Literary devices and terminology

  Poetry & Prose    Books / People

This page is an ongoing labour of love —

Literature, like other forms of cultural production, is not created in a vacuum (here and elsewhere on this site I use literature to mean both poetry and prose). Literature is created in a specific context — time, place, and situation — and therefore, it is a product of specific historical, cultural, and social circumstances. This page introduces and sets out well over 1,000 items of relevant terminology alphabetically. In other words, it is rather long. You may thus benefit from using (1) the “Find in page” option via your browser or (2), using the search box provided on this page itself (right-hand side or at bottom depending on your device) or (3) and more pleasingly so, this table of contents:

01. — Analysis
02. — Anthology
03. — Chronology
04. — Glossary of literature
05. — Poetry: type & terminology

This page will both introduce the art of literary criticism (what it’s about and how it’s carried out) and provide a comprehensive and exhaustive glossary of all related terminology as well as alphabetical lists of key texts and writers (‘key’ as determned by the academic siboleths whom act as the latter day gatekeepers of official anthologies).

— u c, 4 u, my true love, I will do absolutely En•E•Thing.

— § —

01. –Analysis

01. — Analysis
02. — Anthology
03. — Chronology
04. — Glossary of literature
05. — Poetry: type & terminology

Literature, like other forms of cultural production, is not created in a vacuum. It is created in a specific context (time, place, and situation), and therefore it is a product of specific historical, cultural, and social circumstances. Although we can enjoy (or not) a given work without knowledge of the context in which it as penned, it is widely argued that without an understanding of the given text’s social, cultural, and historical context the experience and significance of the work may well be diminished. It is said that context (e.g., by way of literary analysis), “enriches and enlarges the [given] text.”

Chaucer Knights tale 600 tall
Is the art of reading…
in danger of dying?

Literary analysis can be viewed as an inquiry into meaning. In other words. what was the author trying to communicate and how did he/she do it? The purpose could then be defined as the identification of a meaningful theme, and then the investigation of the literary tools (diction, imagery, symbolism etc.) that the author used to craft that theme. Dear reader, if you are still here with me, I offer you six tips a former teacher bestowed to me for consideration when analysing a piece of literature:

1. Look up unfamiliar words and references
2. Make legible notes
3. Highlight what you think are key passages
4. Anticipate the actions in the story
5. Ask yourself, what’s its point and purpose
6. Read between the lines, what’s the subtext?

Literary analysis requires an exploration of textual themes as presented through concrete literary devices and stylistic choices in order to develop and shape a complex argument about the given text’s theme/s. Just as in non-fiction we study rhetoric to understand the various ways that writers craft their writing to persuade us, in fiction writers are also trying to impart or reveal something that is important (to them and usually to us). by way of literary analysis, we look at what it is that they want us to see — to take away — and then just how they got us there.

In tandem, there is ‘practical criticism,’ which encourages readings that concentrate on the form and meaning of particular works, rather than on larger theoretical questions. Advocates argue that by reading a text in clinical isolation from historical processes enables the analysist to evaluate the literature in a, well, shall we say “vacuum?” Have a go yourself.

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02. — Anthology

01. — Analysis
02. — Anthology
03. — Chronology
04. — Glossary of literature
05. — Poetry: type & terminology

It soon becomes clear that almost every university offering undergraduate degrees in English Literature provide very different syllabuses and basically, what you’ll read and the texts you’ll analyse, will be institution specific. However, and I guess arguably, the key anthology of English Literature is that of Norton and, this is how they segment the cannon of English literature and poetry — eras one to seven — to date:

1. The Middle Ages
¶ Medieval Estates and Orders: Making and Breaking Rules
¶ King Arthur: Romancing Politics
¶ The First Crusade: Sanctifying War
¶ The Linguistic and Literary Contexts of Beowulf

2. The 16th c.
¶ The Magician, the Heretic, and the Playwright
¶ Renaissance Exploration, Travel, and the World Outside Europe
¶ Dissent, Doubt, and Spiritual Violence in the Reformation
¶ Island Nations

3. The Early 17th c.
¶ Gender, Family, Household: 17th c. Norms and Controversies
¶ Paradise Lost in Context
¶ Civil Wars of Ideas
¶ Emigrants and Settlers

4. The Restoration and the 18th c.
¶ A Day in Eighteenth-Century London
¶ Slavery and the Slave Trade in Britain
¶ The Plurality of Worlds
¶ Travel, Trade, and the Expansion of Empire

5. The Romantic Period
¶ Tintern Abbey, Tourism, and Romantic Landscape
¶ The Gothic
¶ The French Revolution: Apocalyptic Expectations
¶ Romantic Orientalism

6. The Victorian Age
¶ Industrialism: Progress or Decline?
¶ The Woman Question
¶ The Painterly Image in Poetry
¶ Victorian Imperialism

7. 20th c. and After
¶ Representing the Great War
¶ Modernist Experiment
¶ Imagining Ireland

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03. — Chronology

01. — Analysis
02. — Anthology
03. — Chronology
04. — Glossary of literature
05. — Poetry: type & terminology

The chronology of English literature is here segmented into seven parts. Here each of those segments are introduced.

1. The Middle Ages

The Middle Ages designates the time span from the collapse of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance and Reformation, and the adjective “medieval” refers to whatever was made, written, or thought during the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages was a period of enormous historical, social, and linguistic change, despite the continuity of the Roman Catholic Church. In literary terms, the period can be divided into the Anglo-Saxon period (c. 450-1066), the Anglo-Norman period (1066- c. 1200), and the period of Middle English literature (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries).
Linguistic and cultural changes in Britain were accelerated by the Norman Conquest in 1066, when words from French began to enter the English vocabulary. Awareness of a uniquely English literature did not actually exist before the late fourteenth century. In this period English finally began to replace French as the language of government. Geoffrey Chaucer’s decision to emulate French and Italian poetry in his own vernacular would greatly enhance the prestige of English as a vehicle for literature.
Britain was largely Christian during the Roman occupation. After the withdrawal of the Roman legions in the fifth century, three Germanic tribes invaded Britain: the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. The conversion of these people to Christianity began in 597, with the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731) tells the story of the conversion. Before Christianity, there had been no books. Germanic heroic poetry continued to be performed orally in alliterative verse. Christian writers like the Beowulf poet looked back on their pagan ancestors with a mixture of admiration and sympathy. The world of Old English poetry is often elegiac.
The Normans, an Anglo-Saxon tribe of Germanic ancestry whose name is a contraction of “Norsemen,” conquered England in the Battle of Hastings. Henry II, the first of England’s Plantagenet kings, acquired vast provinces in southern France through his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the divorced wife of Louis VII of France. Four languages co-existed in the realm of Anglo-Norman England. Latin remained the “international” language of learning, theology, science, and history. The Norman aristocracy spoke French, but intermarriage with native English nobility and everyday exchange between masters and servants encouraged bilingualism. Celtic languages were spoken in Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. Many literary texts written in Anglo-Norman England were adapted from French and Celtic sources. Romance, designating stories about love and adventure, was the principle narrative genre for late medieval readers. By the year 1200, both poetry and prose were being written for sophisticated and well-educated readers whose primary language was English.
Wars and plague devastated England in the fourteenth century, but these calamities did not stem the growth of trade or the power of the merchant class. The second half of the fourteenth century saw the flowering of Middle English literature in the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, and the Gawain poet. Chaucer drew from the work of illustrious medieval Italian writers such as Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, as well as ancient Roman poets. Chaucer had an ideal of great poetry, but he also viewed that ideal ironically and distanced himself from it. In the fifteenth century two religious women, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, allow us to see the church and its doctrines from female points of view. Near the close of the period, Sir Thomas Malory gave the definitive form in English to the legend of King Arthur and his knights.
click here for the detailed analysis of The Middle Ages

2. The 16th c.

3. The Early 17th c.

4. The Restoration and the 18th c.

5. The Romantic Period

6. The Victorian Age

7. 20th c. and After

The Norton Anthology of English Literature

The Norton Anthology /
This we had and this we held //

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04. — Glossary of literature

01. — Analysis
02. — Anthology
03. — Chronology
04. — Glossary of literature
05. — Poetry: type & terminology

Like other disciplines, literary analysis has its own specific lexis (technical language / jargon). To begin at the beginning:

Genre = a type or kind of literature.

1. Fiction = narrative prose literature.
2. Poetry = metrical literature.
3. Drama = representational literature.


1.1 Short story = written to be read at a single sitting.
1.2 Novella = written to be read in several sittings.
1.3 Novel = written to be read in multiple sittings.


2.1 Lyric poetry = expresses thoughts or feelings.
2.2 Narrative poetry = the narrator is a storyteller.
2.3 Dramatic poetry = the narrator interacts with others.


3.1 Comedy = from disorder to order, ends happily.
3.2 Tragedy = from order to disorder, ending badly.
3.3 Tragicomedy = mixes tragedy and comedy.

Set out below is an alphabetical list of terms relating to poetry and prose and the analytical devices used to explain, interpret and contextualise these forms of writing:


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Aa /ˈeɪ/a/ — From: 📙 Aaron’s Rod, accentual verse, 📙 Aeneid, Aeschylus, Aesop, Albion, (The) Ancient Mariner, antistrophe, antithesis, 📙 Amusing Ourselves to Death and, 📙 The Arabian Nights to: *Aquinas, *Aristotle, assonance, asyndeton, *Atwood, *Austen, autobiography and, *Ayton.

📘 All entries beginning with ‘A’  (Editable PDF)

📙 Aaron’s Rod

—  A novel by D. H. Lawrence, published 1922. In the novel Aaron Sisson, amateur flautist, forsakes his wife and his job as checkweighman at a colliery for a life of flute playing, quest, and adventure in bohemian and upper-class society. (In the bible Aaron was the brother of Moses whose “blossoming rod” had various controling powers — Numbers 17: 4-8.)

Accentual Verse

—  A verse in which the metre depends upon counting a fixed number of stresses (which are also known as ‘accents’) in a line, but which does not take account of unstressed syllables. The majority of Germanic poetry (including Old English) is of this type.

Accentual-Syllabic Verse

—  The normal system of verse composition in England since the fourteen century, in which the metre depends upon counting both the number of stresses and the total number of syllables in any give line. An iambic pentameter for example contains five stressed syllables and a total of ten syllables.


—  An imagined event or series of such events.


—  The character who is spoken to/who listens (could be, Jay, your “dear reader…”)


—  A word which qualifies or modifies the meaning of a noun; as in a ‘red hat’ or a ‘quick fox’. They can be used to complement the verbs ‘to be’ or ‘to seem’ (‘Sue seems happy today’). Adjectives are sometimes formed from nouns or verbs by the addition of a suffix such as ‘-able’ (lovable), ‘-ful’ (heedful), ‘-ic’ (heroic), ‘-ish’ (foolish), ‘-ive’ (combative), ‘-ous’ (famous), or ‘-y’ (needy).


—  A word which qualifies or adds to the action of a verb: as in ‘he ran quickly‘, or ‘he ran fast‘. Adverbs can also qualify adjectives, as in ‘the grass is intensely green’. They are usually formed by adding ‘-ly’ to an adjective: ‘playfully’, ‘combatively’, ‘foolishly’. They can also sometimes be formed by the addition of ‘-wise’ to a noun (‘the hands went round clockwise).


—  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.


—  A line of six iambic feet, often used to mark a conclusion in a work which is in heroic couplets: Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism (1709) satirised this technique (which he was not above using himself): ‘ Then, at the last and only couplet fraught | With some unmeaning thing they call a thought, | A needless Alexandrine ends the song, | That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.’ The final line of that extract is of course itself an alexandrine. Spenser used an alexandrine to end his modified form of ottava rima. The same word is used to describe a line of twelve syllables which is the dominant form of French verse. See syllabic verse.


