Any language that employs intangible, nonspecific concepts.
Love, truth, and beauty are abstractions. Abstract language is
the opposite of concrete language. Both types have different
effects and are important features of an author's style.
Absurd, theater of the
Theatrical style prominent in the mid-twentieth century that
seeks to dramatize the absurdity of modern life. Conventions of
the style include disjointed or elliptical plot lines,
disaffected characters, non-naturalistic dialogue, and, often,
black comedy. Proponents include Eugene Ionesco and Samuel
The stress, or greater emphasis, given to some syllables of
words relative to that received by adjacent syllables.
A metrical system in which the number of accented, or stressed,
syllables per line is regular-all lines have the same number, or
the corresponding lines of different stanzas have the same
number-while the number of unstressed syllables in lines varies
randomly. Accentual meter consisting of two accented syllables
in each half-line linked by a system of alliteration was the
hallmark of Old English poetry (up to the eleventh century), and
some modern poets, such as W. H. Auden, have sought to revive
it. Gerard Manley Hopkins developed a unique variety of
accentual verse he called sprung rhythm (see pp. 493-95).
Verse whose meter takes into account both the number of
syllables per line and the pattern of accented and unaccented
syllables. The great majority of metrical poems in English are
accentual-syllabic. Cf. quantitative verse.
One of the principal divisions of a full-length play. Plays of
the Renaissance are commonly divided into five acts. Although
four acts enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the nineteenth
century, two or three acts are more typical of modern and
The central conflict in a play. In Greek drama, the agon is a
formal structural component, often a debate between two
characters or parts of the chorus.
A poetic line with six iambic feet (iambic hexameter).
(1) An extended metaphor in which characters, events, objects,
settings, and actions stand not only for themselves but also for
abstract concepts, such as death or knowledge. Allegorical
plays, often religious, were popular in medieval times; a famous
example is Everyman. (2) A form or manner, usually narrative, in
which objects, persons, and actions make coherent sense on a
literal level but also are equated in a sustained and obvious
way with (usually) abstract meanings that lie outside the story.
A classic example in prose is John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's
Progress; in narrative poetry, Edmund Spenser's The Faerie
Queene. Edward Taylor's "Housewifery" (p. 399), though
not narrative, is allegorical in its approach.
The repetition of identical consonant sounds in the stressed
syllables of words relatively near to each other (in the same
line or adjacent lines, usually). Alliteration is most common at
the beginnings of words ("as the grass was green") but
can involve consonants within words ("green and carefree,
famous among the barns"). Alliteration applies to sounds,
not spelling "And honoured among foxes and pheasants"
is an example. (Lines excerpted from Dylan Thomas's "Fern
Hill," p. 555.) Cf. consonance.
A figure of speech that echoes or makes brief reference to a
literary or artistic work or a historical figure, event, or
object, as, for example, the references to Lazarus and Hamlet in
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (p. 525). It is
usually a way of placing one's poem within or alongside a
context that is evoked in a very economical fashion. See also
Any theater- most often political or experimental- that sets
itself up in opposition to the conventions of the mainstream
theater of its time.
In expository prose, an undesirable doubtfulness or uncertainty
of meaning or intention resulting from imprecision in the use of
one's words or the construction of one's sentences. In poetry,
the desirable condition of admitting more than one possible
meaning resulting from the capacity of language to function on
levels other than the literal. Related terms sometimes employed
are ambivalence and polysemy.
A significant recognition or discovery by a character, usually
the protagonist, that moves the plot forward by changing the
circumstances of a play
A metrical foot consisting of three syllables, with two
unaccented syllables followed by an accented one (."). In
anapestic meter, anapests are the predominant foot in a line or
poem. The following line from William Cowper's "The Poplar
Field" is in anapestic meter "AM tffe wh'is pèrifig
sound df tffe co'ol cdld'nna'de."
Repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of two or
more lines, clauses, or sentences. For examples, see the portion
of Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno included in the anthology
(p. 416); Walt Whitman employs anaphora extensively in
"Song of Myself' (p. 467) and "When Lilacs Last in the
Dooryard Bloom'd" (p. 479).
The character (or, less often, the force) that opposes the
In drama, a disappointingly trivial occurrence where a climax
would usually happen. An anticlimax can achieve comic effect or
disrupt audience expectations of dramatic structure. In poetry,
an anticlimax is an arrangement of details such that one of
lesser importance follows one or ones of greater importance,
where something of greater significance is expected; for
example, "Not louder shrieks by dames to heaven are cast, /
When husbands die, or lapdogs breathe their last"
(Alexander Pope's, "The Rape of the Lock," p. 402).
A character playing a hero's part but lacking the grandeur
typically associated with a hero. Such a character may be comic
or may exist to force the audience to reconsider its notions of
The second part of a choral ode in Greek drama. The antistrophe
was traditionally sung as the chorus moved from stage right to
A figure of speech in which contrasting words, sentences, or
ideas are expressed in balanced, parallel grammatical
structures; "She had some horses she loved. I She had some
horses she hated," from Joy Harjo's "She Had Some
Horses" (p. 674), illustrates antithesis.
A figure of speech in which an absent person, an abstract
quality, or a nonhuman entity is addressed as though present. It
is a particular type of personification. See for example Ben
Jonson's "On My First Son" (p. 385) and John Keats's
"Ode on a Grecian Urn" (p. 454).
See slant rhyme.
An image, symbol, character type, or plot line that occurs
frequently enough in literature, religion, myths, folktales, and
fairy tales to be recognizable as an element of universal
experience and which evokes a deep emotional response. In
"Spring and Fall" (p. 495), Gerard Manley Hopkins
develops the archetypes in his title, those of spring (archetype
for birth and youth) and fall (archetype for old age and the
approach of death).
A brief bit of dialogue spoken by a character to the audience or
to him- or herself and assumed to be unheard by other characters
The repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds in words
relatively near to one another (usually within a line or in
adjacent lines) whose consonant sounds differ. It can be initial
("apple ... and happy as") or, more commonly internal
("green and carefree," "Time held me green and
dying"). (Examples taken from Dylan Thomas's "Fern
Hill," p. 555).
Aubade A dawn song, ordinarily expressing two lovers' regret
that day has come and they must separate.
A poem that tells a story and was meant to be recited or sung;
originally, a folk art transmitted orally from person to person
and from generation to generation. Many of the popular ballads
were not written down and published until the eighteenth
century, though their origins may have been centuries earlier.
"Sir Patrick Spens" and "Lord Randal" (pp.
371 and 372) are popular Scottish ballads.
A quatrain in iambic meter rhyming abcb with (usually) four feet
in the first and third lines, three in the second and fourth.
See, for example, Robert Burns's "A Red, Red Rose" (p.
A type of comedy in which the traditional material of tragedy
(that is, suffering, or even death) is staged to provoke
Lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter. Blank verse is the most
widely used verse form of poetry in English because it is
closest to the natural rhythms of English speech. Shakespeare's
plays, as well as Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained,
and countless other long poems were composed in blank verse
because it is well suited to narrative, dialogue, and
reflection. William Wordsworth's "Lines Composed a Few
Miles above Tintern Abbey" (p. 423) is in blank verse.
The process of determining the stage positions, movement, and
groupings of actors. Blocking generally is proposed in rehearsal
by the director and may be negotiated and reworked by the actors
A harsh or unpleasant combination of sounds, as in lines 3 68-69
in Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Criticism" "But
when loud surges lash the sounding shore, I The hoarse, rough
verse should like the torrent roar. Cf. euphony.
