Not only do literary terms give greater relevance to words and their meanings, but also add to the beauty of a language. Most often, we use these terms without understanding the rules of usage behind them. And then when we hear the terms, they seem to indicate something we can hardly relate to. To ease the confusion, here is a glossary of terms and definitions that will help you to better appreciate the elegance of the English language.
Human mind is like a clock that ticks every moment. Even while we sleep, our brain spins stories, and plays them like a motion picture that we call a dream. It converts information of the hours of wakefulness into more permanent and enhanced memory. It should then not be difficult to perceive the level of activity (or should we call it hyperactivity), that the human mind undergoes when we are awake! Not only does our mind seep in all the information like a dry, hard surface soaking water, it processes all that information and forms its own opinions, and these opinions need to be communicated. The moment we talk about communication, the first thing that comes to our mind is LANGUAGE.
True, there are signs and symbols to communicate, but can they really replace words? Is it possible to put across our thoughts in a meaningful and comprehensible form form using them? Now that the need for words and sentences has been established, let us move a step further.
Let’s consider the following two sentences:
- It was a very hot day.
- “The streets were a furnace, the sun an executioner.” (Cynthia Ozick, “Rosa”)
Both the sentences mean the same. However, the second sentence makes use of metaphor – a figure of speech that emphasizes the fact using a comparison rather than just stating it. Each language has such literary terms and devices that makes it a mode of expression of creativity and imagination along with one’s thoughts. Besides the rules of English grammar there are numerous other devices that make expression so effortless. This article is a glossary of literary terms and definitions in English language. This glossary is not only of help to students of a particular language, but will also enable common man to appreciate the beauty of this language.
Literary Terms Glossary
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X |Y | Z
Ab Ovo: Latin phrase for a narrative that starts “at the beginning” of a plot and moves on describing events till the end of the plot in chronological order of events. This is opposed to in medias re in which a narrative begins somewhere in the middle of the plot, and recounts earlier events through a character’s memories or flashback.
Abolitionist Literature: Any form of literary work, written in the nineteenth century, that was aimed at condemning slavery and slaveholders, and advocating abolitionism of slavery.
Abstract Diction or Abstract Imagery: Language that denotes the qualities that can’t be perceived by the senses. For instance, calling someone nice or good is abstract. However, saying that rose is red is concrete.
Abstract Poem: A poem that relies on auditory patterns rather than meaning of words, grammatical, or syntactical use to convey sense.
Absurd Literature: It refers to a literary work that has in common, a sense that human condition is essentially absurd, and can be best represented by works of literature that are themselves absurd.
Accent: The stress or intonation on a syllable while pronouncing a particular word or sentence. The meaning can be easily derived by the stress that is applied on a particular word.
Acrostic: A poem or other form of writing in which the first or last letter, syllable, or word of each line or paragraph, when arranged one after the other, form a word.
Act: A play is divided into a number of major divisions. Each major division is known as an act. The end of an act is signified by dropping the curtain. Playwrights use acts to emphasize change in time, events, or mood. Each act is further divided into scenes; each scene again highlights change in location, time, or entry of a new character within each act.
Action: An event or series of events (real or fictional), that make the subject of a literary piece of work. Actions along with dialogs of the character shape the plot of a narrative poem, prose, novel, story, or a play.
Adventure Novel: A novel in which exciting events are more important than the development of a character or a theme. For example, Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes.
Aestheticism: Aestheticism or aesthetic movement started in the latter part of the nineteenth century in France. During those times, anything that was not scientific or did not have any moral use was ignored, especially by the middle class. It was in opposition to this attitude, that French writers developed the aesthetic movement according to which, art was the most supreme of any work produced by man, and it need not have any moral implication or use. Art was perceived to be self-sufficient. The rallying cry of this movement was art for art’s sake.
Affective Fallacy: It refers to the mistake of judging a poem on the basis of its emotional effect on the readers. The term was coined by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley as a principle of New Criticism, and is a direct attack on impressionistic criticism, according to which, the real value of a poem depends upon the reader’s immediate response to it.
Affix: A morpheme that is added to a stem or base to give it a new meaning. If the affix is added in the beginning of a stem, it is called a prefix. When added at the end of the stem, it is referred to as a suffix. In the word ‘unbreakable’ the affix un is the prefix. In the word ‘beautician’, cian is the suffix.
Affixation: Affixation refers to making a new word by adding an affix to it.
Alexandrine: It is a line of iambic hexameter. In this, twelve syllables in a line are divided into six feet of iambic stress pattern. Since, an alexandrine is a long line, it is often divided in the middle by a pause or a caesura. The division results into two symmetrical halves, called hemististches.
Allegory: The word has been derived from the Greek word allegoria which means, ‘speaking otherwise’. This term acts as an extended metaphor in which, objects, characters, or actions are used to denote something other than their literal meaning. They are used to symbolize qualities of social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas like charity, kindness, greed, or jealousy. In other words, through allegory, authors use elements of the narrative, to stress upon broader ideas that may not be explicitly mentioned in the narrative.
Allegoresis: Allegoresis refers to reading a story as an allegory.
Alliteration: Alliteration is a literary or rhetorical stylistic device in which, consonant sounds are repeated (usually at the beginning) of a number of words in close succession. However, the repetitive sound can come inside the words as well. In literature, alliteration is used to emphasize on specific actions. For example, in Astrophel and Stella by Sir Philip Sydney, a line states “Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite” (Line 13). In this line, the repetitive use of the sound ‘t’ helps the reader to visualize and better understand the poet’s anguish as he bites his pen. Other, more simple uses of alliteration are ‘descending dew drops’ and ‘luscious lemons’. While in the first case, the writer helps the reader visualize action like descent of the dew drops by repeating the sound ‘d’, in the second example, the quality of the lemon being luscious is highlighted by using the sound ‘l’.
Allomorph: Allomorphs are the variations or different pronunciations of a morpheme. For instance, the morpheme plural-s has the standard /s/ sound in cats, but in dogs the morpheme becomes a /z/ sound.
Allophone: Phonetic variants of the same phoneme are allophones. For example, the letter t in the word tar is aspirated, but the letter t in the word stop is unaspirated.
Allusion: In literary work, allusion is a reference to some person, place, or event in history or in another work of literature. Allusions are often used to convey broad complex ideas with a quick reference to well-known events or characters. An example is Steve’s love for comfort was his Achilles heel. Here the allusion ‘Achilles heel’ draws reference to Achilles, the famous warrior whose mother dipped him in holy water holding his heels. Due to this, his only weakness was his heels. Here, Achilles heel refers to Steve’s love for comfort which was his only weakness, and could cause his downfall.
Ambiguity: In ordinary parlance, ambiguity refers to the use of a vague expression instead of being precise. Hence, this could be interpreted as a fault in the writing style. However, in literature ambiguity is often used on purpose by an author to highlight the effectiveness and richness of a work. In such a case, a single expression, word, or phrase can allow for two or simultaneous expressions. A good example is the open ended conclusion to Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.”
Amelioration: Amelioration is a favorable semantic change in which a word gains increasingly positive connotations or loses the negative ones. For example the word ‘knight’ that originally meant servant came to be used for ‘servants of the kings’ at a later stage through amelioration of the word.
Amphibrach: It is a metrical foot of three syllables in which, one stressed syllable has an unstressed syllable, one on each end.
Anachronism: Anachronism refers to placing of an event, person, object or verbal expression in the wrong historical time. For example, in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare mentions the clock in a number of instances. However, there were no household clocks in ancient Rome. Anachronism is either intentional or accidental. However, it is allowed under ‘poetic license’. Another example of anachronism is found in the costumes of Elizabethan plays. This tradition continues even today when Shakespearean plays are carried out in Victorian frippery.
Anacrusis: The introduction of one or two unstressed syllables in the beginning of a line of verse where normally a stressed syllable would come.
Anagram: When the letters in a name or words are jumbled or shuffled to form a new word, it is said to be an example of anagram. Often taken as an author’s ingenuity with wordplay, anagrams were used to conceal messages or veil names. By using anagram one could indirectly refer to some quality that was not socially accepted. An example can be found in the work of Tanith Lee. In her short story Bite-Me-Not, or Fleur De Feu the vampire’s name is Feroluce, which is an anagram of his demonic predecessor Lucifer.
Anagrosis: A term used by Aristotle, it refers to the realization by the protagonist of something of great importance, especially some truth about himself or human nature. For example, in the novel Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding, the protagonist, on evidence of a birthmark, realizes that he is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.
Analogy: Using an instance somewhat similar (not the same) to the one being talked about, in order to highlight the salient features of the instance in question, through comparison of the two.
Anapest: It is one of the four standard feet in the English Language in which two unstressed syllables are followed by one stressed syllable. For example, The As syr / ian came down / like a wolf / on the fold. / The italicized syllables are stressed and the non italicized ones are the unstressed ones.
Anaphora: The intentional repetition of a word or phrase in the beginning of each sentence, line, paragraph, verse, or stanza in order to achieve artistic effect. For example, Churchill’s declaration “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.”, is an example of anaphora where the phrase “We shall” has been used repetitively every time in the beginning of sentences. This example of anaphora emphasizes determination and solidarity.
Anaptyxis: Introduction of a weak vowel sound between two consonant sounds in order to make pronouncing a word or a phrase easier. This introduction of the vowel sound is intrusive and is unexpected historically or according to the norms of language development.
Anastrophe: It refers to the inversion of the normal order of words in a language. For example, in this sentence Glistens the dew upon the morning grass., the verb comes before the subject-noun. However, according to normal syntax, verb should come after the subject-noun. According to the normal syntax, the sentence should read as “The dew glistens upon the morning grass.”
Anecdote: It is an un-elaborated narration of a single incident, with the dialog of the characters, actions, and thoughts all organized into a plot that is aimed at creating particular effects on the audience.
Annal: A concise form of historical writing that has a chronological, year by year account of events.
Antagonist: A character in prose or poetry that deceives, frustrates, works against, or tries to harm the main character who is known as the protagonist. The antagonist need not be a live character. It could be any quality as well. Also, the antagonist needn’t be always bad. In fact, it can be a virtue which acts against a protagonist, who in this case would be evil.
Anthology: A collection of poetry, drama, or verse.
Anthropomorphism: The act of attributing human-like qualities to non-human entities. Anthropomorphism specifically refers to gods and goddesses having human forms and human-like qualities like jealousy, hatred, or kindness.
Anti-romance: Anti-romance is a story which has an apathetic and self-doubting protagonist or the antihero, who fails in his objectives. Anti-romance features insanity and depression. It is a direct contrast to romance.
Anticlimax: A sudden change or drop from some important and dignified idea or situation, to one that is trivial or ridiculous. It is a deliberate action of a writer with the aim of achieving a comic or satiric effect. It is often used as an equivalent of bathos.
Antihero: A character in a literary work, who is opposed to the image of a protagonist or a hero as he is traditionally perceived. He embodies negative qualities like dishonesty, selfishness, ignominy, and so on.
Antithesis: Antithesis refers to the use of contrasting words or phrases in close sequence. For example, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – Speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., at St. Louis, 1964.”
Apologue: A moral fable in which the author uses animals and inanimate objects as people or characters, that allow the author to comment on human conditions. Apologues are often used to emphasize the irrationality of traits of mankind. George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Aesop’s Fables are examples of apologue.
A posteriori: It refers to a belief or a proposition that can be determined only through observation.
Apostrophe: It is used when addressing a real or imagined person.
A priori: An argument is referred to as a priori if its veracity can be inferred without any direct perception.
Arcadia: A mountainous region in Greece in which shepherds lived in peace and contentment. In literature, the word is associated with simplicity and denotes a retreat from the complexities of life.
Archaism: Deliberate use of words, expressions, spellings, or phrases that have become obsolete in the present era by a writer for artistic purposes.
Archetype: Archetypes are characters, images, and themes that evoke same response in readers across cultures and time because of their symbolic association with universal meanings.
Argument: The sequence of ideas or the plot of a poem that forms its conceptual structure.
Arthurian: Any piece of literature that is related to King Arthur.
Aside: A stage device through which a speaker communicates his thoughts and ideas to the audience through a short speech which, by convention, other characters on stage are unable to hear.
Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of identical or similar vowels (specially in stressed syllables), in words that occur in close sequence.
Asyndterm: It is a stylistic scheme in which conjunctions are intentionally removed from a string of related clauses. This is usually done to speed up the rhythm and emphasize on the idea in a single line or phrase.
Atmosphere or Ambiance: The emotional tone prevalent throughout a literary work or a section of it, that helps the reader to anticipate and relate to the course of events, whether happy or sad. Alternatively, the terms mood or ambiance (French word) are also used for atmosphere.
Aubade: Also called a dawn song, an aubade is a genre of poetry in which the subject of a poem revolves around the dawn or coming of the dawn. It also includes a song that is to be sung or played outdoors at dawn. Aube is the dawn song sung specifically by a friend over a pair of lovers until the break of dawn.
Auditory Imagery: Descriptive language that evokes some sound that could be noise or music.