—  The saying of one thing and meaning another. Sometimes this trope works by an extended metaphor (‘the ship of state foundered on the rocks of inflation, only to be salvaged by the tugs of monetarist policy’). More usually it is used of a story or fable that has a clear secondary meaning beneath its literal sense. Animal Farm by George Orwell, for example, is known to be allegorical. So, as a literary device, an allegory is a metaphor in which a character, place or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences. Allegory (in the sense of the practice and use of allegorical devices and works) has occurred widely throughout history in all forms of art, largely because it can readily illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners. Writers typically use allegories as literary devices or as rhetorical devices that convey (semi-)hidden or complex meanings (the ‘subtext’) through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, or events, which together create the moral, spiritual, or political meaning the author wishes to convey.


—  The repetition of the same consonants (usually the initial sounds of words or of stressed syllables) at the start of several words or syllables in sequence or in close proximity to each other. In Anglo-Saxon poetry and in some fourteenth century texts such as Piers Plowman and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight rigid patterns of alliteration were an essential part of poetic form. More recently it is used for expressive or occasionally onomatopoeic effect.


—  A reference to some famous person, thing, or event, in history, in literature, or in actuality. In more detail, a narrative form in which the characters are representative of some larger humanistic trait (i.e. greed, vanity, or bravery) and attempt to convey some larger lesson or meaning to life. Although allegory was originally and traditionally character based, modern allegories tend to parallel story and theme.


—  A word or phrase made from the letters of another word or phrase.


—  A plot or character element that recurs in cultural or cross-cultural myths such as “the quest” or “descent into the underworld.”


—  The moment of recognition.

Analytic plot

—  A plot in which the main actions or events have happened before the narrative sets in, and in which the reader’s interest is mainly directed at finding out what has happened, rather than at what will happen.


—  The main character who reacts to the protagonist.


—  The main character without exceptional qualities.


—  A metrical foot consisting of three syllables. The first two are unstressed and the last is stressed: ‘di di dum’.


—  The repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of consecutive syntactic units.


—  In rhetoric the word is used to describe a sudden address to a person or personification. In punctuation the same word is used to describe the mark ‘ which can be used to indicate the beginning and end of direct speech, a quotation, or an elision. From the late sixteenth century an apostrophe was used, very irregularly, to indicate a possessive form of a noun: by the mid-nineteenth century it was established by convention that singular possessive forms should be indicated by “‘s” (‘the cat’s pajamas’) and that regular plural possessive forms should be indicated by “s'” (‘my parents’ house’). If a plural does not normally end in ‘s’ then the form “‘s” is used for the plural possessive form (‘the children’s tea was delicious’). The main exception to this rule is ‘it’s’, which is used as the contracted form of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. The form ‘its’ is reserved for the possessive use (‘the door has lost its paint’).


—  The word is usually used to describe the repetition of vowel sounds in nieghbouring syllables (compare Alliteration. The consonants can differ: so ‘deep sea‘ is an example of assonance, whereas ‘The queen will sweep past the deep crowds’ is an example of internal rhyme. More technically it is used to describe the ‘rhyming of one word with another in the accented vowel and those which follow, but not in the consonants, as used in the versification of Old French, Spanish, Celtic, and other languages.’


—  The omission of conjunctions for rhetorical effect, either between clauses as in “I came, I saw, I conquered,” or between nouns: “The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword” (from Hamlet, by Shakespeare); this second type is sometimes called ‘brachylogia.’ The omission too of a conjunction from a list, e.g.: “chips, beans, peas, vinegar, salt, pepper” would be called an asyndeton. Compare polysyndeton.

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Bb /ˈbiː/bee/ — From: the Bab Ballads, *Bacon (Francis, 1561–1626), *Bandura, Bede, *Bentham, *Berners-Lee, Big Brother and, Bildungsroman to: *Blake (William, 1757–1827), *Burton (Sir Richard Francis, 1821–1890), 📙 Brave New World, *Brontë sisters, *Byron (Lord George Gordon, 1788–1824) and, Byzantine.

📘 All entries beginning with ‘B’ (Editable PDF)

Blank verse

—  The metre most frequently used by Shakespeare. It consists of an unrhymed iambic pentameter. It was first used in Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey’s, translation of Books 2 and 4 of Virgil’s Aeneid, composed some time in the 1530s or 1540s. It was adopted as the chief verse form in Elizabethan verse drama, and was subsequently used by Milton in Paradise Lost and in a wide range of subsequent meditative and narrative poems.

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From cabal, to Cymochles (a character in Spenser’s Faerie Queene).
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘C’


—  Representation of a person, place, or thing performing traditionally human activities or functions in a work of fiction. The main character types are as follow:

  • Protagonist — The character the story revolves around.
  • Antagonist — A character or force that opposes the protagonist.
  • Minor character — Often provides support and illuminates the protagonist.
  • Static character – A character that remains the same.
  • Dynamic character – A character that changes in some important way.


—  The choices an author makes to reveal a character’s personality, such as appearance, actions, dialogue, and motivations.

The word is often used but very hard to define. It is a sentence or sentence-like construction included within another sentence. A main clause might be a simple noun plus verb (‘I did it’). A co-ordinate clause is of equal status with the main clause: ‘I did it and she did it at the same time.’ A subordinate clause might be nested within a sentence using the conjunction ‘that’: ‘he said that the world was flat.’ Here ‘he said’ is the main clause and the subordinate clause is ‘the world was flat’. Relative clauses are usually introduced by a relative pronoun: ‘I read the book which was falling to pieces‘; ‘She spoke to the man who was standing at the bar.’

A situation in which one or more characters have mutually exclusive goals.

A word used to connect words or constructions. Co-ordinating conjunctions such as ‘and’, and ‘but’ link together elements of equal importance in a sentence (‘Fish and chips’ are of equal importance). Subordinating conjunctions such as ‘because’, ‘if’, ‘although’, connect a subordinate clause to its superordinate clause (‘We will do it if you insist’; ‘We did it because he insisted).

The point at which the action stops rising and begins falling or reversing.

Colloquial Diction
A level of language that approximates the speech of “ordinary” people.

What is suggested by a word, apart from what it actually describes. The implied meaning of word.


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From dactyle to the dystopian mode.
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘D’

A metrical foot consisting of one long followed by two short syllables, or of one accented followed by two unaccented.

The dictionary meaning of a word; the literal meaning.

A word choice that both conveys and emphasizes the meaning or theme of a poem through distinctions in sound, look, rhythm, syllable, letters, and definition.

A derogatory term used to describe poetry whose subject is trite and whose rhythm and sounds are monotonously heavy-handed.

A term coined to convey the opposite of ‘utopia’: the dystopian mode projects an unpleasant or catastrophic future.

Dramatic irony
The effect of a contrast between what is expected and what happens, or between what characters know and what the reader knows.


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Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘E’


—  A mournful, contemplative lyric poem written to commemorate someone who is dead, often ending in consolation.

Elizabeth I

—  Elizabeth I (1533–1603), daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and queen of England from 1558 to 1603. She was celebrated by the greatest poets of her age, including Spenser, Raleigh, and Shakespeare, under such names as Cynthia and Gloriana (with many allusions to her semi-mythological role as Virgin Queen) and has been the subject of innumerable plays, novels, romances, and biographies. Elizabeth I was famed for her ready wit and for the stirring eloquence called forth in, for example, her speech at Tilbury on the approach of the Spanish Armada.


—  Closure or completion of a story.


—  A moment of insight or revelation by which a character’s life, or view of life, is greatly altered.


—  The opening portion of a story that introduces the characters, situation, and usually the setting.


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From fable to Futurism.
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘F’

A term most commonly used in the sense of a short story devised to convey some useful moral lesson, but often carrying with it associations of the marvellous or the mythical, and frequently employing animals as characters.

Falling Action
The fourth part of plot structure, in which the complications of the rising action are untangled.

Figurative language
The use of words to express meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words themselves

  • Metaphor — contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme without using like or as
    “You are the sunshine of my life.”
  • Simile — contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme using like or as
    “What happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun.”
  • Hyperbole — exaggeration
    “I have a million things to do today.”
  • Personification — giving non-human objects human characteristics
    “America has thrown her hat into the ring, and will be joining forces with the British.”

A plot-structuring device whereby a scene from the fictional past is inserted into the fictional present. (see also: “Flashback”) To jump to an earlier fictional present.

First-person narrator
Storyteller who refers to him/herself with first-person pronouns “I”, “me”, “my”

Grouping of stressed and unstressed syllables used in line of e.g., poetry.

  • Iamb — unstressed syllable followed by stressed. Made famous by the Shakespearian sonnet, closest to the natural rhythm of human speech
    “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
  • Spondee — stressed stressed. Used to add emphasis and break up monotonous rhythm
    “Blood boil, mind-meld, well-loved.”
  • Trochee – stressed unstressed. Often used in children’s rhymes and to help with memorization, gives poem a hurried feeling.
    “While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping…”
  • Anapest — unstressed unstressed stressed. Often used in longer poems or “rhymed stories”
    Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
  • Dactyls – stressed unstressed unstressed. Often used in classical Greek or Latin text, later revived by the Romantics, then again by the Beatles, often thought to create a heartbeat or pulse in a poem
    Picture yourself in a boat on a river / With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

The iamb stumbles through my books; trochees rush and tumble; while anapest runs like a hurrying brook; dactyls are stately and classical.

Free Verse
This is also called “open form,” and it refers to poems characterized by their nonconformity to established patterns.

A 20th c. avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to break with the past and celebrate technology.


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From GABORIAU to Gutenberg (the inventor of printing with movable type).
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘G’


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From HABINGTON to hysteron-proteron (a figure of speech in)
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘H’

Protagonist or antagonist with exceptional qualities.

Female protagonist or antagonist with exceptional qualities.

A figure of speech in which the word or phrase that should properly come last is put first, e.g., “let us die and rush into the heart of battle.”

An overstatement characterised by exaggerated language.


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From iamb (iambic pentameter) to isocolon (rhetorical devise).
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘I’

In philosophy, idealism is the view that minds or spirits are the only, or the fundamental, entities in the world, material things being unreal or in some way parasitical upon the mental. There are several varieties of idealist philosophy, and their most notable exponents include Kant and Hegel.

The author’s attempt to create a mental picture (or reference point) in the mind of the reader. Remember, though the most immediate forms of imagery are visual, strong and effective imagery can be used to invoke an emotional, sensational (taste, touch, smell etc) or even physical response.

In Medias Res
A latin phrase meaning: In the middle of things.

Initiation Story
A kind of short story in which a character first learns a significant, usually life-changing truth about the universe, society, people, herself or himself, etc.

A situation or statement characterized by a significant difference between what is expected or understood and what actually happens or is meant.

Response to a piece of fiction by a reader who imagines him/herself in the role of a character while reading

Internal conflict
Situation in which one character has mutually exclusive goals

An isocolon is a rhetorical figure in which the same grammatical form is repeated in different words, as in ‘Fair to no purpose, artful to no end, I Young without lovers, old without a friend.


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From Jacobite to JOYCE.
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘J’

In literary terms, Jacobean applies to writing of the period of James I of England, who succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603: most commonly used of ‘Jacobean tragedy.’

Jack the Ripper
This was the name given to a murderer who, between 1888 and 1891, killed and eviscerated several prostitutes (at least five, possibly more) in the Whitechapel area of London. Attempts to guess his identity have included a Harley Street surgeon, a mad midwife and a Russian anarchist.