A pause or break within a line of verse, usually signaled by a
mark of punctuation.
The group of literary works that form the backbone of a cultural
A Latin phrase meaning "seize the day" from an ode by
Horace. It became the label for a theme common in literature,
especially in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century
English love poetry, that life is short and fleeting and that
therefore one must make the most of present pleasures. See
Robert Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of
Time" (p. 386) and Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy
Mistress" (p. 397).
The final movement of a tragedy, which brings about the fall or
death of the protagonist. In plays other than classical tragedy,
a denouement takes the place of a catastrophe.
A purging of the emotions of pity and fear. Aristotle argued in
Poetics that catharsis is the natural, and beneficial, outcome
of viewing a tragedy.
Broadly speaking, characters are usually the people of a work of
literature- although characters may be animals or some other
beings. In fiction, characterization means the development of a
character or characters throughout a story. Characterization
includes the narrator's description of what characters look like
and what they think, say, and do (these are sometimes very
dissimilar). Their own actions and views of themselves, and
other characters' views of and behavior toward them, are also
means of characterization. Characters may be minor, like Goody
Cloyse, or major, like Goodman Brown, both of Hawthorne's
"Young Goodman Brown." Depending on the depth of
characterization, a character may be simple or complex, flat or
round. Character is one of the six elements of drama identified
by Aristotle, and characterization is the process by which
writers and actors make a character distinct and believable to
A seven-line iambic stanza rhyming ababbcc, sometimes having an
alexandrine (hexameter) closing line. See, for example, Sir
Thomas Wyatt's "They flee from me (p. 374).
In classical Greek theater, a group of actors who perform in the
orchestra and whose functions might include providing
exposition, confronting or questioning the protagonist, and
commenting on the action of the play. Much of the spectacle of
Greek drama lay in the chorus's singing and dancing. In theater
of other times and places, particularly that of the Renaissance,
the functions of the Greek chorus are sometimes given to a
single character identified as "Chorus."
In drama, the turning point at which a play switches from rising
action to falling action. In fiction, the moment of greatest
intensity and conflict in the action of a story. In Hawthorne's
"Young Goodman Brown," events reach their climax when
Brown and his wife stand together in the forest, at the point of
Any structural pattern or repetition of meter, rhyme, or stanza.
Cf. open form.
A play intended to be read rather than performed.
Originally, any play that ended with the characters in a better
condition than when the play began, though the term is now used
more frequently to describe a play intended to be funny.
Traditional comedy is generally distinguished by low or ordinary
characters (as opposed to the great men and women of tragedy), a
humble style, a series of events or role reversals
that create chaos and upheaval, and a conclusion or denouement
that marks a return to normalcy and often a reintegration into
society (such as with a wedding or other formal celebration).
A funny scene or character appearing in an otherwise serious
play, intended to provide the audience with a momentary break
from the heavier themes of tragedy
Semi-improvised comedy relying heavily on stock characters and
stage business, performed originally by traveling Italian
players in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
One of the traditional elements of plot. Complication occurs
when someone or something opposes the protagonist.
The dropping of a syllable to make a line fit the meter,
sometimes marked with an apostrophe (e.g., in line 16 of John
Keats's "The Eve of St. Agnes" [p. 442] "praying
in dumb orat'ries"). Another common device is elision, the
dropping of a vowel at the beginning or end of a word (e.g., in
lines 7 and 28 of John Donne's "A Valediction Forbidding
Mourning" [p. 382] "'Twere profanation of our
joys" and "To move, but doth, if th' other do").
A figure of speech that establishes a striking or far-fetched
analogy between seemingly very dissimilar things, either the
exaggerated, unrealistic comparisons found in love poems (such
as those in Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 [p. 379] and parodied in
Sonnet 130 [p. 380]) or the complex analogies of metaphysical
wit (as in John Donne's "The Flea," p. 383).
Concrete language Any specific, physical language that appeals
to one or more of the senses - sight, hearing, taste, smell, or
touch. Stones, chairs, and hands are concrete words. Concrete
language is the opposite of abstract language. Both types are
important features of an author's style.
A poem shaped in the form of the object the poem describes or
discusses. See, for example, George Herbert's
"Easter-wings" (p. 387).
Poetry about personal, private issues in which a poet usually
speaks directly, without the use of a persona. See, for example,
Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour" (p. 560) and Sylvia
Plath's "Daddy" (p. 602).
A character, major or minor, to whom another character confides
secrets so that the audience can "overhear" the
transaction and be apprised of unseen events.
Antagonism between characters, ideas, or lines of action;
between a character and the outside world; or between different
aspects of a character's nature. Conflict is essential in a
traditional plot, as in the conflict between Montressor and
Fortunato in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" (p. 14).
Shakespeare's Hamlet is in conflict both with his stepfather
Claudius for killing his father and with himself as he tries to
decide a course of action.
The range of emotional implications and associations a word may
carry outside of its dictionary definitions. Cf. denotation.
The repetition of consonant sounds in words whose vowels are
different. In perfect consonance, all consonants are the
same-live, love; chitter, chatter; reader, rider; words in which
all consonants following the main vowels are identical also are
considered consonant-dive, love; swatter, chitter; sound, bond;
gate, mat; set, pit.
An unstated rule, code, practice, or characteristic established
by usage. In drama, tacit acceptance of theatrical conventions
prevents the audience from being distracted by unrealistic
features that are necessarily part of any theater experience.
Greek audiences, for instance, accepted the convention of the
chorus, while today's audiences readily accept the convention of
the fourth wall in realistic drama and of songs in musical
Two consecutive lines of poetry with the same end-rhyme. English
(Shakespearean) sonnets end with a couplet; for an entire poem
in tetrameter couplets, see Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy
Mistress" (p. 397). See also heroic couplets.
Cruelty, theater of
Term coined by Antonin Artaud in the early twentieth century to
describe a type of theater using light, sound, spectacle, and
other primarily nonverbal forms of communication to create
images of cruelty and destruction intended to shock audiences
out of complacency
A general name given to a wide variety of critical practices
that examine and challenge why certain texts are privileged in
our society while others are dismissed or derided. Rather than
focusing on traditional literary objects, Cultural Studies
critics might choose to study movies, television shows,
advertisements, graffiti, or comic books, often in conjunction
with canonical works of literature.
A metrical foot consisting of three syllables, an accented one
followed by two unaccented ones. In "dactylic meter,"
dactyls are the predominant foot of a line or poem.
A variety of poststructuralism, deconstruction derives from the
efforts of Jacques Derrida to undermine the foundations of
Western philosophy, but as a literary critical practice it often
emerges as a kind of close reading that reveals irreconcilable
linguistic contradictions in a text that prevents the text from
having a single stable meaning or message.
The basic meaning of a word; its dictionary definition(s).
Literally "unknotting." The end of a play or other
literary work, in which all elements of the plot are brought to
Language that presents specific features of a character, object,
or setting; or the details of an action or event. The first
paragraph of Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" describes
Gregor's startling new appearance.
Deus ex machina
Literally "god out of the machine," referring to the
mechanized system used to lower an actor playing a god onto the
stage in classical Greek drama. Today the term is,generally used
disparagingly to mdicate careless plotting and an unbelievable
resolution in a play.
Words spoken by characters, often in the form of a conversa
tion between two or more characters. In stories and other forms
of prose, dialogue is commonly enclosed between quotation marks.
Dialogue is an important element in characterization and plot
much of the characterization and action in Hemingway's "A
Clean, Well-Lighted Place" (p. 176) is presented through
its characters' dialogue.