Autobiographical Novel: A semi-fictional account of an individual’s life, in which the experiences of an author are either transposed on to other characters or are mixed with fictional experiences.
Autobiography: A non-fictional work by a subject, about his or her own life. Every account of the author’s life is true.
Avant-garde: Piece of art or literature, that is experimental and innovative, and transcends the norms that are generally accepted.
Business: Also known as on-stage business, the term business denotes any on-stage activity like expressions, gestures, and general activity of the actors, other than blocking.
Bachic Foot: A foot in a poetry containing three syllables in which the first syllable has a light stress, and is followed by two heavy stresses.
Bacchic Meter: Very rare in English, bachic meter refers to a poem in which each foot has three syllables, all of which are heavily stressed.
Ballad Measure: A ballad measure consists of a four line stanza with four stress and three stress lines alternating with each other. A ballad measure has abcb or abab rhyme scheme.
Ballad Opera: An eighteenth century comic drama in which lyrics are set to current popular tunes.
Ballad Stanza: A four line stanza that consists of alternating lines of eight and six syllables. It is also known as quatrain and follows the rhyme scheme of abcb pattern.
Ballad: A narrative folk song or poem that tells a story and is passed orally through tradition. Ballads cannot be traced to a particular author. Characteristically, they are dramatic and impersonal narratives.
Ballade: A French verse that is made of three, eight line stanzas, that have a consistent meter, and a rhyme scheme. The last line of the stanza is a refrain and the ballad stanza is followed by a concluding stanza, four lines known as the envoi, which are addressed to the prince.
Bard: Originally, a Celtic poet who would sing heroic poems by memory while playing the harp. In time, the word bard came to denote any poet. In modern times, Shakespeare is largely referred to as the Bard of Avon.
Baroque: Baroque refers to a style of architecture, sculpture, and painting, that employs the classical styles of the renaissance. However, the classical styles are broken and intermingled to produce a dramatic, grandiose, and highly energetic effect. A good example of this style is, St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. In literature, baroque refers to any piece of work that is elaborately formal and grandiloquent in style. For instance, in English literature the metaphysical poems of John Donne are often referred to as baroque. However, it more appropriately applies to the elaborate style, fantastic conceits and the fervent religious emotionalism of poet Richard Crashaw.
Beast Epic: A genre of literary work which comprises tales consisting of animal characters with human qualities that were intended to be read allegorically. The beast epic started with Aesop’s Fables in the sixth century.
Bestiary: A medieval listing containing the names and attributes of different animals, birds, and even rocks. The explanation of every animal ended with a moral. These animals were often used as symbols of Christian doctrines and beliefs. For example, the pelican in bestiary was described to tear open its breast to give life to its young with its blood. This was a living representation of Jesus Christ.
Beat Generation or Beat Writers: A group of American poets and novelists who formed a close knit association in the second half of 1950s and early decades of 1960s. They rejected the mainstream American values and experimented with drugs and alternate forms of sexuality. They favored unrestricted self-realization and self-expression. The cultural phenomenon that they inspired was later sometimes called “beatniks”.
Beat: Beat is a heavy stress or accent in a line of poetry. The meter of a line is determined by the number of beats in it.
Beta Reader: This term denotes a reader who reads a work of fiction with a critical eye with the aim of improving its grammar, spellings, characterization, and the style of writing in general, before it is published.
Bildungsroman: Also known as Erziehungsroman, these are German words that mean “novel of education” or “novel of information”. These novels dealt with the development of the character and mind of the protagonist as he grows, from childhood to adulthood, through various experiences. The protagonist most often faced a spiritual crisis and as he recovered from it, he matured and understood his role in the world. Examples of this are, Bronte’s Jane Eyre, George Elliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage.
Biography: A complete account of a particular person’s life that attempts to portray the character, temperament, as well as the experiences of the individual.
Black Aesthetics: The proponents were mostly the African-American writers who rejected the ‘high art’ advocated by white culture and called in for exploitation of the vigor and freshness of black vernacular, in rhythms and moods emulating jazz and the blues, that concerned mainly with the lives of the lower class, and specifically addressed the Black audience. The most prominent proponent of Black aesthetic was Imamu Amiri Baraka.
Black Arts Movement: Black arts movement refers to the literary works of African-American writers that were shaped by the social and political turbulence of the 1960s. This period was marked by the widespread protests against the Vietnam War, rights of the Blacks that led to a number of violent confrontations and the burnings and riots in major cities like Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, and so on.
Black Comedy: A sub genre of comedy in which topics that are taboo are treated in a satirical or humorous way. However, the seriousness of the topics are never compromised in their depiction. Black comedy is also known as black humor, morbid humor, dark comedy, or dark humor.
Blank Vernacular: It is the ethnic dialect of the African-American writers. It is also known as Black English Vernacular (BEV) or African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) in scholarly texts.
Blank Verse: A verse in iambic pentameter that does not have any rhyme scheme, hence the name ‘blank’. It was popularly used in verse drama of the sixteenth century by Shakespeare, and later by Milton and Wordsworth for poetry.
Blocking Agent: A person, circumstance, or mentality that prevented two lovers from being together.
Blocking: Arrangement and movement of characters on stage, that ensures that all characters are visible to the audience, and actors are spread evenly throughout the stage and not cluttered at one place.
Bloomsbury Group: The Bloomsbury Group was an informal association of a group of writers, intellectuals, and artists in the Bloomsbury town of London, formed in 1905. Its members opposed the post-Victorian restrictions on arts and morality. This group had an important influence on literature and arts about two decades after the end of World War I. Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, and Clive bell were some of this prominent members of the group.
Boethian: Anything related to the philosophy of Boethius, that is a philosophy of predestination, which suggests that all events appearing evil, disastrous, or accidental are actually not so. They are, in fact, illusions that appear like that because of the limited perception of mankind. According to Boethius who founded the philosophy, these events have a higher beneficial purpose that would elude the comprehension of human beings, as long as they are bound with the laws of the physical universe.
Bombast: Inflated and wordy speech that is grossly disproportionate to the worth of the subject it addresses.
Bound Morpheme: A morpheme that in itself does not have a meaning and hence, has to be exclusively used as a part of a larger word. For instance, the morpheme gruntle in the word disgruntle is an example of a bound morpheme. This is opposite to a free morpheme that can retain independent meaning on its own. Examples of free morpheme are it and self in the word itself.
Bourgeois Drama: It refers to the dramas in the 1830s in England which were based on domestic life and contemporary matters. Emphasis was laid more on re-creating local color and domestic detail. This marked the deviation from melodrama and romanticism in drama of the preceding stages. Emergence of bourgeois drama saw the development of new staging practices.
Bourgeoisie: A French term that refers to the non aristocratic middle class, that comprised the well to do group of consumers, that did not have to face the hardships of the lower class workers or the proletariats. The word bourgeois is the adjective of the term bourgeoisie that refers to the tendencies, values, and qualities of the bourgeoisie.
Bourgeoisie Tragedy: A form of tragedy which had protagonists from the middle class who suffered a commonplace or domestic disaster. This kind of tragedy that developed in the eighteenth century was the result of the enlightenment and the emergence of the bourgeoisie class and its values. It is also known a domestic tragedy. The first true example of bourgeoisie tragedy is George Lilo’s English play The London Merchant.
Bowdlerization: Editing a literary work for profanity, sexually illicit material, or unacceptable political sentiment. The term was often used derogatorily by editors and scholars to denote an incomplete or inferior quality literary work. The term originated from the name of Reverend Thomas Bowdler who removed parts from his Family Shakespeare that he considered “unfit to be read by a gentleman in the company of ladies.”
Box Set: A theatrical structure in modern drama in which the stage is set up as consisting of a room with three walls, with the audience watching the drama through the invisible fourth wall.
Breton Lai: Fourteenth century narrative poem about courtly love and chivalry, which also contains supernatural elements. The Franklin’s Tale from Canterbury Tales written by Chaucer is an example of a Breton lai.
Burlesque: A play, film, stage production or any other form of literature that mocks a person, idea, object, or style of writing, by trivializing the exalted, or by portraying the trivial in a grand manner.
Burletta: It is a musical term that denotes a brief comic Italian ( later English) opera. Its synonyms are burla or burlettina.
Burns Stanza: Also known as the six line stave or the Scottish stanza, the Burns stanza is a six line stanza with an aaabab rhyme pattern. It has tetrameter, a lines, and diameter b lines. However, the second b line may or may not be repeated. Though such stanzas are named after the Scottish poet Robert Burns, they were not invented by him; he just used them prolifically in his work. It was in use much before Burns and then it was known as the Standard Habbie. Examples of the Burn stanza include Robert Burns’ To a Louse and Address to the Deil.
Buskins: It is a renaissance term for the elegantly laced boots worn by actors in ancient Greek tragedies. Later on, the buskins came to denote the elevator shoes, that made the actors wearing them, unusually tall. The height emphasized the royal status of the character being played. These shoes are also known as Cothurni (singular: cothurnus).
Byronic Hero: An idealized and romanticized antihero who is flawed in character. A Byronic hero is typically a young and attractive man who defies authority and moral codes of conduct. However, paradoxically, the character comes to be ennobled by his rejection of virtues. The term has its origin in the works, as well as life of Lord Byron whom his ex-lover Lady Caroline Lamb had characterized as being “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”.
Cacophony: In poetry, cacophony refers to the use of sharp, harsh, and unmelodious sound. It is the opposite of euphony.
Cadel: Cadel specifically means a small item or an extra something added to the initial letter. Initial letter refers to the first decorated letter in the beginning of a chapter, story, poem, or section of text of medieval manuscripts.
Cadence: Generally, cadence refers to the rhythmic pattern created in language due to varying stressing of words and syllables. However, more specifically it denotes to the melodic pattern just at the end of a phrase or a line. Cadence gave writers a distinctive style. A cadence group is a series of word that have a specific pattern when spoken due to specific heavy stresses and light stresses. For example “our inalienable rights”.
Caesura: A pause that can come at any place within a line of poetry. It helps in maintaining the poetic rhythm of the line, and may not be indicated typographically at all. However, certain writers either use a slash (/) or a space to denote caesura in a line.
Canon: Canon is a collection of works, genuinely believed by scholars to belong to a particular writer. For instances the Shakespeare canon. As opposed to it, apocryphal work denotes those that are of dubious or uncertain origin.
Canto: Canto denotes the major divisions within a poem, specially an epic. A canto is comparable to a chapter in a novel. Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy contains 100 cantos.
Captivity Narrative: An autobiographical narrative of colonials or settlers who are captured by the aboriginal tribes and live with them till their freedom. Such narratives often include a theme of these settlers surviving the temptations of alien ways of life and attaining salvation by their faith when they are faced with difficult situations.
Cardinal Sins: The cardinal sins were also known as the seven deadly sins. These sins are Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Anger, and Sloth. These sins were defined and discussed at length by major theologians as Gregory the Great and Thomas Aquinas, and played an important role in many works of the medieval and Renaissance literature and were frequently presented as personifications.
Cardinal Virtues: As opposed to the three Christian or Spiritual values of faith, hope, and love, the four Cardinal values are prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude.
Caricature: In arts, caricature is an exaggerated portrait of an individual in which the physical features are distorted, however, maintaining a visual likeness that enables one to identify the individual. In literature, it means exaggerating certain characters whereas, over simplifying the others. Caricature can be insulting or complimentary. It can be used for political purpose or simply for entertainment, and is a form of burlesque.
Caroline Age: This is the time between 1625 to 1649 which marks the reign of Charles I. The name Caroline Age is derived from Carolus, the Latin word for Charles. The supporters of Charles I were broadly referred to as the Cavaliers who were rich aristocrats and courtiers. They were known for their love for luxury, finery, licentious behavior, and fervent interest in arts. The writers with the court were referred to as the Cavalier poets. They were famous for the use of witty and polished lyrics of bravery and courtship. They were in conflict with the supporters of the Parliament who were known as the Roundheads. The conflict between the two groups led to a Civil War. With the end of the Civil War, the Cavalier Age and their art form also ended. The Caroline Age is also known as the Cavalier Age. Richard Lovelace, Thomas Crew, and Sir John Suckling were some of the prominent poets. It was in the Caroline age that John Milton started writing.
Carpe Diem: Poetry or literature of the carpe diem tradition stresses the brevity of life, and the fleeting nature of time. Hence, it means to make the most of life, as life is short and time is fleeting.
Caste Dialect: Dialect spoken by specific classes of society. Many times the caste dialect spoken by a speaker gives him the identity of belonging to a particular class.
Catachresis: According to the Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, catachresis implies “misapplication of a word, especially in a mixed metaphor”. It could also indicate use of word in a place where normally it would not be used. Using a word for something that does not have any word in that language could also be taken as an example of catachresis. Due to the myriad implications of the term, it is difficult to give a single definition for catachresis. Examples: Black Sun – paradox or contradiction, To take arms against a sea of troubles. – an example of illogical mixed metaphor, Can’t you hear me? Are you blind? – inappropriate use of words.
