of good faith, life, and art. Initial changes were felt in the forms of the arts (e.g., new genres like the sonnet), but also in re-examinations of authors' roles, literature's function, and other fundamental concepts. Subsequently, the Reformation's activist priests formulated this into a new theological system which they claimed was more authentically Christian than that ruled from Rome. The discovery of the "New World" by Europeans, and the discovery of new stars and new ways to understand how the cosmos was organized tended to "decenter" Europe and Earth from the focus of "Creation," offering exciting opportunities to rethink many foundation concepts but also threatening the thinkers with a chaotic loss of social structure in their lives.
Machiavelli's The Prince,a famous 1513 treatise (3 years before Utopia and 15 years before the Italian first edition of The Courtier) which outlined the means by which states could be acquired by princes, how princely states should best be maintained, and how princes should conduct themselves in the process. Its influence in European politics was considerable, since it was the first non-idealistic (i.e., pragmatic) attempt to describe this subject in a vernacular language. Nicolo Machiavelli hoped its influence would unite the warring Italian city-states under a single ruler who would expell the many armies of mercenaries who had been plundering the peninsula since the fall of Rome in 476. The fact that More's Utopia was published three years later may not be entirely an accident. Unlike More's Utopia, Machiavelli's Prince never imagine a successful state governed by its own people, but only feudal monarchies ruled by more or less efficient princes.
translation,from Latin for a "transferring of a thing from one place to another," in this case, the ideas in one poem in one language into the ideas in another poem in a second language. Saints' bones, living cardinals, and parallel parts of diagrams all could be "translated" from one place to another. To translate a poem is no easy task. Paraphrase seeks to capture the basic meaning of the poem with little concern for the full range of ideas, in the order in which they occur in the original. A "version" of a poem repeats significant elements with differing emphases, as in "the Beowulf poet's version of 'Louie, Louie.' with its immortal opening words, 'Hwaet, Louie, Louie! Long have I had to go now!"
imitation,any act of mimesis, a copying of form, or content, or style, or all of these, which when done by a great poet results in a new great poem, and which when done by a hack, results in a debased version of the source poem.
sonnet,a lyric poem containing fourteen lines of iambic pentameter with one of a fairly limited set of rhyme schemes, including the Italian (ababababcdcdcd) and English or Surrey-Shakespeare (ababcdcdefefgg) and the Spenserian (ababbcbccdcdee).
iambic pentameter,a meter common in English and made up of five iambic feet, usually represented in prosodic notion like this: /^ /^ /^ /^ /^ where a / is an unstressed syllable and a ^ is a stressed syllable, as in the first line of Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," "The curfew tolls the knell of parting day." Click here for more on types of poetic feet, and here for types of poetic meter.
octave & sestet,subunits in the structure of an Italian sonnet, sometimes syntactically separated, as when the first eight lines of the "octave" establish a situation and the last six lines of the "sestet" complicate or resolve or reverse the situation.
"Italian" sonnet,a form of the sonnet made famous by Francis Petrarch and containing fourteen lines of iambic pentameter rhyming abababab cdcdcd (i.e., the octave and sestet).
verse epistle and epistolary satire,a letter in verse (the Epistles of Horace, etc.) and a satire in the form of a letter (Wyatt's "Mine Own John Poins" is both, since the "letter" also is a poem and a satire).
Petrarchan conceit,a poetic metaphor which usually compares the lover or the lover's situation to one of a stock set of situations (storms, storms at sea, fires, ships without rudders, hunters, etc.). The term "conceit" is an Elizabethan usage for any ingenious construction of words, and it has nothing to do with egotistical smugness. See later the "Metaphysical conceit."
stanzaic narrative,a tale told in stanzaic verse, like Sidney's "Astrophil and Stella" (pub. posth., 1591) Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde" (c. 1385), and Vikram Seth's Golden Gate (1991). The last two are indisputably "tales," since they are conceived with a continuous plot and refer to themselves as single works. Chaucer's "T&C" is organized in 5 books, rather like the C16 five-act play, and the text is written in 1,117 seven-line stanzas rhyming ababbcc ("rime royale" after James 1's use of it in C17, but the "Chaucerian" stanza in Sidney's era). Seth's novel in verse is composed entirely in sonnets, including its introduction. Sidney's "A&S" is more problematic since the sonnets and songs leave significant gaps in the "plot" of the lover's pursuit of the beloved. Most people can infer what has happened, or at least make a good guess, but Sidney teases his readers by playing the courtly game of secrecy for all it's worth.
irony,a statement or event or deed which contains some hidden meaning, a meaning hidden either by a character (for the audience to discover) or by the author (not available to characters, but available to the audience). Abrams traces the word to the Greek comic character type, the eiron or "dissembler," a character who affected ignorance and understated all he said, and who routinely deceived and/or beat the truly stupid and pompus "alazon." Bugs and Daffy, if you will. Abrams distinguishes "verbal irony," "structural irony," "unstable irony," "sarcasm," "socratic irony," and "dramatic," "tragic," "cosmic," and "Romantic" ironies! In Sidney, for instance, the persona "Astrophil" often says things we can perceive to be mistaken or even immoral when he is under the influence of passion, but he, himself, seems unaware of the irony of the certainty he presumes.
stoicism,a school of philosophy from the late Greek classical and Roman imperial periods, which counseled rejection of worldly honors and fame, as well as the pursuit of worldly pleasures like love. Seneca the philosopher and tutor of Nero was among its most famous proponents, and like many of them, when life offered him a choice between shame and death, Seneca chose suicide to demonstrate his disdain for life on such an ignoble basis.