JOYCE, James Augustine Aloysius
James Joyce (1882-1941) was a novelist, born in Dublin, and educated at Belvedere College, and at University College, Dublin. His first published work was a volume of verse, Chamber Music (1907), followed by Dubliners (1914), a volume of short stories published after great delays and difficulties, culminating in his final visit to Ireland in 1912, when the sheets were destroyed through the prospective publisher’s fear of libel. His most famous novel Ulysses was first published in Paris on 2 Feb. 1922–Joyce’s 40th birthday–and was received as a work of genius by writers as varied as T. S. Eliot and E. Hemingway. Ulysses revolutionised the form and structure of the novel, decisively influenced the development of the ‘stream of consciousness’ or ‘interior monologue’ and pushed language and linguistic experiment ( particularly in the latter work) to the extreme limits of communication. (See MODERNISM.) They have also produced a mass of critical commentary in many languages, covering Joyce’s use of Homeric myth, puns, Scholastic philosophy, etc. James Joyce was much troubled in later years by his daughter’s mental illness.

Julius Caesar
A Roman tragedy by Shakespeare, probably written and performed 1599, not printed until the First Folio however in 1623.


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From KAFKA through King Lear to KUREISHI.
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘K

KAFKA, Franz
Born in Prague (1883-1924), Kafka authored of three novels, DerProzess (The Trial, 1925), Das Schloss (The Castle, 1926), and the unfinished Amerika (1927), and also a large number of short stories, of which ‘Die Verwandlung’ (‘The Metamorphosis’, 1915) and ‘Das Urteil’ (‘The Judgement’, 1913) are among the best known. His novels were first published after his death. Characteristic of Kafka’s work is the portrayal of an enigmatic reality, in which the individual is seen as lonely, perplexed, and threatened, and guilt is one of his major themes. The opening sentence of The Trial gives a sense of the combination of the ordinary and the sinister in his works: ‘Someone must have slandered Joseph K., because one morning, without his having done anything wrong, he was arrested.’ The word ‘Kafkaesque’ is frequently used to describe work which employs similar narrative techniques, and evokes a similarly uneasy response.

Koran, or Qur’än
The sacred book of Islam, regarded by Muslims as the final revelation of God to humankind, passed by the archangel Gabriel in Arabic to Muhammad, the last of the prophets. It consists of 114 chapters or süras which contain narratives of Arab legend, Old Testament stories (notably Moses and Abraham), New Testament stories (especially Mary and Jesus), and Christian legend (e.g. the ‘*’Seven Sleepers of Ephesus’). The style of the Koran is by turns gnomic, admonitory, dramatic, and legalistic; the early Meccan material is terse and dense, and the later Medinan material diffuse and evocative in substance but rendered coherent in Arabic by the rhetorical use of assonance. Such factors convince orthodox Muslims that the Koran cannot be translated accurately, and should therefore not be translated. There have nonetheless been a few translations into English by Arabs and some 35 translations by Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. Such translations are usually called ‘interpretations’, partly because translation is not thought possible, but also because the original Kufic script had neither vowels nor diacritical marks, and so meaning has been mediated through a long tradition of learned commentary which renders the text intelligible.

A character in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ whose epitaph, ‘Mistah Kurtz—he dead’, provides the epigraph for T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’.

Born in London, and educated at King’s College, London Kureishi (1954-) is a novelist and screenwriter. His mother is English, his father Pakistani. His screenplays include My Beautiful Laundrette (1986) and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). His first novel, The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), is a spirited narration by bisexual Karim Amir, ‘an Englishman born and bred, almost’, whose father Haroon came to England from Bombay in 1950. It offers a comic, idiosyncratic, and startling panorama of multicultural south London suburban life, adolescent and middleaged sex, party going, and yoga—a world in which Muslim patriarchal attitudes and the arranged marriage (of Jámila, daughter of Uncle Anwar of Paradise Stores) coexist with Karim’s ambitions as an actor and his friend Charlie’s success as a rock-star in New York.


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From ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ to lyric poetry.
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘L’

Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a novel by D. H. Lawrence (privately printed, Florence, 1928; expurgated version, London, 1932; full text, London, 1960). In the novel, Constance Chatterley is married to Sir Clifford, writer, intellectual, and landowner, of Wragby Hall in the Midlands. He is confined to a wheelchair through injuries from the First World War. She has an unsatisfying affair with a successful playwright, Michaelis, followed by a passionate love relationship with gamekeeper Oliver Mellors, son of a miner and exofficer from the Indian army. She becomes pregnant by him, goes to Venice with her sister Hilda partly to obscure the baby’s parentage, but returns and tells her husband the truth, spurred on by the knowledge that Mellors’s estranged wife Bertha has been stirring scandal in an effort to reclaim him. The novel ends with the temporary separation of the lovers, as they hopefully await divorce and a new life together. Lawrence’s detailed and poetic descriptions of sexual union, and his uncompromising use of four-letter words, caused the book (long available in foreign editions) to be unpublishable in full in England until 1960 when *Penguin Books took the risk of producing a complete text. They were prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act 1959, and acquitted after a celebrated trial during which many eminent authors (including E. M. Forster) appeared as witnesses for the defence, a victory which had a profound effect on both writing and publishing in subsequent decades.

This is a pseudonym used by David John Moore Cornwell (1931- ). Educated at Oxford, taught briefly at Eton, then joined the Foreign Office. His earliest novels were conventional thrillers; the first, Call for the Dead (1961), introduced the mildmannered mastermind and secret agent George Smiley, who appears in many of his later books. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), a Cold War thriller inspired by the Berlin Wall (described by G. Greene as the best spy story he had ever read), brought Le Carré immediate fame. Its successors, The Looking Glass War (1965), A Small Town in Germany (1968), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), Smiley’s People (1980), The Little Drummer Girl (1983), A Perfect Spy (1986), The Russia House (1989), The Secret Pilgrim (1992), and The Night Manager (1993), have confirmed his reputation as a storyteller who mixes grim and realistic detail with byzantine elaboration of plot.

A limerick is a poetic form of jingle The first instances of which occur in The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women (1820) and Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Gentlemen (c. 1821), subsequently popularized by *Lear in his Book of Nonsense. In the older form of limerick, as written by Lear, D. G. Rossetti, and others, the first and last lines usually ended with the same word, but in more recent examples, such as the following comment on G. Berkeley’s philosophy by R. Knox, a third rhyming word is supplied:

There once was a man who said: ‘God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no-one about in the Quad.’

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 per cent 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.”

(1) the heartless libertine (proverbial as ‘the Gay Lothario’) in Rowe’s *The Fair Penitent; (2) a character in the episode of *The Curious Impertinent in Don Quixote; (3) a character in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister.

Love’s Labour’s Lost
Love’s Labour’s Lost is a comedy by Shakespeare, probably written and performed about 1595, printed in quarto 1598. No major sources for it have been identified. The king of Navarre and three of his lords have sworn for three years to keep from the sight of woman and to live studying and fasting. The arrival of the princess of France on an embassy, with her attendant ladies, obliges them ‘of mere necessity’ to disregard their vows. The king is soon in love with the princess, his lords with her ladies, and the courting proceeds amidst disguises and merriment, to which the other characters contribute: Don Adriano de Armado, the Spaniard, a master of extravagant language, Holofernes the schoolmaster, Dull the constable, Sir Nathaniel the curate, and Costard the clown. News of the death of the princess’s father interrupts the wooing, and the ladies impose a year’s ordeal on their lovers. The play ends with the beautiful songs of the cuckoo and the owl, ‘When daisies pied and violets blue’ and ‘When icicles hang by the wall’.

Love’s Sacrifice
Love’s Sacrifice is a tragedy by J. Ford, that was printed in around 1633. Fernando, favourite of the duke of Pavia, falls in love with Bianca, the duchess. He declares his love, but is repulsed. Presently, however, the duchess, in whom he has awakened a strong passion, comes to his room and offers herself to him, but warns him that she will not survive her shame, but take her own life before morning. Fernando masters his passion and determines to remain her distant lover. Fiormonda, the duke’s sister, who has vainly importuned Fernando with her love for him, discovers his affection for Bianca, and pursues her vengeance. With the help of D’Avolos, the duke’s base secretary, she stirs up the duke’s jealousy, and a trap is laid for Fernando and Bianca. The duke finds them together, and kills Bianca. Convinced too late, by Fernando’s declarations and Bianca’s manner of meeting her death, of her innocence, he stabs himself, and Fernando takes poison in Bianca’s tomb.

In Spenser’s Faerie Queene (i. iv. 12), the symbol of baseless pride and worldliness.

Lyric / Lyric poetry
Derived from the Greek adjective (‘for the lyre’), was the name given in ancient Greece to verses sung to a lyre, whether as a solo performance (*Sappho) or by a choir (*Pindar). The Greek lyrists were then imitated in Latin at an artistic level by *Catullus and *Horace, but what appears to have been more important for the development of the genre was the tradition of popular song which existed both in Rome and among the German tribes. This continued to flourish in spite of the Church’s disapproval and produced in all the medieval literatures of western Europe a lyric harvest that ranged from hymns to bawdy drinking songs and drew its authors from every social category. In England lyric poems flourished in the Middle English period (in such manuscript collections as the *Harley Lyrics), and in the 10th-cent, heyday of humanism this already quite sophisticated lyric tradition was enriched by the direct imitation of ancient models and reached perfection in the songbooks and plays of the Elizabethan age. During the next 200 years the link between poetry and music was gradually broken, and the term ‘lyric’ came to be applied to short poems expressive of a poet’s thoughts or feelings, and which could not be classed under another heading. The convention that a poem communicates its author’s feelings to a reader reached the high point of its popularity in the Romantic period, but soon after *Baudelaire introduced the modern form of lyric poetry in which the poet seems to struggle to express for his own satisfaction psychic experiences whose nature he at times only half understands: the lyric of *Mallarmé, *Rilke, *Yeats, and T S. *Eliot.


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From Macbeth to Muñera (of Faerie Queen).
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘M’

Machiavelli’s The Prince, is 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.

Magical Realism
A type of narrative in which the magical and mundane are mixed in an overall context of realistic story telling

A figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things without using like or as.

The measure or structuring of rhythm in a poem.


— Argumentative mode The speaker expresses an opinion or disagrees with another


— Confessional mode The speaker expresses private or secret thoughts or emotions

— Descriptive mode The speaker details a scene, usually in the present tense

— Dialogic mode Two or more voices take turns in speaking

— Didactic mode Speaker informs or advises the addressee or addressees

— Discursive mode Speaker discusses a topic in the manner of an essay

— Dramatic mode Speaker interacts with others in a well-defined situation

— Elegiac mode Speaker regrets the loss of something or someone

— Eulogic mode Speaker praises something or someone

— Expository mode Speaker illustrates or explains something

— Lyric mode Speaker expresses thoughts or emotions

— Narrative mode Speaker tells a story, usually in the past tense

— Persuasive mode Speaker tries to convince the addressee or addressees

— Polemic mode Speaker criticises something or someone explicitly

— Satiric mode Speaker criticises something or someone implicitly

Appeal to the reader’s curiosity


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From NABOKOV and NAIPAUL to nymphs.
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘N’

A word used as the name or designation of a person or thing, such as ‘duck’ or ‘river’. Abstract nouns denote abstract properties, such as ‘invisibility’, ‘gentleness’. Proper nouns are nouns that designate one thing, as, for example, personal names.

(Vladimir Vladimirovich, 1899-1977), Russian novelist, poet, and literary scholar. The son of a leading member of the Cadet party and of the Kerensky government, Nabokov had published only a small volume of poetry when his family left Russia for Germany in 1919. After studying French and Russian literature at Trinity College, Cambridge (1919-23). In 1940 he moved to the USA, working as a lecturer at Wellesley College (1941-8) and as professor of Russian literature at Cornell University (1948-59). From then on all his novels were written in English. Nabokov’s reputation as one of the major, most original prose writers of the 20th c., a stylist with extraordinary narrative and descriptive skill and a wonderful linguistic inventiveness, is based on his achievement in the novels Mary (1926), Laughter in the Dark (1932), Despair (1936), Invitation to a Beheading (1938), Lolita (1955) and Transparent Things (1972).