Catalectic: Catalectic lines in poetry are those that are formed by dropping one or more unstressed syllables. Hence they form a metrically incomplete line. Headless or acephalous lines are examples of catalectic lines in which the syllable is dropped in the beginning of a line. Catalectic lines contrast with the acatalectic lines that refer to normal lines of poetry that have as many number of syllables as normally expected in poetry. A hypercatalectic line has one or more syllables extra, than a line of poetry should normally have.
Catalexis: Catalexis is the act of making a catalectic line in a poetry.
Catastrophe: Catastrophe refers to the final action that results in the unfolding of the plot in a play, especially in a tragedy. Denouement (French word for “unknotting”) is a synonym of catastrophe.
Catchword: Catchword was the single word at the right hand corner at the bottom of each page, that appeared as the first word on the next page. It was very common in Shakespeare’s plays that were published in earlier times.
Catharsis: In Greek, catharsis means “purgation'”, “purification” or “cleansing”. As per Aristotle’s definition, Catharsis describes the release of emotions (especially that of fear and pity) of the audience, after they have watched a tragedy.
Caudate sonnet: Caudate sonnet is an expanded form of a sonnet which consists of 14 lines followed by a coda. A coda is a passage that marks the end of a piece of music.
Cavalier: See Caroline Age.
Cavalier Drama: Court plays of 1630s, that received patronage of the Queen, were known as Cavalier Drama. This form of drama was often criticized for their ponderous style and lack of originality in subject matter. Prominent playwrights of this type of drama are Sir John Suckling, Thomas Killigrew, and James Shirley.
Cavalier Poets: See Caroline Age.
Celtic Revival: Celtic revival refers to the literary movement that started in 1880 and continued till the death of William Butler Yeats in 1939. Although, the movement aimed at the revival and encouraging a new appreciation of the Celtic Arts and culture, and was spread across various countries of the North West Europe, its best incarnation was in Ireland. Hence, it is also known as the Irish Literary Renaissanceor the Irish Literary Revival. The poets and writers of Ireland emphasized on the revival of traditional Irish literature and Irish poetry. Their aim was to create a distinct national literature that would include Irish legends, myths, and history. The major writers, however, wrote in English language instead of using native Irish which was one of the Celtic languages. They also used non-Irish literary forms and modern Irish life instead of ancient past for subject matter. Some of the noted writers of this movement were William Butler Yeats, Edward Martyn, lady Gregory, and AE (George Russell).
Censorship Ordinance of 1559: A law under Queen Elizabeth which was aimed at political censorship of plays and all literary works based on religious or political themes.
Censorship: It refers to the act of hiding, destroying, or altering piece of literary works so that the public is able to read it or view it only partially.
Chain of Being: A cosmological hierarchy of universe that finds resonance in arts, politics, literature and philosophy of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The Chain of Being put the Judeo-Christian God at the top, followed by the angels, human beings, animals and plants arranged in descending order of intelligence. At the lowest rung of this hierarchy, were placed the inanimate objects like rocks and stones. This hierarchy is a complex one, as different parts of the Chain were believed to correspond with each other.
Chanson de geste: This is the old French word that means “songs of great deeds”. Chanson de geste are epic poems that were written between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, in praise of events (some legendary and some real) in the history of France during the eighth and the ninth centuries, with emphasis on the conflict of Charles Martel, Charlemagne, and Louis the Pious with the Moors and the Saracens.
Character: The embodiment of a person in a drama or narrative through verbal representation or actions. It is through their dialogs and actions that the readers or audience is able to understand the moral, intellectual, and emotional qualities of that character, and thus the overall story.
Characterization: Use of description, dialogs, dialect, and actions to create the emotional, intellectual, and moral dimension of a character is called characterization. Besides enabling the reader to understand the personality of a character, characterization may also give clues about the social, cultural, and geographic background of a character as well.
Chaucerism: Chaucerism refers to the experimental revival and formation of new words, that was a deliberate attempt at emulating sounds, verbal patterns and the ‘feel’ of words from older centuries. This is an example of verbal or grammatical anachronism.
Chiasmus: A figure of speech such that words in the second clause or phrase transpose or invert the order of the first clause or phrase. Example: “Flowers are lovely, love is flowerlike” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Chivalric Romance: A literary genre of high culture, prevalent during the middle ages that comprised tales of chivalry and adventures of knights as they went on a quest, mostly to rescue fair maidens. In such tales, the knights would display courage, nobility, and respect for the ladies, and the ladies in turn displayed virtues like modesty, elegance, and fidelity. The knights on their quest would meet elements with supernatural and magical powers, whom they would defeat showing exemplary courage.
Choric Figure: Also known as the choral character, the choric figure is a character in a play who remains detached from the actions of the play and through his comments gives the audience a perspective, through which the characters and events in the play should be viewed. For example the Fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Chorus: Initially a group of people in Greek tragedies served as commentators expressing religious, traditional, and moral attitudes as the dramatic events and actions unfolded in a play. However, the chorus found place in the works of Roman as well as English playwrights and dramatists. During the Elizabethan Age, chorus referred to a single person who the author used, to express a commentary on the play. This chorus would often speak the prologue, epilogue, and an introduction to each act in the play.
Chronicle Plays: Plays based on the historical materials in the English Chronicles of Raphael Holinshed and others. The group of plays include Marlowe’s Edward II and three parts of Shakespeare’s Henry VI. The Elizabethan chronicle plays are also known as historical plays.
Chronicle: A systematic compilation of events and accounts in history, arranged in chronological order, in which the chronicler does not attempt to analyze or question the events.
Cinquain: Probably an invention of the medieval writers, cinquain refers to a five line stanza with varied meter and scheme. Modern cinquains are based on the model standardized by Adelaide Crapsey (an American Poet). Craspey’s cinquain had lines in increasing order of syllable count, starting with two in the first, four in the second, six in the third and eight in the fourth, returning to two syllables in the fifth line.
Classical: Work of art, drama, architecture, philosophy literature, and history related to the Romans and Greeks in between 1000 BCE and 410 BCE, is referred to as classical.
Classicism: A tradition that highlights the ideals like objectivity, emotional restraint, systematic thinking, clarity dignity, and promotion of general welfare, that were prevalent in ancient Greece and Rome is termed classicism.
Cliché: A saying, expression, or idea that has been used so often in works of literature that it has lost its original meaning and has become a stereotype.
Climax Rhetorical: An artistic arrangement of items so that they appear in increasing order of importance. Its synonyms are auxesis and crescendo.
Climax (Literary): A point in the play or any form of literary work at which crisis reaches its maximum intensity and then is resolved.
Close Reading: Bit by bit analysis of every word and literary devices used to understand their significance, inter-relationship. and ambiguity (multiple meanings).
Closet Drama: A drama that is written to be read by a single reader or aloud to a small group instead of being played on stage.
Colonial Period: According to the American historians, this is the period dating from 1607 to 1775, when the first settlements of the American soil started by the colonialists, till the outbreak of the American Revolution against the British Monarchy. Writings of the Colonial Period were mainly religious, practical, or historical in nature. As per the British historians, they used this term to imply the general expansion of the British empire to America, Indies, India, Africa, and the Middle East.
Comedy: The most general definition of this literary term is a fictional work that is mainly aimed at amusing the readers or audience. A comedy is supposed to entertain the audience rather than compelling them to think about serious ideas and themes. The characters typically avoid disastrous events and have a happy ending. The different types of comedy are romantic comedy, satiric comedy, comedy of manners and farce.
Comedy of Errors: A dramatic work that is humorous or satirical and is characterized by a series of comic instances of mistaken identity. The drama typically has a happy ending with the resolution of the thematic confusion.
Comedy of Humors: A genre of dramatic comedy in which personality of each character was dominated by a particular trait or ‘humor’. The English playwrights Ben Jonson and George Chapman popularized this genre in later years of the sixteenth century.
Comedy of Manners: A witty form of dramatic comedy that depicts and criticizes the manners and affections of a contemporary society, often represented by stock characters.
Comic Relief: Introduction of a humorous character, instance or speech in a serious or tragic work to relieve tension.
Commedia dell’arte: In Italian it means “comedy of the artists (or of the guilds)”. This form of comic drama evolved by the guilds of professional Italian actors in the mid sixteenth century. In this genre, the plays were unscripted and actors largely improvised the dialogs around the scene. Outside Italy, it is known as Italian Comedy.
Common Measure: Common measure consists of closed poetic quatrains which have rhyming pattern of abab or abcb. The lines in this, have iambic tetrameter that alternate with lines of iambic trimeter. Synonym for this is common meter.
Concrete Diction / Concrete Imagery: As opposed to abstract or generalized language, concrete diction or concrete imagery uses language that describes qualities that can be perceived by the senses.
Concrete Poetry: Also known as shaped poetry, concrete poetry derives significance from the shape in which the text of the poetry appear on the page. The shape which can vary from that of a swan’s neck to a set of wings, in some way have connection to the meaning of the words.
Conflict: Depiction of struggle in literary work, be it between two ideas, characters or groups of people. The conflict can also be internal, that is the protagonist struggling with psychological tendencies.
Connotation: While denotation implies the primary significance or reference of a word, connotation means the associated or secondary significance of a word. For example, the words civil war, revolution, and rebellion have the same denotation. However, the word Civil War has a historical significance for Americans that gives a greater meaning than just being an attempt to bring about a change in the political or social milieu.
Consonance: A type of alliteration in which a consonant sound is repeated in quick succession. For instance, in all mammals named Sam are clammy the consonant sound that is repeated is m.
Convention: Convention is a set of norms, criteria, or standards that become associated with a certain genre of literary work as its indispensable trait. For example, in the Western movies of the early twentieth century, it was a convention for the protagonist to wear white hats and the antagonist to wear black hats.
Couplet: A pair of lines in a verse that rhyme and have the same meter. The couplet was popularized in English language by Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century.
Courtly Love: A doctrine of love that had elaborate code and which dictated the relations between lovers of the aristocratic class. This code was popular in the lyric poems and chivalric romances during the Middle ages in Western Europe.
Crisis: A moment of uncertainty and tension that results from earlier conflicts in a plot. During crisis, it is unclear if a protagonist will fail or succeed in his struggle.
Criticism: Literary criticism is the overall term for study, analysis, defining, interpreting, and evaluating works of literature. The different types of criticisms are practical criticism or applied criticism, impressionistic criticism and judicial criticism.
Crown of Sonnets: A sequence of sonnets addressed to one person or dealing with a single theme. It is also known as sonnet corona.
Curtain Raiser: A performance or a stage act by an actor that opens the show for a more famous actor.
Cyberpunk Movement: A post-modern genre of science fiction in which events take place partially or completely in virtual reality. The characters may be human or artificial intelligences. A popular example is William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
Dactyl: It is a three-syllable foot that contains one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. Dactyl is the opposite of anapest.
Dada: Dada or dadaism is a movement that began during the First World War in Switzerland and peaked in 1916 to 1922. The movement was in opposition to the brutality and destructiveness of war. It used all art forms including visual arts, literature, and theater against the prevailing standards of art. The movement held public gatherings, demonstrations, distribution of pamphlets, and journals and presentation of art forms to engender negative art and literature that stood in direct opposition of the values professed by the contemporary bourgeois society. By 1925 this movement gave way to surrealism and other movements.
Dawn Song: See Aubade.
Dead Language: A language that doesn’t change or evolve is a dead language. It seems to have frozen in time as it is not used in general everyday discourse and is learned only to be used during rituals or scholarly studies. Examples are Classical Latin and Sanskrit.
Dead Metaphor: A figure of speech that originally developed as a metaphor, but lost its original, metaphorical implications due to over use, and is used more as a regular idiom.
Decadence: Decadence or decadence movement was the derogatory name given by critics to a late nineteenth century movement that took shape in Western Europe, mainly in France. However, later on some writers of this movement triumphantly adopted the name, and called themselves the decadents. The writers were for most part associated with symbolism and the aesthetic movement. The decadent movement is now considered a transitional phase between Romanticism and modernism.
Declined Language: A declined language is one in which declensions or inflections are used to give more meaning to words. Inflections or declensions mean special endings stuck on the end of a word to signify features like case, number, gender and so on. Example of an English noun declining to distinguish between singular and plural is book vs. books. Other names for declined language is synthetic language or inflected language.
Decorum: In poetry and theater, decorum refers to the requirement that characters, their speech and characterizations should match with each other and be in consonance with the genre they represent. For example, satire requires lowly characters, low style and actions. However, epic literature requires the characters to belong to high estate and speak in elevated style and diction.
Deism: A religious movement that was popular throughout late seventeenth century up to the late eighteenth century that professed a rational rather than faith-based approach to understanding religion and God. This movement is frequently associated with the Enlightenment movement, Neoclassicism and Free Masonry.
Denotation: The strict meaning of a word as found in the dictionary, without any reference to its any implications or associations it may have with any event or abject. Also see connotation.
Dénouement: A French word, Dénouement refers to a series of events that take place after the climax that concludes the plot and brings about resolution conflicts.