"English" sonnet,a sonnet whose fourteen lines are divided in three quatrains and a couplet, rather than in the octave-sestet (8+6) of the "Italian" or "Petrarchan" sonnet. Rhyme schemes varried, but common forms were abbacddceffegg, ababcdcdefefgg, and more difficult variants which sometimes repeated rhymes more frequently, such as Surrey's masterful "The Soote Season," which rhymes abaabababababcc.
quatrain,a four-line stanza using several rhyme schemes (abba, abab, aabb) often found in English sonnets, but also popular in Tudor courtly ballets [bal'-ets] (Wyatt's "Madam, Withouten Many Words") and popular folk ballads ("Three Ravens" or "Sir Patrick Spens").
couplet,a two-line rhyming unit which can be used in poetic narrative (Chaucer's "General Prologue") and as a "turning" or "concluding" unit in a short lyric, as in the final couplet which ends English sonnets, usually reversing or summarizing the poets response to the previous three quatrains' line of development.
anti-Petrarchanism,the movement, or the pose of being in such a movement, to reject Petrarchan conceits, with their lover-mariners or lover-hunters or lover-warriors amid a landscape drowned by the lover's tears and blasted by the winds generated by their sighs or doomed to death by the earthquakes generated by their falling upon their beds and moaning (I made that last one up, but you get the idea). Originally, Petrarch invented this repertoire of conceits as an amusing way to play with the intensification of feeling he sought to achieve in his "Rime." Generations later, imitation had caused them to become stale, clich�d, and empty of emotional impact. Anti-Petrarchan poems disavowed those conceits and usually protested a form of honest reportage about the beloved and the love, sometimes even reporting flaws in both, before striving to claim they're better loves, beloveds, and poems because they're "true." The whole problem of poetic "truth" then becomes a part of the play of invention. (Next stop, Deconstruction.)
Spenserian sonnet,a sonnet based on the English model of three quatrains and a couplet, but with a concatenated rhyme scheme.
"concatenated" or chained rhyme,a rhyme scheme which repeats rhymes across stanza boundaries to chain stanzas together ("catena" = Latin, "chain"), as in Spenser's concatenated English sonnet rhymes, which usually follow the pattern ababbcbccdcdee. This complex stratagem allows the poet to write three couplets within an English sonnet form, but also the poet can let the quatrain stanza topics refer to one another by means of the rhyming connection at their boundaries (the underscored "bb" and "cc" rhymes, above). Another famous instance of a poem with concatenation is the Middle English "Pearl." It is composed of 101 stanzas, all but one in five-stanza groups (group XV=6), comprising twenty groups which contain 1212 lines, arranged in 12 four-stress alliterating lines in each stanza, rhyming ababababbcbc. The "c" rhyme words often are thematically important, and the last stanza in each group is concatenated with the first stanza in the next group because its last word is the first or among the first words in the next. Concatenation has had strong connotations of religious virtue since well before the authorized Medieval commentaries on the Bible were known as the Catena Aurea (Golden Chain).
epithalamion,a poem to be read "before the chamber" [epi-thalamos] (Cf. Absolon's song in "Miller's Tale"), most often from Roman tradition sung by wedding guests at the door of the newlyweds' bridal chamber. Famous early epithalamia were written by Sappho (on the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Achilles' parents) and in parody, by Catullus (who's standing outside his married mistress' door having a lively conversation with the door about all the other guys who come and go through it).
prothalamion,a poem celebrating marriage, a form said to have been invented by Spenser in a pattern modeled on the classical epithalamion, but tracing the wedding day from dawn to dusk. The refrain of Spenser's "Prothalamion" "Run softly, sweet Thames, while I sing my song" is echoed regretfully in the "Fire Sermon" portion of Eliot's "The Wasteland."
dramatic tragedy,a drama which traditionally witnesses the fall of a great man to utter destruction as a result of some tragic flaw or excess which usually has made him blindly proud of his mortal accomplishments, and forgetful of his mortal weakness (ex-Aristotle, Poetics).
act/scene,ways of dividing the action of a drama which allow the playwright to cause the audience to pause for reflection, forecast the coming developments, and/or review the previous events. Older English dramas were performed without "act" divisions, but changed "scene" when a new character came on stage or when the location of the action shifted. An "act" division was introduced gradually as a practice in the late C16 to signify some formal division of the play's action or plot, but within acts, scene divisions continued to be made. Plays which were popular long enough sometimes exist with both forms of this "macro-punctuation." Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, for instance, survives in an earlier "A-text" divided into 13 scenes and a later "B-text" divided into five acts. Between the Norton 5th and 6th editions, published scholarship caused the editors to revert from the B-text to the A-text because the "B" version was shown to have included lines probably not in Marlowe's style and to include production values not consistent with the drama of Marlowe's era in the theater.
subplot,a secondary plot running simultaneously beside the main plot of the play. Subplots can be of a serious nature, as in Edmund's deception of his father and half-brother in Lear, or they can be comic relief in a tragedy, as in the scenes involving Faustus' servant and various rural buffoons. In very well-made plays, sub-plots are not separable from the main plot, but rather appear to comment upon and add richness to the evolution of the main plot.
blank verse,unrhymed iambic pentameter, virtually indistinguishable from prose but for its more or less regular meter, which imparts to it a sonorous importance and dignity. Surrey usually is given credit for inventing blank verse to correspond to the sober dignity and robust carrying capacity of the Latin hexameter lines in which Virgil wrote The Aeneid. See the Norton excerpt from his translations of Virgil, published in 1554 (Aeneid IV, ) and 1557 (Aeneid II, Aeneas' tale to Dido's Carthagenian court about the night Troy fell). Surrey's posthumous publisher called it "strange meter," since unrhymed verse was so unthinkable in Early Modern English, though 800 years earlier, unrhymed alliterative four-stress verse was the reigning form of Old English poetry (e.g., "Maldon").
psychomachia,a "soul-struggle" (psyche-machos), from Prudentius' Latin poem in which the Vices battled the Virtues for the control of the soul, but later any dramatic or narrative scene in which a character openly debates the moral choices open to her/him, especially if other characters are present who in some sense signify those moral choices (e.g., the "Good Angel" and "Bad Angel" which trouble the deliberations of Faustus, and also the schemes of Donald and Daffy as the dramatic convention lost its power to repetition, but also the sergeants who compete for the young recruit's loyalty in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket).
metadrama,a play which somehow draws attention to the acts of playing/acting/spectating, themselves, as when the audience watches a play within the plot of which characters perform a play (e.g., Hamlet's "The Mousetrap," the "rude mechanicals"' production of Pyramis and Thisbe in Midsummer Night's Dream, but also frauds and deceptions if well-choreographed, as in Prince Hal's assault on Falstaff in the Gadshill "robbery" in 1 Henry IV, and the dumb-shows and morality of the Seven Deadly Sins in Marlowe's Faustus. Metadrama calls into question the very concept of historical truth or essential characters by suggesting that all behaviors are forms of theater, and all "personalities" are at root elaborate theatrical characters we've learned to play.
despair (Christian sin),a moral state, rather than an emotional one, in which the sinner becomes convinced that God is powerless to save her/him. This presents an obvious problem for the Christian notion of God's omnipotence, which the sinner doubts, and also suggests the sinner is secretly prideful in that she/her has achieved a level of moral degradation that she/he thinks even God can't handle. This issue becomes especially significant for English protestants whose doctrine teaches them to pin their hopes entirely on faith alone, but also to doubt whether they are faithful enough to merit salvation. See Donne's Holy Sonnets.