A writer's selection of words; the kind of words, phrases, and
figurative language used to make up a work of literature. In
fiction, particular patterns or arrangements of words in
sentences and paragraphs constitute prose style. Hemingway's
diction is said to be precise, concrete, and economical.
Aristotle identified diction as one of the six elements of
drama. See also poetic diction.
A line of verse consisting of two metrical feet.
A rhyme in which an accented, rhyming syllable is followed by
one or more identical, unstressed syllables thrilling and
killing, marry and tarry. Formerly known as "feminine
The part of the stage closest to the audience.
A situation in which a reader or an audience knows more than the
speakers or characters, about either the outcome of events or a
discrepancy between a meaning intended by a speaker or character
and that recognized by the reader or audience.
A poem with only one speaker, overheard in a dramatic moment
(usually addressing another character or characters who do not
speak), whose words reveal what is going on in the scene and
expose significant depths of the speaker's temperament,
attitudes, and values. See Robert Browning's "My Last
Duchess" (p. 464) and T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of
J. Alfred Prufrock" (p. 525).
In Greek and Roman literature, a serious, meditative poem
written in "elegiac meter" (alternating hexameter and
pentameter lines); since the 1600s, a sustained and formal poem
lamenting the death of a particular person, usually ending with
a consolation, or one setting forth meditations on death or
another solemn theme. See Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a
Country Churchyard" (p. 412), John Milton's pastoral elegy
"Lycidas" (p. 389), and Walt Whitman's "When
Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" (p. 479). The
adjective elegaic is also used to describe a general tone of
sadness or a worldview that emphasizes suffering and loss. It is
most often applied to Anglo-Saxon poems like Beowulf or The
Seafarer but can also be used for modern poems as, for example,
A. E. Housman's in A Shropshire Lad.
Elements of drama
The six features identified by Aristotle in Poetics as
descriptive of and necessary to drama. They are, in order of the
importance assigned to them by Aristotle, plot,
characterization, theme, diction, melody, and spectacle.
Elements of fiction
Major elements of fiction are plot, characters, setting, point
of view, style, and theme. Skillful employment of these entities
is essential in effective novels and stories. From beginning to
end, each element is active and relates to the others
dynamically. Elements of poetry Verbal, aural, and structural
features of poetry, including diction, tone, images, figures of
speech, symbols, rhythm, rhyme, and poetic form, which are
combined to create poems.
The ability of the audience to relate to, even experience, the
emotions of characters onstage or in a text.
Rhyme occurring at the ends of lines in a poem.
A line of poetry whose grammatical structure and thought reach
completion by its end. Cf. run-on line.
A sonnet consisting of three quatrains (three four-line units,
typically rhyming ahab cdcd efef) and a couplet (two rhyming
lines). Usually the subject is introduced in the first quatrain,
expanded in the second, and expanded still further in the third;
the couplet adds a logical, pithy conclusion or introduces a
surprising twist. Also called the Shakespearean sonnet. Cf.
See run-on line.
A long narrative poem that celebrates the achievements of great
heroes and heroines, often determining the fate of a tribe or
nation, written in formal language and an elevated style.
Examples include Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and
John Milton's Paradise Lost.
The name given by Bertold Brecht to a theatrical style
emphasizing the relationship between form and ideology. It is
characterized by brief scenes, narrative breaks, political and
historical themes, an analytical (rather than emotional) tone,
and characters with whom it is difficult to feel empathy. Though
considered alternative theater when it was new, many of its
conventions have since been adopted by mainstream dramatists.
Originally an inscription, especially an epitaph; in modern
usage a short poem, usually polished and witty with a surprising
twist at the end. (Its other dictionary definition, any terse,
witty, pointed statement," generally does not apply in
In literature, a quotation at the beginning of a poem or on the
title page or the beginning of a chapter in a book. See the
epigraph at the beginning of T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song
of I. Alfred Prufrock" (p. 525), which are lines from
A final speech or scene occurring after the main action of the
play has ended. An epilogue generally sums up or comments on the
meaning of the play
An appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being; in
literature, since James Joyce adapted the term to secular use in
1944, a sudden sense of radiance and revelation one may feel
while perceiving a commonplace object; a moment or event in
which the essential nature of a person, a situation, or an
object is suddenly perceived. The term is more common in
narrative than in lyric poetry. William Wordsworth writes about
epiphanies in "Ode Intimations of Immortality" (p.
428), although the poem itself does not depict them; Robert Bly
depicts one in "Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter"
In Greek drama, the scenes of dialogue that occur between the
choral odes. Now the term is used to mean any small unit of
drama that has its own completeness and internal unity.
Language that strikes the ear as smooth, musical, and agreeable.
An example can be found in Alexander Pope's "An Essay on
Criticism," lines 366-67 "Soft is the strain when
Zephyr gently blows, I And the smooth stream in smoother numbers
flows." Cf. cacophony.
Rhyme in which all sounds following the vowel sound are the same
spite and night, art and heart, ache and fake, card and barred.
A means of filling in the audience on events that occurred
offstage or before the play's beginning. Clumsily handled
exposition, in which characters talk at length about things they
normally would not, is characteristic of much bad drama.
Nonrealistic play-making style using exaggerated or otherwise
unreal gestures, light, and sound. Expressionistic techniques
are often used to convey a sense of memory, dream, or fantasy
Pronunciation that adds a syllable for the sake of the meter.
See, for example, the ninth line of John Donne's sonnet
"Batter my heart, three-personed God" (p. 384)
"and would be loved fain."
The action after the climax in a traditionally structured play
whereby the tension lessens and
the play moves toward the catastrophe or denouement.
Meter using a foot (usually a trochee or a dactyl) in which the
first syllable is accented and those that follow are unaccented,
giving a sense of stepping down. Cf. rising meter.
Comedy that relies on exaggerated characters, extreme
situations, fast and accelerating pacing, and, often, sexual
See double rhyme.
A school of literary criticism that examines the roles of women
in literature and culture as well as the relationships between
men and women. Contemporary feminist criticism rose to
prominence in the 1 970s, when the modern feminist movement
began to explore the patriarchal structures in which many women
felt trapped. Some feminist critics seek to show the ways in
which literary texts demonstrate the repression and
powerlessness of women-or, alternately to show how female
literary characters could overcome sexist power structures.
Still others seek to rediscover and promote writing by women
whose works have been excluded from the mostly male canon of
Any play or theater whose primary object is to shine light on
the issues of women's rights and sexism.
Generally speaking, any imaginative, usually prose, work of
literature. More narrowly narratives- short stories, novellas,
or novels -whose plots, characters, and settings
are constructions of its writer's imagination, which draws on
the writer's experiences and reflections.
Uses of language-employing metaphor or simile or other figures
of speech-that depart from standard or literal usage in order to
achieve a special effect or meaning. Figurative language is
often employed in poetry; although less often seen in plays and
stories, it can be used powerfully in those forms. Steinbeck's
short story "The Chrysanthemums" (p. 180) opens with a
figurative description of the Salinas Valley in winter.
In a story told by one person, the "1" who tells the
story. Sometimes the first-person narrator is purely an
observer; more often he or she is directly or indirectly
involved in the action of the story. Montresor is the
first-person narrator of, and one of two characters in, Edgar
Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" (p. 14). As a
first-person narrator, he reveals much about his own emotions
Poetry written in definite, repeating patterns of line, rhyme
scheme, or stanza.
A writer's way of introducing important earlier material. As a
narrator tells a story, he or she may stop the flow of events
and direct the reader to an earlier time. Sometimes the narrator
may return to the present, sometimes remain in the past. The
thoughts of Granny Weatherall in Porter's "The Jilting of
Granny Weatherall" (p. 153) include reminiscences that seem
to occur in the present.