Deus Ex Machina: The literal meaning of Deus Ex Machina is “God out of the machine”. The term is a plot device in which a person or object intervenes in the play unexpectedly to help a character out of the difficult situation that he is stuck in.
Deuteragonist: The character in a play who is next in importance to the protagonist. The character of slave Jim in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an example of Deuteragonist.
Diachronic: Analysis of changes in literature, history or linguistics over a course of time is known as diachronic. It is the opposite of synchronic which refers to study in a single moment of history. However, a synchronic analysis considers development of traits or norms over wide geographical areas or over a number of disciplines.
Dialect: The difference in sound, spellings, grammar, and diction in language used by people of specific class or group that distinguishes them from those of other class or groups.
Dialog: The lines spoken by characters in a play, novel, or essay. It is through dialogs that characters converse with each other. Dialogs help in characterization and are crucial for the plot to advance.
Dibrach: A metrical foot in poetry that has two unaccented short syllables. It is also known as Pyrrhic.
Diction: Diction refers to the kind of words, phrases, sentence structures, style of expression, and figurative language used by a writer or a speaker.
Didactic Literature: Any piece of literature that is designed to expound, teach, or give information on any subject like a moral, religious, philosophical doctrine rather than concentrate on the artistic qualities or techniques of writing. Didactic literature, as opposed to non-didactic piece of work, is not aimed at entertaining the readers. Example: Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism. Similarly, didactic poetry refers to something that is supposed to teach an ethical, moral or religious theme.
Digression: Intentional diversion from the theme in a particular section of a speech or composition is known as digression. In Classical rhetoric, since Corax of Syracuse, digression was one of the five sections of an oration or composition. However, the place of digression in the order of the five sections was not fixed. In the eighteenth century, digression became a part of satirical works, fine examples of which are A Tale of Tub by Jonathan Swift and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne.
Dime Novel: Precursor of paperbacks, comic books, and pulp magazine, dime novels became popular in the US during the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. These were melodramatic novels of adventure, that were based on western theme. Prominent writers were E.Z.C. Judson.
Dimeter: A line that has only two metrical feet.
Dirge: A song of grief or mourning to be sung most suitably in a funeral.
Dissociation of Sensibility: A literary term for separation of intellectual thought from feeling of experience that was prevalent in seventeenth century poetry.
Distancing Effect: Also known as alienation effect or estrangement effect, distancing effect refers to the tactic used by a dramatist to ensure that the audience does not establish an emotional link, and accepted the social reality being depicted in the drama. Instead, with distancing effect a dramatist would evoke a reaction, and an urge to act against the state of society being depicted in the play.
Doggerel: Derogatory term for a verse of inferior literary value.
Doppelgänger: Popular in folklore, doppelgänger refers to seeing oneself in peripheral vision. Doppelgänger was considered as a bad omen, and was popularly used by Fyodor Dostoevski and E. T. A. Hoffman in their works.
Double Dactyl: A comic verse with two quatrains in which each line is written in dactylic dimeter.
Double Entendre: Deliberate ambiguity introduced in a phrase or image that usually involves sexual or humorous meaning.
Double Plot: Use of two plots within a single narrative.
Double Rhyme: A feminine rhyme that involves repetition of two syllables instead of one. For example bend/lend is a single rhyme as it has used one syllable to rhyme. However, bending/lending is an example of double rhyme as it uses two syllables for rhyming.
Doublet: Two words that originated from the same etymon (origin of a word), however, have different meanings as they were adapted into the language during different periods. For example, the words chef and chief come from the same French word, Chief means leader of a war band, as it was adapted when Norman French was associated with military power. However, when the word chef was derived, Parisian French was largely associated with culinary arts.
Drama: A composition in prose or verse that is designed to be presented on stage. In this, actors take the role of characters. Through their dialogs and actions, the characters advance the plot. An individual work of drama is called a play.
Dramatic Irony: A device by which a dramatist lets the audience know a circumstance that a character in the play is supposed to have gone through but is unaware of. Due to his ignorance, the character behaves in a way grossly inappropriate to the present circumstance, and expects the outcome to be quite opposite of what the audience knows is awaiting him.
Dramatic Lyric: A dramatic monologue in which a speaker addresses an auditor in a critical moment, revealing himself in a dramatic situation.
Dramatic Monologue: A type of lyric poem in which the speaker speaks at length to the audience about his innermost thoughts and feelings.
Dramatis personae: A Latin phrase for the list of characters who play a role in a drama – commonly employed in various forms of theater.
Dream Allegory: A genre of poetry popular in Middle Ages in which the narrator goes off to sleep. In his sleep he sees a dream in which a spirit guide takes him on a long journey, in which the narrator comes across a number of historical or fictional characters engaged in allegorical activities. Through their activities and interactions with them, the narrator learns important lessons about religion, spirituality, and love which he otherwise would not have been able to know in real life. After he wakes up the narrator resolves to share his knowledge with the world. This is also known as a dream vision.
Dumb Shows: A pantomime introduced before a (spoken) play or before each act of a play that summarizes the events that follow.
Duple Meter/Duple Rhythm: Duple meter refers to a poetry that has one meter in each line and two syllables in every metrical foot.
Dystopia: A work of fiction which presents a very grim picture of the social, political, and technological aspects of a society. It is characterized by poverty, disease, oppression, war, violence, violation of human rights, and widespread unhappiness.
Early Modern English: In the beginning of the 1940s, many historians replaced the term Renaissance with “early modern” to cover the period from the 1450 to 1800. “Late modern” began from 1800 to the present day.
Eclogue: A poem written in a classical style that has a pastoral subject. Such poems are also called bucolics.
Ecocentrism: A system of values which denotes that all livings things (not just human beings) and the environment are no less important than human beings themselves and even possess moral and political rights. Ecocentrism is in opposition to anthropocentrism.
Edwardian Period: The time between 1901 to 1910 during which, King Edward VII reigned United Kingdom. The prominent writers of this period were Thomas Hardy, Alfred Noyes, William Butler Yeats, Henry Arthur Jones, and George Bernard Shaw.
Eiron: A stock male character in Greek tragedies who appeared to be less clever than he actually was. The eiron was known for his ironic understatements. Through his superior verbal skills, he defeated the braggarts and shallow characters.
Ekphrasis: Derived from Greek for “description”, ekphrasis is a writing in which an author includes a passage that describes a visual (or non-visual) work of art like a painting, sculpture, or architecture.
Elegy: A melancholic lyric poem written to commemorate the loss of a loved one. Alternately, the subject matter of an elegy could also be serious meditations or sustained formal lamentations. It is a form of lyric poetry. Famous works include Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Edmund Spencer’s Astrophel, John Milton’s Lycidas, P. B. Shelley’s Adonais and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.
Elizabethan Age: The period of 1553 to 1603 that marks the rule of Elizabeth I. During this time commerce, maritime power, and literature developed rapidly. It was, in fact, the age of English literature which witnessed the literary works of Sir Philip Sidney, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Francis Bacon, and Ben Jonson to name a few.
Emblem: A pictorial representation or an image that symbolizes a concept or represents a person like a king or a saint.
End Rhyme: A rhyme in which the last word of every verse rhymes. In contrast, in an internal rhyme the rhyming word lies somewhere in the middle of each line. In head rhyme, the starting consonant of a word alliterates with the beginning consonant of another word.
End-stopped Line: If in a poem, pause in the reading at the end of a sentence, phrase, or clause coincides with the end of the line, then it is said to have end-stopped line. This is in contrast to enjambment in which the continuity of the syntactic unit (clause phrase or sentence ), is broken by the end of a line or between two verses.
Enlightenment: An intellectual movement that developed in the seventeenth century in western Europe and lasted till the nineteenth century. It believed that humanity could improve its plight by applying reason and logic. It disapproved superstitions, untested beliefs, and barbarism of the medieval ages to embrace the artistic excellence of the Greco-Roman world.
Epic Simile: Like a regular simile, an epic simile compares two objects. However, instead of doing the comparison in a single line, epic simile develops the comparison at great length that may span over fifty or hundred lines. It is also known as Homeric simile.
Epic: A genre of classical poetry that is a long narrative verse written on a serious subject, usually about the ideals and cultural values of a race, a nation or a group of people upheld by a hero or a demi God. The exploits of this central character is written in high elevated language. An epic is set over a vast geographical area and involves Gods and supernatural beings taking part in it. Other than the central character, there are other important characters that are warriors or belong to the royalty. Iliad, Odyssey, Mahabharata and Ramayana are considered the most important epics in the history of literature. While primary epics refer to folk epics that were transmitted orally in pre-literate cultures, secondary epics are those that are actually written down.
Epigram: A verse or a prose that is written in a witty satirical manner with the aim of ridiculing an idea or a thought.
Epigraph: A quotation which marks the beginning of a document. It can be in the form of a phrase or a poem, and has multiple functions. It can be the preface, the introduction, or a compiled summary of the work following. It can also compare with a greater literary work to enhance the expectation of the audience.
Epilogue: A conclusion (known as the final chapter) written at the end of a novel, play or a long poem. It is usually a long speech, delivered either by the (or one of the) central character or by the writer himself, where the speaker speaks to the audience directly.
Epiphany: An ordinary moment in a literary work when a character has a sudden realization about himself.
Epistolary Novel: A novel that is written in the form of letters – written by one or many characters in the novel. This technique helps the author do away with the narrator.
Epistrophe: It is a figure of speech which denotes the repetition of words at the end of successive sentences or phrases. It can be understood as the counterpart of anaphora.
Eponym: A word that can trace back its origin to the name of a person or a place, for example, the word sadism is derived from the name of Marquis de Sade, a French aristocrat.
Essay: It is a short piece of writing where the author uses his own point of view for its construction. It can depict anything from arguments for/against a topic, recollections and reflections, criticism, political and social manifesto, etc. Famous examples can be John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man.
Eulogy: It a speech or a written documentation in praise of someone (usually but not always) deceased/retired recently. It is usually given during funeral services. However, eulogy can also mean to praise a person/persons on special occasions like during their birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
Euphemism: The use of a mild and comparatively less negative word instead of a blunt or harsh word.
Existentialist Novel: A novel that is written keeping in mind theories put forward by existentialist thinkers, who pointed out the meaninglessness and absurdity of existence.
Exposition: A literary technique used in at the beginning in novels and plays, in order to give background information about the characters and the circumstances.
Extended Metaphor: An extended metaphor or a conceit is a metaphor that extends into the next line. It is also found frequently throughout the work. They are highly applicable or effective in poems and fiction.
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Fable: A fable is a short story that essentially has a moral. Fables are written and told to induce certain morals without instructions. There is mostly a use of animals and other imaginary creatures. The literary term can also mean idle talk.
Fabliau: A Fabliau is a narrative that is humorous in nature. The narration revolves around trickery, practical jokes, sexual blunders, obscenity, mistaken identity, and humor. It can be used to show suggestive aspects of literature with a humorous touch.
Falling Action: Falling action is that part of the literature that comes after the peak or “climax”. This portion speaks of the effects and the impact of the climax of the story.
Falling Rhythm: This literary term is also known as descending rhythm. It is a rhythmic pattern created by the succession of metrical feet. Each of these metrical feet is composed of one accented syllable, which is followed by one or more unaccented syllables.
Fancy and Imagination: Fancy and imagination are two very closely connected literary terms in literature. For quite a while, they were used as synonyms. However, as time passed and English literature evolved, both have acquired different definitions. Fancy was used to emote the concept of a mental process that involves mixing of memories and logic to form a different concept. On the other hand, imagination means the formation of mental image on no fixed parameters.
Fantasy: Fantasy is also closely related with fancy. However, fantasy is imagination which is vivid and unrestrained. Fantasy is, ordinarily, extravagant, and does not have any specific relation with reality. It is mostly an exaggerated vision of a desire.
Farce: Farce is a concept exhibiting a negative aspect or a lie, in an extravagant, and humorous manner. It uses satire in its course as well. Farce helps bring a tricky point out with the help of humor or satire.
Feeling: Feeling in literature can have two meanings. Feeling can be referred to as the sensation of a certain item touching the surface of the skin. Or, it could also mean a perception of something that is intangible in a pseudo-tangible manner.
Feminine Ending: A feminine ending is a literary term in poetry to describe a line or a verse that ends in a weak syllable. It could also speak of a prose that ends with a weak climax. In music, feminine ending means end of a tune on a weak or unstressed note.
Feminine Rhyme: It is a poetic term. Feminine rhyme means a bisyllabic rhyme in which, the second rhyme is unstressed. It could also mean a triple rhyme (using three syllables) in which the first and the second are unstressed.
Fiction: Fiction is an aspect of literature that deals with the imagination and the contrafactual events (events that are not true while writing, but may be true in the future). It can also mean to be an imaginary event that has been made to make a certain point clear.
Figurative Language: Figurative language is one that goes beyond its literary meaning to have a deeper, more effective bearing. It uses figures of speech.
Figure of Speech: Figures of speech are words or phrases that are used to express a meaning that is not confined to its literary meaning. They are used very often in prose as well as poetry to make the point clear and apparent.