(V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad) 1932-2002), novelist, born in Trinidad of a Brahman family, the son of a journalist. He was educated at University College, Oxford. He settled in England, married in 1955, and embarked on a career of literary journalism. His first three books, The Mystic Masseur (1957), The Suffrage of Elvira (1958), and Miguel Street (short stories, 1959), are comedies of manners, all set in Trinidad. His next novel, A House for Mr Biswas (1961), also set in Trinidad, traces the fortunes of its mild hero (a portrait inspired by Naipaul’s father) from birth to death; he progresses from the job of sign-writer to that of journalist, is trapped into marriage and almost absorbed by his wife’s vast family, the Tulsis, but continues to bid for independence, symbolised by the house which he acquires shortly before his death. The novel describes the dissolution of a whole way of life, as the younger members of the family depart for new educational opportunities in Europe. Mr Stone and the Knights Companion (1963), his only novel set in London, was followed by The Mimic Men (1967), set on a fictitious Caribbean island and narrated by failed politician and visionary Ralph Singh. A Flag on the Island (1967) is a collection of short stories set in the West Indies and London. From this time Naipaul’s work becomes more overtly political and pessimistic. In a Free State (1971, *Booker Prize) explores problems of nationality and identity through three linked narratives, all describing displaced characters—a servant from Bombay transported to Washington, a lost and angry West Indian youth in London, two whites in a hostile African state.

As a term of literary history, primarily a French movement in prose fiction and (to a lesser extent) the drama during the final third of the 19th
c., although it is also applied to similar movements or groups of writers in other countries (e.g. Germany, the USA) in the latter decades of the 19th and early years of the 20th cents. In France Zola was the dominant practitioner of naturalism in prose fiction and the chief exponent of its doctrines. His novel Thérèse Raquin (1867), is considered as marking the beginnings of the movement; its most substantial and important achievement in fiction is the series of 20 novels written by Zola between 1871 and 1893 under the general title of Les Rougon-Macquart. Broadly speaking, naturalism is characterised by a refusal to idealize experience and by the persuasion that human life is strictly subject to natural laws. The naturalists shared with the earlier realists the conviction that the everyday life of the middle and lower classes of their own day provided subjects worthy of serious literary treatment. These were to be rendered so far as possible without artificiality of plot and with scrupulous care for documentation, i.e. for the authenticity and accuracy of detail, thus investing the novel with the value of social history. Emphasis was laid on the influence of the material and economic environment on behaviour, and, especially in Zola, on the determining effects of physical and hereditary factors in forming the individual temperament.

(Latin nihil, nothing), originally a movement in Russia repudiating the customary social institutions, such as marriage and parental authority. The term was introduced by *Turgenev. It was extended to a secret revolutionary movement, social and political, which developed in the middle of the 19th cent.

As opposed to Realism–the view of those Scholastics and later philosophers who regarded universals or abstract conceptions as a ‘flatus vocis’, mere names without any corresponding reality. The founder of the school of thought is usually said to be Roscelin (c.1050-1125) whose view (as well as its extreme opposite Realist view) was opposed by Abelard. Its anti-Platonic emphasis on Individuals has some affinity with later Empiricist philosophy.


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From ode (from Greek, ‘song’) to oxymoron.
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘O’

Omniscient Narrato
A point of view in which the reader has access to the perceptions and thoughts of all the characters.

Omniscient narrator
‘All-knowing’ narrator

Open ending
Ending without a sense of closure or completion


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From PAINE, Thomas (1737-1809) to pun.
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘P’

Turnaround or reversal

Sequence of actions or events linked to each other as cause and effect.

Poetic stress
(as in “four-stress” verse) Verse in which syllabic “feet” are not measured carefully (“metrical”) but rather the poem’s rhythm is organised 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).

Use of different perspectives in third-person narration

Non-metrical language

Main character whose actions move the plot forward; the opposite is the Antagonist.

A work that imitates another work for comedic or critical effect.

Treating an abstraction as if it were a person by giving it human qualities

The arrangement of the action in a play, poem, or work of fiction

  • Foreshadowing – When the writer clues the reader in to something that will eventually occur in the story; it may be explicit (obvious) or implied (disguised).
  • Suspense – The tension that the author uses to create a feeling of discomfort about the unknown
  • Conflict – Struggle between opposing forces.
  • Exposition – Background information regarding the setting, characters, plot.
  • Rising Action – The process the story follows as it builds to its main conflict.
  • Crisis – A significant turning point in the story that determines how it must end
    Resolution/Denouement – The way the story turns out.

Point of View
Also called “focus;” the point from which people, events, and other details of a story are viewed. It pertains to who tells the story and how it is told. The point of view of a story can sometimes indirectly establish the author’s intentions.

  • Narrator – The person telling the story who may or may not be a character in the story.
  • First-person – Narrator participates in action but sometimes has limited knowledge/vision.
  • Second person – Narrator addresses the reader directly as though she is part of the story. (i.e., “You walk into your bedroom. You see clutter everywhere and…”)
  • Third Person (Objective) – Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character’s perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.
  • Omniscient – All-knowing narrator (multiple perspectives). The narrator knows what each character is thinking and feeling, not just what they are doing throughout the story. This type of narrator usually jumps around within the text, following one character for a few pages or chapters, and then switching to another character for a few pages, chapters, etc. Omniscient narrators also sometimes step out of a particular character’s mind to evaluate him or her in some meaningful way.


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From QUARLES, Francis (1592-1644) to QUIN, Ann (1936-73).
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘Q’


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From RALEGH, Walter (1554-1618) to RUSKIN, John (1819-1900).
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘R’

Often thought of as a poem’s timing. Rhythm is the juxtaposition of stressed and unstressed beats in a poem, and is often used to give the reader a lens through which to move through the work. (See meter and foot)

Rising Action
the second part of plot structure, in which events complicate the situation that existed at the beginning of the work


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From Samson Agonistes (by Milton) to Symbolism.
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘S’

Delay in satisfying the reader’s curiosity

Synthetic plot
Plot in which the reader’s interest is directed at finding out what will happen.

The voice/character who speaks; also known as the narrator.

what the speaker says to the addressee.

The place or location of the action. The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. Example – In Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the crumbling old mansion reflects the decaying state of both the family and the narrator’s mind. We also see this type of emphasis on setting in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.

An explicit comparison between two things, generally using like or as to draw the connection

Form of poetry consisting of fourteen lines

The person delivering the poem. Remember, a poem does not have to have a speaker, and the speaker and the poet are not necessarily one in the same.

The place or location of the action. The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. Example – In Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the crumbling old mansion reflects the decaying state of both the family and the narrator’s mind. We also see this type of emphasis on setting in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.

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.

The person delivering the poem. Remember, a poem does not have to have a speaker, and the speaker and the poet are not necessarily one in the same.

— Fiction: The way that the writer arranges the plot of a story. Look out forrepeated elements in action, gesture, dialogue, description, as well as shifts in direction, focus, time, place, etc.
— Poetry: The pattern of organisation of a poem. For example, a Shakespearean sonnet is a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Because the sonnet is strictly constrained, it is considered a closed or fixed form. An open or free form poem has looser form, or perhaps one of the author’s invention, but it is important to remember that these poems are not necessarily formless.

When an object is meant to be representative of something or an idea greater than the object itself.
— Cross – representative of Christ or Christianity
— Bald Eagle – America or Patriotism
— Owl – wisdom or knowledge
— Yellow – could imply cowardice…

A section of a poem demarcated by extra line spacing.

Something that stands for something else.

This is a term which professional linguists still find impossible to define adequately. It is usually supposed to be ‘A sequence of words which makes complete sense, containing subject, object and main verb, and concluded by a full-stop’.

Usually the person or thing who is performing the action of a verb. More technically the grammatical subject is the part of a sentence of which an action is predicated: ‘the man patted the dog’. It can be a single noun, or it can been a complex clause: ‘the bald man who had just picked up the ball gave it to the dog.’

(Greek ‘together arrangement’): a term designating the way in which words can be arranged and modified to construct sentences. Writers characteristically use syntactic sub-ordination when they aim for a highly formal effect, and syntactic co-ordination when they aim for a simpler, more straight-forward effect.


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From TACITUS (a key Roman historian) to Typhoon (a novel by CONRAD).
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘T’

(Cornelius, c. AD 55-115) considered the greatest historian of imperial Rome. His first work was a dialogue that discussed the shortcomings of contemporary oratory. He followed this by a biography of his father-in-law Julius Agricola (c.98) and by an ethnographical account of the German tribes. The former provides a useful description of Roman Britain, the latter contains one of the earliest representations of the Noble Savage (see PRIMITIVISM). His fame rests on his Annals and his Histories which related events from the death of Augustus to the Flavian period. Tacitus’ avowed aim was to keep alive the memory of virtuous and vicious actions so that posterity could judge them, and his great achievement was to have drawn a picture of how men must live under tyranny. Little known in the Middle Ages, Tacitus was rediscovered by *Boccaccio in the 14th cent. The Agricola and the Histories were translated into English by Sir H. *Savile (1591), the Germania and Annals by R. Grenewey (1598); and after this Tacitus became in *Donne’s phrase the ‘Oracle of Statesmen’ or at any rate the model for historians like F. *Bacon in his History of*Henry VII (1622) and Sir John *Hayward. He was also influential as a stylist in the 17th cent., when attempts were made to imitate his concision and trenchancy.

The attitude a literary work takes towards its topic. The implied attitude towards the subject of the poem. Is it hopeful, pessimistic, dreary, worried? A poet conveys tone by combining all of the elements listed above to create a precise impression on the reader.

A generalised abstract paraphrase of the inferred central or dominant idea or concern of a work

Third-person narrator
Storyteller who reports the events of a story without talking about him/herself.

(Paul Edward, 1941-) a travel writer, novelist, and short story writer, born in Medford, Massachusetts, and educated at Medford High School and the University of Massachusetts. He spent some time teaching in Africa, and then, through D. J. *Enright, secured an appointment to teach at the University of Singapore. His time there provided inspiration for a collection of stories, Sinning with Annie (1972), and a novel, Saint Jack (1973). His first novel Waldo, a surreal comedy, had been published in 1966. Then came Fong and the Indians (1968), a satire set in east Africa; Girls at Play (1969), set in Kenya; and Jungle Lovers (1971), set in Malawi (the former Nyasaland, where Theroux had served in the Peace Corps). His name was made, however, by a series of vivid travel books, written with all the instincts of a novelist, about epic railway journeys: The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), describing a journey across Europe and Russia to Japan; The Old Patagonian Express (1978), depicting travels in South America; and Riding the Iron Rooster (1988), an account of a journey through China. In The Kingdom by the Sea (1983) he turned his attention to the coastline of Britain, his adopted home for many years, while The Happy Isles of Oceania (1992) describes a voyage across the South Pacific. At the same time he continued to produce a steady stream of novels, including The Black Horse (1974), about an English anthropologist returning from Africa; The Family Arsenal (1976), athriller set in the London underworld; Doctor Slaughter (1984); The Mosquito Coast (1982), one of his finest novels, subsequently filmed, in which an American engineer seeks a new life in Honduras; My Secret History (1989); O-Zone (1986), a dystopian fantasy; Millroy the Magician (1993); The Pillars of Hercules (1995); and My Other Life (1996), an ‘imaginary memoir’ which disconcertingly mixes fact and fiction. Both The Consul’s File (1977) and The London Embassy (1982) are collections of episodic short stories dealing with expatriate communities. A volume of Collected Stories was also published in 1995. Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship across Five Continents (1998) charts the decline of his personal relationship with V. S. *Naipaul, a writer he much admires.

