Terms and Definitions: A
This page is under perpetual
construction! It was last updated 14 March, 2014.
This list is
meant to assist, not intimidate. Use it as a touchstone for
important concepts and vocabulary that we will cover during
the term. Vocabulary terms are listed alphabetically.
In rhetoric, logic, and philosophy, a belief or proposition
is said to be a posteriori if it
can only be determined through observation (Palmer 381). In general, these are inductive arguments in which the thinker puts forth a belief or proposition as a universal rule she or he puts forth in response to an example seen in nature--the specific observed example comes first, and the logical argument follows on a universal level later.
In rhetoric, logic, and philosophy, an argument is said to
be a priori if its truth can be
known or inferred independently of any direct perception.
Logic, geometry, and mathematics are usually
held as such (Palmer 381). In general, these a priori arguments rely upon deductive reasoning--fashioning a general statement that should (in terms of logic) be true, and then applying the argument to a specific instance--i.e., the universal statement comes first, and then specific applications in the real world are expected to match it.
THEATRE: The center of the Irish Dramatic movment founded
in 1899 by W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, built with the express
purpose of presenting Irish plays performed by Irish actors.
It opened in 1904 and began showing plays by almost every Irish
playwright of renown.
OVO (Latin, "from
the egg"): This phrase refers to a narrative that starts
at the beginning of the plot, and then moves chronologically
through a sequence of events to the tale's conclusion. This
pattern is the opposite of a tale that begins in
medias res, one in which the narrative starts "in
the middle of things," well into the middle of the plot,
and then proceeds to explain earlier events through the characters'
dialogue, memories, or flashbacks. Horace coins the phrase in
his treatise, Ars Poeticae, a treatise not to be confused
with the Poetics of Aristotle. Contrast with in
See discussion under acrostic,
See discussion under acrostic,
CASE: Click here for expanded
Jacob Grimm's term for the way in which Old English strong verbs
formed their preterites by a vowel change. This is also called
An example would be the principal parts of Old English strong
verbs such as I sing,
I sang, and I
LITERATURE: Literature, poetry,
pamphlets, or propaganda
written in the nineteenth century for the express purpose of
condemning slaveholders, encouraging the release and emancipation
of slaves, or abolishing slavery altogether. This literature might take
the form of autobiographical writings (in the case of many slave
narratives) or fictional accounts such as Stowe's
Uncle Tom's Cabin. Such writings rely heavily on pathos
for rhetorical technique.
THE: Also called "the aloft" and sometimes
used interchangeably with "the
Heavens," this term refers to the gallery
on the upper level of the frons
scenae. In Shakespeare's Globe Theater, this
area contained the lords' rooms, but the center of this location
was also used by the actors for short scenes. On the other hand,
in most indoor theaters like the Blackfriars Theater, musicians
above the stage would perform in a curtained alcove here.
DICTION / ABSTRACT IMAGERY: Language that describes qualities
that cannot be perceived with the five senses. For instance,
calling something pleasant or pleasing is
abstract, while calling something yellow or sour
is concrete. The word domesticity is abstract, but
the word sweat is concrete. The preference for abstract
or concrete imagery varies from century to century. Philip Sidney
praised concrete imagery in poetry in his 1595 treatise, Apologie
for Poetrie. A century later, Neoclassical thought tended
to value the generality of abstract thought. In the early 1800s,
the Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley once
again preferred concreteness. In the 20th century, the distinction
between concrete and abstract has been a subject of some debate.
Ezra Pound and T. E. Hulme attempted to create a theory of concrete
poetry. T. S. Eliot added to this school of thought with his
theory of the "objective correlative." Contrast with
diction / concrete
POEM: Verse that makes little sense grammatically or
syntactically but which relies on auditory patterns to create its
meaning or poetic effects; Dame Edith Sitwell popularized the
term, considering this verse form the equivalent of abstract
painting (Deutsche 7). Sitwell's poems from her collection Façade
are samples of this genre, including her poem "Hornpipe."
A sample from this poem appears below:
Watched the courses of the breakers' rocking-horses and with
Lady Venus on the settee of the horsehair sea! (qtd.
in Deutsche 7)
A type of catachresis known as the "mixed metaphor."
The term is often used in a derogatory manner. See discussion
and examples under catachresis.
A "normal" line of poetry with the expected number
of syllables in each line, as opposed to a catalectic
line (which is missing an expected syllable) or a hypercatalectic
line (which has one or more extra syllables than would normally
be expected, perhaps due to anacrusis). See discussion under catalectic.
The use of acatalectic lines in poetry--see discussion under
(1) A recognizable manner of pronouncing words--often
associated with a class, caste, ethnic group, or geographic
region. Thus, Americans might be able to discern a Boston accent
or a Texas accent by sound alone, or they might place a foreign
speaker's origin by noting a French or Russian accent. (2)
The degree of stress given to a syllable--an important component
(3) Any diacritical mark. Click here to view
RHYTHM: See discussion under sprung
From Greek "headless," acephalous lines are lines
in normal iambic pentameter that contain only nine syllables
rather than the expected ten. The first syllable, which is stressed,
"counts" as a full metric foot by itself. All acephalous
lines by definition are catalectic.
See foot and
ACMEISM: A 1912 Russian poetry movement reacting against the Symbolist movement (Harkins 1). Acmeists protested against the mystical tendencies of the Symbolists; they opposed ambiguity in poetry, calling for a return to precise, concrete imagery. Prominent members of the movement include Nikolay Gumilyov and Sergey Gorodetski.
(From Greek acron + onyma; "tip or end of
a name"): A word formed from the initial letters in a phrase.
For instance, many caucasians in America are called WASPs. In
this acronym, the letters W. A. S. P. stand for the first letters
in the descriptive phrase, "White
Acronyms are quite common in governmental bureaucracies, in
businesses, in political jargon, and in high-tech products.
Other examples include AIDS ("Acquired
and OPEC (Organization
of Petroleum Exporting
Countries). In the realm of technology, we find
that radar comes from R.A.D.A.R. (RAdio
Ranging), and laser
from L.A.S.E.R. (Light
Emission of Radiation).
In general, acronyms first appear with periods to indicate the
abbreviations, (e. g. L. A. S. E. R). As the term becomes more
widespread, the periods vanish (e.g. LASER), and eventually
the capitalization falls away as the word enters common usage
Note that acronyms contrast
with alphabetisms, in which the word
is pronounced aloud by using the names of the actual letters--such
as the IRS (Internal Revenue Service),
which is pronounced as three-syllables. If it were a true acronym, IRS would be a one-syllable word rhyming with "worse."
Acronyms and alphabetisms
are most useful when they allow a speaker to create a new, short,
efficient term for a long unwieldy phrase. They are least useful
when they obscure the truth, when they enable technobabble and
unnecessary jargon. Even English historical scholarship has
fallen into the habit, commonly referring to the historical
Great Vowel Shift as the GVS,
and the Oxford English Dictionary as the OED,
to give two examples. Contrast with anagram.
The act of using or creating acronyms.
A poem in which the first or last letters of each line vertically
form a word, phrase, or sentence. Apart from puzzles in newspapers
and magazines, the most common modern versions involve the first
letters of each line forming a single word when read downwards.
An acrostic that involves the sequential letters of the alphabet
is said to be an abecedarius or an abecedarian
Acrostics may have first
been used as a mnemonic device to aid with oral transmission.
In the Old Testament, some of the Hebrew Psalms include acrostic
devices. Chaucer also wrote acrostics such as his "ABC"
(Prior a nostre dame) in his younger days. Acrostics
are also common in Kabbalistic charms and word squares, including
the Cirencester word square of Roman origin:
Abecedarian acrostics were
also a common genre
in classical Hebrew poetry. For instance, Psalm 118 in the Douay-Rheims
numbering of the Bible (or number 119 in the King James numbering
of the Bible) is an abecedarian acrostic, with each stanza headed
by one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, such as Aleph,
Beth, Gimel, and so on. Similar acrostics appear in Lamentations
3. Renaissance examples of acrostic poetry include the preface
to Ben Jonson's "The Alchemist."
If a poem is built so that
the last letters in each line form a word, rather than the first,
the poem is called a telestich.
A major division in a play. Often, individual acts are divided
into smaller units ("scenes") that all take place
in a specific location. Originally, Greek plays were not divided
into acts. They took place as a single whole interrupted occasionally
by the chorus's
singing. In Roman times, a five-act structure first appeared
based upon Horace's recommendations. This five-act structure
became a convention of drama
(and especially tragedy)
during the Renaissance. (Shakespeare's plays have natural divisions
that can be taken as the breaks between acts as well; later
editors inserted clear "act" and "scene"
markings in these locations.) From about 1650 CE onward, most
plays followed the five-act model. In the 1800s, Ibsen and Chekhov
favored a four-act play, and in the 1900s, most playwrights
preferred a three-act model, though two-act plays are not uncommon.
A real or fictional event or series of such events comprising
the subject of a novel, story, narrative poem, or a play, especially
in the sense of what the characters do in such a narrative.
Action, along with dialogue
and the characters' thoughts, form the skeleton of a narrative's
ACCENT: A diacritical
mark indicating primary stress.
ACYROLOGIA: Also called acyrology, see discussion under periphrasis.
ACYRON: The improper or odd application of a word, such as speaking of "streams of graces" (Shipley 5). When the result is humorous or deliberately absurd, the acyron becomes a malapropism.
ADAGE: A proverb or wise saying.
ADAGY: The act of speaking or writing in adages.
ADAPTATION: Taking material from an older source and altering it or updating it in a new genre. For instance, John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi is a play adapted from an older Italian novella. Maybe of Shakespeare's history plays are adaptations of Holinshed's chronicles, etc. For modern artists, if the adaptation's source is unacknowledged, the adaptation may constitute plagiarism under modern conventions. Contrast with ecphrasis.
MONSTER: In contrast with the composite
monster, mythologists and folklorists use the label
additive monster to describe a creature from mythology
or legend that has an altered number of body parts rather than
body parts from multiple animals added together. For instance,
the Scandinavian Ettin, a troll or giant with two heads, is
an additive monster. Sleipnir, the magical horse in Norse mythology,
is a regular horse, except it has eight legs. Deities and demons
in the Hindu pantheon often have multiple arms or eyes. The
term has also been loosely applied to fantastic creatures that
have modified limbs as well. For instance, the gyascutis is
a fantastic medieval beast that resembles a sheep, except its
limbs vary in length. Its front legs are drastically shortened,
and its hind legs are drastically lengthened, which allows it
to remain level as it grazes on the incline of steep hills.
PRONUNCIATION: In linguistics, John Algeo defines this
as an early instance of a historical sound change in progress
(311). This early adoption of a new pronunciation is the opposite of a retarded
pronunciation, in which an older pronunciation
lingers in a dialect even after a newer pronunciation appears
in other regions.
NOVEL: Any novel in which exciting events and fast
paced actions are more important than character development,
theme, or symbolism. Examples include Alexandre Dumas's The
Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers,
H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, or Edgar Rice
Burrough's Tarzan of the Apes.
AESC (also spelled ash in Anglo-Saxon):
A letter in the Old Norse runic alphabet indicating the sound
/æ/ as in the word <at>.
Aesc lends its name to the letter ash
commonly used in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Click here
for more information.
AESOPIC LANGUAGE: In Russian criticism, the name for oppositional political writing hidden in circumlocution, fables, and vague references so that it can bypass official censorship (Harkins 1). The term refers to Aesop's Fabula, a collection of beast fables in which simple stories about animals contained morals or messages "between the lines," so to speak. The coinage of the term comes from Saltykov, who is both the first to use the term in this sense and the one whom many modern Russian critics consider the best example of such writings (Harkins 1).