the Seven Deadly Sins,traditionally,sloth, gluttony, lust, envy, wrath, greed, and pride, sins which were said to be lethal to the soul because, if unconfessed, they were strong enough to blind the soul to God. The Seven Deadlies were popular literary constructs and often appear in quasi-comic roles, as in the procession to the Castle of Pride in Spenser' s Faerie Queen, Book 1, Canto 4. They usually are presented with dialogue which allegorically explains their attractions and dangers, and sometimes (as in Spenser) they are given allegorical dress and animal associates, the latter because they lead one toward one' s bestial nature (cf. Bembo in Castiglioni).
apostrophe (rhetorical, not punctuation mark never used properly anymore),an address, usually poetic, by a persona to an absent person or to a disembodied idea, like Wyatt's "Farewell Love" and Faustus' speech of/to Helen, "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships..." (because she's not really there, but he forgets all that). When Faustus addresses "Faustus," it might signal that he, himself, has ceased to be what he once was, another sign of the fragmentation of personality (or the revelation that it never was unified?).
soliloquy, speech uttered to one's self, or a dramatic representation of such speech, usually intended to allow the playwright to expose the character's deepest conscious thoughts, or even to reveal unconscious thought in slips of the tongue, self-contradiction, self-deception, or other devices which the audience can see but the character remains unaware of. (This 17th-century usage developed out of the old rhetorical convention of the apostrophe.) The soliloquy may also address the audience directly if the playwright, director, and/or actor follows a metatheatrical aesthetic.
time compression/expansion,a dramatic or narrative device by which an author manipulates characters' and readers' emotions through speeding up or slowing down the apparent rate of time on the stage or in time. Marlowe's Faustus uses time compression in the thirteenth scene to accellerate the rate at which the doctor hurtles toward his rendezvous with Lucifer, and Thomas Pynchon uses time expansion in Gravity's Rainbow to dramatize Pirate Prentice's excruciating awareness that a recently lauched German V-2 rocket he has seen from the London penthouse roof may be targeted precisely at the center of the top of his head.
Shakespearian sonnet,a sonnet in the English style, nearly always rhyming ababcdcdefefgg, often with extremely carefully crafted dramatic structure within its quatrains, and usually a self-contained, often logic-reversing, conclusion encapsulated in the couplet.
"ruins of time" motif,a pattern of imagery and allusion popularized by the poet du Bellay in his collection by that title, focusing on the architectural ruins of Roman and Greek times with an awareness of their cultures' mighty achievements, brought low by the power of Time, often personified as an entity which devours flesh, fabric, iron, stone, and even fame. For more discussion of this motif, click here.
hyperbole,the Greek term for trope of "over-statement," exaggeration for poetic effect, often done in series to achieve an emotional intensification of a human passion or an awareness of the cosmos. George Puttenham's Arte of Rhetorick supplied English names for all those Greek tropes, and he called hyperbole "The Overreacher," since its exaggeration exceeded by far any correspondence to its literal truth. Harry Levin found instances of hyperbole so common in Marlowe's drama that he wrote an important book about it with that title (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1952; 826.3 M34Sl).
thematic repetition,a pattern of usage which repeats words, images, or ideas to create a series of parallel associations in the audience's mind between the events so described and some developing abstract concept or issue which the author wishes to introduce to the text.
Machiavel,a dramatic character who openly announces to the audience (almost never to other characters) that s/he is amoral and eager to advance her/his material situation by any means necessary, often by subverting established order and overturning ancient social conventions. Examples are Marlowe's Barabas, protagonist of The Jew of Malta, Shakespeare's Edmund in King Lear, and Webster's Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi (though Bosola grows an inconvenient conscience by the end of the play). The Machiavel is Canossa's courtier gone to the "Dark Side," stealing graces and anything else that isn't nailed down. The source of his conventional name is obvious.
stage whisper,a convention by which the actor, to deliver a line "not heard by others in the scene," articulates the line further back in the throat, while still forcing the breath forward strongly enough to be heard by the audience in the rear of the theater. The resultant "stage whisper" often comments ironically on the scene, and may be the voice in which a soliloquy is delivered.
man/microcosm,a conception popular in late medieval and renaissance times which compared the individual human being to the cosmos, drawing comparisons between the functions of various mental or physical modules of humans and counterparts in the structure of the universe (e.g., the brain reigns like God over the body's created mass, or like a king over his subjects).
literary theory,an attempt to explain the abstract reasons why literature is the way it has come to be, why poets do what they do in composition, why audiences respond as they do to works of literature; also, a set of rules which prescribe how those things ought to happen. The former could be called "descriptive theory" and the latter, "prescriptive."
aristotelianism,the practice of following the precepts of Aristotle in any of the fields in which he wrote (politics, ethics, rhetoric, poetics) or of following the typical habits of mind which Aristotle's writing reveals, such as category creation, definition by binary opposition (e.g., epic vs. tragic drama), use of essentialist reasoning to argue for definitions' criteria, etc.
Horace' Ars poetica,a verse epistle from Horace, purporting to address the family known as the Pisos, L. Calpurnius Piso and sons. Renaissance scholars gave it the third position in their second grouping of his verse epistles (vs. his satires, epodes, and odes). The subject was a compendium of Horace's advice to young poets, covering most of the current aesthetic theory of the first century B.C.E. in a reasonable and engaging catalogue. His most famous admonition was that the poet who would please the most people longest must both delight and instruct them (omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci / lectorem delectando pariterque monendo). For an English translation of the whole epistle, try visiting Tony Kline's web site. (Following Roman custom, his name was Quintus Horatius Flaccus, and he lived from 65 to 8 B.C.E., a contemporary of Caesar and friend of Virgil.)