The most querulous and ill-favoured of the Greek host in the Trojan War. He was killed by Achilles for laughing at the latter’s grief over the death of Penthesilea, the queen of the Amazons. He figures in Shakespeare’s *Troilus and Cressida as a scabrous cynic.

a son of Poseidon, or, according to later legend, of Aegeus, king of Athens. His exploits (in association with Medea, the Minotaur, Ariadne, Phaedra, etc.) form the basis of many literary works, and he appears as the duke of Athens in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with his newly won bride Hippolyta, and also in Fletcher’s *The Two Noble Kinsmen.

(Sir Wilfred Patrick, 1910-2002), travel writer, explorer, soldier, and photographer, born in the British legation in Addis Ababa (Abyssinia, now Ethiopia) where his father was British minister. He was educated at Eton and Oxford. In 1933-4 he explored the little-known territories of the Danakil people (see his Danakil Diary, pub. 1998) and became increasingly taken with a desire to live among herdsmen, hunters, and swamp-dwellers, far from the Europeanised capitals of Addis Ababa and Khartoum. Arabian Sands (1959) is a solemn epitaph for traditional Arabia, based on the years he spent in the Empty Quarter with the Bedu, and The Marsh Arabs ( 1964) describes the years he spent in the marshes of southern Iraq. In i960 he moved to the northern highlands of Kenya. His autobiographical works are Desert, Marsh and Mountain (1979, which includes accounts of travels in Persia and Iraqi Kurdistan as well as many photographs); The Life of My Choice (1987); and My Kenya Days (1994).

A story by J. Conrad, published 1903. The unimaginative and imperturbable Captain MacWhirr pilots his steamer Nan-Shan through a typhoon of such violence that even he is moved to doubt the possibility of survival. Nevertheless, to avoid trouble between decks, he sends his appalled chief mate Mr Jukes down to confiscate the money of his 200 Chinese passengers. Later, the money redistributed and the ship safe in Fuchau harbour, Jukes is forced to conclude that MacWhirr ‘got out of it very well for a stupid man’.

A surprise turn at the end of a story.


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From Ubi sunt to More’s Utopia.
Editable PDF: All entries beginning with ‘U’

A novel by James Joyce, serialised in the Little Review from 1918. The editors of the Little Review were prosecuted and found guilty of publishing obscenity, which led to the novel’s publication in a non-English speaking country: it was published in Paris by Sylvia *Beach in 1922. Copies of the first English edition were burned by the New York post office authorities, and the Folkestone customs authorities seized the second edition in 1923. Various later editions appeared abroad, and, after the United States District Court found the book not obscene in 1933, the first English edition appeared in 1936, and the first unlimited edition in America and England in 1937. The novel deals with the events of one day in Dublin, 16 June 1904 (the anniversary of Joyce’s first walk with Nora Barnacle, who became his wife), now known as ‘Bloomsday’. The various chapters roughly correspond to the episodes of Homer’s *Odyssey, Stephen representing Telemachus, Bloom Odysseus, and Molly Penelope. In the course of the story a public bath, a funeral, a newspaper office, a library, public houses, a maternity hospital, and a brothel are visited. A number of other Dublin scenes and characters are introduced. The style is highly allusive and employs a variety of techniques, especially those of interior monologue and of parody, and ranges from extreme realism to fantasy. Joyce described the theme of the Odyssey to one of his students in 1917 as ‘the most beautiful, all-embracing theme… greater, more human, than that of Hamlet, Don Quixote, Dante, Faust’, and refers to Ulysses himself as pacifist, father, wanderer, musician, and artist: T am almost afraid to treat such a theme; it’s overwhelming.’

Unreliable Narrator
A first-person narrator whose statements cannot be trusted; details of a story is consciously or unconsciously deceiving.

An essay by J. S. Mill, first published in a series of magazine articles in 1861, in book form 1863. The term ‘utilitarian’ was first adopted by Mill in 1823, from Gait’s *Annals of the Parish. In this work, Mill, while accepting the Benthamite principle (see BENTHAM) that Utility, or the greatest happiness of the greatest number, is the foundation of morals, departs from it by maintaining that pleasures differ in kind or quality as well as in quantity, ‘that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others’; also by recognizing in ‘the conscientious feelings of mankind’ an ‘internal sanction’ to be added to Bentham’s ‘external sanctions’. ‘The social feelings of mankind, the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures’ constitute ‘the ultimate sanction of the greatest happiness, morality’.

The principal literary work of Thomas More, is a speculative political essay written in Latin. The work was published in 1516 at Louvain, Erasmus supervising the printing. The form was probably suggested by the narrative of the voyages of Vespucci, printed 1507. The subject is the search for the best possible form of government. More meets at Antwerp a traveller, one Raphael *Hythloday, who has discovered ‘Utopia’, ‘Nowhere land’. Communism is there the general


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From VERGIL (Roman poet) to VITRUVIUS (Roman architect).
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Usually a word which describes an action (such as ‘he reads poems’, ‘she excels at cricket’). More technically ‘That part of speech by which an assertion is made, or which serves to connect a subject with a predicate.’ This technical definition includes the most frequent verb in the language: the verb ‘to be’ which can be used to connect a ‘subject’, such as ‘he’, with a ‘predicate’, such as ‘good at hockey’. There are verbs which take an object (‘he raps the desk’), which are called transitive verbs. Other verbs do not, and are termed intransitive verbs (‘I sit, he lives’). Some verbs can be used either transitively or intransitively: ‘I sing’ is an intransitive usage; ‘Paul McCartney sings “God save the Queen”‘ is a transitive usage. The main verb is the verb on which the structure of the sentence depends, and without which the sentence would not make any sense. In the following sentence the verb ‘fell’ is the main verb: ‘The boy, who had run too quickly, fell’.

Verbal irony
A way of making a statement by saying the exact opposite.

A character who is and does evil.

Vitruvius, Pollio
(fl. 40 BC), Roman architect and author of De Architecture!, the only surviving classicaltreatise on architecture. It was much studied by Renaissance and later architects; the first printed edition was published in i486. , see VIRGIL.

(Publius Vergilius Maro, 70-19 BC)
The greatest of Roman poets, valued particularly for his craftsmanship, love of nature, and sense of pathos. He imitated successively the pastorals of *Theocritus, the didactic poems of *Hesiod and Aratus, and the epics of *Homer, making original contributions to all three genres. In his Eclogues he added a new level of meaning to the pastoral’s idealization of country life by alluding to topics of contemporary interest; in the Georgics he transformed the bald didacticism of his models into a panegyric of Italy and the traditional ways of rural life; and in the Aeneid he committed the epic to the presentation of a major patriotic theme. He began like most poets of his generation by working within the conventions of *Hellenistic poetry, but later, when he came to enjoy the patronage of Augustus, he widened his stylistic range and, drawing also on earlier and more naïve authors, created a diction and a manner of presentation that were all his own.

vers libre
A term used to describe many forms of irregular, syllabic, or unrhymed verse, in which the ordinary rules of prosody are disregarded: *Whitman pioneered a form of vers libre in America.


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WAUGH, Evelyn
Evelyn Arthur St John Waugh (1903-66) was an English novelist, born in London. He was the son of a publisher, Arthur Waugh. He was educated at Lancing and Hertford College, Oxford, where he devoted himself more to social than to academic life; his literary and artistic interests were strengthened by new friendships, notably with H. * Acton. He took a third-class degree, then worked for some years (unhappily) as assistant schoolmaster in various posts which provided material for ^Decline and Fall (1928), his first and immensely successful novel, which followed the publication of an essay on the *Pre-Raphaelites (1926). His career as a novelist prospered, with Vile Bodies (1930, set in Mayfair), Black Mischief (1932, set in Africa), *A Handful of Dust (1934), and *Scoop (1938), works of high comedy and social satire which capture the brittle, cynical, determined frivolity of the inter-war generation. He also established himself as journalist and travel writer with accounts of a journey through Africa (Remote People, 1931), a journey through South America (Ninety-Two Days, 1934), and Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia (Waugh in Abyssinia, 1936).

Where Angels Fear to Tread
This was E. M. Forster’s first novel (published 1905). It is a tragicomedy describing the consequences of the marriage of Lilia Herriton, an impulsive young widow, to the son of an Italian dentist, Gino Carella, whom she meets while touring in Tuscany, ineffectively chaperoned by well-meaning and romantic spinster Caroline Abbott. Lilia’s brother Philip is dispatched by his mother, too late, to break off the match. Lilia dies shortly afterwards in childbirth and Philip is dispatched once more to rescue the baby. He himself falls in love with Italy and with Miss Abbott, but she falls in love with Gino, the baby is accidentally killed, and all ends in inconclusive loss.

‘Wulf and Eadwacer’
An Old English poem in 19 lines of varying length, one of the group called ‘Elegies’ from the Exeter Book. Its theme seems to be the separation of lovers, but it is very unclear, despite its powerfully suggestive atmosphere.


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From Xanadu (in Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’) to XENOPHON (Greek historian).
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In Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’, Xanadu is the place where the Khan decreed ‘a stately pleasure-dome’.

An Athenian historian (c.430-352 BC), who left an account of a military expedition in which he participated (Anabasis), a history of his own times (Hellenica), a panegyric on a contemporary monarch (Agesilaus), chatty memoirs about *Socrates (Memorabilia, Symposium), and treatises on domestic economy, horsemanship, and hunting. His most popular work was however the Cyropedia, a fictionalised biography of the Persian king Cyrus. This created a vogue for such biographies in which the fictional element became progressively greater until the world saw the emergence of a new genre—the novel. The Cyropedia was translated into English by William Barker, contributed a story to Painter’s Palace of Pleasure (1566), and was described by Sidney as an ‘absolute heroical poem’. Milton, on the other hand, spoke highly of the Memorabilia, whose account of Socrates he placed on a level with Plato’s.


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From YEATS to ‘Ywain and Cawain’ (14th c. romantic poem).
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These weew cheap editions of novels, so called from being bound in yellow boards. They were the ordinary ‘railway novels’ of the 1870s and 1880s.


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From Zeitgeist via ZEPHANIAH to ZOLA.
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A word meaning the spirit of genius which marks the thought or feeling of a period. Thus in 2019 we have climate change, over-consumption and Trump’s war on knowledge.

(Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal, 1958- )
A British poet and playwright who left school aged 13, and spent most of his teenage years in youth institutions and the criminal underworld of Birmingham. He came to public attention as a performance poet with the anti-racist demonstrations of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

(Émile, 1840-1902)
A leading figure in the French school of *naturalistic fiction. His novel Thérèse Raquin caused a scandal on publication and was followed by his brilliant Rougon-Macquart cycle (1871-1893), a series of twenty novels focused on one family. It is said that Zola died in mysterious circumstances in 1902, the victim of an accident or murder…


effect created through regular distribution of stressed and unstressed syllables

Run-on line
line that contains part of a syntactic unit, to be completed in the following.

The identity of sound from the last stressed vowel, to the end of words or phrases.

A pause or break in the middle of a line.

End-stopped line
The line that completes a syntactic unit, mostly ending with a punctuation

Identity of sound at the beginning of words

identity of sound in the middle of words

something that stands for or points to something else

way of speaking about something as if it were something else

indirect way of referring to something by naming something else closely related to it, e.g. as container and content, or genus and species

fourteen-line poem in rhymed iambic pentameter

similarity between sound and meaning

element that occurs in many different texts

An explicit comparison,

This is a form of poetic exaggeration

A way of talking about something non-human as if it were a person; also known as prosopopoeia.

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. 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 to determine its significance as an aesthetic, cultural, political, or other type of phenomenon. 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.

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 þy heardra, heorte þy cenre, [Spirit shall be so much the harder, heart, the keener]

Mod sceal þy mare
þy ure mægen lytlaþ. [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.

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]).

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.

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.

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.).

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).

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.

— 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 [1983]). 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).

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
, Richardson’s Pamela, and Fielding’s Joseph Andrews and Tom
. 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

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 becausesomething 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.

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.

— A kind of thought devoted to imagining an ideal human culture or place, a rational experiment in idealisation 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 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…”.

— 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

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.