An effect of tone, diction, and presentation in poetry creating
a sense of an experience removed from irrelevant or accidental
events. This sense of intentional focus seems intentionally
organized or framed by events in the poem so that it can be
more fully understood by quiet contemplation. Typically, the
reader is less emotionally involved or impassioned--reacting
to the material in a calmer manner.
James Algeo defines an affix as "a morpheme added to a
base or stem to modify its meaning" (311). If an affix attaches to the beginning of a stem (or base
word), the affix is called a prefix. If an
affix is attached to the end of a stem, the affix is called
a suffix. From Old English, Modern English
speakers gain prefixes like un-
(unlike, undo, unafraid). From Latin, we gain prefixes
like re- (redo, replay,
reactivate). From Old English, we gain suffixes such as
-dom (kingdom, freedom).
From Latin, we gain suffixes such as
-ician (beautician, mortician) and
i.e., a Baptist parsonage). From Greek -izein,
we gain the popular verb ending -ize
(criticize, harmonize, pasteurize, even neologisms
Making words by adding an affix to a previously existing
base word or stem. For instance, the affix -ly
can be added to the base word (or stem) quick
to create the word quickly.
This process is affixation. See also affix.
Contrast with declension.
A sound stop with a fricative release. Affricatives involve
a stop plus a movment through a fricative position (i.e., the
blade of the tongue initially moves up in the position of a
stop, but then move through a fricative or spirant position
rather than remaining in the "stop" position).The
affricatives include two different sounds. The first sound is
found in judge,
and spinach. The second
affricative sound is that sound found in church,
niche, and cello.
ENGLISH: See Black
A family of languages separate from Indo-European
languages. The two main branches of Afro-Asiatic
are Hamitic and Semitic. Other examples of non-Indo-European
languages can be found elsewhere on this website.
AGGLUTINATIVE (from Latin, "glued to"):
In a now outdated linguistic classification, an agglutinative
language was any language with complicated but (for the most
part) regular derivational forms (Algeo 311)--especially those
based on single-syllable morphemes. This term or classifaction
first appeared in 1836 in the linguistic theories of Wilhelm
von Humboldt. Agglutinative languages were thought to include
Turkish, Basque, Hungarian, and many Tibeto-Burman languages.
These were were originally thought to be more "advanced"
or "developed" than isolating
languages like Chinese in which every word was formed by
distinct monosyllables. On the other hand, agglutatinative languages
thought to be more primitive than incorporative
languages such as Eskimo and Latin, respectively. Modern historical,
linguistic, and anthropological findings have largely demolished
the earlier arguments. The primary problem is that this classification
depends upon the assumption that primitive languages tend
be formed from monosyllables, and advanced languages were thought
to become gradually polysyllabic. However, many language like
Chinese may have
grown more monosyllabic over a process of thousands of years,
for instance, disproving this idea. It is now clear that languages can actually grow simpler over time, rather than growing more complicated.
IDEALISM: The conviction that farming is an especially
virtuous occupation in comparison with trade, craftsmanship,
manufacturing, or other means of commerce. Romans like Hesiod
and Virgil, for instance, praised the simple, hard-working ethics
of the Roman farmer. (See the Eclogues for an example.)
Jefferson dreamed of a future America composed primarily of
gentlemen-farmers who lived off the fruits of their plantations
without the need for outside trade in his Queries.
The agrarian ideal manifested equally strong in Romantic
writings as one form of the American
Having different parts of a sentence agree with each other in
grammatical number, gender, case, mood, or tense. In British
grammar books, agreement is also called concord.
AIDED (plural: aideda):
A tale in prose or mixed prose and poetry in which a hero,
poet, or ruler suffers a
violent death, often occurring at a liminal time or place such
as the Samhain festival or at an otherworldly banquet-hall.
Frequently the ending follows the motif of the threefold
to Dan Wiley's article in Medieval
Ireland: An Encyclopedia,
some thirty-five such tales explicitly labeled aideda survive
from Old or Middle Irish between 650-1250 C.E. (see Duffy 10-11).
The Greek term for the great shame felt by a hero after failure.
AISLING (Irish Gaelic: "dream, vision," pronounced "ash-ling"): a genre of Irish political poetry popular in the 1600s and 1700s in which a Spéirbhean appears who mourns the recent down-fallen status of Ireland and predicts a coming return to fortune, often linked with the return of a Stuart ruler to the throne of Britain. In later centuries, the form often became used satirically or jokingly. The most famous example of aisling poetry is Róisín Dubh, and the earliest major aisling poet was Aodhagán Ó Rathaille, often called the father of the aisling. Cf. visio.
The akedah is a section of Genesis including Genesis 22:1-19,
of foundational importance
in the three Abrahamic traditions of Islam, Christianity,
See discussion under humors.
A stock character in Greek drama, the alazon is a stupid
braggart who is easily tricked by the clever eiron
who tells the alazon what he wants to hear.
(Provençal "dawn"): A medieval lyric or morning
serenade about the coming of dawn. The alba's refrain typically
ends with the word "dawn." The theme can be religious,
but more frequently the theme focuses on two lovers parting
with the coming of day. Cf. the more common term used in English,
the closely related aubade.
A stanza written in alcaics is written in the meter created
by the Greek poet Alcaeus. This stanza-form was later used with
slight changes by the poet Horace. An example in English appears
in Tennyson's imitation, as appears below:
mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies,
O skill'd to sing of Time or eternity,
God-gifted organ-voice of England,
Milton, a name to resound for ages.
The medieval and Renaissance precursor to modern chemistry,
characterized by mystical philosophy and attempts to turn "base"
metals such as lead and tin into "noble" metals such
as gold and silver. The tenets of alchemy were based on the
theory of the four elements (see elements,
the four), in which all matter was composed of varying
proportions of four substances--air, earth, water, and fire.
Each element had a corresponding type of spirit associated with
it--sylphs, gnomes, undines, and salamanders. While alchemical
beliefs were taken seriously as a matter of pseudo-scientifical
inquiry in early centuries, by the end of the medieval period,
the practice was often synonymous with chicanery and con-artistry.
Chaucer's "Canon Yeoman's Tale" focuses on the deceptions
of false alchemical practitioners, and Shakespeare's The
Tempest borrows heavily from alchemical lore in its depiction
of the island's magical spirits. In later, more enlightened
times, alchemical beliefs became a subject of mockery. Alexander
epic, The Rape of the Lock, employs the
traditional alchemical spirits, but alters their purpose so
that their primary duties involve protecting young girls' virginity
from the advances of handsome rakes, for instance. Click here for a downloadable PDF chart of the elements.
A twelve-syllable line written in iambic hexameter. Alexandrines
were especially popular in French poetry for drama between 1500-1800
CE, but their invention dates back to the late 1100s. The earliest
medieval examples include Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne
à Jérusalem and Roman d'Alexandre
(from which the name alexandrine comes). Racine in
particular makes good use of it in Andromaque. Classical
French Alexandrines are a bit different from modern English
ones in that a strong stress falls on the on the sixth and last
syllables with a "wandering" unstressed syllable that
can appear in-between the strong stresses on each side of the
caesura. An example of an English Alexandrine appears in the
second line of Alexander Pope's couplet:
needless Alexandrine ends the song
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.
The form has been less popular
in English, and Pope actually mocks it in his Essay on Criticism.
However, Spenser uses an Alexandrine to good effect as
part of his spenserian
stanza. Robert Bridges speaks of his "loose
Alexandrines" in The Testament of Beauty, which
consists of unrhymed, metrically irregular twelve-syllable lines
(though in many cases, the twelve-syllables are the result of
the act of reading a story as an allegory.
The word derives from the Greek allegoria ("speaking
otherwise"). The term loosely describes any writing in
verse or prose that has a double meaning. This narrative acts
as an extended metaphor in which persons, abstract ideas, or
events represent not only themselves on the literal level, but
they also stand for something else on the symbolic level. An
allegorical reading usually involves moral or spiritual concepts
that may be more significant than the actual, literal events
described in a narrative. Typically, an allegory involves the
interaction of multiple symbols, which together create a moral,
spiritual, or even political meaning. The act of interpreting
a story as if each object in it had an allegorical meaning is
If we wish to be more exact,
an allegory is an act of interpretation, a way of understanding,
rather than a genre
in and of itself. Poems, novels, or plays can all be allegorical,
in whole or in part. These allegories can be as short as a single
sentence or as long as a ten volume book. The label "allegory"
comes from an interaction between symbols that creates a coherent
meaning beyond that of the literal level of interpretation.
Probably the most famous allegory in English literature is John
Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678), in which the hero
named Christian flees the City of Destruction and travels through
the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, Doubting Castle,
and finally arrives at the Celestial City. The entire narrative
is a representation of the human soul's pilgrimage through temptation
and doubt to reach salvation in heaven. Medieval works were
frequently allegorical, such as the plays Mankind and
Everyman. Other important allegorical works include mythological
allegories like Apuleius' tale of Cupid and Psyche in The
Golden Ass and Prudentius' Psychomachiae. More recent
non-mythological allegories include Spenser's The Faerie
Queene, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Butler's Erewhon,
and George Orwell's Animal Farm.
The following illustrative
passage comes from J. A. Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary
Terms and Literary Theory, 3rd edition (Penguin Books, 1991).
I have Americanized the British spelling and punctuation:
To distinguish more clearly we can take the old Arab fable
of the frog and the scorpion, who met one day on the bank
of the River Nile, which they both wanted to cross. The
frog offered to ferry the scorpion over on his back provided
the scorpion promised not to sting him. The scorpion agreed
so long as the frog would promise not to drown him. The
mutual promises exchanged, they crossed the river. On the
far bank the scorpion stung the frog mortally.
did you do that?" croaked the frog, as it lay dying.
replied the scorpion, "We're both Arabs, aren't we?"
we substitute for a frog a "Mr. Goodwill" or a "Mr. Prudence,"
and for the scorpion "Mr. Treachery" or "Mr. Two-Face,"
and make the river any river and substitute for "We're both
Arabs . . ." "We're both men . . ." we turn the
fable [which illustrates human tendencies by using animals
as illustrative examples] into an allegory [a narrative
in which each character and action has symbolic meaning].
On the other hand, if we turn the frog into a father and
the scorpion into a son (boatman and passenger) and we have
the son say "We're both sons of God, aren't we?", then we
have a parable (if a rather cynical one) about the wickedness
of human nature and the sin of parricide. (22)
below, or click here to download a PDF
handout contrasting these terms. Cf. charactonym.
While presenting a reader with only two alternatives may result
in the logical fallacy
known as false dichotomy or either/or fallacy, creating a parallel
sentence using two alternatives in parallel structure can be
an effective device rhetorically and artistically. Alliosis
is the rhetorical use of any isocolon parallel sentence that
presents two choices to the reader, e.g., "You can eat
well, or you can sleep well." For more information, see
Repeating a consonant sound in close proximity to others,
beginning several words with the same vowel sound. For instance,
the phrase "buckets of big blue berries"
alliterates with the consonant b.
Coleridge describes the sacred river Alph in Kubla Khan
as "Five miles meandering with a
mazy motion," which alliterates with the consonant
m. The line "apt
alliteration's artful aid" alliterates with the
vowel sound a.
One of Dryden's couplets in Absalom and Achitophel
reads, "In pious times, ere priestcraft
did begin, / Before polygamy was made a sin." It
alliterates with the letter p.
Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" employs the technique:
"I lean and loaf at
my ease observing a spear of summer
grass." Most frequently, the alliteration
involves the sounds at the beginning of words in close proximity
to each other. Alliteration is an example of a rhetorical scheme.