Puritan/"Precisionist,"derogatory terms invented by Church of England followers for that group of Dissenters who insisted that the English church had become to "Roman" in liturgy, with a resultant degrading effect on public morals, dress, etc. They were "Puritan" in the sense that they sought to purify the church of practices which resembled those of the Catholics, and they were "Precisionists" in that they insisted that deeds must be exactly justified by reference to scripture, which they quoted to each other far more frequently than urbane Church of England parishioners thought was necessary or proper. Stephen Gosson, whose School of Abuses Sidney was responding to in the Defense, was a Puritan polemicist who argued for abolition of the public theater and all secular uses of art.
vates, [vah'-tes] prophet, from Latin for the Roman priests who read natural signs to predict the future on ceremonious occasions and in times of crisis.
maker,an Early Modern English word closely corresponding in sense to the Old English "scop," one who shapes, an artist, especially in Sidney's Defense, a poet. This refers obliquely to Plato's Republic, where the craftsman was described as being creative on a second order of creation because that which he made was in imitation of the ideal form, which was a divine creation. The artist who imitated those things the craftsman made, according to Plato, were at another, tertiary remove from the true source of creation, because they imitated the imitations of the craftsman. Sidney answers this by suggesting that the poet/maker/vates also had access to the divine forms and could use them to imagine things never before made, or never before made so well (the "Golden world").
Midsemester--remember to review the terms above for the Midterm Exam!
satire,a literary work which illustrates and/or criticises the social follies and moral vices of a culture, originating in Greek and Roman poems, most influentially those of the Romans Horace, Juvenal, and Persius.
propaganda,a New Latin loan word meaning deliberately spread rumors, news, or (mis-)information which is designed to affect public opinion and to encourage a predictable pattern of political behavior by the people who read/hear it. From congregatio de propaganda fide, the congregation for the propagation of the faith.
colonialism/imperialism,a political system in which the imperial power, usually a preeminent nation state and its closest allies or conquests, extends its political control to geographically distant and less powerful states whose governments become subserviant to the empire's rule. Empires tax colonies in return for defense, development, or other support which the empire actually does, or merely pretends to supply. The typical trade flow in a colonial/imperial system is cheap raw materials and food from the colonies to the imperial center, and manufactured goods, often expensive, from the empire to the colonies. Colonialized subjects are famously conceived of (by themselves and by citizens of the imperial power) to be "marginal" because they are literally on the periphery of the empire's geography, but also because they are excluded by birth, language, and wealth from the power structure of the imperial center. Typically, colonies tend to break away by revolution or neglect, or gradually rise within the empire to become sources of competing values and cultural (including literary) codes.
pastoral poetry, a mode or convention of writing lyric poems said to be composed by shepherds and shepherdesses in an idealized landscape usually associated with the mythical province of Arcadia in ancient Greece. The topics of pastoral verse usually address love and friendship as idealized and hard-to-maintain emotional and social states, with the concomitant themes of suffering, loyalty, betrayal, and longing. In Greek, Latin, French, German, and English literatures, poets seem to adopt the pastoral mode in eras in which the audience is moving away from the countryside toward courts or cities from which the lost rural environment is viewed with nostalgic pleasure. Not infrequently the pastoral's seeming innocence masked poets' mild political satires and comments on social follies of the era, like Spenser's "Colin Clout's Come Home Again" and "Shepherd's Calendar," and Marvell's "Mower" poems. Some famous English pastorals were composed as elegies, laments for a dying or dead friend, like Milton's "Lycidas" and Shelley's "Adonais" (on the death of Keats).
aube/aubade,a "dawn song," typically sung by the (unmarried, illicit) lovers who lament the sunrise which means they must part and who praise each other's beauty, kindness, etc.. Usually the woman notices the sun first (they're in her bedroom) and the man responds in the second verse, and they may continue to alternate verses.
parasite/patron,a relationship not unlike that of a colony and an imperial power, wherein the "parasite" depends on the patron's charity, performing small services, often merely social "attendance" upon the patron's presence, complimenting him on his wisdom, beauty, cunning, and (of course) benevolence. The patron gets a huge ego massage and the knowledge that, if his parasite is cunning, as well, he may take advantage of those things the parasite knows and does. The relations between poets and patrons from Roman times until the 1700s often have been compared to the parasite/patron relationship.
type-character,in the "New Comedy" of Menander and Terence, the flat, predictable social types whose interactions were recombined to produce comedy from familiar situations, ancestors of the inhabitants of modern television "situation comedies." Common types were the "senex" (old man, usually jealously married and rich), the wiley slave, the hapless suitor and the willing daughter.
Old Comedy vs. New Comedy,the "Old Comedy" of Aristophanes and other classical Greek dramatists named living individuals and satirized their behavior publically. The New Comedy of Menander and Terence retreated to the relative safety of satirizing the folly of type characters (see above) whose behaviors were not obviously attributable to any citizen in the audience.
moral center,in satire and other genres which depict bad behavior, the work often is said to have located its "moral center" in one or more characters, like Cordelia and Kent and the Fool in King Lear, characters who don't swerve from good behavior while the rest of the world goes to Hell. In Jonson's Volpone, Bonario and Celia are charged with representing "goodness" but some readers find them too weak to do the job. You might expect to find "goodness" in the Venetian court, the "Scrutineo," but for various reasons that's impossible.
farce,a subspecies of comedy in which the exaggeration of bad behavior cross some invisible line and the comedy shifts from subtle depiction of our follies to smacking our faces with outrageous antics. Think of Margaret Dumont's gently mocking depiction of a society matron's affectations running headon into Groucho's lewd, lounge-lizard act: comedy meets farce.
the Grand Tour,a term originating in the late C17 to describe the by-then long lived practice of finishing one's education or continuing it by making the rounds of the capital cities and courts of Europe. The earliest usage recorded by the OED is: 1670 R. LASSELS Voyage to Italy, Preface, And no man under~stands Livy and C�sar..like him who hath made exactly the Grand Tour of France and the Giro of Italy.] Even by Jonson's time, it already was common for courtiers to try to advance their careers by bringing back the latest fashions in literature, language, dress and manners from France or Italy. Lady and Sir Politic Would-be are satires on an emergent fashionable social behavior that would become commonplace for the next two hundred years. For Venice's peculiar place in the English "Grand Tour," see Bruce Redford's Venice & the Grand Tour (New Haven: Yale UP, 1996).
poulter's measure,a poetic line alternating 12 and 14 syllable lines, perhaps mockingly named after the poulter or poultry seller's practice of giving an extra two eggs in the second dozen to make up for spoiled or broken eggs, a good example of a Renaissance metrical experiment that didn't catch on for long.
dramatic interlude,an old dramatic form suitable for performance outdoors or in great banqueting halls of aristocratic homes because of the small cast of characters (sometimes only 2) and the limited scope of the plot (often just a single dialogue). Interludes originated in the Tudor era, and Sir Thomas More was reported to have enjoyed performing in them, even when he was lord of his own hall (see the biography by Roper, his son-in-law). Related to the medieval "debat," the dramatic interlude returns in later Renaissance drama when two characters debate a course of action or the significance of events.
copia,a Latin word for "fullness," or "plentitude," (from which, our "copious") used as a rhetorical term to describe a prose aesthetic which encouraged multiplication of examples, adding parallel structures to simple declarations and questions, and generally "thickening" the texture of the prose to make it beautifully complex, like the floral borders and intricately interwoven picture panels of a medieval tapestry. Rhetors who followed the aesthetic of copia often were called "ornate" (i.e., golden, preciously ornamented) or "Eupheuistic" if they followed the exaggerated form of this style as found in John Lyly's Euphues. This style often disliked by modern students, alas.