A character who exists chiefly to set off or display, usually by
opposition, the important character traits of the protagonist or
another important person.
The basic unit in metrical verse, comprising (usually) one
stressed and one or more unstressed syllables. See also anapest,
dactyl, iamb, spondee, and trochee.
Words, gestures, or other actions that suggest future events or
outcomes. The opening of Hawthorne's "Young Goodman
Brown" foreshadows serious trouble ahead when Faith,
Brown's wife, begs him to stay home with her "this night,
dear husband, of all nights in the year."
(1) Genre or literary type (e.g., the lyric form); (2) patterns
of meter, lines, and rhymes (stanzaic form); (3) the
organization of the parts of a literary work in relation to its
total effect (e.g., "The form [structure] of this poem is
A broad term for the various types of literary theory that
advocate focusing attention on the text itself and not on
extratextual factors. Formalist critics are interested in the
formal elements of a literary text- structure, tone, characters,
setting, symbols, linguistic features-and seek to create meaning
by examining the relationships between these different parts of
The theatrical convention, dating from the nineteenth century,
whereby an audience seems to be looking and listening through an
invisible fourth wall, usually into a room in a private
residence. The fourth wall is primarily associated with realism
and domestic dramas.
Free verse See open form.
A broad term for literary criticism that highlights gender roles
or relationships between the sexes. In this expansive sense,
feminist criticism is a kind of gender criticism, although the
latter term is most often applied to gay and lesbian approaches
to literature that explore the construction of sexual identity.
A type or form of literature. While the major literary genres
are fiction, drama, poetry, and exposition, many other
subcategories of genres are recognized, including comedy,
tragedy, tragicomedy, romance, melodrama, epic, lyric, pastoral,
novel, short story, and so on.
A lyric form, originating in Japan, of seventeen syllables in
three lines, the first and third having five syllables and the
second seven, presenting an image of a natural object or scene
that expresses a distinct emotion or spiritual insight. Gary
Snyder incorporates haiku into "Hitch Haiku" (p. 596).
See slant rhyme.
Sometimes translated as "tragic flaw" but more
properly understood as an error or general character trait that
leads to the downfall of a character in tragedy.
A poetic line with seven metrical feet.
Sometimes used to refer to any protagonist, the term more
properly applies only to a great figure from legend or history
or to a character who performs in a remarkably honorable and
Couplets in iambic pentameter that usually end in a period. See
Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" (p. 402). Also
called "closed couplets."
A poetic line with six metrical feet. See also alexandrine.
A kind of literary criticism based on the notion that history
and literature are often interrelated. For example, literary
critics might read history books and various sorts of historical
documents in order to gain insights into the composition and
significance of a literary work.
An arrogance or inflated sense of self that can lead to a
character's downfall. The protagonists of tragedy often suffer
Exaggeration; a figure of speech in which something is stated
more strongly than is logically warranted. Hyperbole is often
used to make a point emphatically, as when Hamlet protests that
he loves Ophelia much more than her brother does"Forty
thousand brothers I Could not with all their quantity of love!
Make up my sum" (5.1.272-74). See also Robert Burns's
"A Red, Red Rose" (p. 422).
A metrical foot consisting of two syllables, an unaccented one
followed by an accented one (~'). In iambic meter (the most
widely used of English metrical forms), iambs are the
predominant foot in a line or poem. The following line from
Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"
(p. 412) is in iambic meter "Tfre cór frw tolls tffe knell
Of pà~rt iiig day"
Image (1) Sometimes called a "word-picture," an image
is a word or group of words that refers to a sensory experience
or to an object that can be known by one or more of the senses.
Signifies all such language in a poem or other literary work
collectively and can involve any of the senses; see, for
example, the images of cold in the first stanza of John Keats's
"The Eve of St. Agnes" (p. 442) or note the image of a
fire evoked by Steinbeck's description of the willow scrub in
"The Chrysanthemums" it "flamed with sharp and
positive yellow leaves." See also synesthesia. (2) A
metaphor or other comparison. Imagery in this sense refers to
the characteristic that several images in a poem may have in
common, as for example, the military imagery in the first part
of Donne's sonnet "Batter my heart, three-personed
God" and the erotic imagery at the end (p. 384).
Poetry that relies on sharp, concrete images and is written in a
highly concentrated style that is suggestive rather than
discursive. See, for example, H. D's "Garden" (p.
Since Aristotle, drama has been differentiated from fiction
because it is said to rely on an imitation (in Greek, mimesis)
of human actions rather than on a narration of them.
Metaphor in which the to be verb is omitted and one aspect of
the comparison is implied rather than stated directly Whereas
"a car thief is a dirty dog" is a direct metaphor,
"some dirty dog stole my car" contains an implied
metaphor. Examples from John Frederick Nims's "Love
Poem" (p. 551) are "whose hands shipwreck vases,"
"A wrench in clocks and the solar system," and
"In traffic of wit expertly manoeuvre."
A brief, usually comic, performance inserted between the acts of
a play or between courses at a formal banquet. Interludes were
most popular during the Renaissance.
Rhyme that occurs with words within a line, words within lines
near each other, or a word within a line and one at the end of
the same or a nearby line. Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel
Lee" (p. 458) offers many examples "chilling / And
killing," "Can ever dissever," "And the
stars never rise but I see the bright eyes.
The implied presence of previous texts within a literary work or
as context, usually conveyed through allusion or choice of
genre. An intertextual approach assumes that interpretation of a
text is incomplete until the relation of the work to its
predecessors -response, opposition, and development-has been
A feeling, tone, mood, or attitude arising from the awareness
that what is (reality) is opposite from, and usually worse than,
what seems to be (appearance). What a person says may be ironic
(see verbal irony), and a discrepancy between what a character
knows or means and what a reader or an audience knows can be
ironic (see dramatic irony). A general situation also can be
seen as ironic (situational irony). Irony should not be confused
with mere coincidence. See also Socratic irony.
Generally speaking, a sonnet composed of an octave (an
eight-line unit), rhyming abbaabba, and a sestet (a six-line
unit), often rhyming cdecde or cdcdcd. The octave usually
develops an idea, question, or problem; then the poem pauses, or
"turns," and the sestet completes the idea, answers
the question, or resolves the difficulty Sometimes called a
Petrarchan sonnet. See Gerard Manley Hopkins's "God's
Grandeur" (p. 494).
Placement of things side by side or close together for
comparison or contrast, or to create something new from the
union. See Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" (p.
402), 1. 72 "Dost sometimes counsel take -and sometimes
Poetry evincing skepticism regarding the ability of written
language to record, represent, communicate, or express anything
other than its own linguistic apparatus. See Lyn Hejinian's
"A Mask of Anger" (p. 638).
A sequence of words printed as a separate entity on a page; the
basic structural unit in poetry (except in prose poems).
In accordance with the primary or strict meaning of a word or
words; not figurative or metaphorical.
Originally, a poem sung to the accompaniment of a lyre; now a
short poem expressing the personal emotion and ideas of a single
Deriving from Karl Marx's theories of economics and class
struggle, Marxist criticism sees literature as a material
product of work, one that reflects or contests the
ideologies that generated its production and consumption.
See single rhyme.
A type of play employing broadly drawn heroes and villains,
suspenseful plots, music, and a triumph of good over evil.
Melodrama thrived throughout the nineteenth century and remained
popular into the twentieth.