Alliteration in which the first letters of words are the same
(as opposed to consonants alliterating in the middles or ends
of words) is more specifically called head
rhyme, which is a bit of a misnomer since it doesn't
actually involve rhyme in a technical sense. If alliteration
also involves changes in the intervening vowels between repeated
consonants, the technique is called consonance.
prose, assonance, and consonance.
See also alliterative
revival and sound
PROSE: Many texts of Old English and Middle English prose
use the same techniques as alliterative
verse. Aelfric (c. 955-1010 CE) and Wulfstan (d.
1023) wrote many treatises using skillful alliteration. The
Herefordshire texts known collectively as the "The Katherine
Group" (Hali Meiohad, Sawles Warde,
Seinte Katerine, Seinte Marherete, Seinte
Iuliene) are some examples in Middle English.
REVIVAL: The general increase or surge in alliterative poetry
composed in the second half of the 14th century in England.
Alliteration had been the formalistic focus in Old English poetry,
but after 1066 it began to be replaced by the new convention
of rhyme, which southern courtly poets were using due to the
influence of continental traditions in the Romance languages
like Latin and French. Between 1066 and 1300, hardly any poetic
manuscripts using the alliterative form survive. There are two
theories to explain this absence. Theory number one argues this
absence is a quirk of textual history, and that individuals
were still writing alliterative verse, but by coincidence none
of the manuscripts survive to the modern period, or that the
tradition survived in oral form only and was never written down.
The second theory suggests that, after alliterative verse had
been mostly abandoned, a surge of regionalism or nationalism
encouraged northern poets to return to it during the mid- and
late-1300s. In either case, during this time, Piers
Plowman, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and other
important medieval poems were written using alliterative techniques.
above, and alliterative
VERSE: A traditional form of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse
poetry in which each line has at least four stressed syllables,
and those stresses
fall on syllables in which three or four words alliterate (repeat
the same consonant sound). Alliterative verse largely
in English within a few centuries of the Norman Conquest. The
Normans introduced continental conventions of poetry,
and octosyllabic couplets. The last surge of alliterative poetry
in the native English tradition is known as the alliterative
revival during the Middle English period. See alliteration,
A different pronunciation of a morpheme. For instance, consider
the -s plural morpheme.
The standard /s/ sound (as in <elks>)
becomes a /z/ sound in some allomorphs
(such as <boxes>.) However,
the same grapheme <s> is
used to represent each sound.
A predictable change in the articulation of a phoneme. For example,
the letter t in the word
top is aspirated, but
the letter t in stop
A casual reference in literature to a person, place, event,
or another passage of literature, often without explicit identification.
Allusions can originate in mythology, biblical references, historical
events, legends, geography, or earlier literary works. Authors
often use allusion to establish a tone, create an implied association,
contrast two objects or people, make an unusual juxtaposition
of references, or bring the reader into a world of experience
outside the limitations of the story itself. Authors assume
that the readers will recognize the original sources and relate
their meaning to the new context. For instance, if a teacher
were to refer to his class as a horde of Mongols, the students
will have no idea if they are being praised or vilified unless
they know what the Mongol horde was and what activities it participated
in historically. This historical allusion assumes a certain
level of education or awareness in the audience, so it should
normally be taken as a compliment rather than an insult or an
attempt at obscurity.
THE: Also called "the above" and sometimes
used interchangeably with "the Heavens," this term
refers to the gallery on the upper level of the frons
scenae. In Shakespeare's Globe theater, this
area contained the lords' rooms, but the center of this location
was also used by the actors for short scenes. On the other hand,
in most indoor theaters like the Blackfriars Theater, musicians
above the stage would perform in a curtained alcove here.
POEM: An acrostic
poem of thirteen lines in which each line consists of two words,
each word beginning with sequential letters in the alphabetic
pattern ABCDEF, etc. Deutsche noteas that many poets like Paul
West take liberties such as using Greek or Russian letters and
introducing -ex compounds. Here is an example from West:
Yum-yum! (West, qtd. in Deutsche
The adjective alphabetic refers to any writing system
in which each unit or letter represents a single sound in theory.
English writing is theoretically alphabetic--but in actual point
of fact is so riddled with exceptions and oddities that it hardly
counts--as discussed here.
A word formed from the initial letters of other words (or syllables)
pronounced with the letters of the alphabet--such as the IRS,
See further discussion under acronym.
(from the Altai mountains): A non-Indo-European language
family including Turkish, Tungusic, and Mongolian.
EGO: A literary character or narrator who is a thinly
disguised representation of the author, poet, or playwright
creating a work. Some scholars suggest that J. Alfred Prufrock
is an alter ego for T. S. Eliot in "The Love Song
of J. Alfred Prufrock," or that the wizard Prospero
giving up his magic in The Tempest is
an alter ego of Shakespeare saying farewell to the magic of
the stage. Contrast with persona.
The closest approximation the Icelandic Vikings had to a government/court
system/police--a gathering of representatives from the local
to decide on policy, hear complaints, settle disputes, and proclaim
incorrigible individuals as outlaws
(see below). The thing was a gathering for each local
community in Iceland, but the althing was a gathering
for the entire island's male population.
This adjective refers to any sound made by the tongue's approaching
the gum ridge. Examples include the sounds /n/,
This adjective refers to any sound made by the tongue's approaching
the gum ridge and the hard palate. Examples include the consonant
sounds found in the beginning of the words Jill,
Chill, and shall
and the beginning and ending sounds of the word rouge.
COMPOUND: A word originally formed from a compound,
but whose form is no longer clearly connected to its origin,
such as the word not--originally
compounded from Anglo-Saxon na-wiht
AMANUENSIS (from Latin, ab manus, "by
hand", plural amanuenses): A servant, slave, secretary, or scribe
who takes dictation for an author who speaks aloud. Many
works of literature--especially from Roman and medieval times--result
from the labor of such a scribe. For instance, the illiterate
Margery Kempe had two friars who served as amanuenses to write
down her Book of Margery Kempe. Many Roman poets kept
slaves who worked as their personal amanuenses, such as Cicero's slave Tyro, and so on.
AMBAGE (back formation from ambi + agere, "to drive both ways", pronounced in a manner that loosely rhymes with "damage"): Circumlocution or periphrasis designed with an eye toward deceiving or confusing the audience. In the plural, several such instances are ambages. See discussion under periphrasis.
Loosely the term is equivalent to atmosphere or mood, but more
specifically, ambiance is the atmosphere or mood of a particular
setting or location. Ambiance is particularly vital to gothic
literature and to the horror story, and to many young college
students' dates. See atmosphere,
In common conversation, ambiguity is a negative term applied
to a vague or equivocal expression when precision would be more
useful. Sometimes, however, intentional ambiguity in literature
can be a powerful device, leaving something undetermined in
order to open up multiple possible meanings. When we refer to
literary ambiguity, we refer to any wording, action, or symbol
that can be read in divergent ways. As William Empson put it,
ambiguity is "any verbal nuance, however slight, which
gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language"
(qtd. in Deutsch 11).
AMELIORATION (from Latin, melior, "better"):
A semantic change in which a word gains increasingly favorable
connotation. For instance, the Middle English word knight
used to mean "servant" (as German Knecht
still does). The word grew through amelioration to mean "a
servant of the king" and later "a minor nobleman."
Similar amelioration affected the Anglo-Saxon word eorl,
which becomes Modern English earl.
The opposite term, pejoration,
is a semantic change in which a word gains increasingly negative
DREAM: A theme in American literature, film, and art
that expresses optimistic desires for self-improvement, freedom,
and self-sufficiency. Harry Shaw notes that the term can have
no clear and fixed expression because "it means whatever
its user has in mind a particular time" (12). In general,
it connotes "life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness" in Thomas Jefferson's phrasing. One expression
of this is the materialistic "rags-to-riches" motif
of many nineteenth-century novels. Here, through hard work, cleverness, and honesty, a young pauper rises in socio-economic
status until he is a powerful and successful man. An example
here would be the stories by Horatio Alger. Other expressions
of this theme focus on more abstract qualities like freedom
or self-determination. Many critics have argued that this dream
is in many ways a myth in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries,
given America's frequent discriminatory treatment of immigrants
and its continuing economic trends in which an ever smaller
number of wealthy people accrue an ever larger percentage of
material wealth with each generation, i.e., "the rich get
richer and the poor get babies." Other events, such as
the loss of the American frontier, segregation and exclusion
of minorities, McCarthyism in the 1950s, unpopular wars in Vietnam
in the 1960s, and gradual ecological devastation over the last
hundred years, together have inspired literary works that criticize
or question the American Dream--often seeing it as ultimately
selfish or destructive on one or more levels. Examples of these
writing would be Miller's Death of A Salesman, Ellison's
Invisible Man, and Steinbeck's The Grapes
ENGLISH: The English language as it developed in North
America, especially in terms of its diction and the spelling
and grammatical differences that distinguish it from British
An expression that is characteristic of the U.S.A. or one
which first developed in America.
American Sign Language--a language composed of hand-signs for
In classical poetry, a three-syllable poetic foot
consisting of a light stress, heavy stress, and a light stress--short
on both ends. Amphibrachs are quite rare in English, but they
can be found in special circumstances, especially when the poet
manipulates the caesura to create an unusual effect.
An example of an English word forming an amphibrach is crustacean.
An amphibrach is the reverse-form of an amphimacer.
A three-syllable foot
consisting of a heavy, light, and heavy stress. Poetry written
in amphimacers is called cretic meter. Amphimacer is
rarely used in English poetry, but it is quite common in Greek.
An example of an English phrase forming an amphimacer is deaf-and-dumb.
An amphimacer is the reverse-form of an amphibrach.
A poetic structure invented by Edmund Wilson in which
final words in strategic lines do not rhyme in the traditional
sense, but rather reverse their order of consonants and vowels
to appear backwards. For example, Wilson writes:
tonight I come lone and belated--
Foreseeing in every detail,
resolved for a day to sidestep
My friends and their guests and their pets.
The colored sections above have the amphisbaenic
An open-air theater, especially the unroofed public playhouses
in the suburbs of London. Shakespeare's Globe and the Rose are
Placing an event, person, item, or verbal expression in the
wrong historical period. In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar,
Shakespeare writes the following lines:
Peace! Count the clock.
Cassius: The clock has stricken three
(Act II, scene i, lines 193-94).
Of course, there were no
household clocks during Roman times, no more than there were
Blu-Ray disk players! The reference is an anachronism, either accidental
or intentional. Elizabethan theater often intentionally used
anachronism in its costuming, a tradition that survives today
when Shakespeare's plays are performed in biker garb or in Victorian
frippery. Indeed, from surviving illustrations, the acting companies
in Elizabethan England appeared to deliberately create anachronisms
in their costumes. Some actors would dress in current Elizabethan
garb, others in garb that was a few decades out of date, and
others wore pseudo-historical costumes from past-centuries--all
within a single scene or play.
Poetry or song-verse modeled on the poetry of the Greek
diem poetry praising hedonistic pleasures
of wine, women, and song, written in trochaic tetrameter.
is a typical example of Anacreon's poetry in Stanley's translation:
earth drinks up the rain;
Trees from earth drink that again;
The sea drinks the air, the sun
Drinks the sea, and him the moon.
Is it reason then, d'ye think,
I should thirst when all else drink?
The addition of an extra unstressed syllable or two at the
of a line of verse--but these additions are not considered
part of the regular metrical count. Deutsch points out an
of anacrusis in the last line of this stanza by Blake, where
the article the is an unstressed addition:
doth like a rose
Bloom on every maiden's cheek;
Honour twines around her brows,
health adorns her neck. (qtd. in Deutsche 14)
(Greek "doubling"): Repeating the last word of a
clause at the beginning of the next clause. As Nietzsche said, "Talent
is an adornment; an adornment is also a concealment." Ann
Landers once claimed, "The poor wish to be rich, the
rich wish to be happy, the single wish to be married, and
the married wish to be dead." Extended
anadiplosis is called gradatio.