Rhamist rhetoric,the rhetorical style which defeated the ornate style by advocating lean prose, pruned of ornaments, getting logically to its conclusions by the shortest number of premises and eschewing all digression. It is named for the French logician, Petrus (Peter) Ramus (1515-72) whose revision of Aristotelian rhetoric and logic emphasized logic as a separate discipline and relegated rhetoric to the formulas and tropes by which words could be decoratively shifted from their typical meanings (metaphor, simile, zeugma, etc.). A Protestant convert, he was among those died in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, killed by hired assassins, but not, probably hired by proponents of ornate speech. They're not that evil.
the Armada Year,1588, one of the most important anchoring points for the British myth of empire, when storms and excellent English seamanship destroyed the Spanish Armada and prevented the planned invasion from the Netherlands of a Spanish army because their troop transports then lacked armed escorts. Ever since, English politicians (from Elizabeth I to Winston Churchill) have evoked the image of the embattled island, defended by free spirited and independent people, against overwhelming power weilded by despotic autocrats. That Elizabeth was something of a despot, like Philip of Spain, and that the class-conflicts which racked England increasingly made English workers feel more kinship with French peasants than with their noble English masters, doesn't even enter into this myth, so don't ask. Also see, King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table, also heavily circulated in print until around the 1650s when its myth-making power was no longer needed, having been usurped by the new empire's own fantasies.
tetrameter,a poetic line of four feet in whatever meter they're written (e.g., iambic da-dum, trochaic, dum-da, spondee dum-dum, etc. etc.)
trimeter,a poetic line of three feet and see above.
dimeter,a poetic line of two feet, etc.
monometer,a poetic line of one foot. Say that reminds me of the still unproduced Monty Python film project called "King Brian the Wild" in which the eponymous king, a very bad boy, had a court in which everyone's left arm had been amputated according to some past cruel royal whim, and the royal archers, who could ill spare their left arms, had lost their left legs. So when the archers' sergeant called out their marching orders, it was (naturally), "Left, left, left, left, ..." OK, there's nothing inherently funny about lost limbs, but it's really about monometer, see?
metaphysical poetry,like "Impressionist painting," originally a term of opprobrium used to describe a new poetic style in which the metaphors and similes of Petrarchan style were vastly exaggerated, often comparing human appearance or attributes to animals, machines, or improbable future events (e.g., Donne's "The Flea," in which, after the flea has bitten a man and a woman, the lovers' blood, redly visible in the insect's swollen belly, is compared with the union of their bloods in the getting of a child by an act of copulation (which last is what the speaker really hopes for). Not weird enough for you? She retaliates for his lewd jesting by squashing the bug, and he compares her act to the Crucifixion. Hah! Now that's : "The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvements dearly bought, and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased" (Samuel Johnson, "Life of Cowley," 1759, not a fan--could you tell?).
the Sons of Ben,poetic followers of the stylistic examples of Ben Jonson's works, attitudes, learning, etc. To be a true "son of Ben," one supposes you'd have to be among those who drank and bantered with him at the Mermaid Tavern and Devil Tavern, a group called the Friday Street Club, which included William Shakespeare (more of a rival Father), John Donne, Francis Beaumont, Robert Herrick, and Sir Walter Ralegh. Since the term's clearly metaphorical, though, (as far as the fathers of Donne, Beaumont, Herrick and Ralegh know!) so we also could include anyone who adopts Jonson's signature interests in classical literary references, a tendency to restage classical works in modern dress, a degree of pride in the craft of poesy, and some tendency to public displays of wit, even to insult. (Example: Would-be member Richard Sylvester (pronounced "Sill-vister") was said to have challenged BJ to a "capping contest" in which one rhymer tries to outdo the other's rhyme in the same form, saying "I, Richard Sylvester, slept with your sister." Jonson answered, "I, Ben Jonson, slept with thy wife." When Sylvester protested it didn't rhyme, Jonson said, "Yes, but it's true!")
"wild civility,"from Herrick's "Delight in Disorder," a paradoxical combination of vulnerable disorder in dress or manner together with the signs of exquisite planning which characterize formal garments, a tolerance for small disorders in metrical perfection or rhyme in pursuit of a naturalness impossible if formal perfection is sought. As a good "son of Ben," RH here echoes a sentiment in Jonson's "Still to be Neat" but he describes the opposite of the cloying "correctness" BJ criticizes in that poem.
paradox,a rhetorical trope combining two apparently opposed states or things (a "loud silence" after you drop your unabridged dictionary on the stack of champagne glasses). Not to be confused with two Ph.D.s standing next to one another.
carpe diem,Latin for "seize the day," do it now for the day will not wait. It, in English poetic usage, usually was just what you think "it" is. As a seduction technique it's vulnerable to crass failures, as in the Jaeger/Richards geriatric rocker, "She's So Cold."
metaphysical conceit,a metaphor composed in the style of the poets called "Metaphysicals" by their critics.