One of the six elements of drama identified by Aristotle. Since
the Greek chorus communicated through song and dance, melody was
an important part of even the most serious play though it is now
largely confined to musical comedy
A figure of speech in which two things usually thought to be
dissimilar are treated as if they were alike and have
characteristics in common. Whose palms are bulls in china"
(John Frederick Nims's "Love Poem," p. 551). See also
The work of a number of seventeenth-century poets that was
characterized by philosophical subtlety and intellectual rigor;
subtle, often outrageous logic; an imitation of actual speech
sometimes resulting in a "rough" meter and style; and
far-fetched analogies. John Donne's "A Valediction
Forbidding Mourning" and "The Flea" (pp. 382 and
383) exemplify the type. See also conceit.
A steady beat, or measured pulse, created by a repeating pattern
of accents or syllables, or both.
A figure of speech in which the name of one thing is substituted
for something closely associated with it, as in "The White
House announced today...," a phrase in which the name of a
building is substituted for the president or the staff members
who issued the announcement; "He's got a Constable on his
wall"; "The trains are on strike"; or "Wall
Street is in a panic." In the last line of John Frederick
Nims's "Love Poem" (p. 551), "All the toys of the
world would break," toys is substituted for "things
that give happiness" (as toys do to a child). See also
A literary form that imitates the grand style and conventions of
the epic genre-the opening statement of a theme, an address to
the muse, long formal speeches, and epic similes-but applies
them to a subject unworthy of such exalted treatment. In
"The Rape of the Lock" (p. 402), Alexander Pope uses
the form for comic effect and at the same time treats seriously
the great epic themes concerning human destiny and mortality
Also called "mock heroic." See also epic.
A poetic line with one metrical foot.
What drives a character to act in a particular way To be
convincing to an audience, an actor must understand and make
clear to the audience the character's motivation.
A story in prose or verse; an account of events involving
characters and a sequence of events told by a storyteller
(narrator). Usually the characters can be analyzed and generally
understood, the events unfold in a cause-and-effect sequence,
some unity can be found among the haracters, plot, point of
view, style, and theme. Novels as well as stories are most often
narratives, and journalism commonly employs narrative form.
The storyteller, usually an observer who is narrating from a
third-person point of view or a participant in the story's
action speaking in the first person. Style and tone are
important clues to the nature of a narrator and the validity and
objectivity of the story he or she is telling. Montresor, the
narrator of "The Cask of Amontihlado" (p. 14), creates
his own self-portrait as he relates what has happened.
A style of writing or acting meant to mimic closely the patterns
of ordinary life.
See slant rhyme.
An ancient form of comedy that told of initially forbidden but
ultimately successful love and that employed stock characters.
New comedy is particularly associated with the Greek playwright
Menander (342-292 B.C.E.).
A kind of formalism that dominated Anglo-American literary
criticism in the middle decades of the twentieth century. It
emphasized close reading, particularly of poetry, to discover
how a work of literature functioned as a self-contained,
self-referential aesthetic object.
A school of historical criticism that takes account of both what
history has to teach us about literature and what literature has
to teach us about history. New Historicists will examine many
different types of texts-government records,
periodicals, private diaries, bills of sale - in order to
re-create, as much as possible, the rich cultural context that
surrounded both an author and that author's original audience.
An extended prose narrative or work of prose fiction, usually
published alone. Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is a fairly
short novel, Melville's Moby-Dick, or, the Whole a very long
one. The length of a novel enables its author to develop
characters, plot, and settings in greater detail than a
short-story writer can. Ellison's story "Battle Royal"
(p. 196) is taken from his novel Invisible Man (1948), Tan's
story "Two Kinds" (p. 348) from her novel The Joy Luck
Between the short story and the novel in size and complexity
Like them, the novella is a work of prose fiction. Sometimes it
is called a long short story Melville's "Barileby the
Scrivener" and Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" are
A poetic line with eight metrical feet.
The first eight lines of an Italian sonnet.
(1) A multipart song sung by the chorus of Greek drama. A
classical ode consists of a strophe followed by an antistrophe
and sometimes by a final section called the epode. (2) A long
lyric poem, serious (often intellectual) in tone, elevated and
dignified in style, dealing with a single theme. The ode is
generally more complicated in form than other lyric poems. Some
odes retain a formal division into strophe, antistrophe, and
epode, which reflects the form's origins in Greek tragedy. See
William Wordsworth's "Ode Intimations of Immortality"
(p. 428), Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West
Wind" (p. 438), and John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian
Urn" (p. 454).
Comedy, such as that of Aristophanes, employing raucous
(sometimes coarse) humor, elements of satire and farce, and
often a critique of contemporary persons or political and social
A narrator who seems to know everything about a story's events
and characters, even their inner feelings. Usually, an
omniscient narrator maintains emotional distance from the
characters. The narrator of Maupassant's "The
Necklace" is omniscient.
A short play that is complete in one act.
The use of words whose sounds supposedly resemble the sounds
they denote (such as thump, rattle, growl, hiss), or a group of
words whose sounds help to convey what is being described; for
example, Emily Dickinson's "I heard a Fly buzz-when I
died" (p. 489).
A form free of any predetermined metrical and stanzaic patterns.
Cf. closed form.
Orchestra In Greek theater, the area in front of the stage
proper where the chorus performed its songs and dances. Later, a
pit for musicians in front of the stage.
An eight-line stanza in iambic pentameter rhyming abababcc. See
William Butler Yeats's "Among School Children" (p.
Oxymoron A figure of speech combining in one phrase (usually
an adjective and a noun) two seemingly contradictory elements,
such as "loving hate" or "feather of lead, bright
smoke, cold fire, sick health" (from Shakespeare's Romeo
and Juliet 1.1.176-80). Oxymoron is a type of paradox.
A poem composed of quatrains rhyming ahab in which the second
and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third
lines of the next, continuing through the last stanza, which
repeats the first and third lines of the first stanza in reverse
order. See Nellie Wong's "Grandmother's Song" (p.
A figure of speech in which a statement initially seeming
self-contradictory or absurd turns out, seen in another light,
to make good sense. The closing lines of John Donne's sonnet
"Batter my heart, three-personed God" (p. 384) are
paradoxical "for I, I Except you enthrall me, never shall
be free, / Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me." See also
(1) A verbal arrangement in which elements of equal weight
within phrases, sentences, or paragraphs are expressed in a
similar grammatical order and structure. It can appear within a
line or pair of lines ("And he was always quietly arrayed,
I And he was always human when he talked" - Edwin Arlington
Robinson, "Richard Cory" [p. 505]) or, more
noticeably, as a series of parallel items, as found in Langston
Hughes's "Harlem" (p. 539). (2) A principle of poetic
structure in which consecutive lines in open form are related by
a line's repeating, expanding on, or contrasting with the idea
of the line or lines before it, as in the poems of Walt Whitman
Now, a humorous or satirical imitation of a serious piece of
literature or writing. In the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, poets such as George Herbert practiced "sacred
parody" by adapting secular lyrics to devotional themes.
See slant rhyme.
A poem (also called an "eclogue," a
"bucolic," or an "idyll") that expresses a
city poet's nostalgic image of the simple, peaceful life of
shepherds and other country folk in an idealized natural
setting. Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to
His Love" (p. 378) uses some pastoral conventions, as do
certain elegies (including John Milton's "Lvcidas," p.
A poetic line with five metrical feet.
Loose term for a variety of performances that defy traditional
categories of play, monologue, musical act, and so on. The term
arose in the late twentieth century as a catchall to name the
growing number of nontraditional performances, many of which
addressed controversial subjects and themes.