For instance, in The Caine Mutiny the captain declares:
"Aboard my ship, excellent performance is standard. Standard
performance is sub-standard. Sub-standard performance is not
allowed." Biblically speaking, St. Paul claims, "We glory in
tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
and patience, experience; and experience, hope, and hope maketh
man not ashamed." Samuel Johnson writes, "Labour and
care are rewarded with success, success produces confidence,
relaxes industry, and negligence ruins the reputation which
diligence had raised" (Rambler No. 21). On a
more mundane level, the character of Yoda states in Star
Wars, Episode I: "Fear leads to anger; anger leads
to hatred; hatred leads to conflict; conflict leads to suffering." Gradatio creates
a rhythmical pattern to carry the reader along the text,
even as it establishes a connection between
words. Anadiplosis and gradatio are examples
of rhetorical schemes.
(Greek for "recognition"): A term used by Aristotle in the Poetics to
describe the moment of tragic recognition in which the protagonist
realizes some important fact or insight, especially a truth
about himself, human nature, or his situation. Aristotle argues
that the ideal moment for anagnorisis in a tragedy is the moment
the reversal of fortune. Critics often claim that the moment
of tragic recognition is found within a single line of text,
in which the tragic hero admits to his lack of insight or asserts
the new truth he recognizes. This passage is often called the "line
of tragic recognition." See further discussion under tragedy.
interpretation, the anagogical reading is the fourth
type of interpretation in which one reads a religious writing
in an eschatological
manner, i.e., the interpreter sees the passage as a revelation
concerning the last days, the end of time, or the afterlife.
(Greek: "writing back or anew"): When the letters
or syllables in a name, word or phrase are shuffled together
or jumbled to form a new word. For instance, in Tanith Lee's
short story, "Bite-Me-Not, or Fleur De Fleu," the
predatory vampire's name is Feroluce--an anagram of
his demonic predecessor, Lucifer. Similarly in the film Angelheart,
the devil travels using the anagram Louis Cipher,
Lucifer as a moniker, and in film-makers' spin-offs
of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Dracula uses the name Alucard
as a disguise. (An anagram that functions by merely writing
a name backwards is known more specifically as an ananym.)
Authors who love wordplay love using anagrams. For instance,
Samuel Butler's utopian satire Erewhon is an anagram
of "Nowhere." Critics have suggested Hawthorne's
short story "The Minister's Black Veil" involves
an anagram on veil and evil. Anagrams were
quite popular in the Renaissance.
(also spelled analog): A story that contains similar
characters, situations, settings, or verbal echoes to those
found in a different story. Sometimes analogues reveal that
one version was adopted from or inspired by another, or that
both tales originate in a lost, older text. When one version
is clearly the ancestor of another, literary scholars refer
to it as a "source." For instance, Romeo and Juliet and
Westside Story are analogues, with Romeo and Juliet
being a loose source for the other. The character of Utnapishtim
in the Babylonian flood legend is an analogue for the character
of Noah in the Hebrew Bible. In other cases, analogues
appear that probably have no direct connection to each other.
Grettir's Saga, which includes a wrestling bout between
the strongest Icelander and an evil spirit, is often thought
of as an analogue to Beowulf, in which a hero with the
strength of thirty men wrestles with the monster Grendel. Grettir
dives under an ocean-side waterfall and does battle with a Troll-wife,
just as Beowulf dives into a lake and does battle with Grendel's
mother. These two pairs of scenes are analogues to each other.
Most of Chaucer's stories in The Canterbury Tales have
analogues with varying degrees of correspondence; often these
are of French or Italian origin.
LINGUISTIC: The modification of grammatical usage from
the desire for uniformity. For instance, a child who states,
"I broked the toy" or
a man who says "I knowed the truth"
is merely attempting to regularize the past tense of these verbs
through linguistic analogy. Cf. hypercorrection.
A language is analytic if it requires a certain word order to
make grammatical sense--often this requires extensive use of
prepositions and auxiliary verbs. For instance, take the sentence,
"The dog bit the boy." We know in modern English that
dog is the subject and
boy is the direct object
because of word order, the common analytical pattern being subject-verb-object.
Examples of analytic languages include French, Spanish, Modern
English (but not Old English) and Italian. The opposite
type of language uses declensions
(special endings stuck on the ends of words) to show what case
each word has. This type is called an inflected or synthetic
language. Click here for more information about case.
COMPARISON: Comparison using more
and most instead of -er
RHYME: Another term for inexact
rhyme. See below.
See discussion under anagram.
A foot or unit of poetry consisting of two light syllables followed
by a single stressed syllable. Some words and phrases in English
that constitute anapests include the following examples: understand,
interrupt, comprehend, anapest, New Rochelle, contradict, "get
a life," condescend, Coeur d'Alene, "in the blink
of an eye," and so on. Anapestic meter consists
of lines of poetry that follow this pattern of "light stress,
light stress, heavy stress" pattern. For example: "The
Assyrian came dówn like a wólf on the fóld"
(Lord Byron, "The Destruction of Sennacherib")
he flies through the air with the greatest of ease."
See extended discussion under meter.
Click here to
download a PDF handout that contrasts anapests with other
types of metrical feet.
(Greek, "carried again," also called epanaphora):
The intentional repetition of beginning clauses in order to
create an artistic effect. For instance, Churchill declared,
"We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on the end. We shall
fight in France. We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall
fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.
We shall defend our island, whatever the cost shall be." The
repetition of "We shall. . ." creates a
rhetorical effect of solidarity and determination. A well-known
example is the Beatitudes in the Bible, where nine statements
in a row begin with "Blessed are." ("Blessed
are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.")
Anaphora is the opposite of epistrophe,
in which the poet or rhetorician repeats the concluding phrase
over and over for effects. Often the two can be combined effectively
as well. For instance, Saint Paul writes to the church at Corinth,
"Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am
I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they the ministers
of Christ? I am more." Here, artful use of anaphora and
epistrophe combined help Paul make his point more emphatically.
Both anaphora and epistrophe are examples of rhetorical schemes.
They serve to lend weight and emphasis.
Deliberately creating a sentence fragment by the omission of
a clause: "If only you came with me!" If only students knew
what anapodoton was! Good writers never use sentence
fragments? Ah, but they can. And they do. When appropriate.
Anapodoton is an example of a rhetorical scheme.
In linguistics, anaptyxis is the appearance of an intrusive
vowel sound between two consonants when that vowel is unexpected
historically or when it shouldn't be there according to
normal rules of language development. For instance, many speakers
insert a schwa
sound between the /l/ and
/m/ in the word elm
or the word film. The
adjective form of this word is anaptyctic.
Note that some linguists prefer to call this phenomenon svarabhakti
(from the Sanskrit term), and thus they refer to the intrusive
vowel as a svarabhakti vowel. Compare
with the rhetorical device epenthesis.
Inverted order of words or events as a rhetorical scheme.
Anastrophe is specifically a type of hyperbaton
in which the adjective appears after the noun when we expect
to find the adjective before the noun. For example, Shakespeare
speaks of "Figures pedantical" (LLL 5.2.407).
Faulkner describes "The old bear . . . not
even a mortal but an anachronism indomitable and invincible
an old dead time." Lewis Carroll uses anastrophe in "Jabberwocky,"
where we hear, "Long time the manxome foe he sought. /
So rested he by the Tumtum tree . . . ." T.
S. Eliot writes of "Time present and time past,"
and so on. Particularly clever anastrophe can become a trope
when it alters meaning in unusual ways. For instance, T. S.
Eliot writes of "arms that wrap about a shawl" rather
than "shawls that wrap about an arm" in "The
Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." See also hyperbaton.
Natalie Dorsch's poem, "Just Because," makes
use of extended anastrophe in a clever way to show how
confused the speaker is after a romantic interlude:
walked up the door,
shut the stairs,
said my shoes,
took off my prayers,
turned off my bed,
got into the light,
you kissed me goodnight.
Here, she makes use of anastrophe
in nearly every line.
Alternatively, we can use
the term anastrophe as a reference to entire narratives
in which the sequence of events are chopped into sections and
then "shuffled" or "scrambled" into an unusual
narrative order. An example of this type of anastrophe might
be the sequence of events in Quentin Tarentino's film Pulp
Fiction or Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse Five.
Contrast with periodic
A branch of Indo-European
languages spoken in Asia Minor, including Hittite.
A female anchorite. These women were eremites or hermits in
the medieval period who would request permission from the local
pastor to be walled up alive in a small cell attached to the
side of the church. There the anchoress would live out the rest
of her days, relying upon the charity of the local community
to provide food and water through a small opening. The practice
was a common one in the medieval period. Such hermits were considered
especially holy for giving up worldly concerns, and they were
often highly respected as spiritual counselors. Male anchoresses
are called anchorites, and the enclosures they dwell in are
The medieval writer Julian of Norwich was one such anchoress.
In medieval times, an enclosure in the wall of a church where
would be sealed up alive as a gesture of faith.
An eremite or hermit in the medieval period who requests permission
from the local pastor to be sealed up in a small cell attached
to the side of the church, where the anchorite would live out
the rest of his days relying upon the charity of the local community
to provide food and water through a small opening. The practice
was a common one in the medieval period. Such hermits were considered
especially holy for giving up worldly concerns, and they were
often highly respected as spiritual counselors. Female anchorites
are called anchoresses, and the enclosures in which they dwell are
CHARACTERS (Latin ancilla:
"helper" or "maid"): Less important characters
who are not the primary protagonist
but who highlight these characters or interact with them in
such a way as to provide insight into the narrative action.
Typical ancillary characters include foils,
characters. See character
for more information.
A short narrative account of an amusing, unusual, revealing,
or interesting event. A good anecdote has a single, definite
point, and the setting, dialogue, and characters are usually
subordinate to the point of the story. Usually, the anecdote
does not exist alone, but it is combined with other material
such as expository essays or arguments. Writers may use anecdotes
to clarify abstract points, to humanize individuals, or to create
a memorable image in the reader's mind. Anecdotes are similar
to exempla. See exemplum.
The dialects of Old English spoken in Mercia and Northumbria.
Not to be confused with the word Anglican.
CHURCH: The Protestant Church in England that originated
when King Henry VIII broke his ties to the Vatican in Rome (the
The sub-branch of West Germanic including English
The dialect of Norman
French that developed in England after William the First conquered
England. Scholars abbreviate this as AN. See also Battle
(1) Historically, the term refers to a group
of Teutonic tribes who invaded England in the fifth and sixth
centuries following the departure of Roman legions in 410 CE.
These tribes, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes, came from
the northern parts of Europe and gave their name (Angle-Land)
to England, driving the native Celtic peoples into the farthest
western and northern regions of Britain. We can also refer to
the time-period of 410 CE up until about 1066 CE as the "Anglo-Saxon"
historical period in Britain. In linguistics, the term Anglo-Saxon
is also used to refer to Old English, the language spoken by
these tribes and the precursor of Middle
English and Modern
English. See Old
English. (2) In colloquial usage, the
term Anglo-Saxon is often used to distinguish people
of "English" ethnicity in Great Britain, Canada, and
the United States--hence acronyms
like "WASP" (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant).
The exchange of information among animals, especially as
with human language and meta-language (Algeo 312). Examples
include pheremone trails left by ants, semaphore communications
among bees, mating calls among birds, and vocal alerts
concerning different predators among certain mammals.