Cavalier poets,literally, "riders," poets in sympathy with the Royalist forces in the English Civil War and after, poets who often cultivated the sumptuous court dress and long hair of Charles I and II's courtiers, and wrote wistful light verse about lost loves, duty vs. pleasure, and the sort of nostalgic stuff that makes some graduate students want to toss their cookies, though they probably should still study Sir John Suckling and Richard Lovelace before their preliminary exams.
shaped poems,poems whose layout on the page contains some of their significance, whether by being symbolically arranged to mimic something about the poem's content, or by setting lines in patterns which add new dimensions to their contents.
baroque style,Wylie Sypher's third stage in the Four Stages of Renaissance Style (1955)--Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, and Late-Baroque. WS looked for analogies between visual arts and literature in the period 1400-1700 and posited a development from Renaissance discovery of a single-focused planar perspective with a background and foreground (subplot, plot; style, content) and balanced proportions, through Mannerism's "disturbed balance" manifested in skewed perspective, wild allusions, etc., to the Baroque's attempt to restore balance by filling in every gap with balancing content, and finally to the Late-Baroque's mastery of it's predecessor's "horror vacui" (abhorence of empty spaces) with a new sense of balanced oppositions which tame the baroque vastness with a neoclassical concern for calm and equilibrium. Don't you wish you'd been born with a name like Wylie Sypher?
memoir,an autobiographical narrative, usually dignified by the French-derived designation, "memoir," because the author expresses an affinity for the French belles lettres tradition of rhetoric and because the author is writing from a real or presumed aristocratic point of view, an "insider" present at great national events which only now are being revealed.
letter,as a genre, a written communication from the writer to a particular designated reader. Letters in the European tradition probably derive from written orders given by landowners to their estate stewards, and from messages sent among members of land-owning families. Merchants also needed to communicate to their business partners and customers in distant cities, so they also had an early need to master the technology of the letter. Letter writing was taught in the medieval period by manuals containing models of typical letters and recommended styles of communicating certain types of information. However, since letters typically were composed orally by an illiterate aristocrat and dictated to a scribe, these texts were known generally as the "ars dictaminis" or art of dictation. The most famous and earliest surviving collections of personal letters in English are those of the Paston, Cely, and Stonor families. The Pastons (subject of a useful essay by Woolf) were landowning gentlemen and -women whose sons tended to be knighted, but who never finally advanced into the aristocracy. The Celys and Stonors were merchants, and the Cely family in particular provides useful insights into the wool trade and life in the trading cities on both sides of the Channel. The Armburgh papers, only published in a scholarly edition in 1998, mainly concern an inheritance dispute (c. 1417-53), but as usual they include comments on the political affairs of the time, as well as a sequence of poems two in alternating rhyming French and Middle English lines, and three in Middle English. Personal letters are the origins of Modern English prose style, a refinement of spoken English unlike the oratorical complications of poetry or proclamations. The early epistolary novels of Samuel Richardson, Fanney Burney, and others are also central to the development of the novel, though the form now is rarely practiced (pace Madison!).
miltonic syntax,the complex, highly subordinated clausal structure of Milton's prose and (especially) his blank verse in Paradise Lost. Typically a Miltonic sentence will double back upon itself, returning to its subject after reaching its object toward its middle.
epic simile, (also "extended simile"), an ordinary simile is comparison between two things, including the preposition "like" or "as," in which a familiar thing's attributes are used to make clear some aspect of an unfamiliar thing (e.g., "love is like a heat wave, burnin' in my heart"). An epic or extended simile develops description of the familiar thing until the audience nearly loses its attention to the unfamiliar thing in the plot which it resembles. When the speaker suddenly returns to the epic's plot, the effect often is surprising and induces pathos or emotion in the readers.
"anxiety of influence" (also book title), a concept invented by Harold Bloom (1973) to explain the English Romantic poets' apparent reaction to the persistent poetic reputation of John Milton as the greatest of English poets, even over 100 years after the publication of Paradise Lost. In Bloom's analytical scheme, great (male) poets all live in the grip of this anxiety of influence by the style and realized ambitions of their greatest predecessor poet (also presumed male). Bloom describes this as an Oedipal struggle in which the "son" must symbolically "kill" his poetic "father" by creatively misreading the "father"'s greatest work, incorporating that misreading ("poetic misprison") into the new poetic work. The thesis is persuasive to the degree it describes William Blake's documented quarrel with Milton, especially regarding Blake's clear misreading of Satan as the poem's "real hero." This leads to Blake's development of his own competing cosmological poems, the Swedenborg-influenced Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Tiriel, The Book of Urizen, etc. It also works well when describing male epic poets who see themselves following and outdoing their predecessors in this rarely executed genre. Feminist poets mounted an immediate and successful critique of Bloom's attempt to universalize this Oedipal pattern for all great poets, Annette Kolodny in particular suggesting that for women writers, the Tereus, Procne and Philomela mythos might be a more accurate description of their struggle for authority. (Tereus, married to Procne, raped his wife's sister, Philomela, and cut out her tongue when she threatened to accuse him. Philomela wove the story of his crime into a tapestry which she sent to her sister, and Procne served Tereus their son for dinner. For Kolodny, the tongue-less woman writer, cut off from her sisters because of the lack of a female poetic tradition, is always trying to recreate both the genres of art and the content art communicates.) To read Bloom's book, look it up at 808.1 B655a.
epic tradition, a pattern of poetic composition beginning (in the European "West") with Homer and extending through Virgil, Dante, Tasso, (some would say Chaucer), Milton, Wordsworth, Whitman, and Williams. Each poet participating in the tradition maintains some portions of the original epic structure and reshapes the genre to address his own era's concerns.
political essay, a subgenre of the "essai" or literary prose "attempt" usually first ascribed to Montaigne, in which one's personal thoughts about public issues is presented to the reader for measured consideration. An ancestor of the academic essay, the political essay usually adds to Montaigne's exploratory stance a clear thesis which the essay's author hopes to persuade the readers to accept for the good of the nation.
social contract, a political concept whose invention is usually credited to Hobbes. It reacts against the "divine right of kings" notion which says political power comes from the top down, from God to kings, and from kings to their favorites, and thence to the people. Instead, Hobbes asserted, power arises "from the consent of the governed." He had a somewhat primitive explanation for how that "consent" was won from the people, especially since nobody could actually see it happening in most instances, though a usurped throne (e.g., Henry IV) or contested presidential election can make people aware of the way the system hinges upon that tacit consent. Modern Marxism and the Critical Legal Theory movement each have attempted to explain this process in a historically grounded system, each with varying degrees of success.
state theory, the general term for the works of thinkers who seek to explain how the modern nation-state came into existence in the period between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries in most parts of Europe. It is still of considerable interest in parts of the world where ethnic, tribal or religious conflicts have rendered state formation difficult or impossible, and it is extremely important to readers of literature from the period during which medieval institutions and ways of performing the "self" were beginning to disappear or to reform themselves into their modern, nationalist manifestations.
essay, the "essai" or literary prose "attempt" usually first ascribed to Montaigne, in which one's personal thoughts about public issues is presented to the reader for measured consideration. An ancestor of the academic essay, the political essay usually adds to Montaigne's exploratory stance a clear thesis which the essay's author hopes to persuade the readers to accept for the good of the nation.