A reversal or change of fortune for a character, for better or
Literally, the mask through which actors spoke in Greek plays.
In some critical approaches of recent decades, persona refers to
the "character" projected by an author, the
"I" of a narrative poem or novel, or the speaker whose
voice is heard in a lyric poem. In this view, a poem is an
artificial construct distanced from a poet's autobiographical
self. Cf. voice.
A figure of speech in which something nonhuman is treated as if
it had human characteristics or performed human actions.
Sometimes it involves abstractions, as in Thomas Gray's phrase
"Fair Science frowned" ("Elegy Written in a
Country Churchyard," p. 412); science cannot literally
frown. In other cases concrete things are given human
characteristics, as in the phrase "Wearing white for
Eastertide" from A. E. Housman's "Loveliest of trees,
the cherry now (p. 495). Cherry trees do not actually wear
clothes-but here they ~are being given, briefly a human
attribute. Difficulty can arise when personification is
incorrectly defined as treating something nonhuman in terms of
anything alive rather than what is specifically human; "the
mouth of time," for instance, in Nancy Willard's "Ouestions
My Son Asked Me, Answers I Never Gave Him" (p. 617) is
metaphor, not personification, since animals as well as humans
have mouths. See also apostrophe.
See Italian sonnet.
(1) The sequence of major events in a story, usually related by
cause and effect. Plot and character are intimately related,
since characters carry out the plot's action. Plots may be
described as simple or complex. depending on their degree of
complication. "Traditional" writers, such as Poe and
Maupassant, usually plot their stories tightly; modernist
writers such as Joyce and Paley employ looser, often ambiguous
plots. (2) The action that takes place within the play Of the
six elements of drama, Aristotle considered plot to be the most
important. Typical elements of plot include a prologue or
exposition, rising action, complication, climax, falling action,
and catastrophe or denouement.
A term whose meaning exceeds all attempts at definition. Here is
a slightly modified version of the definition of William Harmon
and C. Hugh Holman in A Handbook to Literature (1996) A poem is
a literary composition, written or oral, typically characterized
by imagination, emotion, sense impressions, and concrete
language that invites attention to its own physical features,
such as sound or appearance on the page.
In general, specialized language used in or considered
appropriate to poetry. In the late seventeenth and the
eighteenth centuries, a refined use of language that excluded
"common" speech from poetry as indecorous and
substituted elevated circumlocutions, archaic synonyms, or such
forms as ope and e'er.
Point of view
One of the elements of fiction, point of view is the
perspective, or angle of vision, from which a narrator presents
a story. Point of view tells us about the narrator as well as
about the characters, setting, and theme of a story. Two common
points of view are first-person narration and third-person
narration. If a narrator speaks of himself or herself as
"I," the narration is in the first person; if the
narrator's self is not apparent and the story is told about
others from some distance, using "he,"
"she," "it," and "they," then
third-person narration is likely in force. The point of view may
be omniscient (all-knowing) or limited, objective or subjective.
When determining a story's point of view, it is helpful to
decide whether the narrator is reporting events as they are
happening or as they happened in the past; is observing or
participating in the action; and is or is not emotionally
involved. Welty's "A Worn Path" is told from the
third-person objective point of view, since its narrator
observes what the character is doing, thinking, and feeling, yet
seems emotionally distant. Poe's "The Cask of
Amontillado" and Joyce's "Araby" are told in the
first-person subjective and limited point of view, since their
narrators are very much involved in the action. In Porter's
"The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," shifting points of
view enable us to see the dying old woman from the outside, as
her children and doctors do (third-person objective), learn
about her most private reminiscences and secrets (third-person
subjective), and hear her thoughts directly as if we were inside
her mind (first-person subjective).
Positing that no text can have a fixed or real meaning because
no meaning can exist outside of the network of other meanings to
which it is connected, poststructuralism carries the insights of
structuralism one step further. If, as structuralists claim, we
can understand things only in terms of other things, then
perhaps there is no center point of understanding, but only an
endlessly interconnected web of ideas leading to other ideas
leading to still other ideas. Meaning, then, is forever shifting
and altering as our understanding of the world changes.
A speech or scene that occurs before the beginning of the plot
Any movable objects, beyond scenery and costumes, used in the
performance of a play Early drama was performed with few props,
but as theater moved toward realism, props took on greater
An arch across the front of a stage, sometimes with a curtain.
The proscenium frames the action and provides a degree of
separation between the actors and the audience.
A poem printed as prose, with lines wrapping at the right margin
rather than being divided through predetermined line breaks. See
Carolyn Forché's "The Colonel" (p. 669).
The principles of versification, especially of meter, rhythm,
rhyme, and stanza forms.
The lead character of a play though not necessarily a hero in
the classic sense.
A broad term for the various types of literary theory that focus
on the inner workings of the human psyche and the ways in which
they manifest themselves in literature. Psychological critics
often interpret literature as a psychologist might interpret a
dream or a wish, often paying special attention to unstated
motives and to the unconscious states of mind in characters,
authors, or readers.
A play on words based on the similarity in sound between two
words having very different meanings. - Also called
"paronomasia." See the puns on "heart" and
"kindly" in Sir Thomas Wyatt's "They flee from
me" (p. 374).
Verse whose meter is based on the length of syllables. (Phonetic
length was a distinguishing feature of ancient Greek and Latin,
whereas English is an accentual language.) Classical poetry
exhibits a great variety of meters, and some English poets in
the late 1500s attempted to fashion English verse on this
principle. In Evangeline, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used
dactylic hexameter in imitation of Virgil's Aeneid. but defined
it by accent, not quantity. Cf. accentual-syllabic verse.
A stanza of four lines or other four-line unit within a larger
form, such as a sonnet.
The various theories of reader-response criticism hold that a
text is an interaction between author and reader, and a text can
never be complete unless readers bring to it their own unique
insights. Reading, then, is not a passive attempt to understand
a text but is itself an act of creation, no less than writing.
Any drama (or other art) that seeks to closely mimic real life.
Realism more specifically refers to a sort of drama that rose in
opposition to melodrama in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth century and that attempted to avoid some of the more
artificial conventions of theater and present the problems of
ordinary people living their everyday lives.
One or more identical or deliberately similar lines repeated
throughout a poem, such as the final line of a stanza or a block
of lines between stanzas or sections.
Resolution A satisfying outcome that effectively ends the
conflict of a play
The repetition of the accented vowel sound of a word and all
succeeding consonant sounds. See also exact rhyme; slant rhyme.
An alternative term for Chaucerian stanza coined by King James I
of Scotland in his poem The Kingis Quair ("The King's
Book"), written about 1424.
The pattern of end rhymes in a poem or stanza usually
represented by a letter assigned to each word-sound, the same
word-sounds having the same letter (e.g., a quatrain's rhyme
scheme might be described as abcb).
The patterned "movement" of language created by the
choice of words and their arrangement, usually described through
such metaphors as fast or slow, smooth 01 halting, graceful or
rough, deliberate or frenzied, syncopated or disjointed. Rhythm
in poetry is affected by in addition to meter, such factors as
line length; line endings; pauses (or lack of them) within
lines; spaces within, at the beginning or end of, or between
lines; word choice; and combinations of sounds.
The increasingly tense and complicated action leading up to the
climax in a traditionally structured play
A foot (usually an iamb or an anapest) in which the final,
accented syllable is preceded by one or two unaccented
syllables, thus giving a sense of stepping up. Cf. falling
A play neither wholly comic nor wholly tragic, often containing
elements of the supernatural. The best-known examples are
Shakespeare's late plays, such as The Winter's Tale and The
Tempest, which have a generally comic structure but are more
ruminative in theme and spirit than traditional comedy.