The belief that animals, plants, and objects have their own
souls or spirits inhabiting them, as in modern Japanese religions
like Shinto or in many older hunter-gatherer societies in
Africa, Polynesia, and Australia. Many plant spirits in classical
Greek mythology probably originate in earlier animistic belief,
such as dryads and hamadryads (tree-spirits), Oreiads (mountain
pine-tree spirits), Meliades (fruit-trees), and Meliai (ash
tree and honey-hive spirits). Other animistic spirits in
myth include the Oeneads and Krinaiai (well-spirits and fountain-spirits),
Nephelai (cloud-spirits), Naiads (water-spirits), and Ithakiai
(cave-spring spirits). See also Solar
Myth and vegetationsdämon.
Another term for a chronicle, a brief year-by-year account
ANONYMOUS: Of unknown authorship, either because the historical records are missing to shed light on the author's identity, or because the author deliberately hid his identity. Probably 90% of surviving medieval literature lacks authorial attribution. In the case of folklore and much mythology, the oldest versions are also usually anonymous.
See discussion under character,
Artfully using a different part of speech to act as another in violation of the normal rules of grammar. This switch might
involve treating a verb like a noun, or a noun like a verb,
or an adjective like a verb, and so on. Thus, in 1960s pop culture, Nancy Sinatra's song "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" has a speaker who tells the implied audience, "You keep lying when you ought to be truthing. . . . You keep saming when you ought to be changing." In a more literary vein, e. e. cummings
might speak of how "he sang his didn't,
he danced his did." A television
advertisement might exhort its listeners to "Gift
him with Sports Illustrated magazine for Christmas" (as
opposed to give him Sports
Illustrated for Christmas). Rabelais might state, "I am
going in search of the great perhaps"
and when the priest Angelo is doing an effective job of controlling
the city, we hear that "Lord Angelo dukes
it well" in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (III,
iii), and so on. Anthimeria allows poets to step into an extra-verbal
realm to suggest and hint at that which cannot be put easily
in words without a loss of verbal magic. Linguists more generally call this device "form shift."
(from Grk. anther+logos, "flower-words"):
Literally implying a collection of flowers, the term anthology
refers to a collection of poetry, drama, or verse. English majors
may be familiar with the ubiquitous Norton Anthology of
British Literature, for instance. The first collection
of poetry thus labeled was The Anthology, a collection
of some 4,500 Greek poems dating between 490 BCE and 1,000 CE.
(also called bathos): a drop, often sudden and
unexpected, from a dignified or important idea or situation
to one that is trivial or humorous. Also a sudden descent from
something sublime to something ridiculous. In fiction and drama,
this refers to action that is disappointing in contrast to the
previous moment of intense interest. In rhetoric, the effect
is frequently intentional and comic. For example: "Usama
Bin Laden: Wanted for Crimes of War, Terrorism, Murder, Conspiracy,
and Nefarious Parking Practices."
While some medieval women writers like Christine de Pisan
and Margery Kempe advocated that women should have stronger
positions in the medieval church or medieval society more
many other writers (mostly but not exclusively male) called
the female gender to remain
or subservient positions. Other monastic writers would go
so far as to declare all women evil temptresses and seductresses,
inherently corrupt, conniving, incompetent, and weak-willed.
Modern critics call these writers and their works
applies to patristic writers
like Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine, and Saint Paul, but it
more loosely applies to Juvenal, Theophrastus, Abelard, John
Salisbury, Walter Map, Hugh of Folietto, Peter of Blois,
In Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath's Tale," the Wife recounts
how her fifth husband would read from a book of "Wykked Wyves"--apparently
a collection of works in the anti-feminist tradition. Aemilia
Lanyer confronts and rebuts this anti-feminist tradition
in her Renaissance work, Salve Deus, Rex Judaeorum,
and Virginia Woolf touches on it indirectly in her twentieth-century
writings like "A Room of One's Own."
SATIRE: Medieval satire
that points out (in humor or anger) the failings and hypocrisies
of bad monks, friars, and nuns in particular and the secular
clergy and church officers more generally. Examples from The
Canterbury Tales include Chaucer's depiction of the Monk
and Prioress in "The General Prologue" and the content
of "The Summoner's Tale."
who is a non-hero or the antithesis of a traditional hero. While
the traditional hero may be dashing, strong, brave, resourceful,
or handsome, the antihero may be incompetent, unlucky, clumsy,
dumb, ugly, or clownish. Examples here might include the senile
protagonist of Cervantes' Don Quixote or the girlish
knight Sir Thopas from Chaucer's "Sir Thopas." In
the case of the Byronic
and Miltonic antihero, the antihero is a romanticized but
wicked character who defies authority, and becomes paradoxically
ennobled by his peculiar rejection of virtue. In this sense,
Milton presents Satan in Paradise Lost as an antihero
in a sympathetic manner--at least in the first half of the poem. The same is true of Heathcliffe in
Emily Bronté's Wuthering Heights. Compare with
(Greek, "turning about"): A rhetorical
scheme involving repetition in reverse order:
"One should eat to live, not live to eat." Or,
"You like it; it likes you." The witches in that Scottish play
chant, "Fair is foul and foul is fair." One character in Love's
Labor's Lost uses antimetabole when he asks "I pretty,
and my saying apt? Or I apt, and my saying pretty?" (I,
ii). "The first will be last and the last will be first," and so forth. Antimetabole often overlaps with chiasmus.
This device is sometimes used as a synonym for epanados in
modern textbooks (though classical rhetoricians would treat it as distinct). See schemes.
LITERATURE: Literature that vilifies Jews or encourages
racist attitudes toward them. Much of the religious literature
produced in medieval and Renaissance Europe unfortunately engaged
in anti-Semitism to one degree or another. This is due to a
series of sociological causes too lengthy to discuss here. Typical
allegations accused Jews of killing and cannibalizing Christians,
secretly poisoning wells, spreading plague and leprosy among
non-Jewish neighbors, kidnapping Christian children, defiling
communion wafers, and engaging in various economic crimes,the most famous being blood libel.
The irony is that, although
Jews were blamed for various outbreaks of plague and the contamination
of water supplies, in many such communities there were no Jews
present at all. They had often been kicked out of the country
long before the "crimes" took place. In 1182 Philip
II banished the Jews from France, causing many Jews to flee
to England, where many other Jews had sought shelter in the
eleventh century. Anti-Semitic
violence intensified after the crusades, culminating in the
church's Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which passed laws requiring
Jews to wear distinctive clothing and forbidding them from holding
political office in Chrstian-controlled lands. Local bishoprics
and principalities embraced these new laws, and often added
their own twists, such as requiring Jews to pay additional taxes,
or requiring the most senior Jewish Rabbi to submit to various
ritual humiliations before the community at Easter. (In one
French city, for instance, the most prestigious Rabbi had to
appear on the doorsteps of the bishop's cathedral on Easter
afternoon to receive a ritual blow and communal rejection.)
Other secular authorities followed the ecclesiastical example
by making it illegal for Jews to own land or to labor in an
occupation that would compete with local Christians. Ironically,
this policy forced Jews to train themselves in highly skilled
professions such as law, medicine, accounting, gem-cutting,
and whatnot. These lucrative professions only further aroused
the envy and ire of less-skilled, less educated, and less wealthy
citizens of the European kingdoms. In 1275, Edward I began to
default on the loans he owed Jewish moneylenders, and in 1287,
he imprisoned some 3,000 Jewish subjects, whom he ransomed to
their families for cash. In spite of the Jewish payment in good
faith, he issued an edict in 1290 banishing all Jews from England
and confiscating all their properties.
After Jews were allowed to return to France, French King Philip
IV expelled them again in 1306, forcing them to flee to Germany.
Mass burnings and executions of Jews took place in Germany in
1349 after an outbreak of plague, and so on--right up to the
Holocaust of World War II, in which the genocide was horrifying
not for its novelty, but rather for its continuation of a centuries-long
tradition with the added efficiency of modern technologies like
gas chambers and incinerators.
Such occurrences affect
the literature of a culture as well. The Legends
of the Holy Rood, for instance, recounts an Anglo-Latin
story of how Jewish blasphemers drown in Christ's blood after
entering a Christian church. In the tale, the doors slam shutting
locking the Jews inside. The cross begin bleeding profusely
until the liquid filled the entire structure and overwhelms them. The Anglo-Saxon
poem Elena (St. Helen) describes the way the pious mother
of Constantine tortures reluctant Jews in order to locate the
remains of the true cross, which the Jews had sneakily hidden
away from her in order to conceal the truth of Christ's resurrection.
In Middle English, we see that Chaucer's "Prioress' Tale"
likewise depicts Jews as manipulative evildoers who murder a
saintly young choirboy. In the Renaissance, Shakespeare's The
Merchant of Venice presents a Jewish lawyer, Shylock, as
the villain scheming to extract a pound of flesh from his poor
Christian victim, and so on, ad nauseum.
Occasionally, it is ambiguous
whether readers should accept the anti-Semitism readily. For
instance, the Prioress' earlier depiction in Chaucer's General
Prologue suggests she has misplaced secular priorities, so Chaucer
might not intend for her to be a very authoritative or holy
figure when she tells her tale. Likewise, Shakespeare does a
marvelous job of transforming Shylock into an indignant and
injured human being rather than a moustache-twirling, two-dimensional
stereotype in Shylock's "If they prick us. . . ."
speech and in his soliloquies discussing the way Christians
have subtly mocked him, cheated him, and insulted his family.
However, such literary moments are rare in which an author questions
the common anti-Semitism of the era. Thus, when we do find material
that suggests a more tolerant attitude, we must approach it
with a skeptical eye to make sure we are not misreading historical
See discussion under strophe.
(plural: antitheses): Using opposite
phrases in close conjunction. Examples might be, "I burn
and I freeze," or "Her character is white as sunlight,
black as midnight." The best antitheses express their contrary
ideas in a balanced sentence. It can be a contrast of opposites:
"Evil men fear authority; good men cherish it." Alternatively,
it can be a contrast of degree: "One small step for a man, one
giant leap for all mankind." Antithesis is an example of a rhetorical
scheme. Contrast with oxymoron.
A figure, event, or symbol in the New Testament thought to be
prefigured by a different figure, event, or symbol in the Old
Testament. See extended discussion under typology.
(also spelled apheresis; plural: aphaeareses, adj.
apheretic): Rhetorically deleting a syllable--unaccented
or accented--from the beginning of a word to create a new term
or phrasing. For instance, in King Lear, we hear that,
king hath cause to plain"
(3.1.39). Here, the word
complain has lost its first
syllable. In Hamlet 2.2.561, Hamlet asks, "Who
should 'scape whipping" if
every man were treated as he deserved. Note that the e-
in escape has itself cleverly
escaped from its position! Aphaeresis is an example of
a rhetorical scheme or trope.
The adjective form is apheretic. Contrast
with the more precise linguistic term aphesis.
Linguistically, the omission of an unaccented syllable
from the front of a word. Contrast with the more general rhetorical
From the Greek word apocalypsis ("unveiling"), an apocalypse
originally referred to a mystical revelation of a spiritual
truth, but has changed in twentieth-century use to refer specifically
to mystical visions concerning the end of the world. The most
famous Apocalypse in the Christian tradition is the book commonly
known to Protestants as Revelation in the New Testament. Attributed
to John of Patmos, legend states that John wrote it in exile
about the year 70 AD, though surviving manuscripts are much
later in date. All apocalyptic narratives are by their nature
RHYME AND METER: Poetic
use of apocope
to create a rhyming word at the end of a line or to balance
the number of syllables to stay within metrical restraints (see
(The latter type might be more accurately called "apocopated
meter" rather than "apocopated rhyme.")