Fin de siècle: Fin de siecle literally means “end of the century”. However, the literary term is used in prose and poetry to express the end of an era that marks the dawn of another. Fin de siecle is often used to show a period of degeneration as well as of hope.
Flashback: Flashback is remembering or reviewing past events. Flashbacks are often used in dramatics, poetry, and prose to allow the reader or the audience to visualize an event that took place in the past.
Flat Character: Flat character is one that is stagnant. It is a secondary and auxiliary character that plays a role that is not dynamic, however, it is one that makes a difference to the main characters.
Fleshly School: Fleshly school is a literary term referring to the name coined by Robert Buchanan to a school of poets. The members of the fleshly school were great poets like Rossetti, William Morris, Swinburne to name a few.
Foil: Foil is that character in the play (or any other literary work), who brings out/highlights the qualities of the protagonist, and also emphasizes on the moral factor of the story. The foil is mostly in contrast to the protagonist.
Folklore: Folklores are the unwritten stories, poetry, phrases, and morals of a certain culture. They are passed down from one generation to another by word of mouth in the form of stories, poems, songs, and phrases. Folklore are known to have a major impact on the mindset of the audience.
Folk Tale: Folk tales are stories that are used to show a certain moral. These folk tales are ordinarily unwritten and passed down from parent to child. These exist in all cultures, and play a big role in maintaining the values of the culture.
Fool: A fool, literally, was a jester in the court of a prince who was meant to amuse and entertain the courtesans through witty jokes and remarks. He had the independence of mocking anyone and everyone as long as he is entertaining. Ideally a fool was supposed to be a very intelligent person.
Foot: No, this does not mean the lowest end of your leg or a measuring unit. The literary term is a unit, but, to measure and describe the underlying rhythm of the poem. A foot, basically, consists of a certain number of syllables. These syllables form part of a line of verse. A foot is described by the character and number of syllables that it may contain. In English, feet are named for the combination of accented and unaccented syllables.
Foreshadowing: Foreshadowing is a tool used to give the reader or audience a hint of what may happen ahead. It consists of subtle hints that would make the audience “get intuitive” of an event and anticipate it. When that event does occur, the impact is stronger and the feedback is positive.
Form: Form is a literary term that refers to the shape of the poem or prose. It refers to the general structure of the flow of thought as well as the events (if any). Form also defines the theme or the topic. It could also reflect on the impact of the literature.
Fourteener: A fourteener is a line consisting of 14 syllables, usually having 7 iambic feet, often used in 16th century English verse. A fourteener could also mean a poem with fourteen lines.
Frame Story: A frame story has a couple of meaning. Primarily, it can mean a secondary story that is embedded in the main story. Secondarily it could be the link between stories that are otherwise unrelated.
Free Verse: A free verse is verse or poetry that does not abide by the rules of rhyming. However, it can be interpreted as poetry due to the style it is written in. The general flow of thoughts, use of words, and form can help in perceiving it as a poem.
Freytag’s Pyramid: Freytag’s pyramid describes the structure of a play or a drama. As per Freytag’s pyramid, a play or drama is divided into 5 parts. Exposition, rising action, climax (or turning point), falling action, and resolution.
Fugitives: The Fugitives were a group of poets and literary scholars. They got together at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, around 1920. They published a literary magazine called “the Fugitives” from 1922 to 1925 to showcase their work. The fugitives included notable members like John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Merrill Moore, Donald Davidson, William Ridley Wills and Robert Penn Warren.
Fustian: Though fustian otherwise means a very heavy fabric of cotton, in literary terms it has a different meaning. From the time of Shakespeare, the word fustian or bombast means extremely pompous, inflated, and pretentious writing or speech.
Futurism: Futurism, in literary terms, is a style of the fine arts. It was originally developed by a group of Italian artists in 1910. In Futurism, forms derived chiefly from cubism were used to represent rapid movement and dynamic motion.
Gallows Humor: Gallows humor is used to express a serious, frightening, or painful subject matter in a humorous or satirical manner.
Gathering: In arts, a gathering, ordinarily, refers to an event or an art festival that brings a lot of enthusiasts together.
Genetic Fallacy: The literary term genetic fallacy is a fault caused due to irrelevance. Genetic fallacy is when the conclusion of any literature seems irrelevant with reference to the expected flow. The premise of the conclusion is based on the origin and not the present scenario.
Genius: The word genius has a few meanings in literature. Firstly, genius would mean “an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and original work in science, art, music, etc”, Secondly, it could also refer to a natural ability and skill at a certain act.
Genre: Genre is a literary term that is, ordinarily, used only with reference to art and literature. Genre means a certain class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content or technique. A few examples would be, genre of story writing or genre of music.
Georgian Poetry: Georgian poetry was a set of anthologies that were published by a few English poets at the time of King George V of the United Kingdom. The poets whose works were showcased at this time were known as Georgian poets.
Georgic: A georgic is a poem that is based on agriculture or has a general agricultural theme. The term was initially used for poetry by one of the worlds greatest poets, Virgil, of Latin origin, in 29 BCE.
Gesta: Gesta is the Spanish for the word geste which comes from the phrase chanson de geste, which means songs of heroic deeds. In literature, gesta is considered to mean a story or tale of certain deeds or achievements.
Gloss: A gloss is a summary of the dictionary meaning of a word, but only a word or two in length. It is typically used for a simple translation of a particular word in another language. Gloss, as a literary term, could also refer to giving a false or deceptively good appearance to something.
Gnomic Verse: Gnomic verse or a gnomic poetry is one wherein there is the use of sayings and maxims within the verse to make it highly moral and memorable. It belongs to a certain genre called wisdom literature.
Golden Line: A golden line is a part of a golden verse. It has two adjectives, two substantives and a verb, the first adjective agreeing with the first substantive, the second with the second, and the verb placed in the midst. Confusing, but the Golden verse was very popular and common in the seventeenth century Latin literature.
Goliardic Verse: Goliardic verses or Goliardic poetry were written by Goliards. Goliards were people who disagreed with the common gospel verses and the Church. They were, ordinarily, university students who went from one European university to another, scholars who had completed their studies but were short of funds, unfrocked priests, runaway monks, and clerks. They sang these verses while begging, traveling from one place to another.
Gongorism: Gongorism is a literary style that was developed by Luis de Góngora y Argote, a Spanish Baroque lyric poet. This literary style includes writing, which is dominated by elaborately or excessively ornamented writing, and use of puns and conceits.
Gonzo Journalism: Gonzo journalism is a style of journalistic writing that emphasizes on the moral or the conclusion of an event, with the use of little fiction and exaggeration. The literary term includes the actual facts and the writing is in the first person point of view. This is done to keep the reader engaged. This style was first introduced in 1970s by Hunter S. Thompson. Later, this style was used in other literature and arts as well.
Gothic Novel: Gothic novels are novels having stories that belong to the Gothic fiction or horror genre. Gothic, as a genre, is defined as belonging to the Middle Ages, old-fashioned, unenlightened, and characterized by gloom, mystery, and grotesque.
Grand Guignol: Grand guignol is a theatrical term. It originates from le grande guignol, a theater in Paris. It is a term that refers to a drama that emphasizes horror and sensationalism.
Graveyard Poetry: Graveyard poetry is that part of the literature, which is concentrated mainly with mortality. The majority of it contains epitaphs of death and gloom. This kind of poetry was very popular in the 18th century.
Graveyard School: Graveyard school was the group of poets who wrote graveyard poetry. The graveyard school included poets Robert Blair, Elizabeth Carter, William Collins, William Cowper, Thomas Gray, James Hervey, James MacPherson, William Mason, David Macbeth Moir, Thomas Parnell, William Shenstone, James Thomson, Joseph Warton, Thomas Warton, Henry Kirke White and Edward Young.
Greek Tragedy: Greek tragedy, also known as tragedy, was a style of art that was based on pain and suffering. Nonetheless, the art of the matter lied in the fact, that in spite of depicting pain and suffering, it offered a great deal of pleasure to the audience. This has now become a drama tradition that is followed in certain cultures.
Grub Street: Grub street was actually a street name. The street was situated in London and housed impoverished hack writers. These writers were paid meager amounts to write “pulp fiction” novels within a deadline. Even though the street no longer exists, Grub Street has now become a literary term for poor hack writers and writings of low literary value.
Grundyism: Grundyism is a literary term named after a character named Mrs. Grundy from a play “Speed the Plough” by Thomas Morton. The character shows a prudish adherence to conventionality, especially in personal behavior.
Hagiography: Hagiography is the study of saints. It refers literally to writings on the subject of such holy people, and specifically the biographies of ecclesiastical and secular leaders. Hagiography and the use of it in modern literature, is fairly uncommon.
Hagiology: Hagiology is the study of hagiography.
Haikai: Haikai is a poetic genre. It includes a number of forms which embrace the aesthetics of haikai no renga. It also includes what Bashō referred to as the “poetic spirit”.
Half Rhyme: A half rhyme is a rhyme in which either the vowels or the consonants of the stressed syllables are identical. For example, eyes, light; years, yours, etc.
Hamartia: Hamartia, in literary terms, means “The character flaw or error of a tragic hero that leads to his downfall.” It is used very often in all the aspects of literature and works as a powerful story plot.
Handwaving: Handwaving is a literary term that is used to express and mean insubstantial words, arguments, gestures, or actions which are used in an attempt to explain or persuade effectively.
Headless Line: A headless line is a line in a poem which does not concur with its accepted meter, due to omission of the first syllable. Headless lines are also known as Acephalous lines, and are usually deliberate variations in scansion. However, this is not always obvious. Famous poets to use such a technique include A.E. Housman who wrote, “To an Athlete Dying Young“.
Head Rhyme: Head rhyme means a consonantal alliteration at the beginning of words. It is also called a beginning rhyme.
Hebraism-Hellenism: Hebraism is the identification of usage, traits or characteristics of the Hebrew language. On extension, it is sometimes applied to the Jewish people, their faith, national ideology or culture.
Heresy of Paraphrase: “The Heresy of Paraphrase” is the title of a chapter in The Well-Wrought Urn, a seminal work of the New Criticism by Cleanth Brooks. Brooks emphasized structure, tension, balance and irony over meaning, statement and subject matter. He relied on comparisons with non-verbal arts in order to shift discussion away from summarizable content.
Hero: A hero is an unavoidable aspect of literature. The term often refers to the lead character (main protagonist) or the one with distinguished courage or ability, and admired for his brave deeds.
Heroic Couplet: A heroic couplet is a set of two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter.
Heroic Drama: Heroic drama is a type of play. It was popular during the Restoration era in England. It was distinguished by both its verse structure and the subject matter.
Heroic Stanza: A heroic stanza is a four-line stanza consisting of two heroic couplets.
Hiatus: The literary term hiatus has a couple of meanings in literature. Firstly, a hiatus refers to a break in the intensity or momentum of a certain act. Secondly, it refers to a missing piece or a literary gap.
High Comedy: High comedy is, obviously, an aspect of comedy. It is comedy which deals with the polite society. It is characterized by sophisticated, witty dialogs, and an intricate plot.
Higher Criticism: Higher criticism is a critical study of biblical texts to ascertain their literary origin and history. It also studies the intentions of the authors and the meaning of their works.
Historical Linguistics: Historical linguistics is the study of changes in a language or a group of languages, over a given period of time. It is also known as diachronic linguistics.
Historic Present: The historical present (sometimes dramatic present) refers to the employment of the present tense when narrating past events. Besides its use in writing about history, especially in historical chronicles, it is used in fiction, for ‘hot news’, and in everyday conversation.
History Play: A history play is one that is based on a certain historic event. This trend was started by William Shakespeare. As such, these plays are also known as Shakespearean history.
Homeric Epithet: A Homeric epithet is known as an epithet. These epithets were used in all forms of literature and were introduced in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.
Homeric Simile: A Homeric simile is also called an epic simile. It is a detailed comparison in the form of a simile that is many lines in length. It was introduced in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, however, it has been used by many other writers after him as well.
Homily: A homily is a literary term that refers to a commentary that follows the reading of a scripture. It is often considered synonymous to a sermon.
Hovering Accent: A hovering accent is indeterminacy as to which of the two consecutive syllables in a line of verse bear the metrical stress.
Humor: In general literary terms, humor means a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement.
Hubris: In literary terms, hubris is used to express excessive pride, self-confidence, or arrogance.
Hymn: A hymn is a song or ode in praise or honor of God, a deity, a nation, etc. It can also refer to any literature of a similar nature.
Hyperbole: Hyperbole is a part of speech that is used, both in prose and poetry, to express a certain emotion by the use of exaggeration.
Hypercatalectic: The literary term, hypercatalectic, refers to a line of verse containing an additional syllable after the last dipody or foot.
Hyperbaton: A literary term in which the normal order of words is changed unexpectedly. This includes anastrophe, tmesis, hypallage, and other figures of speech. It is an example of rhetoric scheme.