A line whose sense and grammatical structure continue into the
next line. In the following lines by William Stafford
("Traveling through the Dark," p. 554), the first line
is run-on, the second end-stopped "Traveling through the
dark I found a deer / dead on the edge of the Wilson River
road." Also called "enjambment." Cf. end-stopped
A harsh and cutting form of verbal irony, often involving
apparent praise that is obviously not meant "Oh, no, these
are fine. I prefer my eggs thoroughly charred."
A work, or manner within a work, employing comedy and irony to
mock a particular human characteristic or social institution.
Generally, a satirist wants the audience not only to laugh but
also to change its opinions or actions. Alexander Pope's
"The Rape of the Lock" (p. 402), for example,
satirizes the values and attitudes of members of the wealthy
indolent upper classes of the poet's day
The division of metrical verse into feet in order to determine
and label its meter. Scanning a poem involves marking its
stressed syllables with an accent mark and its unstressed
syllables with a curved line, and using a vertical line to
indicate the way a line divides into feet (or labeling). The
type of foot used most often and the line length-that is, the
number of feet in each line - are then identified. See also foot
One of the secondary divisions within an act of a play
The last six lines of an Italian sonnet.
A lyric poem consisting of six six-line stanzas and a three-line
concluding stanza (or "envoy"). The last words of the
line of the first stanza must be used as the last words of the
lines of the other five stanzas in a specified pattern (the
first line ends with the last word of the last line of the
previous stanza, the second line with that of the first line of
the previous stanza, the third line with that of the previous
fifth line, the fourth line with that of the previous second
line, the fifth line with that of the previous fourth line, the
sixth line with that of the previous third line). The three-line
envoy must use the end-words of lines five, three, and one from
the first stanza, in that order, as its last words and must
include the first stanza's other three end-words within its
lines. See Alice Fulton's "You Can't Rhumboogie in a Ball
and Chain" (p. 681).
The stage dressing for a play consisting of backdrops,
furniture, and similar large items.
One of the elements of fiction, setting is the context for the
action the time, place, culture, and atmosphere in which it
occurs. A work may have several settings; the relation among
them may be significant to the meaning of the work. In
Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," for example, the
larger setting is seventeenth-century Puritan Salem,
Massachusetts, but Brown's mysterious journey is set in a
forest, and its prelude and melancholy aftermath are set in the
See English sonnet.
See concrete poem.
A short work of narrative fiction whose plot, characters,
settings, point of view, style, and theme reinforce each other,
often in subtle ways, creating an overall unity
Expression of a direct similarity using such words as like, as,
or than, between two things usually regarded as dissimilar, as
in "Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime"
(John Frederick Nims's "Love Poem," p. 551). It is
important to distinguish simile from comparison, in which the
two things joined by "like" or "as" are not
A rhyme in which the stressed, rhyming syllable is the final
syllable west and vest, away and today. Formerly called
The mood evoked when an action intended to have a certain effect
turns out to have a different and more sinister effect. See
Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain" (p.
Consonance at the ends of lines; for example, Room and Storm,
firm and Room, and be and Fly in Emily Dickinson's "I heard
a Fly buzz-when I died" (p. 489). It can also be internal,
if repeated enough to form a discernible pattern.
A pose of self-deprecation, or of belittling oneself, in order
to tease the reader into deeper insight.
A speech delivered by a character who is alone on stage or
otherwise out of hearing of the other characters. Since the
character is effectively speaking to him- or herself, a
soliloquy often serves as a window into the character's mind and
A fourteen-line poem usually written in iambic pentameter;
originally lyrical love poems, sonnets came to be used also for
meditations on religious themes, death, and nature, and are now
open to all subjects. Some variations in form have been tried
Sir Philip Sidney's "Loving in truth, and fain in verse my
love to show" (p. 376) is written in hexameters; George
Meredith wrote sixteen-line sonnets; John Milton's "On the
New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament" is a
"caudate" (tailed) sonnet with a six-line coda
appended; and Gerard Manley Hopkins designed "Pied
Beauty" (p. 494) as a "curtal" (abbreviated)
sonnet (six lines in place of the octave, then four lines, and a
half-line ending in place of a sestet). See English sonnet and
A group of sonnets so arranged as to imply a narrative
progression in the speaker's experience or attitudes; used
especially in the sixteenth century. Also called a sonnet cycle.
The purely visual elements of a play, including the sets,
costumes, props, lighting, and special effects. Of the six
elements of drama he identified, Aristotle considered spectacle
to be the least important.
A variation of the English sonnet that employs the structure of
three quatrains followed by a couplet but joins the quatrains by
linking rhymes abab bcbc cdcd ee.
A stanza of nine iambic lines, the first eight in pentameter and
the ninth in hexameter, rhyming ababbcbcc (see John Keats's
"The Eve of St. Agnes," p. 442).
A metrical foot made up of two stressed syllables ("), with
no unstressed syllables. Spondees could not, of course, be the
predominant foot in a poem; they are usually substituted for
iambic or trochaic feet as a way of increasing emphasis, as in
this line from John Donne's "Batter my heart, three-personed
God," (p. 384) "As yet but knock, I breathe, shine, I
and seek I to mend."
See accentual meter.
Minor physical activity performed by actors on stage, often
involving props, intended to strengthen characterization or
modulate tension in a play
Written instructions in the script telling actors how to move on
the stage or how to deliver a particular line. To facilitate the
reading of scripts and to distinguish them from simple dialogue,
stage directions are interspersed throughout the text, typically
placed in parentheses and set in italics.
Stage left, stage right
Areas of the stage seen from the point of view of an actor
facing an audience. Stage left, therefore, is on the audience's
righthand side, and vice versa.
A grouping of poetic lines into a Section, either according to
form-each section having the same number of lines and the same
prosody (see Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West
Wind," p. 438)-or according to thought, creating irregular
units comparable to paragraphs in prose (see William
Wordsworth's "Ode Intimations of Immortality," p.
Short lines of dialogue quickly alternating between two
Any of a number of traditional characters easily identified by a
single, stereotypical characteristic. Stock characters include
innocent young women, rakish young men, clever servants, and so
Stress See accent.
The first part of a choral ode in Greek drama. The strophe was
traditionally sung as the chorus moved from stage left to stage
Based on the work of anthropologists, linguists, and
philosophers of the mid-twentieth century who sought to
understand how humans think and communicate, structuralism is
concerned with the cognitive and cultural structures that help
us to understand and interpret literary texts. The basic insight
at the heart of the movement is the realization that we
understand nothing in isolation, but rather every piece of
knowledge is part of a network of associations.
(1) The framework-the general plan, outline, or organizational
pattern-of a literary work; (2) narrower patterns within the
overall framework. Cf. form.
One of the elements of fiction, style refers to the diction
(choice of words), syntax (arrangement of words), and other
linguistic features of a literary work. Just as no two people
have identical fingerprints or voices, so no two writers use
words in exactly the same way Style distinguishes one writer's
language from another's. Faulkner and Hemingway two major modern
writers, had very different styles, as the opening paragraphs of
their stories show Two noticeable differences have to do with
interior or exterior focus and sentence length. Faulkner (p.
161) writes a long, complex second sentence to represent the
thinking of the boy; Hemingway (p. 176) writes a series of
short, almost telegraphic, sentences about an old man sitting
and drinking in the shadow of a tree at a café late at night,
with two waiters watching him.