For example, in Keats' poem "La Belle Dame Sans Merci,"
the poetic speaker refers to "a lady in the meads"
instead of "a lady in the meadows,"
and he speaks of an "elfin grot"
instead of an "elfin grotto."
Clever poets use this formalistic device in a way that connects
with the thematic content.
Deleting a syllable or letter from the end of a word. In The
Merchant of Venice, one character says, "when I ope
my lips let no dog bark," and the last syllable of open
falls away into ope
before the reader's eyes (1.1.93-94). In Troilus and Cressida,
Shakespeare proclaims, "If I might in entreaties find success--/
As seld I have the chance--I would desire / My famous cousin
to our Grecian tents" (4.5.148). Here the word seldom
is an example of a rhetorical scheme.
Note that some scholars modernize this word and refer to it
as apocopation. Contrast with syncope.
APOCRYPHA: See discussion
Another term for a moral fable--especially
Denying one's intention to talk or write about a subject, but
making the denial in such a way that
the subject is actually discussed. For instance, a candidate
for the senate might start his speech declaring, "I don't
have time to list the seventeen felony counts my opponent faces,
or the lurid rumors of my opponent's sexual behavior with sixteen-year
old girls, or the evidence that he is engaged in tax evasion.
Instead, I am going to talk about my own qualities that I would
bring to the senate if you vote for me . . ."
A fine example of apophasis in Shakespeare comes from
Mark Antony's funeral speech in Julius Caesar:
come not, friends, to steal away your hearts.
I am no orator, as Brutus is;
But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man . . .
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech
To stir men's blood; I only speak right on.
Here, even as Mark Antony
claims he is not present to win the listener's favor with fine
words, he uses fine words to convince them. Contrast with aporia
(Greek: "impassable path"): The deliberate act
of talking about how one is unable to talk about something.
For instance, "I can't tell you how often writers use aporia."
The term dubitatio refers to a subtype of aporia
in which a speaker or writer pauses and deliberately reveals
his doubt or uncertainty (genuine or feigned) about an issue.
The aporia in the case of dubitatio
is both that pause and the act of intentionally discussing that
ambiguous reaction. This rhetorical ploy can make the audience
feel sympathy for the speaker's dilemma, or it can help characterize
the speaker as one who is open-minded and sincerely struggling
with the same issues the audience faces.
More recently, literary
deconstructionists like Jacques Derrida have high-jacked or
modified the rhetorical term aporia, and they use it
to suggest a "gap" or a lacuna that exists between
what the text attempts to say and what it is forced to mean
due to the constraints of language. Aporia is an example
of a rhetorical trope. See also apophasis,
above. Contrast with aposiopesis,
Breaking off as if unable to continue, stopping suddenly
in the midst of a sentence, or leaving a statement unfinished
at a dramatic moment. Sometimes the interruption is an artificial
choice the author makes for a dramatic effect. For instance,
Steele writes, "The fire surrounds them while -- I cannot go
on." He leaves the horrific outcome of the conflagration to
the readers' imaginations. On the other hand, Hotspur's dying
breath provides a literary instance in which the speaker is
physically unable to continue, leaving another to complete the
O, I could prophesy,
But that the earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue. No, Percy, thou art dust,
And food for --
Prince Hal: For worms, brave Percy.
Henry IV, 5.4)
Aposiopesis is a
wonderful and flexible technique for showing a character's overcharged
emotions. Hamlet makes use of aposiopesis to illustrate
his grief and shock at his mother's behavior after the king's
death. One example is when he can't finish his comparison between
his mother and Niobe: "Like Niobe, all tears--why, she,
even she-- / O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason /
Would have mourned longer." Shakespeare
again makes use of the technique when King Lear rages against
his evil daughters. Shakespeare makes him so upset he can't
even think of a proper punishment for them as the old king breaks
down in blustering tears:
I will have revenges on you both
That all the world shall--I will do such things--
What they are yet, I know not; but they shall be
The terrors of the earth! (King
makes epic use of aposiopesis; he has the God Neptune
become so angry at the windstorms over his ocean, he can't decide
which storm-spirit to smack first or in what order to fix the
meanwhile Neptune saw the ocean's waving commotion . . .
and he summoned the winds by name. 'What arrogance is this,
what pride of birth, you winds to meddle here without my sanction,
raising all this trouble? I'll--No the waves come first! but
listen to me. You are going to pay for this!'"
find Biblical examples of aposiopesis in the Hebrew Bible,
in which Moses doesn't even dare to complete his sentence when
he challenges God's decision to destroy the Israelites for their
Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, 'Oh, this people have
sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now,
if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray
thee, out of the Book of Life"
Aposiopesis is an
example of a rhetorical trope.
Not to be confused with the punctuation mark, apostrophe is
the act of addressing some abstraction or personification that
is not physically present: For instance, John Donne commands,
Death, be not proud." King Lear proclaims, "Ingratitude!
thou marble-hearted fiend, / More hideous when thou show'st
thee in a child / Than the sea-monster." Death, of course,
is a phenomenon rather than a proud person, and ingratitude
is an abstraction that hardly cares about Lear's opinion, but
the act of addressing the abstract has its own rhetorical power.
An apostrophe is an example of a rhetorical trope.
Designed to ward off evil influence or malevolent spirits by
frightening these forces away. In many cultures, elaborate artwork
depicting monsters would be created to have an apotropaic affect.
For instance, the fierce "celestial dogs" (Fu dogs)
carved outside the entrance to Tibetan temples would keep evil
spirits from entering the holy ground, and Amerindian shamans
would wear frightening, grotesque "medicine masks" when they
visited sick members of their tribe to terrify the evil spirits
making them sick. It has been suggested that the presence of
gargoyles and grotesques on medieval cathedrals is a remnant
of older pagan practices, in which monstrous apotropaic figures
would be carved on the front of ships and over the entrances
to buildings to ward off evil influences. Many Anglo-Saxon charms may have been apotropaic chants.
STAGE: A stage that projects out into the auditorium area.
This enlarges the square footage available for actors to walk
and move upon. This feature was not common in the days of classical
Greco-Roman theater, but it was a common architectural trait
in Elizabethan times and remains in use in some modern theaters.
An apron stage is also known as a thrust stage.
Oxford Companion to the Bible
discusses Chaldean Aramaic as a Northwest Semitic language
closely related to Classical Hebrew. Classical Hebrew developed
offshoot of proto-Canaanite around 1,000 BCE. and it was commonly
used as a vernacular
until about 500 BCE. Aramaic slowly replaced Classical Hebrew
as a language of the common people. It was originally written
of the Phoenician alphabet, and it became common in territory
controlled by the Chaldeans. It differed somewhat in its definite
articles and its vocabulary from Classical Hebrew, but it had
many close cognates (such as Hebrew shalom and Aramaic
shelam, "peace"). After the year 500 BCE,
Aramaic gradually became the vernacular language used in the
Palestinian region and especially in Galilee. Jeremiah 10:11
is written in Aramaic, as is Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26 (c.
BCE). The original book of Daniel was probably written in Aramaic
as well, though only Daniel 2:4b-7:28 remain in the original
tongue. Genesis 31:47 contains an Aramaic place-name--indicating
this section is a late revision to
early Genesis texts. Many of Christ's quotations in the
New Testament are in Aramaic, such as "Talitha cum" (Mark
5:41) and "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani" (Mark 15:34;
cf. Matt: 27:46 with variant readings in the Hebrew).
See J. A.
Emerton's entry in Metzer and Coogan, 45-46.
A word, expression, spelling, or phrase that is out of date
in the common speech of an era, but still deliberately used
by a writer, poet, or playwright for artistic purposes. For
instance, two archaic words (reproduced here in italics) appear
in these lines from Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient
off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.
Until fairly recent centuries, it
was still common to find poets using "I ween," "steed,"
and "gramercy" in their poems, even though they wouldn't
use these terms in normal daily speech. Artists might choose
an archaism over a more familiar word because it is more suitable
for meter, for rhyme, for alliteration, or for its associations
with the past. It also might be attractive as a quick way to
defamiliarize an everyday phrase or object.
Note that for Shakespeare
in the sixteenth century, the use of thy and thine
is not particularly archaic, but for John Updike in the twentieth
century, the use of thy and thine is definitely
archaic. Spenser, an avid Chaucer fan, used archaisms to imitate
Chaucerian spelling and language in his fifteenth-century poem,
The Faerie Queen. The translators of the King James
Version of the Bible (1611) revived archaisms to give weight
and dignity to sonorous passages. Later in the seventeenth
century, Milton employed Latinate archaisms in Paradise
even going so far as to imitate the periodic
sentence structure preferred by classical Roman
poets, even though Latin was a dead language by his day.
Keats, William Morris, and Tennyson also used archaisms for
creating pseudo-medieval effects in specific poems, such
Tennyson's Idylls of the King (1842-1885). This tendency
in nineteenth-century poetry mirrors the growth of romanticized
pseudo-medieval visual art among the nineteenth-century Pre-Raphaelites.
An extended example of deliberate archaisms appears in Keats's
The Eve of Saint Mark (c. 1819). In one section, the
character Bertha reads from a legend of "Holy Mark,"
and Keats shifts to archaisms to reproduce the imaginary text
in language imitating that of the fourteenth century:
thee full dolourouse
For sooth to sain from everich house
Be it in city or village
Wol come the Phantom and image
Of ilka gent and ilka carle
Whom coldé Deathé hath in parle. . .
Archaisms are more rare
in modern and postmodern poetry. Cf. anachronism.
CRITICISM: The analysis of a piece of literature through
the examination of archetypes and archetypal patterns in Jungian
psychology. See archetype
An original model or pattern from which other later copies are
made, especially a character, an action, or situation that seems
to represent common patterns of human life. Often, archetypes
include a symbol, a theme, a setting, or a character that some
critics think have a common meaning in an entire culture, or
even the entire human race. These images have particular emotional
resonance and power. Archetypes recur in different times and
places in myth, literature, folklore, fairy tales, dreams, artwork,
and religious rituals. Using the comparative anthropological
work of Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough, the psychologist
Carl Jung theorized that the archetype originates in the collective
unconscious of mankind, i.e., the shared experiences
of a race or culture, such as birth, death, love, family life,
and struggles to survive and grow up. These would be expressed
in the subconscious of an individual who would recreate them
in myths, dreams, and literature. Examples of archetypes found
cross-culturally include the following:
symbolic situations (such as the orphaned prince
or the lost chieftain's son raised ignorant of his heritage
until he is rediscovered by his parents, or the damsel in
distress rescued from a hideous monster by a handsome young
man who later marries the girl. Also, the long journey, the
difficult quest or search, the catalog of difficult tasks,
the pursuit of revenge, the descent into the underworld, redemptive
rituals, fertility rites, the great flood, the End of the
themes (such as the Faustian
bargain; pride preceding a fall; the inevitable
nature of death, fate, or punishment; blindness; madness;
taboos such as forbidden love, patricide, or incest),
characters (such as witches or ugly crones who
cannibalize children, lame blacksmiths of preternatural skill,
womanizing Don Juans, the hunted man, the femme fatale,
the snob, the social climber, the wise old man as mentor or
teacher, star-crossed lovers; the caring mother-figure, the
helpless little old lady, the stern father-figure, the guilt-ridden
figure searching for redemption, the braggart, the young star-crossed
lovers, the bully, the villain in black, the oracle or prophet,
the mad scientist, the underdog who emerges victorious, the
mourning widow or women in lamentation),
colors (green as a symbol for life,
vegetation, or summer; blue as a symbol for water
or tranquility; white or black
as a symbol of purity; or red as a symbol of blood, fire,
or passion) and so on.
images (such as blood, water, pregnancy, ashes,
cleanness, dirtiness, caverns, phallic
symbols, the ruined tower, the rose or lotus, the lion,
the snake, the eagle, the hanged man, the dying god that rises
again, the feast or banquet, the fall from a great height).