gender roles,one of the many ideological parts of the "self" which we perform according to the rules taught us by our cultures. Learning to act in gendered ways (as "male" or "female" or "gay" or "straight") resembles the processes sociologists and anthropologists have observed also guiding performances of class, race (in nations where that's a relevant criterion for "self"-hood), maturity, spirituality, sexuality, etc. All disciplines which come under the general heading of Women's Studies (which includes literary analysis) distinguish between gender (maleness and femaleness as a social role) and sex (possession of certain biological appratus and a physiology affected by it). The two are related, but not identical concepts.
foundation narratives,"tales we tell ourselves about ourselves," according to Clifford Geertz, especially those tales called "ontological" because they explain to us how the basic conditions of our lives originated (e.g. religious foundation texts like the Bible, especially Genesis). To read more about New Historicism and Cultural Criticism, theories of interpretation which count Geertz as a major influence, click here.
materialism,a philosophical belief that treats all our experience as the product of material circumstances and processes, denying the existence of souls, spirits, demons, deities, and other invisible entities used to explain reality. Though its most profound expressions can be found in modern science, it may have roots in the pre-Socratic philosophers, and a major influence was William of Ockham (also "Occam"), a fourteenth-century English clergyman who's eponymous principle, "Ockham's Razor," postulated that the number of invisible entities needed to account for any debatable proposition should be reduced or eliminated.
skepticism,an approach to religious belief which allows some portions of a faith to be maintained, while others are doubted as reason dictates.
atheism,not to be confused with followers of mere agnosticism (from Gk. "not knowing") who treat the tenets of faiths as debatable and "not yet proven," one who follows a-theism believes there is no god at all. Of course, given the unfalsifiable nature of deities' existence (i.e., there is no test that can dis-prove it), even atheism remains a belief.
deism,a late C17 and C18 philosophical strategy that sought to reconcile Christian religious faith with the discoveries and methods of science, usually by trying to prove that the existence of the universe must presuppose the existence of a God, and that a God, by definition must be perfect, so therefore the universe must be divinely ordered and (big stretch) there is no such thing as evil if things are properly understood. The mathematician Leibnitz was a prominent deist, and his ideas were satirized in Voltaire's Candide.
pornography,literally, from the Greek, writing about prostitutes (porno-graphos), but more generally, in Anglo-American usage, writing which appeals to or tries to arouse erotic thoughts and feelings in its reader. Some "literature" has been charged with being pornographic to the degree that it describes human sexual activity without moral condemnation or presecription. Famous American pornography prosecutions attempted to ban Joynce's Ulysses (1922) and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (1939). Recent tests of a work's pornographic potential involve the proportion of the work deemed pornographic and the presence or absence of "redeeming social value."
obscenity,from the Latin obscenus
This handout gives a rundown of some important terms and concepts used when talking and writing about literature.
Contributors: Elizabeth Boyle
Last Edited: 2018-02-14 02:56:30
Included below is a list of literary terms that can help you interpret, critique, and respond to a variety of different written works. This list is by no means comprehensive, but instead offers a primer to the language frequently used by scholars and students researching literary works. This list and the terms included in it can help you begin to identify central concerns or elements in a work that might help facilitate your interpretation, argumentation, and analysis. We encourage you to read this list alongside the other guides to literary interpretation included on the OWL Website. Please use the links on the left-hand side of this page to access other helpful resources.
- Characterization: The ways individual characters are represented by the narrator or author of a text. This includes descriptions of the characters’ physical appearances, personalities, actions, interactions, and dialogue.
- Dialogue: Spoken exchanges between characters in a dramatic or literary work, usually between two or more speakers.
- Genre: A kind of literature. For instance, comedy, mystery, tragedy, satire, elegy, romance, and epic are all genres. Texts frequently draw elements from multiple genres to create dynamic narratives. Alastair Fowler uses the following elements to define genres: organizational features (chapters, acts, scenes, stanzas); length; mood (the Gothic novel tends to be moody and dark); style (a text can be high, low, or in-between depending on its audience); the reader’s role (readers of a mystery are expected to interpret evidence); and the author’s reason for writing (an epithalamion is a poem composed for marriage) (Mickics 132-3).
- Imagery: A term used to describe an author’s use of vivid descriptions “that evoke sense-impressions by literal or figurative reference to perceptible or ‘concrete’ objects, scenes, actions, or states” (Baldick 121). Imagery can refer to the literal landscape or characters described in a narrative or the theoretical concepts an author employs.
- Plot: The sequence of events that occur through a work to produce a coherent narrative or story.
- Point of View: The perspective (visual, interpretive, bias, etc.) a text takes when presenting its plot and narrative. For instance, an author might write a narrative from a specific character’s point of view, which means that that character is our narrative and readers experience events through his or her eyes.
- Style: Comprised of an author’s diction, syntax, tone, characters, and other narrative techniques, “style” is used to describe the way an author uses language to convey his or her ideas and purpose in writing. An author’s style can also be associated to the genre or mode of writing the author adopts, such as in the case of a satire or elegy with would adopt a satirical or elegiac style of writing.
- Symbol(ism): An object or element incorporated into a narrative to represent another concept or concern. Broadly, representing one thing with another. Symbols typically recur throughout a narrative and offer critical, though often overlooked, information about events, characters, and the author’s primary concerns in telling the story.
- Theme: According to Baldick, a theme may be defined as “a salient abstract idea that emerges from a literary work’s treatment of its subject-matter; or a topic recurring in a number or literary works” (Baldick 258). Themes in literature tend to differ depending on author, time period, genre, style, purpose, etc.
- Tone: A way of communicating information (in writing, images, or sound) that conveys an attitude. Authors convey tone through a combination of word-choice, imagery, perspective, style, and subject matter. By adopting a specific tone, authors can help readers accurately interpret meaning in a text.
- Types of narrative: The narrator is the voice telling the story or speaking to the audience. However, this voice can come from a variety of different perspectives, including:
- First person: A story told from the perspective of one or several characters, each of whom typically uses the word “I.” This means that readers “see” or experience events in the story through the narrator’s eyes.
- Second person: A narrative perspective that typically addresses that audience using “you.” This mode can help authors address readers and invest them in the story.
- Third person: Describes a narrative told from the perspective of an outside figure who does not participate directly in the events of a story. This mode uses “he,” “she,” and “it” to describe events and characters.