A secondary plot that exists in addition to the main plot and
involves the minor characters. In tragedy, particularly, a
subplot might provide comic relief.
The use of a different kind of foot in place of the one normally
demanded by the predominant meter of a poem, as a way of adding
variety, emphasizing the dominant foot by deviating from it,
speeding up or slowing down the pace, or signaling a switch in
The unspoken meaning, sense, or motivation of a scene or
An artistic movement that attempted to portray or interpret the
workings of the unconscious mind, especially as realized in
dreams, by an irrational, noncontextual choice and arrangement
of images or objects. Now
more often used to refer to anything defying the normal sense of
A metrical pattern in which all lines in a poem have the same
number of syllables (as in Sylvia Plath's "Metaphors,"
p. 602) or all the first lines of its stanzas have the same
number, all second lines the same, and so on (see Dylan Thomas's
"Fern Hill," p. 555)-while the stressed syllables are
random in number and placement.
Something that is itself and also stands for something else; a
literary symbol is a prominent or repeated image or action that
is present in a poem (or story or play) and can be seen,
touched, smelled, heard, tasted, or experienced imaginatively
but also conveys a cluster of abstract meanings beyond itself.
An archetype, or archetypal symbol, is a symbol whose
associations are said to be universal, that is, they extend
beyond the locale of a particular nation or culture. Religious
symbols, such as the cross, are of this kind. The wallpaper in
Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and the tiger in
Blake's "The Tyger" are symbols. In literature,
symbolism refers to an author's use of symbols.
A device whereby an object or event suggests meaning beyond its
immediate, physical presence. Symbolism exists in all genres of
literature, but in drama it might include visual or sound
elements as well as language.
A special kind of metonymy in which a part of a thing is
substituted for the whole, as in the commonly used phrases
"give me a hand," "lend me your ears," or
"many mouths to feed." See, for example, "whose
hands shipwreck vases" and
"For should your hands drop white and empty' (John
Frederick Nims's "Love Poem," p. 551).
Description of one kind of sense experience in relation to
another, such as attribution of color to sounds ("blue
notes") and vice versa ("a loud tie") or of taste
to sounds ("sweet music"). See, for example,
"With Blue-uncertain stumbling Buzz-" (Emily
Dickinson's "I heard a Fly buzz-when I died," p. 489).
A stanza of three lines, each usually ending with the same
rhyme; but see terza nina. Cf. triplet.
A poetic form consisting of three-line stanzas (tercets) with
interlinked rhymes, aba bcb cdc ded efe, etc., made famous by
Dante's use of it in The Divine Comedy. Terza nina is used in
Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" (p.
A poetic line with four metrical feet. Robert Frost's line
"The woods are lovely dark, and deep" ("Stopping
by Woods on a Snowy Evening," p. 511) is an example of
Traditionally, a piece of writing. In recent reader-response
criticism, "text" has come to mean the words with
which the reader interacts; in this view, a poem is not an
object, not a shape on the page or a spoken performance, but
what is completed in the reader's mind.
Theater in the round
A circular stage completely surrounded by seating for the
Theater of the absurd/of cruelty
See Absurd, theater of the; Cruelty, theater of.
The central idea embodied by or explored in a literary work; the
general concept, explicit or implied, that the work incorporates
and makes persuasive to the reader. Other literary elements,
including characters, plot, settings, point of view, figurative
language, symbols, and style, contribute to a theme's
The type of narration being used if a storyteller is not
identified, does not speak of himself or herself with the
pronoun "I," asserts no connection between the
narrator and the characters in the story, and tells the story
with some objectivity and distance, using the pronouns he, she,
it, and they-but not I. Hemingway and Welty chose third-person
narration to tell the moving stories of the old man in "A
Clean, Well-Lighted Place" (p. 176) and of Old Phoenix in
"A Worn Path" (p. 189), respectively, because as
writers they wanted distance.
The name attached to a work of literature. For poetry, a title
in some cases is an integral part of a poem and needs to be
considered in interpreting it; see, for example, George
Herbert's "The Pulley" (p. 387). In other cases a
title has been added as a means of identifying a poem and is not
integral to its interpretation. Sometimes a poem is untitled and
the first line is used as a convenient way of refenx-ing to it,
but should not be thought of as a title and does not follow the
capitalization rules for titles.
The implied attitude, or "stance," toward the subject
and toward the reader or audience in a literary work; the
"tone of voice" it seems to project (serious or
playful; exaggerated or understated; formal or informal; ironic
or straightforward; or a complex
mixture of more than one of these). For example, the tone of
Bambara's "The Lesson" is streetwise and tough, the
voice of its first-person narrator
A play in which the plot moves from relative stability to death
or other serious sorrow for the protagonist. A traditional
tragedy is written in a grand style and shows a hero of high
social stature brought down by penipeteia or by events beyond
his or her control.
A play in which tragedy and comedy are mingled in roughly equal
A figure of speech in which a modifier that ought, strictly to
apply to one word is transferred to another word that it does
not strictly fit. In "The drunk clambering on his undulant
floor" (in John Frederick Nims's "Love Poem," p.
551), the drunk's perception, not the floor, is undulating.
A poetic line with three metrical feet.
A group of three consecutive lines with the same rhyme, often
used for variation in a long sequence of couplets. Cf. tercet.
A metrical foot consisting of two syllables, an accented one
followed by an unaccented one (1. In trochaic meter, trochees
are the predominant foot in a line or poem. The following lines
from William Blake's introduction to Songs of innocence are in
trochaic meter (each line lacking the final unaccented syllable)
"Piping I down the I valleys I wild, I Piping I Songs of
pleasant I glee.! On a I cloud II saw a I child, I And he I
laughing I said to me."
A figure of speech expressing something in an unexpectedly
restrained way. Paradoxically understatement can be a way of
emphasizing something, of making people think "there must
be more to it than that." When Mercutio in Romeo and
Juliet, after being stabbed by Tybalt, calls his wound "a
scratch, a scratch" (3.1.92), he is understating, for the
wound is serious-he calls for a doctor in the next line, and he
dies a few minutes later
The elements of a play that help an audience to understand the
play as a unified whole. Aristotle commented on the unities of
time (the action of a play usually takes place within
approximately one day) and action (the play should have a
single, principal plot line). Renaissance critics added a third
unity-unity of place (the play has only one main setting).
Though Aristotle intended these merely as observations about the
most successful dramas he had seen, some later playwrights took
them as inflexible laws of drama.
The oneness of a short story Generally, each of a story's
elements has a unity of its own, and all reinforce one another
to create an overall unity Although a story's unity may be
evident on first reading, more often discovering the unity
requires rereading, reflection, and analysis. Readers who engage
in these actions experience the pleasure of seeing a story come
As an adjective, the part of the stage farthest from the
audience, at the back of the playing area. As a verb, to draw
the audience's attention away from another actor on stage.
A figure of speech in which what is said is nearly the opposite
of what is meant (such as saying "Lovely day out" when
the weather actually is miserable). See Stephen Crane's "Do
not weep, maiden, for war is kind" (p. 506).
A nineteen-line lyric poem divided into five tercets and a final
four-line stanza, rhyming aba aba aba aba aba abaa. Line 1 is
repeated to form lines 6, 12, and 18; line 3 is repeated to form
lines 9, 15, and 19. See Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art"
(p. 550), and Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that
good night" (p. 556).
The supposed authonal presence in poems that do not obviously
employ persona as a distancing device.
A type of play that rose to prominence in the nineteenth century
and that relied for its effect on clever, causal plotting and a
series of startling discoveries or revelations rather than on
subtleties of character or language.