Translation (from Latin for a “transferring of a thing from one place to another,”) in a literary analytical sense means, 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, andwhich when done by a hack, results in a debased version of the source poem.

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 composedv 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.

— 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”).

— 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, clichéd, 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.

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

— 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, 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.

[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”).

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).

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 satirised 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 centre
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.

Asubspecies 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.

Grand Tour
The Grand Tour is 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 Cæ 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.

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.

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.

A poetic line of four feet in whatever meter they’re
written (e.g., iambic da-dum, trochaic, dum-da, spondee dumdum,
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”
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’
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 Metaphysical:
“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
” (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 areused 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 realised 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.


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 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).

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.


Literally, from the Greek, writing about prostitutes (pornographos), 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.”


From the Latin obscenus, ill-omened, repulsive, things (especially writing) offensive to standards of decency, especially standards of sexual behaviour, but generally extending to all social taboos which forbid mention of or representation of certain activities. The obscene may be pornographic, or it may be merely offensive to the keepers of social standards. One interesting thing about American culture is that we have no formal legal arbiter of obscenity (or pornography) to whom one can appeal for final judgment, as opposed to the Romans who formally appointed a Censor to patrol the city in search of such violations. Instead, obscenity and pornography cases usually wind up in the Supreme Court among the death penalty appeals, the challenges to state and federal laws, and arguments about limits of the powers of the federal bureaucracy and the Congress. The juxtaposition is either sobering or ludicrous, take your pick. Would you prefer to elect a Censor?

Vers de societe

The poetry written by aristocrats and upper-middle-class poets which specifically disavows “high art” ambitions while treating contemporary social issues in verse forms which intentionally demonstrate a high degree of formal control (e.g., artful rhymes, surprising turns of diction). The “society poet” seems to be an outgrowth of the generalized spread of the courtier-aesthetic to the City. Since aristocrats might be from “new money” families, only recently come to social prominence, they could be extremely sensitive about claiming to be the equal of a Wyatt, Surrey or Sidney. Also, taking art too seriously might mark one as failing to observe the line separating the wealthy amateur from the poet who wrote for money, the latter a creature finally emerging in English culture around Ben Jonson’s time.

A “night poem” or “night lyric,” a style or mode more than a formal genre in Finch’s era, based mainly on the occasion of the events, and on contrasts between the night-world and that of the day.

A term of art from feminist literary criticism which describes the process by which individuals not from the dominant power structure are prevented from speaking, writing, or otherwise attempting to claim cultural authority. Those “silenced” by their position on the outside/margin of literary discourse include women, ethnic minorities, colonials even of the dominant gender and ethnic group, and non-heterosexuals. The forces which silence these would-be authors include their exclusion from formal education, property ownership and capital accumulation, and public presence at secular social events (e.g., the right to walk the streets of London without being called a “street-walker”).

Literally, a “new” thing, the form of extended prose fiction which arises from the fusion of a wide array of other genres including autobiography, history, letters, tragic drama, medieval romances, travel literature, utopican literature, and the oral-formulaic epic. The novel’s rise in literary importance was famously attributed, by Ian Watt, to the increasing economic and political power of the middle class in C17-19. However, that thesis has been hotly debated and should not be accepted in any one instance without careful attention to the evidence of the novel(s) in question (e.g., are class differences central to the plot, do economic conditions appear to be seen from the “middle” between the world of the workers and the aristos, etc.).

A narrative describing the life of some living human being. Also see “autobiography.”

A style of writing which attacks its subject without compromise, from the Greek polemos, war. Polemics can be a form of poetic satire (i.e., Juvenalian satire) and it also can be a form of prose essay.

A back-formation from the feminist slang term, “gender-bending,” which alludes to the practice of deliberately forcing one’s audience to guess or be confused about one’s gender. “Genre-bending” is a practice often adopted by women writers wherein they create works which are unstable combinations of more than one genre, often with conflicting rules (e.g., Behn’s combination of utopian fiction, autobiography, and travel narrative, with overtones of dramatic tragedy). The novel, itself, appears to be a good example of a new genre that arose out of a series of early genre-bending experiments.

Verse satire
A satire written in verse, of course, but this distinction is one which only would have been necessary were there prose satires. The emergence of prose satire amid the pamphlet wars of the Protectorate made it possible to distinguish the traditional poetic satire (whose roots derive from Classical Latin poems by Horace and Juvenal) from this new variety in which one’s opponents’ fondest principles and most proud behaviors were caricatured by exaggeration and contrasted with the implicit wisdom of one’s own.

Prescriptive criticism
A form of literary analysis which attempts to set out rules for successful literary performance, usually following Aristotle by preceding from generic definitions and holding successive contemporary artists’ works to the standard one has set by that method. Sidney’s and Dryden’s criticism, to the extent that it established hierarchies of “good” and “bad” writing, was prescriptive. This differs from “descriptive” criticism, in which the analysis seeks to account for the structure of the work, the author’s intentions in creating it, and the audience’s experience of it. In the late 20th century, most prescriptive criticism is found in book reviews, and the predominant mode of critism in scholarly journals is descriptive.

A style that attempts to capture enduring literary qualities, often by creative imitation of model works from previous eras. This is related to “neo-classicism,” the school of prescriptive criticism which teaches that Greek and Latin literary models are superior to those in the vernacular languages of Europe, and that Aristotelian critical principles are similarly superior to those derived from practices native to those vernacular languages. Also see “Aristotelianism.”

Straw Man (argument)
In debate, the device whereby one’s opponent’s argument is presented in a radically simplified or exaggerated fashion such that one’s rebuttal of it becomes easy, like knocking over the eponymous “straw man.”

the “Irish problem”
An English political code phrase for the political difficulties they have had governing the colony they created on Irish soil (cf. the 1950s American phrase, “the Negro Problem”), thus identifying the colonial disorder created by the two conflicting cultural standards with the identity of the colonised rather than with the policies and identities of the colonizers.

Gresham’s law
An economic principle first described by Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-79), whereby “the weaker currency drives out the stronger.” That is, if silver coins are introduced in an economy which previously had used gold, the gold coins will be horded and the silver coins will be used for exchange until no gold coins are available for commercial use. The effect is to inflate prices and to destroy the public’s faith in the economy, because it’s even more outrageous than merely diluting the gold or silver content in a coin with baser metals, a crime usually punished by death as counterfeiting when a private citizen does it. This is behind Swift’s argument in one of his satirical pamphlets against the introduction of copper coinage as the imperial currency in Ireland.

Restoration drama
Technically, any dramatic work produced in England during the period 1660-1688, but in literary criticism it refers to the peculiar characteristics of comedy and tragedy in the theater as it was re-established by Charles II after his “travels” in France. Heavily influenced by French theatrical standards (especially Moliére and Racine), this theater was notable for its neo-classicism, emphasis of dialogue over action, construction of complex plots, and use of female actors for the first time on the English stage. Restoration tragedy tended to be based in history, and generally avoided the savage behavior depicted in Jacobean drama (e.g., Gloucester’s blinding), preferring heroes whose action rose to high moral standards. Restoration comedy often was strikingly frank about sexuality, and depicted the emerging high-bourgeois culture of central London where petit aristocrats and wealthy city-dwellers mingled at coffee shops, parks, and parlors. Charles II had his own court theater where these works could be privately performed, like Elizabeth and James before him, and Aphra Behn writes of providing its costumers with New World feathers in Oroonoko.

A canting or slang term for a young, adventurous, scandalously immoral young London man (presumably rich, but not necessarily) who pursued young women as a kind of sport, drank and gambled as if those were professions, and competed with each other like aesthetic athletes to be the most “modish” or up-to-date in their knowledge of the fads in dress, language, and other exercises of taste which periodically swept the city each season. Predators on the social scene, their prey were the city men and women whose non-aristocratic backgrounds left them vulnerable to the rakes’ flattery and bold deceptions.

City man (city woman)
Originally a term of honor, one who had the political status of “citizen of London,” wealthy enough to meet the requirements
of the City Council and able to provide evidence of a moral, law-abiding character.
Obviously, meeting the first requirement might be enough in some circumstances. The
“city men” were by definition distinguished from their two country counterparts,
the country peasant or yeoman farmer whose social status was defined by medieval
tradition, and the country-based aristocracy whose wealth and social status similarly
arose from medieval land law. The aristocrats maintained connections with the court
by means of town houses where they stayed for the duration of important royal occasions or
meetings of the House of Lords, but their country estates were the roots of their wealth via the rents that their tenants paid them. They competed with the upper-level of the middle class which sought, by imitating them, to become aristocrats, as well.

From Greek drama, the line-for-line exchange between two characters who are expressing strong emotion, often in a struggle for authority. low norm satire, a term coined by Northrup Frye to describe satires in which there is no “moral center” because the norms of human society are assumed to be so low that no positive moral examples remain.

A pause or breathing-place about the middle of a metrical line, generally indicated by a pause in the sense. The word derives from a Latin word meaning ‘cut or slice’, so the effect can be quite violent. However in many lines of blank verse the caesura may be almost inaudible. A medial caesura is the norm: this occurs in the middle of a line. An initial caesura occurs near the start of a line; a terminal caesura near its end. A ‘masculine caesura’ occurs after a stressed syllable, and a ‘feminine caesura’ occurs after an unstressed syllable.

A rhymed pair of lines, which are usually of the same length. If these are iambic pentameters it is termed a heroic couplet. This form was made popular by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and became the dominant poetic form in the latter part of the seventeenth century. In the work of Alexander Pope it becomes a flexible medium for pointed expression. Couplets of four iambic feet (i.e. eight syllables in all) are called octosyllabic couplets. These were favoured by John Gower, Chaucer’s near contemporary, and became a vehicle for a comically brisk style in Samuel Butler’s satirical poem Hudibras (1663-78).

A metrical foot consisting of three syllables, in which the first is stressed and the last two are unstressed.

In literary parlance, the appropriateness of a work to its subject, its genre and its audience.

Diction: or lexis, or vocabulary of a passage refers to nothing more or less than its words. The words of a given passage might be drawn from one register, they might be drawn from one linguistic origin (e.g. Latin, or its Romance descendants Italian and French; Old English); they might be either very formal or very colloquial words.

Elision: The omission of one or more letters or syllables from a word. This is usually marked by an apostrophe: as in ‘he’s going to the shops’. In early printed texts the elided syllable is sometimes printed as well as the mark of elision, as in Donne’s ‘She ‘is all States, all Princes I’.

Enjambement: The effect achieved when the syntax of a line of verse transgresses the limits set by the metre at the end of the verse. Metre aims for the integrity of the single verse, whereas syntax will sometimes efface that integrity. Thus ‘Black drizzling crags that spake by the way-side/ As if a voice were in them, the sick sight/ And giddy prospect of the raving stream…’ End-stopping is the alternative to enjambement.

End-stopping: The effect achieved when the syntax of a line coincides with the metrical boundary at the end of a line. The contrary of enjambement.

Fabliau (plural fabliaux): A short, pithy story, usually of a bawdy kind.

Foot: the basic unit for describing metre, usually consisting of a certain number and combination of stressed and unstressed syllables. Stressed and unstressed syllables form one or other of the recognised metrical forms: an iamb is ‘di dúm’; a trochee is ‘dúm di’, a spondee is ‘dúm dúm’ (as in ‘home-made’), an anapaest is ‘di di dúm’, and a dactyl is ‘dúm di di’.

Feminine Rhyme: a rhyme of two syllables in which the final syllable is unstressed (‘mother | brother’). If an iambic pentameter ends in a feminine rhyme the last, unstressed, syllable is usually not counted as one of the ten syllables in the line (‘To be or not to be, that is the question’ – the ‘ion’ is unstressed and takes the line into an eleventh syllable). Feminine rhyme can be used for comic effect, as it is frequently in the works of Byron: ‘I’ve spent my life, both interest and principle, | And think not what I thought, my soul invincible.’ It can also be sometimes used to suggest a feminine subject-matter, as in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, which is addressed to the ‘master mistress of my passion’ and which makes extensive use of ‘feminine’ rhymes.