Iambic Meter: Iambic meter is a type of metrical foot found in English poetry, where an unstressed syllable comes first, and then the stressed syllable appears. Poems which have the iambic meter are known as having a raising meter as it ends with a strong stress. This metrical foot can be seen in majority of the English poems, and is thus said to be the most common.
Iambic Pentameter: A poem is said to be written in iambic pentameter when it follows the iambic meter, five times in a single line throughout the poem. Iambic pentameter can be seen largely in the works of many great poets like Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Wordsworth, etc.
Idiolect: Idiolect is the manner in which a person speaks during a specific time in his life. For instance, it can be a speech pattern of an individual when he was a child. During this time, his speech pattern or pronunciation would be slightly different from what is actually said.
Idiom: An idiom is a word, phrase, or sentence that is specific to a language or culture, but does not have a literal meaning. For instance, the phrase a little birdie told me, does not mean that a bird came and actually told a person something, rather it is used when someone does not want others to know where he/she got the information from.
Idyll: An idyll is a form of poem which describes a perfect and happy life in the rural area, in an emotional way. The main theme of these poems is nature, and how man is happy and cheerful in an uncivilized area, free from the vices of the modern and civilized world.
Imagery: Imagery is one of the most important terms in literary criticism. The term imagery may suggest only visual pictures or images found in a piece of literature. However, it includes all the other human sensations including smell, actions, feelings, and tastes. When a poem, novel, or play uses descriptive language along with figurative speech to explain things like nature, a particular place, or situation, etc., it is said to be a work of imagery, where the reader gets the minutest details of what is exactly happening in the scene.
Imagism: Imagism is a movement started during the 20th century, against Gregorian poetry which was based on emotion and sentimentality. This movement was started in Britain and the United States by poets like Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, etc., who wanted poets to write such kind of poems where they can use everyday language, direct presentation, precise and clear imagery, experiment with new rhythm, etc., instead of writing in a traditional, abstract, and flowery language. Imagism was highly influenced by the Japanese Haiku poem.
In Media Res: In media res is a type of narrative, which is totally different from the traditional form of narrative where a story is narrated in a sequential form. It is where the play or novel begins with an important event, though something has already happened. It is usually used in epic poems, one of the most significant example is Milton’s Paradise Lost, where the story begins when the bad angels have fought the war and have already fallen from the grace of God. However, the actual war is narrated only in Book V and VII. In media res can also be found in the famous works like Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, Dante’s Divine Comedy, etc.
Interior Monologue: Interior monologue is a literary device which can be said to be a type of stream of consciousness, where the writer records the thinking process of a character in the same way in which he is thinking, filled with vagueness, and lacking a chronological order. These thoughts are not structured, and may not have grammatically correct sentences.
Internal Rhyme: Internal rhyme is where a poem has rhyming words in the same sentence. One word would be in the middle of the line while the rhyming word would be at the end. Here is an example from the poem The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe – While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping.
Intertextuality: Intertextuality is a term which emphasizes that no text can be claimed as original. According to the pioneer of intertextuality, Julia Kristeva, (a post structuralist), ‘every text is a combination of various other texts, written with the help of implicit as well as explicit references’. For instance, James Joyce in his Ulysses, has recited the story found in Homer’s Odyssey, however, the plot is set in Dublin. In the same way, Matt Haig’s The Dead Fathers Club is set in modern England, but is similar to Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark written by William Shakespeare.
Intrigue Plot: Intrigue is a literary device where one of the characters in the story plans a scheme which can only be successful if the other character or characters remain ignorant of it. Many famous tragedies as well as comedies are based on it.
Invocation of the Muse: The Greco-Roman mythology talks about nine muses who are supernatural spirits or Goddesses inspiring the conception of arts and literature. Earlier, it had been a very common practice for the poets to invoke one of the muses in the beginning of the poem, to help them with the needed skills, inspiration, situation, and knowledge, so that they can write a poem on a subject they have thought of. Famous example is John Milton’s Paradise Lost where he invokes the “Heav’nly Muse”.
Irony: Irony is a literary device where the reality is totally different from what is actually portrayed. Sarcasm can also be said to be a form of irony, where it may appear that a person is praising someone, but actually is doing just the opposite. In dramatic irony, though the character does not understand the cause of the situations that he is experiencing, the reader or the audience knows perfectly why certain situations have taken place. Due to this, the audience feels that the character’s actions are inappropriate. Dramatic irony can be seen in plays like William Wycherley’s The Way of the World, Sophocles’ Oedipus, the King, etc. Romantic, cosmic, Socratic, verbal, situational, cosmic, and structural irony are some of its forms.
Jacobean Era: The Jacobean period is the era when England was ruled by King James VI. This era extends from the year 1603 – 1625, and follows the Elizabethan era during which England was under the rule of Queen Elizabeth. When she died, her cousin, James VI of Scotland took over the throne. The literary works produced during this period are known as Jacobean literature. Some famous writers of this era include William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Donne, John Webster, etc.
Jeremaid: The term ‘Jeremaid’ is created from the name of Jeremiah, who was one of the Biblical prophets from the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, Jeremiah attributes the destruction of Israel in the seventh century B.C., as the punishment that God gave people due to their improper religious and moral behavior. In the same way, a prose or poetry where the writer laments on the condition of the society in a particular period due to improper social as well as moralistic behavior, is said to be a jeremaid.
Juvenalian Satire: Juvenalian satire is a harsh and bitter kind of satire than the normal satire. The term is derived from the name of the Roman poet, Juvenal, who was the pioneer of juvenalian satire. This kind of satire involves irony, moral indignation, pessimism, etc., most of the time without any sense of humor.
Kabuki: Kabuki is a dance drama which is a part of the traditional Japanese culture. This stylized form of dance drama can be based on a variety of themes like love relationships, historical events, etc. Along with the dialogs said by the characters in the drama, one can also find the use of musical instruments. It is said to have originated in the year 1603, when kabuki was played only by women. However, later in the Edo period, women were banned from performing Kabuki, which is a rule that has continued to be followed even in today’s modern world.
Kunstlerroman: Kunstlerroman is a form of novel that comes under the term Bildungsroman, which refers to novel of education. It is a German term which means an artistic novel, where the writer tells the story of an artist, beginning from his childhood years to how he reaches a stage of maturity where he successfully becomes a master of his artistic skills. Examples include James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.
Lai: Lai is a short narrative poem or song written by French and German writers during the 13th and 14th century. The main theme of the lai poems was romance and courtly love written in octasyllabic couplets. Marie de france have written a number of lai poems which are named as Breton lai, because they have borrowed heavily from Celtic and Arthurian legends.
Lament: Lament is a type of poem or song through which grief is expressed. The purpose of this poem is to mourn the sorrow felt after the departure of a loved one, or grief of losing some valuable thing.
Lampoon: Lampoon is a type of satire where a person or character is ridiculed in a highly crude and coarse manner.
Legend: Legend is often confused with myth, however, both have different meanings. Unlike myth which is based on stories of the supernatural, a legend is a story that tells the tale of a human being and his accomplishments. Though there may not be any proof about the various details mentioned in the legends, the characters and locations surely must have existed in reality.
Light Verse (light poetry): Light verse is a form of poetry that does not include flowery and abstract language, rather, these poems are a blend of everyday language with humor. Though the tone of the poem is light, it does not mean that the subject matter of the poem is a superficial one. On the other hand, there are many light verse poems containing serious issues. Nursery rhymes are examples of light verse. Other famous poets who were masters in light verse include Lord Byron, T.S. Eliot, Johnathan Swift, etc.
Linguistics: Linguistics is an area where language is studied in a scientific manner. Here, the different aspects of language, including its various elements and principles, are studied thoroughly. Some of the important branches in the field of linguistics include syntax, phonology, phonetics, semantics, morphology, etc. It also includes the study of language in relation to other social sciences like anthropology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, etc.
Literary Ballad: Literary ballad is referred to the written form of ballad song. The literary ballad, which is also known as the lyrical ballad, became very popular during the Romantic period when poets started creating ballads by directly imitating the language, form and spirit of the traditional ballads. The most famous work of literary ballads is Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads published in the year 1798. Some of the other works include Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Walter Scott’s Proud Maisie, etc.
Literary Criticism: Literary criticism refers to the process of analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating a work of literature, be it a novel, play or poem. Literary criticism, with the help of various literary terms and theories, tries to interpret what a piece of literature means.
Literary Realism: Literary realism refers to a piece of work where the writer has portrayed the story as well as the characterization in a truly life-like manner. This trend was started by the French writers in the 19th century, however, it was soon adapted by other language writers too. These writers described the everyday routine activities in detail, without romanticizing even a little. Some of the examples of literary realistic works include George Eliot’s Middlemarch, William Dean Howells’ The Rise of Silas Lapham, etc.
Literature: Literature is an amalgamation of various written works which are produced with the help of creative imagination. Though works that have scientific as well as technical subject matter can be called literature, most often works that include creative writing are referred to as literature. Drama, novels (fiction and non-fiction), poetry, etc., are part of what is known as literature.
Litotes: Litotes is a figure of speech which is included in a statement to emphasize on its opposite meaning. It can be said to be a deliberate understatement, where you mean just the opposite of what you said. For instead of saying she is a good singer, with the use of litotes you can say, she is not a bad singer at all.
Liturgical Drama: Liturgical drama, also known as religious drama, includes plays narrating Biblical as well as stories of the saints. These plays were held in church after the mass during the middle ages. Early liturgical plays were in the prose form and the language used was Latin. Later, prose was substituted by verse, and in place of Latin, came other vernacular languages. By this time, these plays were no longer played in church, however, they continued to carry religious significance.
Local Color: When a writer describes a particular region including its geography, people, clothes, traditions, ways of thinking, etc., in a piece of fiction or poetry, it is called local color. Rudyard Kipling’s India, Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, etc., are some of the fine examples of local color.
Lost Generation: Lost generation is a term that Gertrude Stein coined for a group of American writers and intellectuals who were against the post World War I materialistic values of America. These notable people left America and moved to Europe because they were more attracted to the cosmopolitan cultures of European countries, especially Paris and London. Some of the notable writers who were a part of this group included Earnest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and John Steinbeck to name a few.
Low Comedy: Low comedy is directly opposite to the intellectual humor found in high comedy. Low comedy is quite slapstick, where humor is created through silly and clownish physical actions. There is absolutely no space for intelligent verbal dialogs in low comedy.
Lyric: Lyric is a short poem written in first person, where a single speaker expresses his emotions and personal feelings. These poems usually do not go beyond sixty lines and can also be sung in the song form. The different forms of lyric include sonnets, elegies, hymns, odes, etc.
Machiavellian: The term ‘Machiavellian’ is attributed to rulers who seem to be honorable and trustworthy from the outside, however, are actually very ruthless, deceitful, and power seeking individuals who would go to any length to safeguard their position and power. This term was coined by an Italian writer, Niccolo Machiavelli in his work, The Prince, where he said that human beings by nature are untrustworthy and cunning, and without indulging in evil and deceitful actions, people in power would not be able to hold up their position. Machiavellianism became very popular in the 16th century as many playwrights used it in their plays.
Magic Realism: Magic realism is a term that describes such works of fiction where the author combines the everyday normal events with fantasy. This term was coined by Franz Roh, a German art critic, to describe the works of certain painters in 1925 whose paintings depicted an altered reality. Later, this term was also applied to works of writers who blended fiction and reality in their work. These fantastical events include dream-like sequences as well as stories from mythology and fairy tales. One fine example of magic realism can be found in Gabriel Gracia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Other exponents of this literary genre include Italo Calvino, Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borge, etc.
Malapropism: Malapropism is said to occur when a word is substituted with a similar sounding word in a sentence to create a humorous effect. This term is derived from the character of Mrs. Malprop in Sheridan’s comedy, The Rivals who in the attempt to show off her vast vocabulary, came up with lines like he is the very pineapple of politeness, etc.
Marxist Literary Criticism: Marxist literary criticism is analysis of literature on the basis of economic and political theories, and principles of Marxism. Karl Marx, the pioneer of Marxism believed that social conditions are determined by the political and economic conditions of a certain period, which in turn influences literature of that period. Some of the Marxist literary critics of the 20th century are Raymond Williams, George Lukacs, Fredric Jameson, Leon Trotsky, etc.
Masque: The masque is a type of play which began in Italy, however, became a popular genre during the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, and King Charles I. The actors in the play wore masks as per their characters, and the play was an amalgamation of song, music, stage design, poetic drama, dance, splendid costuming, etc. At the end of the play, the actors would remove the masks and the audience would join them for dancing. One can find a masque play within Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest and Hamlet.
Melodrama: Melodrama is applied to plays where dialogs were accompanied by music, to emphasize on certain crucial scenes. The plot and characterization in melodramatic plays are quite predictable, where usually the good-hearted hero has to fight the evil incorporated villain to save the heroine. The key characteristics include excessive emotions, artificial happy endings, sensational actions, etc. Though music was a part of melodramatic plays, their use was very restrictive. The Broken Sword by William Dimond, The Red Rover by Edward Fitzball, etc., are some of the examples of melodrama. This melodramatic form is also adapted in various films, novels, television programs, etc.