The study of these archetypes
in literature is known as archetypal
criticism or mythic criticism.
Archetypes are also called universal symbols. Contrast
EPONYMOUS: An official in classical
Athens. The holder of this office arranged the production of
tragedies and comedies at annual festivals honoring Dionysus.
Each year was named after the officiating eponymous archon.
Contrast with the choragos,
the individual who paid for a tragedy's performance and thus
won the lead-spot in the chorus.
STAGE: A theater arrangement in which viewers sit encircling
the stage completely. The actors enter and exit by moving along
the same aisles the audience uses. This often encourages interaction
between cast and audience. Frequently this type of stage is
situated outdoors. This type of theatrical arrangement is also
called theater in the round.
"Hill of Ares."): (1) Also known as "Mars Hill," this location
the Acropolis served in classical times as a high court of
appeal in criminal and civil cases and according to ancient tradition, an individual could stand on this hill and make a speech on any subject--no matter how unpopular. In early Patristic times,
it was at this location that Saint Paul delivered his speech
concerning the "Unknown God" in Acts 17:18-34. The location
became associated in John Milton's mind with freedom of speech
of ideas to find greater truths; hence, Milton wrote an essay
opposed to the Licensing
Act of 1643. The essay's title, Areopagitica,
comes from the Areopagus.
The Greek term arête implies
a humble and constant striving for perfection and self-improvement
combined with a realistic awareness that such perfection cannot
be reached. As long as an individual strives to do and
best, that individual has arête. As soon as the
individual believes he has actually achieved arête,
however, he or she has lost that exalted state and fallen
unable to recognize personal limitations or the humble need
to improve constantly.
A statement of a poem's major point--usually appearing in the
introduction of the poem. Spenser presents such an argument
in the introduction to his eclogues, Coleridge presents such
in his marginalia to The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,
and Milton most famously presents such in Book One of Paradise
Lost, where he proclaims he will "assert
eternal providence / And justify the ways of God to man."
In Renaissance drama, a hanging tapestry or a curtain that covered
a part of the frons
scenae. It hid the discovery space and may
have draped around the stage's edge to hide the open area underneath.
In Hamlet, Hamlet stabs Polonius through such an arras.
In classical metrical analysis, Greeks referred to the stressed
syllable in a metrical foot as a thesis,
and the unstressed syllable in a metrical foot as an arsis.
Unfortunately, the Roman analysts used the exact opposite terminology,
with the thesis being their unstressed foot and the
arsis being the stressed foot. This inconsistency results in much
confusion to modern students.
Related to the legends of King Arthur and his knights. A large
body of ancient and recent literature is Arthurian in whole
or part, including these examples:
(such as the Welsh "Raid on Annwfn")
of the Grail King and the Fisher King
documents about the battle at Mons Badis, General Arturius,
and other sixth-century subjects some scholars claim are
evidence of a historical basis for later legends
annals attributed to the so-called "Nennius" (i.e.,
medieval Latin writings mistakenly attributed to this person
in outdated scholarship)
transmitted by Breton conteurs in France between
written by Geoffrey of Monmouth (circa 1136)
love in medieval romances (such as Tristram
and Iseult, or Lancelot and Gwenevere)
allegories about the quest for the holy grail, such as the
Queste du Sainte-Graal (c. 1210)
von Eschenbach's Parzival (c. 1205)
of King Mark of Cornwall, Tristan, and Iseult, such as the
eleventh-century poems of Eilhart von Oberg and Thomas d'Angleterre,
Beroul's The Romance of Tristan, the anonymous
La folie Tristan de Berne, and Gottfried Von Strassburg's
Tristan (c. 1205)
Brut (c. 1200)
Alliterative Morte Arthur and the Stanzaic
Morte Arthur (c. 1360)
Poet's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c. 1375)
"The Wife of Bath's Tale" (c. 1385)
Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur (1469)
Faerie Queene (1590-96)
Bridal of Triermain (1813)
"The Misfortunes of Elphin" (1829)
The Defense of Guinevere
The Lady of Shalott (1832)
Idylls of the King (1885)
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)
E. A. Robinson's
Merlin, Lancelot, and Tristram
White's The Sword in the Stone and The Once
and Future King
feminist/revisionist tales such as The Mists of Avalon
of popular films, cartoons, graphic novels, and works of
See also courtly
romance, and chivalry.
LANGUAGE: Not to be confused with what linguists call
(inflected) languages, artificial languages are deliberately
"made up" by a small number of individuals for some
specific purpose rather than developing naturally over a period
of centuries. Examples of artificial languages designed for
international use include Esperanto, Volapük, and Neo-Latin.
Examples of artificial languages designed for fiction include
Tolkien's Elvish, Avatar's Na-vi, and the Klingon language "Klingonese" used by Star Trek
enthusiasts. Contrast with synthetic
ARZAMAS: A Russian literary circle active between 1815-1818; it consisted of poets such as Zhukovski, Batyushkov, Vyazemski, Pushkin, and others. The group focused on writing and sharing parodies of their literary opponents, most of whom favored a heavily Slavonicized style (Harkins 9).
ASC: An alternative spelling for ash or aesc.
The Enlightenment's desire for and obsession with standardization
and regulation of the English language--i.e., making grammatical
rules. Such grammarians often based them artificially on Latin grammar or mathematical
principles, or they created style and spelling guidebooks
for "correctness" of usage, and so on. A. C. Baugh
quotes Samuel Johnson's definition of the word and argues that
it and argues this term sums up Enlightenment desires for prescriptivist
grammar (Baugh 257-58).
(also spelled aesc or asc
when referring to runes): The letter used in Old English to
indicate the sound /æ/
as in the modern English word <at>.
The name comes from the Old Norse rune aesc.
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In drama, a few words or a short passage spoken by one character
to the audience while the other actors
on stage pretend their characters cannot hear the speaker's
words. It is a theatrical convention that the aside is not audible
to other characters on stage. Contrast with soliloquy.
The aside is usually indicated by stage
THREE LAWS OF ROBOTICS:
Science fiction author Isaac Asimov originally posited Asimov's
three laws in his short stories collected in I, Robot.
These laws were mathematical limitations or hardwired parameters
behavior as follows:
(1) The First
must not harm a human being or through inaction allow
being to come to harm.
(2) The Second Law: Robots must obey direct commands
from human beings, unless those commands would conflict with
the First Law.
(3) The Third Law: Robots must preserve their own existence,
unless doing so would conflict with the Second or First Law.
These three laws became
a long-running framework for a number of science fiction
in novels like The Caves of Steel. In later novels,
the robots themselves end up facing ethical conflicts and
up altering their own programming to embrace a so-called "Zeroth
(0) The Zeroth
robot may harm humanity or through inaction allow or allow
humanity to come to harm.
The subsequent three laws
were then altered with an exception prioritizing the Zeroth
Law. Asimov used the three laws as a means of exploring thematically the ethics of responsibility--often contrasting the benevolent
devotion of the robots and the fallible passions of their human
masters, making them foils. Unlike many science fiction authors
who focus on a
motif, Asimov assumed an optimistic outlook on
WORD: In linguistics, Algeo defines this as any
of the words whose historical /æ/
sound becomes the vowel /a/ in
Eastern New England and in British pronunciation (313).
(adjective form, aspirated): A puff of breath
made along with a consonant sound while vocalizing.
Algeo defines linguistic assimilation as "The process by
which two sounds become more alike" (313). We can see this
in the word spaceship, where the /s/
sound represented by the <c>
often assimilates or blurs to match the sound represented by
the <sh>. Assimilation also
occurs when the <-ed>
endings of words are pronounced /t/
after unvoiced sounds but /d/ after
voiced sounds (313).
CHANGE: See paradigmatic
Repeating identical or similar vowels (especially in stressed
syllables) in nearby words. Assonance in final vowels of lines
can often lead to half-rhyme. Deutsche notes that assonance
is a common technique in the poetry of G. M. Hopkins, Dylan
Thomas, and more generally in popular ballads; an example
appears in the second and fourth lines of this stanza from
Bind up, bind up your
tie it on your neck;
And see you look as maiden-like
day that first we met. (qtd
in Deutsche 140).
If combined with consonnance,
assonance can create actual full rhyme. Cf. alliteration.
A sub-category of puns. See discussion under pun.
English nouns. At one point, this declension had
a thematic vowel appearing in front of its inflectional suffixes.
The a-stem declension ultimately became the source
of the genitive 's and
plural s in Modern English.
Contrast with the n-stem.
A typographical symbol (*) that linguists use to show a hypothetical,
abnormal, or nonoccurring form. For instance, *dwo
is a hypothetical reconstruction of the Indo-European word for
two. It probably existed, but it survives in no written
examples. On the other hand, *thinked
is nonoccurring preterite or participle that could theoretically
exist instead of thought.
ASTERISM: A rather obscure punctuation mark to most modern users, an asterism consists of a triangle of three tiny asterisks, two on the bottom of a line, and one centered above those two. Textual editors used to insert the asterism to indicate that a small spot in a manuscript was damaged or missing. Most modern editors simply insert a line of asterisks or use ellipses to indicate these lacunae in modern editions. To create an asterism on a PC, the uniform code is U+2042, though no keystroke exists on the keyboard itself.
The artistic elimination of conjunctions in a sentence to create
a particular effect. See schemes
for more information.
Algeo defines this as "An Indo-European verb stem formed
without a thematic vowel" (313). The letter m
in Modern English verb am
is a remnant of an Indo-European athematic verb ending.
(Also called mood):
The emotional feelings inspired by a work. The term is borrowed
from meteorology to describe the dominant mood of a selection
as it is created by diction, dialogue, setting, and description.
Often the opening scene in a play or novel establishes an atmosphere
appropriate to the theme of the entire work. The opening of
Shakespeare's Hamlet creates a brooding atmosphere of
unease. Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher establishes
an atmosphere of gloom and emotional decay. The opening of Pynchon's
The Crying of Lot 49 establishes a surreal atmosphere
of confusion, and so on. Compare with ambiance,
(also called a dawn song): A genre
of poetry in which a short poem's subject is about the dawn
or the coming of the dawn, or it is a piece of music meant to
be sung or played outdoors at dawn. Examples include Browning's
"The year's at the spring / And day's at the morn"
from Pippa Passes or Shakespeare's "Hark! hark!
the lark." Some poems, such as John Donne's "Busy
old sun," share traits with the dawn song. Troilus and
Criseyde also contains an example of the genre
within its larger narrative. Cf. the Provençal equivalent,
A dawn-song or aubade, but specifically one sung by
a friend watching over a pair of lovers until dawn to prevent
any interruption to their love-making or to cover up the noise
of the love-making. Contrast with aubade,
The Latin word auctor is the source
for the modern English word author, but the medieval
word carries a special resonance and seriousness the modern
terms differ in intellectual connotation. Thus, when Chaucer
writes of "mine auctor," he suggests his source
is especially authoritative because that writer incorporates
(but valuable) ideas into his own work. The power of an auctor
comes not from his novelty or originality; instead, the author
takes conventional, authoritative ideas, and uses these concepts
to supplement his own thinking in an original manner. The auctor,
thus, uses established, valuable material to supplement his
original ideas without slavishly regurgitating them. We see
the distinction spelled out most clearly by Saint Bonaventure.