Form: The term is usually used in the analysis of poetry to refer to the structure of stanzas (such as ottava rima). It can also be used less technically of the general structural principles by which a work is organised, and is distinguished from its content.

Free Verse: verse in which the metre and line length vary, and in which there is no discernible pattern in the use of rhyme.

Genre(from Latin genus, type, kind): works of literature tend to conform to certain types, or kinds. Thus we will describe a work as belonging to, for example, one of the following genres: epic, pastoral, satire, elegy. All the resources of linguistic patterning, both stylistic and structural, contribute to a sense of a work’s genre. Generic boundaries are often fluid; literary meaning will often be produced by transgressing the normal expectations of genre.

Homophones: Words which sound exactly the same but which have different meanings (‘maid’ and ‘made’).

Hypermetrical: having an extra syllable over and above the expected normal length of a line of verse. See also feminine rhyme.

Iambic pentameter: an unrhymed line of
five feet in which the dominant accent usually falls
on the second syllable of each foot (di dúm), a pattern known as an
iamb. The form is very flexible: it is possible to have one or more feet
in which the expected order of accent is reversed (dúm di). These
are called trochees.

Irony: strictly a sub-set of allegory: irony not only says one thing and means another, but says one thing and means its opposite. The word is used often of consciously inappropriate or understated utterances (so two walkers in the pouring rain greet each other with ‘lovely day!’, ‘yes, isn’t it’). Irony depends upon the audience’s being able to recognise that a comment is deliberately at odds with its occasion, and may often discriminate between two kinds of audience: one which recognises the irony, and the other which fails to do so. Dramatic irony occurs when an audience of a play know some crucial piece of information that the characters onstage do not know (such as the fact that Oedipus has unwittingly killed his father).

Lexical set: words that are habitually used within a given environment constitute a lexical set. Thus ‘Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…’ form a lexical set.

Metaphor: the transfer of a quality or attribute from one thing or idea to another in such a way as to imply some resemblance between the two things or ideas: ‘his eyes blazed‘ implies that his eyes become like a fire. Many metaphors have been absorbed into the structure of ordinary language to such an extent that they are all but invisible, and it is sometimes hard to be sure what is or is not dead metaphor: ‘the fat book’ may imply a metaphor, as may also be the case when we talk of a note of music as ‘high’ or ‘low’. Mixed metaphors often occur when a speaker combines two metaphors from very diverse areas in such a way as to create something which is physically impossible or absurd (‘the report of the select committee was a bombshell which got right up my nose’). These often result from the tendency of metaphors to become received idioms in which the original force of the implied comparison is lost. See also Simile.

Metonymy: A figure of speech in which the name of one object is replaced by another which is closely associated with it. So ‘the turf’ is a metonym for horse-racing, ‘Westminster’ is a metonym for the Houses of Parliament, ‘Downing Street’ is a metonym for the Prime-Minister or his office. ‘Sceptre and crown came tumbling down’ is a metonymic way of saying ‘the king fell from power’. See synecdoche.

Metre: A regular patterned recurrence of
light and heavy stresses in a line of verse. These patterns are given
names. Almost all poems deliberately depart from the template established by a metrical pattern for specific effect. Assessing a poem’s metre requires more than just spotting an iambic pentameter or other metrical pattern: it requires you to think about the ways in which a poem departs from its underlying pattern and why. Emotion might force a reverse foot or trochee, or the normal patterns of speech might occasionally cut across an underlying rhythm. See Iambic Pentameter.

Monorhyme: A rhymescheme in which all lines rhyme (aaaa etc.)

Onomatopoeia: The use of words or
sounds which appear to resemble the sounds which they describe. Some words
are themselves onomatopoeic, such as ‘snap, crackle, pop.’

Ottava rima: an eight line verse stanza rhyming abababcc. In English it is usually in iambic pentameter. It was introduced into English by Sir Thomas Wyatt in the 1530s, and was widely used for long verse narratives. Sir John Harington translated Ariosto’s Orlando furioso into ottava rima in 1591; Byron used the form in Don Juan (1819-24). Edmund Spenser produced a nine line modification of the form which ends with an alexandrine and rhymes ababbcbcc. for his Faerie Queene (1590-6). This is known as the Spenserian stanza, and was quite widely used by Wordsworth, Byron and Keats.

Personification: the attribution to a non-animate thing of human attributes. The thing personified is often an abstract concept (e.g. ‘Lust’). Personification is related to allegory, insofar as personification says one thing (‘Lust possessed him’) and really means another. But it is opposed to allegory insofar as it aims for the maximum degree of explicitness, whereas allegory necessarily involves greater degrees of obliquity.

Plosive: A consonantal sound in the formation of which the passage of air is completely blocked, such as ‘p’, ‘b’, ‘t’. The blockage can be made in a variety of places (between the lips, between the tongue and teeth, between the tongue and palate). A ‘bi-labial plosive’ is made with the lips (Latin labia): examples are ‘p’ and ‘b’; a ‘dental plosive’ is made by blocking the passage of air with the tongue and the teeth (‘d’, ‘t’); an ‘uvular’ plosive is made right at the back of the throat (‘q’, ‘g’). Phoneticists (people who study the science of pronunciation) distinguish between ‘voiced’ and ‘unvoiced’ plosives. This is the distinction between ‘b’ (in saying which you have to make a sound as well as simply letting the air escape between your lips; hence it is ‘voiced’) and ‘p’ (in saying which you do not have to make a sound; hence it is termed ‘unvoiced’). Similarly ‘t’ is an unvoiced dental plosive; ‘d’ is a voiced dental plosive. The International Phonetic Association provides more information about how words are pronounced and the specialised alphabet with which such sounds are transcribed.
Polysyndeton: The use of multiple conjunctions, usually where they are not strictly necessary (‘chips and beans and fish and egg and peas and vinegar and tomato sauce’). Compare asyndeton.

Quantitative Metre: A metrical system based on the length or ‘weight’ of syllables, rather than on stress. This is the norm in classical Latin and Greek, but is rare in English. Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86) made some attempts to write in quantitative metre in order to bring English poetry closer to its classical models, but he had few imitators.

Quatrain: a verse stanza of four lines, often rhyming abab. Tennyson’s In Memoriam rhymes abba, however.

Refrain: A repeated line, phrase or group of lines, which recurs at regular intervals through a poem or song, usually at the end of a stanza. The less technical term is ‘chorus’.

Register: a term designating the appropriateness of a given style to a given situation. Speakers and writers in specific situations deploy, for example, a technical vocabulary (e.g. scientific, commercial, medical, legal, theological, psychological), as well as other aspects of style customarily used in that situation. Literary effect is often created by switching register.

Rhetorical Figures: Linguistic effect can be perceptible to the mind and/or the eye. Figures of thought appeal to the mind by twisting language in a way that is strictly improper, but licensed by usage. Thus the word ‘is’ is used improperly in the sentence ‘John is a lion’, but the metaphorical usage is permissible. Or when we hear the sentence ‘All hands on deck’, we understand that the word ‘hands’ is being used as a synecdoche for sailors. Figures of thought are sometime called tropes (from a Greek word meaning ‘turn’, ‘twist’) or conceits (from a Latin word meaning ‘concept’, because the conceit appeals to the mind). Figures of speech are perceptible to the eye and the ear. Thus rhyme is a figure of speech, as is alliteration and anaphora. Figures of speech are sometimes called schemes (Greek ‘forms’).

Rhyme: When two or more words or phrases
contain an identical or similar vowel-sound, and the consonant-sounds that
follow are identical or similar (red and dead). Feminine rhyme
occurs when two syllables are rhymed (‘mother | brother’). Half-rhyme
occurs when the final consonants are the same but the preceding vowels are
not. (‘love | have‘). Eye rhyme occurs when two
syllables look the same but are pronounced differently (‘kind | wind’ –
although sometimes changes in pronunciation have made what were formerly
perfect rhymes become eye rhymes). Rime riche occurs when the same
combination of sounds is used in each element of the rhyme, but where the
two identical sounding words have different senses (‘maid | made’). This
was in the medieval period regarded as a particularly perfect form of
rhyme. Leonine rhyme occurs when the syllable immediately preceding the caesura rhymes with the syllable at the end of the line. The Rhyme Scheme, or regularly recurring patterns of rhyme
within a poem or stanza, is recorded by using a letter of the alphabet to
denote each rhyme, and noting the order in which the rhymes recur
(aabbcc… is the most simply rhyme scheme of all, that of the couplet).

Rhythm: a term designating the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse or prose. Different lines of verse can have the same metre but a different rhythm. Thus two lines of alliterative verse in Middle English poetry might have the same metrical pattern of four stressed syllables, but their rhythm might differ by having a greater or lesser number of unstressed syllables intervening between the stressed syllables.

Rhyme Royal
A form of verse which consists of stanzas of seven ten-syllable lines, riming a b a b b c c. It was first used by Chaucer, and was also the form chosen by Shakespeare for the tragic gravity of his narrative poem Lucrece (1594).

A comparison between two objects or ideas which is introduced by ‘like’ or ‘as’. The literal object which evokes the comparison is called the tenor and the object which describes it is called the vehicle. So in the simile ‘the car wheezed like an asthmatic donkey’ the car is the tenor and the ‘asthmatic donkey’ is the vehicle. Negative similes are also possible (as in Shakespeare’s Sonnet ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’). Epic similes are more extended similes, which might involve multiple points of correspondence between tenor and vehicle. The frequently occur in long heroic narrative poems in the classical tradition, such as Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), as when Milton describes the combat of Satan and Death:

    Incenst with indignation Satan stood
    Unterrifi’d, and like a Comet burn’d,
    That fires the length of Ophiucus huge
    In th’ Artick Sky, and from his horrid hair
    Shakes Pestilence and Warr. Each at the Head
    Level’d his deadly aime; thir fatall hands
    No second stroke intend, and such a frown
    Each cast at th’ other, as when two black Clouds
    With Heav’ns Artillery fraught, come rattling on
    Over the Caspian, then stand front to front
    Hov’ring a space, till Winds the signal blow
    To joyn thir dark Encounter in mid air:
    So frownd the mighty Combatants, that Hell
    Grew darker at thir frown, so matcht they stood…’

This double simile (first Satan is compared to a comet, then to a cloud) reflects back on the literal action: the violent energy of the comet is damped down by the immobile clouds. This change of vehicle reflects back on the fight which is the simile’s tenor: it suggests that Satan starts off blazing with eagerness to fight Death, and then pauses, perhaps nervously.

In its earliest usages this can mean just ‘a short poem, often on the subject of love.’ Now it is almost always used to denote a fourteen line poem in iambic pentameter. There are two main forms of Sonnet: the ‘Shakespearean Sonnet’ rhymes abab cdcd efef gg. It was the form favoured by Shakespeare, in his Sonnets (1609), although it is first found in the work of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The three quatrains can be linked together in argument in a variety of ways, but often there is a ‘volta’ or turn in the course of the argument after the second quatrain. The final couplet often provides an opportunity to sum up the argument of the poem with an epigram. Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti (1595) introduced a variant form in which the quatrains are connected by rhyme: abab bcbc cdcd ee. The ‘Petrarchan Sonnet’, which is the earliest appearance of the form, falls into an octet, or eight line unit, and a sestet, or six line unit. The Petrarchan sonnet form rhymes abbaabba cdecde (although the sestet can follow other rhyme-schemes, such as cdcdcd). Often there is a marked shift in the progression of the argument after the octet in the Petrarchan sonnet, which is sometimes vestigially registered in the Shakespearean form by a change of argument or mood at the start of the third quatrain. Sonnets may be free-standing poems, or they may form part of an extended sequence of poems which might relate in a loose narrative form the progress of a love affair (as is the case in Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, Spenser’s Amoretti and Petrarch’s Canzoniere).