Memoir: A memoir is often confused as autobiography, however, both these literary genres have certain differences. A memoir is a literary genre which depicts a part of a person’s life, unlike an autobiography which is the story of a person, written or advocated by himself, starting from his birth up to his death. The memoir written in first person focuses on the events and people that the author has experienced or met during the journey of life, especially in his career.
Metaphor: Metaphor is a figure of speech where two distinctly different things are compared without using adverbs of comparison, ‘as’, ‘like’, etc. It is used to lay emphasis and bring out certain qualities of the object or person which may not be noticeable in normal situations. For instance, Shakespeare’s metaphor in the play, As You Like It, all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…. where actually the writer is trying to make the audience understand that there is no difference between life and theater, and human beings are merely playing parts allotted to them, just as the actors are doing on the stage.
Metaphysical Conceit: Metaphysical conceit, a kind of figure of speech which is similar to metaphor, can be seen in the poems of 17th century metaphysical poets. Metaphysical conceit is where an object or person is compared to a thing that is totally different from the former. The objects of comparison in metaphysical poetry ranged from common place to theological, philosophical and practical knowledge. These conceits were unusual, witty, and sometimes quite shocking. For instance, in his poem, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, John Donne has compared two separated lovers to a draftsman’s compass.
Metaphysical Poets: Samuel Johnson coined the term ‘metaphysical poets’ for a group of poets belonging to the 17th century. These poets did not come together to begin a movement against the poems of the Elizabethan era. Rather, each of these poets, in their own way, defied the clichès of Elizabethan poetry and created poems that combined intellectuality with abstract and complex imagery. Though these poets were not influenced by each other, their poems contain a variety of similar characteristics including the use of figures of speech, variation in the structure of the poems, poetic style, experimenting with rhythmic patterns, manner of organizing poetic argument, etc. Some of the great metaphysical poets include John Donne, Andrew Marvell, John Herbert, Abraham Cowley, George Chapman, etc.
Metonymy: The term metonymy is taken from a Greek word which means ‘change of name’. It is a figure of speech where a word is substituted with another word, which has become associated with it due to frequent usage. For instance, ‘the press’ refers to reporters while the word ‘crown’ has become synonymous to the king or the royal family.
Meter:Meter refers to the varying, nevertheless recognizable pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that occur in regular units in the lines of a verse. Each regular unit is called a foot. Depending upon the number of feet in a line, a line can be called monometer (if it has one foot), dimeter (if it has two feet), trimeter, tetrameter, and so on till nonameter (if a line has nine meters in it).
Miracle Play: Miracle plays were popular in Europe during the medieval period. These plays were based on stories of the Bible as well as those of miracles that the Christian saints performed. However, there are critics who believed that miracle plays were those that told the stories of martyrdom of Christian saints.
Mock Epic: Mock epic is a parody of the epic poem. In a mock epic poem, the poet includes all the characteristics of an epic poem, whereas the story is rather mundane or about some trivial issue. With the help of epic style, including elaborate form, high style of language, etc., the poet makes the petty situation highly humorous and entertaining. Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock is one of the finest examples of mock epic poems.
Modernism: Modernism is a term that refers to the arts and literature that were produced during the late 19th and 20th century, especially after World War I. Most of the modernist writers broke away from the past established beliefs and traditions, and produced works that reflected the political, economic, and social conditions of those times. This period was filled with several art and literary movements, including formalism, existentialism, surrealism, etc. There was also a fresh change in the form and style of the literary works produced by the modernist writers.
Monologue: Monologue refers to long and uninterrupted dialog by a character in the play, where he expresses all his thoughts and emotions in front of the audience or any other character on the stage.
Morality Play: Morality plays were popular during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. These plays are believed to have been begun by priests to educate the masses about the moral values and beliefs of the Christian faith. Morality plays were allegorical, where virtues and vices were personified in the form of characters, and the plot usually involves how man falls into temptation and commits sin, but repents later after realizing his mistake, and so is saved from damnation.
Motif: Motif is an idea that a writer deliberately repeats in his piece of work to make the readers understand the central idea of the plot. Motif can be an incident, verbal formula, device or some kind of reference.
Muses: The nine muses, are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, and have the ability to inspire artists, writers, and poets in producing works of creativity.
Myth: The term myth refers to stories that talk about the creation and evolution of the world. Myths are usually attached to religion, and have a deep cultural significance. Most of the mythological stories involve Gods, ancestral heroes, supernatural beings, etc.
Narration: The act of telling a sequence of events to an audience. It also refers to a story that involves situations, characters, action, etc.
Narrative Poem: It is a literary term for a poem that tells a story, like an epic or a ballad.
Narrator: The speaker or the voice, who is narrating the story.
Naturalism: A literary movement which believed in depicting life to resemble reality as closely as possible, without distortions by emotions and literary conventions.
Near Rhyme: A type of rhyme form, where the rhythmic pattern of the words is similar but not exactly alike. These rhymes either have matching vowel segments or matching consonant segments. These rhymes are also known as inexact rhymes or slant rhymes.
New Comedy: Comedy from Greece that developed after 300 BCE, which focused on romantic angles, wit, and dramatic twists.
New Criticism: An approach to literature that suggests, that detailed analysis of the language used in a literary work can reveal important layers of meanings that form an important part of the work.
Nom De Plume: It is a literary term for the false name under which a writer publishes his/her literary work.
Nostos: Refers to the theme of homecoming used in literature.
Novel: A long fictional narrative of 50,000 words or more originated in the late seventeenth century. Novels focus on the lives of a few primary complex characters, but also involve several secondary characters. Famous novelists like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Emile Bronte, George Orwell, and many more have entertained readers with their works for decades.
Novella: A fictional narrative that is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, with a word count of about 20,000 words. This term was earlier used only for Italian, French, and German narratives.
Novel of Manners: A novel that discusses in details the social cultures, habits, expectations, and traditions of a specific group of people at a specific time.
Novelette: The term was used earlier for English prose narratives that were longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. Now the term is used interchangeably with novella.
Objective Correlative: It refers to a literary device which uses an event or a situation to symbolize an implicit mood or emotion, that is ordinarily inexplicable.
Obligatory Scene: It is a scene, which demands its presence, due to the plot of the play, forcing the playwright to write it. It is also called the scene-a-faire.
Occupatio: A device used by orators where they refer to a topic by saying they won’t mention it.
Octameter: It refers to the verse in poetry that has each line in eight metric feet. This is not a common meter in English poetry.
Octave: The first two stanzas, or the first eight lines of the Italian form of the sonnet, in the rhythm abbaabba, is called an octave.
Octavo: A book format popular in the medieval ages, where in, a sheet is folded three times to create a book with eight leaves or sixteen pages.
Ode: An ode is a lyrical verse. It is a form of lyric, which has its origins in Greek poetry and expresses emotions reverently and enthusiastically. It has varying line lengths and intricately developed rhyme schemes. Famous odes like Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind and Keats’ series of odes namely Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on Melancholy, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to Psyche and Ode to Autumn are some of the most exquisite works of art in their own way.
Oedipal Complex: A theory put forward by the 20th century psychologist, Sigmund Freud, who said that male children would often possess a need to kill their father, and usurp his position in the family, due to jealousy, brought about by sharing the mother’s affections. The theory was named after Oedipus Rex, the mythical doomed Greek hero, who killed his father and married his mother, albeit unknowingly.
Off-Rhyme: See near-rhyme.
Offstage: An area of the stage that is not visible to the audience.
Old Comedy: Comedies from Athens that date back to 400 – 499 BC, which featured songs, dances, satirical, and ribald forms of humor.
Old English: The form of English that was spoken before 1100 C.E. or the Christian Era.
Olfactory Imagery: The mental image or feeling of scent that a reader experiences while reading a passage of literature.
Omniscient Narrator: Also known as third person narrative or outside speaker, it is the literary technique employed, where the story is narrated by a person who is separated from the characters in the same. He is party to all the happenings in the story.
One-Act Play: A play in which all the action happens at a single place and as a continuous action.
Onomastic: A branch of lexicology that deals with the study of names. Many authors have used onomastology in naming characters, using the meaning of their names to either symbolize or pun on their characteristics.
Onomatopoeia: Literary device in which the word used resembles the sound it denotes. Simple examples are “hiss”, “crash”, “buzz”, etc.
Open Couplet: A couplet in which the thought or idea does not end in the same rhyming couplet but carries on to lines in any subsequent couplet.
Open Ended: A story or a drama which has a resolution that is ambiguous.
Open Poetic Form: A poetic form which does not subscribe to established rhythmic patterns and derives rhyme from repetition of phrases and words, grammatical structuring, print layout, etc.
Open Syllable: A syllable that ends with a vowel.
Opera: Musical theater in which classical plays are performed, with dialogs declaimed in a half-sung manner.
Opera Bouffe: The form of opera that originated in France.
Opposition: The stand that is taken against the protagonist in literature.
Oral Formulaic: This literary term refers to traits that are common to works that are meant to be recited aloud to an audience. These traits are a way to make things easier for the speaker and the listener.
Oral Transmission: The age-old tradition of passing on folklore and tales by word of mouth. This technique was extremely popular before the development of writing.
Organic Form: Literary works that do not follow a rigid set of rules, but the rhythm of the thought/emotion being expressed.
Organic Unity: A theory that suggests that every element of a good literary work contributes to the whole. They are all interdependent on each other and if even one element, a character, an action, etc, is removed, than it will take away from the potency of the work.
Ostranenie: Also known as defamiliarisation, it is a satirical artistic technique, that forces the audience to see everyday things in an unconventional way, so that one perceives familiar things in an enhanced manner.
Ossianism: The craze for celtic art and culture and also their myth and folklore that was seen in the 1760’s, after two epic poems, Fingal and Temora, apparently composed by the Gaelic warrior, Ossian, suddenly appeared on the literary scene.
Ottava rima: A poetic technique, wherein, the verse consists of eight lines in the rhythm abababcc.
Outline: The basic scenario of a literary work, especially a drama or a novel.
Oxymoron: A literary device in which two words that contradict each other in meaning are used together to form a paradox. For example, “And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.” from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.
Palindrome: A word or a sentence, that reads the same, when read forwards or backwards. Palindromes date back at least to 79 A.D., as the palindromic Latin word square “Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas” was found as a graffito.
Palinode: A poem or a part of one, wherein the poet takes back the idea that he has put forward in an earlier poem. This technique is generally used as a method of apologizing and retraction of earlier work.
Parable: Parable is a literary term used for a short story or narrative, that uses allegory and real life occurrences, to give out messages about religion, values, and morals.
Paradox: A sentence that seems contradictory in the context, but if inspected closely makes sense, and is a description of the truth.
Paraphrase: A technique in which a writer, rewrites in one’s own words, a part or the whole of a literary work.
Parody: A satirical imitation of the work of an author with the intention of ridiculing the ideas in the work and its characteristic features.
Pastoral: An artistic work that mainly depicts a shepherd’s life, especially the simplicity, peaceful, rural existence, and the uncorrupted life.
Pathos: Situations or language that arises feeling of sympathy and pity in the audience, because of its tragic nature.
Patronage: The act of providing an artist with financial and political support in order to encourage his works.
Pen Name: See Nom-de-plume.
Pentameter: When the verses in a poetry consist of a fixed set of syllables, forming lines of five feet, the resulting poem is said to be written in pentameter.
Periodization: The classification of literature according to the historical periods in which they were written as opposed to the genre they belong to.
Peripeteia: The stage in a literary work, where there is a sudden change in the direction that the literary work is taking due to an unexpected reversal of circumstances.
Persona: The character created by the author to tell a story to the audience or the reader is called persona. Also referred to as narrator or storyteller.
Personification: A figure of speech in which animals, ideas, and inanimate objects are shown to have human traits and characteristics.
Petrarchan Conceit: An unusual and elaborate comparison used by an author. This term is named after the Italian Renaissance poet Petrarch.
Picaresque Novel: A satirical novel, generally set in episodes, which tells the story of a wandering picaro (rogue), who uses hits wit to get out of tricky situations.
Plagiarism: The intellectual theft of an artistic or literary work, and reproduction of the whole, part or theme of the work as one’s own.
Play: An enactment of a drama on stage by a group of actors who often wear makeup and costumes to resemble the characters they are portraying.
Plot: The effect of the structure and relationship of the actions, events, and characters in a fictional work.
Poetic License: The freedom that a poet possesses to depart from normalcy, where reality, historical facts and common discourse is concerned, in order to convey a certain idea to the reader.
Poetic Justice: A term coined by Thomas Rhymer in the seventeenth century, according to which, every narrative or drama should end with proper moral resolution for all the characters.
Poetry: A genre which is characterized by the use of rhythm and patterns like meter, rhyme, figures of speech, etc.
Point of View: It is a narrative method which determines the manner in which, and the position from where, a story is told.
Prequel: A literary work which is often written after the success of an author’s work but is set before the occurrence of events in the earlier work. It has the same characters.