Bonaventure famously writes,
are four ways of making a book. There are some who write down
the words of others, without adding or changing a thing, and
he who does so is a scribe [Latin scriptor]. There
are those who write down others' words, and add something;
however not their own additions. One who does this is a compiler
[L. compilator]. Then, there are those who write down
both others' and their own things, but material of others
predominates, and their own is added like an annex for clarification.
Who does this is called a commentator [L. commentator],
rather than an author. But he who writes both what comes from
himself and from others, with the material of others annexed
for the purpose of confirming his own, ought to be called
author [L. auctor].
For Saint Bonaventure,
and for literate medieval culture generally, originality
the point of art or intellectual endeavors. Medieval writers
did not think originality for its own sake was a virtue--not
the way modern Americans do in these post-Romantic periods.
Calling someone an auctor is the highest compliment
possible; it implies what the writer has produced is an opus [Latin
for "work"]--a masterwork of thought in which
the author has synthesized and made use of other writings
without slavishly following them or merely compiling them.
It implies the auctor has created a powerful
amalgamation of thought that had never existed before
by using these earlier
works as a stepping stone. However, it does not imply the author
created the work ex nihilo, out of nothing. That
sort of "made-up" originality was not seen
as valuable or worthwhile. Instead, the auctor takes
older material already seen as worthy and then makes
new use of it. The traditional
or accepted material is what gives him auctoritas
(authority); it demonstrates that the writer or poet has mastered
the ideas of others, and thus is ready to produce something
of his own to supplement and build upon the earlier material.
AUDIENCE: The person(s)
reading a text, listening to a speaker, or observing a performance.
IMAGERY: Descriptive language that evokes noise, music,
or other sounds. See imagery.
The German term for the philosophical movement called in English
"the Enlightenment" or the Neoclassical movement.
This adjective has two meanings, the second of which is most
pertinent to English students. (1) Classical
Latin scholarship uses Augustan to refer to the time
when Caesar Augustus ruled Rome--the time of Virgil, Horace,
and the birth of Christ: a period of conscious style and high
literary endeavor. (2) More generally, literary
scholars use Augustan to refer to any important or
pivotal period of any national literature, especially eighteenth-century
England and the "Augustan" writers: Pope, Swift, Addison,
Johnson, and Goldsmith.
AUGUSTINIAN TIME: Saint Augustine's idea of eternity, in which eternity and the afterlife are not an endless linear continuation--like a book with infinite pages or a story that never ends--but rather a state of timelessness, in which no time ever passes at all--a frozen snapshot of joy that lasts forever but which cannot undergo progression, alteration, or further development. Augustine inherited a tradition in Greek philosophy in which perfection would be an absolute. If something is perfect, by definition it cannot be improved further. Thus, any change that occur in a state of perfection would render that state imperfect. But if change happened to God or to heaven, wouldn't that force the already-perfect state to become imperfect?
Accordingly, in Augustine's view, any hypothetically perfect things (like God or heaven in Christian theology) by definition do not and cannot change, and therefore these perfect things must not experience time as imperfect humanity does. They are sub specie aeternitatis, outside of time completely and viewing all things in the bubble at time simultaneously. Accordingly, states of time (past, present, and future) are merely illusions we experience. The past only appears to be over and the future only appears not to have happened yet because our mortal perception is limited to the present moment rather than experiencing all reality at once. In Saint Augustine's thinking, perfect and spiritual beings outside of time experience past, present, and future simultaneously. For Saint Augustine, this idea of time allows God to have knowledge of future events and choices humans make while preserving human free will, suggesting God can know what choices we will make tomorrow (because we actually have already made the choices), without God necessarily causing those choices to happen through his own influence--foreknowledge without causation. In terms of God's perceptions, all those future choices already happened and are done with--humans just don't know it yet.
DICTION (alias AUREATE TERMS):
As Simon Horobin puts it, "An elevated rhetorical style
of writing characterized by a large number of Latinate loanwords"
(192). The use of unusual words from Latin was a conscious
English, an elevated rhetorical style of writing.
with Renaissance inkhorn
A family of Pacific and Indian ocean languages separate
family. These include the native tongues of Madagascar, Hawaii,
and thousands of Pacific islands. Malay and Polynesian are
examples of Austronesian languages.
VOICE: The voices or speakers used by authors when they
seemingly speak for themselves in a book. (In poetry, this might
be called a poetic
speaker). The use of this term makes it clear in critical
discussion that the narration or presentation of a story is
not necessarily to be identified with the biographical and historical
author. Instead, the authorial voice may be another fiction
created by the author. It is often considered poor form for
a modern literary critic to equate the authorial voice with
the historical author, but this practice was common in the nineteenth
century. However, twentieth-century critics have pointed out
that often a writer will assume a false persona of attitudes
or beliefs when she writes, or that the authorial voice will
speak of so-called biographical details that cannot possibly
be equated with the author herself. In the early twentieth-century,
New Critics also pointed out that linking the authorial voice
with the biographical author often unfairly limited the possible
interpretations of a poem or narrative. Finally, many writers
have enjoyed writing in the first person and creating unreliable
narrators--speakers who tell the story but who obviously
miss the significance of the tale they tell, or who fail to
connect important events together when the reader does. Because
of these reasons, it is often considered naive to assume that
the authorial voice is a "real" representation of
the historical author.
Famous instances in which
the authorial voice diverges radically from the biographical
author include the authorial voice in the mock-epic Don Juan
(here, the authorial voice appears as a crusty, jaded, older
man commenting on the sordid passions of youth, while the author
Lord Byron was himself a young man) and the authorial narrator
of Cervante's Don Quixote (who attests that the main
character Don Quixote is quite mad, and despises his lunacy
even while "accidentally" unveiling the hero's idealism
as a critique of the modern world's fixation with factual reality).
Examples of unreliable narrators
include the narrator of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (the
speaker, a pilgrim named Geoffrey, appears to be a dumbed-down
caricature of the author Geoffrey Chaucer, but one who has little
skill at poetry and often appears to express admiration for
character-traits that the larger rhetoric of the poem clearly
condemns). In a more modern example, the mentally disabled character
in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (who is completely
unable to interpret the events taking place around him) serves
as an unreliable narrator, as does Tom Hanks' character in the
film Forest Gump. See also poetic
"act of faith"--equivalent
to Span. auto-de-fe):
The late medieval church's ceremonial execution en
accused witches, Jews, heretics, or Muslims--often performed
by burning at
the stake. In literature, such scenes become stock material
for gothic novels (e.g. Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer,
Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum"). In Voltaire's Candide,
Pangloss and Candide are nearly burned to death in such
a ritual after Pangloss argues about theology with an Inquisitorial
familiar (i.e., a spy).
NOVEL: In contrast with the pure autobiography,
an autobiographical novel is a semi-fictional narrative based
in part on the author's life experience, but these experiences
are often transposed onto a fictional character or intermixed
with fictional events. Examples include Thomas Wolfe's Look
Homeward, Angel and James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Man.
A non-fictional account of a person's life--usually a celebrity,
an important historical figure, or a writer--written by that
actual person. Contrast with the autobiographical
While fans and collectors in pop culture uses the term to refer
to a celebrity's signature of his or her name, literary scholars
use the term more loosely to refer to any lines of text written
in the author's own hand--including marginal notes, bills,
and doodling as well as actual, complete literary texts. It
is possible that a few pages of the play Sir Thomas More
are written in Shakespeare's hand, and thus are Shakespeare's
SACRAMENTAL ("Sacramental Act"): A drama
of one act symbolizing the sacrament of Eucharist in Spanish
literature between 1200 and 1600 CE. The play might overtly
involve religious, mythical, historical, or allegorical
subjects--but ultimately it would contain some hidden relationship
to communion. Conventionally, the play terminated with praise
of the Eucharist. Calderòn de la Barca wrote several
Another term for rhetorical climax. See climax,
(from Middle Welsh odl): The term in Welsh poetry has
come to acquire several meanings. In its earliest usage, an
awdl meant a stave bearing the rhyme in any poem. Next,
it came to mean a series of monorhymes or a poem in monorhyme
by a bard.
Even later, the term came to mean a poem written in awdl
meter. By the late Renaissance, the term meant a lengthy poem
written in cynghanedd and in one of the strict meters.
In modern Wales, the creation of an effective awdl is
considered the apogee of a bard's achievement. See also
AZBUKA: The alphabet derived from Old Church Slavonic language, common in Russian and other slavic languages, alias the Cyrillic alphabet. See Cyrillic.
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I consulted the following works
while preparing this list. I have tried to give credit to specific sources when
feasible, but in many cases multiple reference works use the same examples or
provide the same dates for common information. Students should examine these
resources for more information than these humble webpages provide:
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7th edition. Volume 1. New York: Norton, 2000. 2944-61. 2 Vols.
Algeo, John and Thomas Pyles.
The Origin and Development of the English Language. 5th edition.
Baugh, A. C. and Thomas
Cable. A History of the English Language. 5th edition. Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2002.
Brown, Michelle P. Understanding
Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms. London: The British
Library and the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion.
[Originally published 1977 as Griechische Religion der archaischen
und klassischen Epoche.] Trans. John Raffan. Cambridge: Harvard UP,
Catholic University of America
Editorial Staff. The New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Corbett, Edward P. J. Classical
Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990.
Cuddon, J. A. The
Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin
Damrosch, David, gen. ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 2nd Compact Edition. Volume A. New York: Pearson, 2004. 3 Vols.
Deutsch, Babette. Poetry
Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms. Fourth Edition. New York: Harper and
Row, 1974. Reprint as Barnes and Noble Edition, 1981.
Drout, Michael D. C. J.R.R. Tolkien
Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. New York: Routledge, 2007.
Duffy, Seán. Medieval
Ireland: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Eagleton, Terry. Literary
Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P,
Elkhadem, Saad. The York Dictionary Literary Terms and Their Origin: English, French, German, Spanish. York P, 1976.
Gabel, John B. and Charles B. Wheeler. The
Bible as Literature: An Introduction. New York: Oxford U P, 1986.
Giroux, Joan. The Haiku
Form. New York: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1974. Reprinted New York:
Barnes and Noble, 1999.
Greenblatt, Stephen. "Glossary."
The Norton Shakespeare: Tragedies. New York: Norton, 1997. 1139-43.
Guerin, Wilfred L., et
al. "Glossary." A Handbook of Critical Approaches to
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Harkins, Williams E. Dictionary
of Russian Literature. The New Students Outline Series. Patterson, New
Jersey: Littlefield, Adams, and Co., 1959.
Harvey, Sir Paul and Dorothy
Eagle, eds. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 4th ed.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969.
Holman, C. Hugh. A
Handbook to Literature. 3rd edition. New York: The Odyssey Press,
Hopper, Vincent Foster.
Medieval Number Symbolism: Its Sources, Meaning, and Influence on Thought
and Expression. 1938. Republished Mineola, NY: Dover Publications,
Horobin, Simon. Chaucer's Language. New
York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007.
Kane, George. The Autobiographical Fallacy in Chaucer and Langland Studies. London: H. K. Lewis, 1965.
Lacy, Norris J. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia.
New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
Lanham, Richard A. A
Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. 2nd edition. Berkeley: U of California
Marshall, Jeremy and Fred
McDonald. Questions of English. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.
Mawson, C. O. Sylvester
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The Oxford English Dictionary.
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Quinn, Arthur. Figures
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in the Fall Term of 2006.]
Swain, Dwight V. Creating
Characters. The Elements of Fiction Writing. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest
Williams, Jerri. "Schemes
and Tropes." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to her graduate
students at West Texas A & M University in the Fall Term of 1993.]
Yasuda, Kenneth. The
Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in
English. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co.,
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Zireaux. E-mail Communication. 21 June 2012.