‘A group of lines of verse (usually not less than four), arranged according to a definite scheme which regulates the number of lines, the metre, and (in rhymed poetry) the sequence of rhymes; normally forming a division of a song or poem consisting of a series of such groups constructed according to the same scheme’ (OED). See also ottava rima, quatrain. This term is preferable to the less technical ‘verse’, since that word can also refer to a single line of a poem. In printed poems divisions between stanzas are frequently indicated by an area of blank space.

Emphasis given to a syllable in pitch, volume or duration (or several of these). In normal spoken English some syllables are given greater stress than others. In metrical writing these natural variations in stress are formed into recurrent patterns, such as iambs, anapaests or trochees.

A stanza or other grouping of lines within a poem. In classical odes the term is used of the first group of lines which might be followed by an antistrophe which exactly replicates the form of the strophe.

Syllable: The smallest unit of speech that normally occurs in isolation, or a distinct sound element within a word. This can consist of a vowel alone (‘O’) or a combination of a vowel and one or more consonants (‘no’, ‘not’). Monosyllables contain only one syllable (‘dog’, ‘big’, ‘shoe’); polysyllables contain more than one syllable. The word ‘syllable’ contains three syllables.

Syllabic Verse: A metrical system which depends solely on syllable count, and which takes no account of stress. This is the norm in most Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish), but is unusual (and almost always consciously experimental) in English.

Synecdoche: the rhetorical figure whereby a part is substituted for a whole (‘a suit entered the room’), or, less usually, in which a whole is substituted for a part (as when a policeman is called ‘the law’ or a manager is called ‘the management’). See metonymy.


From a Greek word meaning ‘place’, a ‘topos’ in poetry is a ‘commonplace’, a standard way of describing a particular subject. Describing a person’s physical features from head to toe (or somewhere in between) is, for example, a standard topos of medieval and Renaissance poetry.


Afoot of two syllables, in which the accent falls on the first syllable (dúm di). Some words which are trochaic include ‘broken’, ‘taken’, ‘Shakespeare’.


A general term for any figure of speech which alters the literal sense of a word or phrase: so metaphor, simile and allegory are all tropes, since they affect the meaning of words. In the rhetorical tradition tropes are contrasted with figures, which are rhetorical devices which affect the order or placing of words (so the repetition of a particular word at the start of each line is a figure).


Usually the thing to which the action of a verb is done. More technically a substantive word, phrase, or clause, immediately dependent on, or ‘governed by’, a verb, as expressing, in the case of a verb of action, the person or thing to which the action is directed, or on which it is exerted; that which receives the action of the verb. So ‘the man patted the dog‘, ‘the woman was reading the book‘. An indirect object of a verb denotes that which is indirectly affected by an action, but wihch is not the immediate product of it, as ‘Give him the book’, ‘Make me a coat’.


— a word derived from a verb which functions like an adjective, as in ‘let sleeping dogs lie’. More technically ‘A word that partakes of the nature of a verb and an adjective; a derivative of a verb which has the function and construction of an adjective (qualifying a noun), while retaining some of those of the verb’. Present participles usually end in ‘-ing’ and usually describe an action which is going on at the same time as the verb: so in the sentence ‘”Go and play on your own street,” she said, kicking the ball’, the saying and the kicking are simultaneous. Past participles usually end in ‘-ed’ or ‘-en’ (‘the door was kicked in’; ‘the door was broken‘). They are used in two main ways: combined with the verb ‘have’ they form a past or ‘perfect’ tense (so called because it describes an action which has been completed or ‘perfected’), as in ‘I have smashed the plate’. Past participles can also be used in passive constructions (which describe what was done to something rather than what something did), as in ‘the plate was smashed‘.


A part of speech which indicates a connection, between two other parts of speech, such as ‘to’, ‘with’, ‘by’ or ‘from’. ‘She came from China’, ‘He gave the chocolates to me’.


A part of speech which stands for a noun: ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘them’. Possessive pronouns express ownership (‘his’, ‘hers’). Reflexive pronouns are ‘herself’, ‘himself’, ‘myself’ and are used either for emphasis (he did it all himself‘), or when an action reflects back on the agent who performs it (‘he shot himself in the foot’). Relative pronouns include ‘who’, ‘which’, ‘that’ and are usually used in the form ‘he rebuked the reader who had sung in the library’. Interrogative pronouns ask questions (‘Who stole the pie?’; ‘Which pie?’). Indefinite pronouns do not specify a particular person or thing: ‘Anyone who studies grammar must be mad.’ ‘Somebody has to know about this stuff.’

— § —

05. — Poetry: type & terminology

01. — Analysis
02. — Anthology
03. — Chronology
04. — Glossary of literature
05. — Poetry: type & terminology

Scansion: The Feet Upon Which English Poetry Walks

When analysing a poem’s “scansion” (a.k.a, “scanning the text”), you usually are interested mainly in the dominant meter of the poem. Most English poets write in fairly regular meter until the Metaphysicals (e.g. John Donne and George Herbert, like to mix up the meters). At first, just ignore the occasional deviant foot and look for the dominant meter, rather like the key signature in which a piece of music is written (e.g., a Bach solo cello suite in D-minor) occasionally may have passages in which the composer uses “accidental” sharps and flats to shift the somber and introspective melody into a grim minuet or two after the solemnity of the sarabande. After that, you may find that much closer inspection of the scansion will reveal ways in which the poet married the meaning to the meter, or divorced them, perhaps in the variants from the dominant meter. As with all claims about significant patterns in literature, your argument will be strongest if the pattern is wide-spread and consistent rather than only a local aberration.

Iambs, Trochees, and Spondees–The Two-syllable Feet:

An “iamb” is a “da-DUM,” a two-syllable foot with the stress on the second part, like “por-TRAY” or “an-TIQUE.”

A “trochee” (trochaic…) is a reverse iamb–a “DA-dum” like “BRAIN-dead” or “SPLEN-did.”

A spondee is two accented syllables, a rarity in English but often produced by two adjacent single-syllable words that modify each other and would be phrased together, as in Sylvia Plath’s memorable description of her cut thumb (in “Cut”): “thumb stump.”

You can see a particularly masterful spondee amid the iambs and trochees of Shakespeare’s sonnet #19, line 13:

Yet do’
old’ Time’

The line scans “iamb, iamb, spondee, iamb, iamb.” So it’s not
perfect “iambic pentameter,” but that perfectly functional “imperfection” is the spondee
that literally stops time, slowing the sentence in its middle, as line 14
will do with an anapest that splits the verb phrase:

“My love shall
in my verse
ever live young.”

Of course you could jam line
14 into an iambic straight-jacket, but “in my verse” deliberately divides the
verb phrase “shall live” to name the place where love shall live.

Anapests and Dactyls

The Three-Syllable Feet:
The three-syllable feet are the “anapest” (which, confusingly is an example of a dactyl–AN-a-pest)
An anapestic foot drops the
accent on the end like “chev-ro-LET” or “rock-and-ROLL.”

Iambic Drumming (iamb–second-stress foot)



Trochaic Drumming (trochee–initial-stress foot)

Ba-by Boo-ties


Spondeic Drumming (spondee–two stress foot)

Stop Sign


Anapestic Drumming (anapest–third-stress foot)



Dactylic Drumming (dactyl–first stress foot out of three)




Verse Stanzas
— Some poems’ lines run continuously from beginning to end, and they are called “non-stanzaic” to distinguish them from “stanzaic” poems whose lines are divided into groups. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that stanzas necessarily correspond to prose paragraphs, though it’s possible and worth noting if each stanza handles a different topic of aspect of the topic. In rhyming verse, stanzas often are created by rhyme patterns (e.g., a “quatrain” formed by lines rhyming “abab”), but the poem’s rhetoric, what it’s talking about and how it’s saying that, may either work with or against the rhyme scheme in stanza construction. Look for stanzas which split the poem’s handling of a topic in interesting ways, perhaps appearing to end its discussion in one stanza but suddenly reversing logical direction without pause in the next. When the content works against the rhyme scheme, this sometimes is used to echo the content’s description of disorder, overflow of emotion, or other kinds of conflict.

Stanza Types:

Two lines: couplet
— they say, do not confuse this with non-stanzaic rhyming couplets in which there is no line break and the syntax runs continuously between couplets. The most common couplet stanza ends the English or Shakespearean sonnet, which divides its fourteen lines 4/4/4/2.

Three lines: tercet or terza rima
— a “tercet” would be a three-line stanza that was part of a larger lyric poem. Repeated three-line stanzas, or “terza rima,” is the stanza form of Dante’s Divina Comedia, perhaps the most widely known and influential work of the medieval period.

Four lines: quatrain
— the most common quatrain stanzas are the three which are found in the main body of English or Shakespearian sonnets, which divide their fourteen lines 4/4/4/2. A four-line stanza rhyming abcb in English narrative verse is a “ballad stanza.”

Five lines: cinquain
— this ain’t (my dear mate) a classical stanza form, the cinquain was invented by the American poet, Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914), from the older French term, “quatrain.” This stanza is used in English poems resembling Japanese haiku.

Six lines: seste
— this is the second portion of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, which divides its fourteen lines 8/6.

Seven lines: septet
— an uncommon stanza form that is sometimes seen in early literature.

Eight lines: octave
— they say that if it rhymes abababab and is followed by a sestet, it is the first portion of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, which divides its fourteen lines 8/6. If it rhymes ababbcc and either stands alone or is followed by other ababbcc stanzas, it’s “rhyme royal,” Chaucer’s most elaborate stanza–in 1,117 rhyme royal stanzas he told the story of Troilus and Criseyde.

— a rhyme royal stanza to which a ninth line is added in hexameter (6-foot), the stanza in which Edmund Spenserwrote The Faerie Queene.

The Meters Which Count the Feet Upon Which English Poetry Walk

The only tough parts about metrics is learning to count as you read, and remembering the Latin prefixes for numbers. For your eye, use a virgule or slash (/) to divide the feet in a line. When reading aloud, try counting on your fingers. Just make sure you’re grouping the feet naturally together as they sound when read as a sentence, with small allowances for “poetic license.” Extra syllables sometimes crop up, often at ends of lines and sometimes in their interiors, but if the line is basically iabmic, for instance (“da-DUM, da-DUM…” etc.) don’t strain too hard with the phonological “lint” that it drags in with it.

  • 1-foot = Monometer
    Often for comic effect–Donne, “Song [Go and catch a falling star]” lines 7 and 8 are iambic monometer, but the rather serious “hinge” lines of George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” also are composed of two lines of spondaic monometer[!])
  • 2-foot = Dimeter
    Usually for comic effect–see Donne)
  • 3-foot = Trimeter
    A popular “ditty” line, like many of the Fool’s songs in Lear)
  • 4-foot = Tetrameter
    The popular English ballad line in ME and EModE)
  • 5-foot = Pentameter
    The great sonnet and blank verse line
  • 6-foot = Hexameter
    An even more formal line, found in the last line of Spenser’s Faerie Queene stanza)



Baldick, C. (2015). The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Birch, D. (Ed.) (2009). The Oxford Companion to English Literature (7th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bragg, M. (2006). The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language. New York: Arcade Publishing.

Cuddon, J.A. & Habib, M.A.R. (2014). The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (5th ed.). London: Penguin.

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Drabble, M. (Ed.) (2000). The Oxford Companion to English Literature (6th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Greenblatt, S. &, Abrams, M. H. (Eds.). (2006). The Norton Anthology of English Literature (8th ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Lennard, J. (2006). The Poetry Handbook (2nd ed.). Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Nunberg, G. (2006). The Persistence of English. In Greenblatt, S. &, Abrams, M. H. (Eds.), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (8th ed.) (pp. xlvii–lxi). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.



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