Types of Prose Texts
- Bildungsroman: This is typically a type of novel that depicts an individual’s coming-of-age through self-discovery and personal knowledge. Such stories often explore the protagonists’ psychological and moral development. Examples include Dickens’ Great Expectations and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
- Epistolary: A novel comprised primarily of letters sent and received by its principle characters. This type of novel was particularly popular during the eighteenth century.
- Essay: According to Baldick, “a short written composition in prose that discusses a subject or proposes an argument without claiming to be a complete or thorough exposition” (Baldick 87). A notable example of the essay form is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which uses satire to discuss eighteenth-century economic and social concerns in Ireland.
- Novella: An intermediate-length (between a novel and a short story) fictional narrative.
Terms for Interpreting Authorial Voice
- Apology: Often at the beginning or conclusion of a text, the term “apology” refers to an instance in which the author or narrator justifies his or her goals in producing the text.
- Irony: Typically refers to saying one thing and meaning the opposite, often to shock audiences and emphasize the importance of the truth.
- Satire: A style of writing that mocks, ridicules, or pokes fun at a person, belief, or group of people in order to challenge them. Often, texts employing satire use sarcasm, irony, or exaggeration to assert their perspective.
- Stream of consciousness: A mode of writing in which the author traces his or her thoughts verbatim into the text. Typically, this style offers a representation of the author’s exact thoughts throughout the writing process and can be used to convey a variety of different emotions or as a form of pre-writing.
Terms for Interpreting Characters
- Antagonist: A character or characters in a text with whom the protagonist opposes.
- Anti-hero: A protagonist of a story who embodies none of the qualities typically assigned to traditional heroes and heroines. Not to be confused with the antagonist of a story, the anti-hero is a protagonist whose failings are typically used to humanize him or her and convey a message about the reality of human existence.
- Archetype: “a resonant figure or mythic importance, whether a personality, place, or situation, found in diverse cultures and different historical periods” (Mickics 24). Archetypes differ from allegories because they tend to reference broader or commonplace (often termed “stock”) character types, plot points, and literary conventions. Paying attention to archetypes can help readers identify what an author may posit as “universal truths” about life, society, human interaction, etc. based on what other authors or participants in a culture may have said about them.
- Epithet: According to Taafe, “An adjective, noun, or phase expressing some characteristic quality of a thing or person or a descriptive name applied to a person, as Richard the Lion-Hearted” (Taafe 58). An epithet usually indicates some notable quality about the individual with whom it addresses, but it can also be used ironically to emphasize qualities that individual might actually lack.
- Personification: The use of a person to represent a concept, quality, or object. Personification can also refer to “a person who is considered a representative type of a particular quality or concept” (Taafe 120).
- Protagonist: The primary character in a text, often positioned as “good” or the character with whom readers are expected to identify. Protagonists usually oppose an antagonist.
Terms for Interpreting Word Choice, Dialogue, and Speech
- Alliteration: According to Baldick, “The repetition of the same sounds—usually initial consonants of words or of stressed syllabus—in any sequence of neighboring words” (Baldick 6). Alliteration is typically used to convey a specific tone or message.
- Apostrophe: This figure of speech refers to an address to “a dead or absent person, or an abstraction or inanimate object” and is “usually employed for emotional emphasis, can become ridiculous [or humorous] when misapplied” (Baldick 17).
- Diction: Word choice, or the specific language an author, narrator, or speaker uses to describe events and interact with other characters.
Terms for Interpreting Plot
- Climax: The height of conflict and intrigue in a narrative. This is when events in the narrative and characters’ destinies are most unclear; the climax often appears as a decision the protagonist must make or a challenge he or she must overcome in order for the narrative to obtain resolution.
- Denouement: The “falling action” of a narrative, when the climax and central conflicts are resolved and a resolution is found. In a play, this is typically the last act and in a novel it might include the final chapters.
- Deus Ex Machina: According to Taafe, “Literally, in Latin, the ‘god from the machine’; a deity in Greek and Roman drama who was brought in by stage machinery to intervene in the action; hence, any character, event, or device suddenly introduced to resolve the conflict” (43).
- Exposition: Usually located at the beginning of a text, this is a detailed discussion introducing characters, setting, background information, etc. readers might need to know in order to understand the text that follows. This section is particularly rich for analysis because it contains a lot of important information in a relatively small space.
- Frame Narrative: a story that an author encloses around the central narrative in order to provide background information and context. This is typically referred to as a “story within a story” or a “tale within a tale.” Frame stories are usually located in a distinct place and time from the narratives they surround. Examples of stories with frame narratives include Canterbury Tales, Frankenstein, and Wuthering Heights.
- In media res: Beginning in “the middle of things,” or when an author begins a text in the midst of action. This often functions as a way to both incorporate the reader directly into the narrative and secure his or her interest in the narrative that follows.
Terms for Interpreting Layers of Meaning
- Allegory: A literary mode that attempts to convert abstract concepts, values, beliefs, or historical events into characters or other tangible elements in a narrative. Examples include, Gulliver’s Travels, The Faerie Queene, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Paradise Lost.
- Allusion: When a text references, incorporates, or responds to an earlier piece (including literature, art, music, film, event, etc). T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) offers an extensive example of allusion in literature. According to Baldick, “The technique of allusion is an economical means of calling upon the history or the literary tradition that author and reader are assumed to share” (7).
- Hyperbole: exaggerated language, description, or speech that is not meant to be taken literally, but is used for emphasis. For instance, “I’ve been waiting here for ages” or “This bag weighs a ton.”
- Metaphor: a figure of speech that refers to one thing by another in order to identify similarities between the two (and therefore define each in relation to one another).
- Metonymy: a figure of speech that substitutes one aspect or attribute for the whole itself. For instance, referring to a woman as “a skirt” or the sea as “the deep.” Doing so can not only evoke a specific tone (determined by the attribute being emphasized or the thing to which it refers), but also comments on the importance of the specific element that is doing the substituting.
- Parody: a narrative work or writing style that mocks or mimics another genre or work. Typically, parodies exaggerate and emphasize elements from the original work in order to ridicule, comment on, or criticize their message.
- Simile: a figure of speech that compares two people, objects, elements, or concepts using “like” or “as.”
For more information or to read about other literary terms, please see the following texts:
Baldick, Chris. Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford University Press, 2001.
Mikics, David. A New Handbook of Literary Terms. Yale University Press, 2007.
Taafe, James G. A Student’s Guide to Literary Terms. The World Publishing Company, 1967.