Problem Play: Plays in which the conflict arises out of the moral and social dilemmas that the protagonist faces, which are common to the society at large. The term is also used to describe some Shakespearean plays that explore the dark side of human psychology and present to the reader the gray side of humans, without proper resolution at the end.
Prologue: A section of introductory material, before the start of the main literary work.
Prose: Any literary work that is not written in a rhythmic pattern.
Protagonist: The main character in a literary work, on which a majority of the narrative focuses.
Pseudonym: See Nom-de-plume
Pulp Fiction: They are novels written on newsprint (hence called pulp fiction), which targeted the general public and aimed to thrill and excite. They have been historically very popular, but heavily criticized for degrading literary quality.
Pun: A literary technique used originally in serious work and now more often to create a comic effect. It is a play on words by either exploiting the multiple meanings of a word or by replacing a word with another, that is similar in sound but different in meaning.
Qualitative Meter: Qualitative meter is usually found in English poems, where heavily stressed and lightly stressed syllables appear alternatively throughout the poem.
Quantitative Meter: When a poem follows a meter where there is an alternation between short syllables and long syllables, it is called a quantitative meter. This is different from the qualitative meter and is used very commonly in Greek, Latin, Arabic as well as Sanskrit poems.
Quatrain: A quatrain is a stanza of a poem with four lines. Though a quatrain can appear in any rhyme scheme, the most common one is the abab pattern. A sonnet is made of three quatrains followed by a couplet.
Queer Theory: Queer theory is a term usually applied to gay and lesbian studies in the field of literature. However, apart from these studies, this theory also focuses on issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, cross dressing, sexual desires, etc., that appear in literature.
Reader-response Criticism: Reader response criticism is a literary theory which gives utmost importance to the reader in interpreting a work of literature. This theory is in contrast to other literary theories that try to find the absolute meaning, or what the author intended through the book. Pioneers of this theory believed that no interpretation is absolute, rather each reader creates his own interpretation. The focus of this theory is on the way an individual reads and the factors that influence his interpretation.
Realism: The term ‘realism’ in literature refers to the portrayal of human life and experiences as one sees in real life. Realism is an artistic movement began during the 19th century in France which soon spread to other parts of Europe. This movement was started as the revolt against the exaggerated emotionalism of the Romantic Period. For the realists, truth and accuracy became the tools of perfection.
Refrain: Refrain is a line or a set of lines that appear at the end of every stanza in a poem. When refrain appears in the end of the stanzas in a song, it is often referred to as chorus. These lines can either be similar in each stanza or may appear with slight variations.
Renaissance: Renaissance, which is an Italian word for ‘rebirth’ is a period which followed the Middle Ages. This movement which is supposed to have begun during the 14th century in Italy, spread to other European countries throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. Renaissance broke away from the superstitious and ignorant traditions and beliefs of the medieval period to achieve a world of enlightenment. This period saw the emergence of great writers like Shakespeare, Marlowe, Johnson, etc.
Restoration Period: Restoration Period refers to the time when King Charles II was restored to his throne by the English, after forty years of tyrannical rule of the Puritans. During the Puritanical rule, all sorts of literature was banned from the country, which was restored during the English Restoration period along with the King. The literature of this time focused on the urban lifestyle as well as the social and economic conditions of those times. Comedy flourished more than tragedy with the introduction of ‘Comedy of Manners’ during this Period.
Rhetoric: Rhetoric can be explained as an art of writing or speaking in a manner that would aid in persuading the reader or the audience. Aristotle in his ‘Rhetorics’ has mentioned the ways in which an orator can persuade the audience in accepting his point of view.
Revenge Tragedy: Revenge tragedy, as the name itself says, revolves around a person’s need to avenge the death of a near one. Revenge tragedies emerge from the plays of Roman playwright Seneca, which became popular during the Jacobean Era. Some of the examples of include The Spanish Tragedy, Hamlet, The White Devil, etc.
Rhyme: When two similar sounding words are repeated in a stanza of a poem, it is known as a rhyme. Rhymes that appear at the end of the lines are called end rhymes, and are the most common type of rhyme in poetry. There is also internal rhyme where rhyming words appear in the same line. Apart from this, they can also be divided into masculine and feminine rhymes. Rhyming words that end with a stressed syllable is called the masculine, while those that end with an unstressed syllable are known as feminine.
Rhyme Scheme: Rhyme scheme refers to the pattern in which the rhyming words appear in a poem. The rhyme scheme may be similar in all the stanzas throughout the poem, or may vary. In the olden days, when poems were passed along as songs, rhyme scheme helped people to memorize the songs. The most commonly used ones found in English poetry include aa, bb, cc, dd, ee and abab, cdcd.
Romantic Comedy: Romantic comedy is a literary genre which became popular during the Elizabethan Era. Romantic comedy plays revolve around two young lovers who have to face lot of problems and hardships before they unite at the end of the play. Mistaken identities, misunderstandings, disapproving parents, etc., are some of the themes that can be commonly found in such plays.
Romantic Period: The Romantic Period refers to the period in the history of English literature which existed during the 18th century. This period was a response to the period of Enlightenment which gave a lot of importance to reason and logic, as it laid more importance to nature and human emotions. Some of the famous writers of the Romantic Period include William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Coleridge, Charles Lamb, etc.
Round Character: The term round character was introduced by E. M. Forster in his essay, Aspects of the Novel. This type of character stands in direct contrast to the flat character, which is usually a typecast and predictable character. On the other hand, round characters are quite complex and undergo various changes through the process of the story. These type of characters are often unpredictable and are closer to real life people.
Russian Formalism: Russian formalism is a literary theory that was introduced in the year 1915 in Russia. Formalists stressed on the literary devices and formal patterns used in literature than the content or subject matter present in a piece of work. These formalists drew a line between daily speech and the language used in literature. Russian formalism was primarily responsible for the development of structuralist and post structuralist movements.
Saga: In the original sense, a saga refers to the Scandinavian and Icelandic stories about battles, legends and customs that were written in prose between 1120 and 1400. These traditionally dealt with the exploits of a hero, families and kings. Most of the Icelandic saga revolves around the tales of the Vikings settling in the region; like the Grettir’s Saga, Egil’s Saga and the Saga of Eric the Red. However, in contemporary times, saga refers to a work of literature that narrates the exploits of a hero or the accomplishments of a family through several generations. A good example of a recent saga is Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.
Sarcasm: Sarcasm is another name for verbal irony in which the speaker means something very different from what he speaks. It is usually used to hurt someone, say for example, through false praise.
Satire: Satire is a literary device that is used by an author to express disapproval of vices and imperfections in individuals or human beings in general. He may use ridicule, derision, irony, or other methods to meet this end. Although, on the surface a satire seems to be funny, its purpose isn’t to amuse the reader. In fact, the writer cleverly uses wit to criticize follies or shortcomings he doesn’t agree with, with the aim of arousing contempt in the reader. Horatian satire and Juvenalian satire, formal satire and informal satire are some forms of satire.
Scansion: Scansion refers to scanning a poem and analyzing the stressed and unstressed syllables to determine its meter.
Setting: Setting refers to the time, place, and social circumstances in which a literary work occurs. Dystopia, fantasy world, imaginary world, mythical place, parallel universe, virtual reality and utopia are some of the different types of settings.
Short Story: A short story is a fictional narrative that centers around one main event and aims at developing a single character only.
Simile: Simile is a figure of speech in which two objects are compared using adverbs such as “like” and “as”. For example, the courage of an individual can be emphasized by using the simile He was as brave as a lion in the battlefront.
Soliloquy: A literary device most commonly used in drama in which a character reveals his thoughts and feelings, audible only to the audience and not to the other characters in the play.
Sonnet: A sonnet is a lyric poem that consists of fourteen lines and has a specific rhyme scheme. Italian sonnet or Petrarchan sonnet, Miltonic sonnet, and English sonnet or Shakespearean sonnet are common forms of sonnet.
Sprung Rhythm: Sprung rhythm is a term that was coined by British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins to describe his personal metrical system. In sprung rhythm, in each foot the first syllable is stressed. It is followed by a varying number of unstressed syllables. However, when recited, each feet lasts the same amount of time. It is also known as accentuated rhythm.
Stanza: A stanza forms a unit of division of a poem. It may consist from 2 to 8 lines that have a distinct pattern of meter and rhyme. A two line stanza is called a couplet. A stanza consisting of three, four, five, six, seven and eight lines are called tercet, quatrain, quintain, sextain, septet and octet. Ballad stanza, Burns stanza or Scottish stanza and sestet are some other common stanza names.
Static Character: A character that does not undergo any change in personality throughout the course of a narrative is called a static character. In case an author provides little characterization of a static character, such a character is called a flat character. As opposed to static character, a dynamic character evolves in his personality over time.
Stereotype: A stereotype is a character that is so simple and ordinary in its personality that it seems to be a representation of a specific social group or type of people.
Structuralism: Also known as structural grammar, structuralism refers to the approach that aims at describing how a language is actually used instead of determining the right version for learners of that language. This approach is associated with linguists such as Franz Boas and Edward Sapir.
Subplot: A subplot is a minor secondary plot that runs simultaneously with the main plot and is auxiliary to it. A subplot involves the deuteragonist or any character other than the protagonist or the antagonist. The subplot may comment directly or indirectly on the main plot or may highlight the idea being projected by the main plot by contrasting with it. Sometimes, there may be more than one subplot in a piece of fiction that may join with the main storyline in time, place or in thematic significance.
Suspense: As a plot progresses, readers or audience establish a bond with the characters and understand the plot. Suspense refers to the anxious anticipation that readers or audience experience with respect to the future course of events, or what will happen to the characters in the narrative. The aim of suspense is to maintain the interest of readers throughout its course.
Symbol: A character (symbolic character), object, place, image or event with a deeper, more abstract meaning than the literal one. Symbols help in conveying complex ideas without going into painstakingly elaborate descriptions. Conventional symbols like the Star of David express meaning that is understood throughout a particular culture. However, literary or contextual symbols express meanings that are specific only to the particular piece of literary work. For instance, the white whale in Moby Dick has several symbolic meanings. Use of symbols is referred to as symbolism.
Synecdoche: A figure of speech in which a part of something is used to denote the whole thing and vice versa.
Synesthesia: In literature, synesthesia refers to using one mode of sensation to describe another. For instance, color may be attributed to sound by using the expression loud colors meaning too bright or unpleasantly bright.
Syntax: Syntax refers to the standard order in which words are arranged so that they form a meaningful sentence.
Tale: A tale is a simple narrative in which the main focus is on the course and outcome of events. Fairy tale, folk tale, fable, tall tale and urban legend are some of the different types of tales.
Tenor: Tenor is a literary term introduced by I. A. Richards that denotes the subject of a metaphor. For instance, in the metaphor all the world’s a stage, the whole world is the tenor.
Terza Rima: It is a rhyming verse stanza that consists of tercets in which each is linked to the one coming after it with a common rhyme: aba, bcb, cdc and so on.
Theme: Theme denotes the central idea, message or lesson that is conveyed by a piece of literary work. Besides plot, character, style and setting, theme is the other main component of a work of fiction.
Tone: Tone refers to the attitude that a writer takes towards his subject, characters and readers. The words and details used in a piece of literary work denotes its tone.
Tragedy: Tragedy is a serious play in which the protagonist suffers a series of misfortunes that leads to conclusion which is disastrous for the protagonist.
Tragic Flaw: It is the error or mistake in choice of action that a tragic hero commits that leads to his downfall in a tragedy. Aristotle termed this “mistake in judgment” as hamartia.
Tragic Hero: Tragic hero is the protagonist in a tragedy who meets his doom due to the mistakes he makes in his choice of actions.
Tragicomedy: Tragicomedy is the literary term for a work of fiction that blends elements like standard characters, subject matter, and plot-forms of both tragedy and comedy. Hence, this genre of literary creation involves characters from both high class and middle and the lower class although, conventionally tragedies should have characters of high class while comedies consisted characters from lower and middle classes.
Transcendentalism: Transcendentalism or more specifically American transcendentalism refers to the ideas that emerged in New England, in opposition to Intellectualism that prevailed in Harvard during the first half of the nineteenth century. According to transcendentalism, the spiritual state and morality can be realized through human intuition and conscience without moral laws or doctrines of religion.
Travesty: Travesty is a type of low burlesque in which a lofty subject is debased by treating it in an undignified and inappropriate manner.
Triad: A collection of three ideas, concepts or entities that are more loosely connected than the pure trinity. The oldest triad belongs to the religious poetry of the Sumerian scholastic period (circa 2400-2200 BCE) in which Gods of heaven, earth, and water are represented as a triad that are linked with each other.
Triple Rhyme: A rhyme that contains three syllables is known as a triple rhyme.
Trochee: Trochee is the literary term for a two syllable foot used in formal poetry, in which stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable.
Trope: Literary trope is a figure of speech in which a word is used to convey a meaning that is different from what it means literally.
Troubadour: This style of poetry refers to the love poets in Southern France who wrote and sang poems, hat dealt with courtly love, between 1100-1350. They were known for being creative and experimenting with metrical forms. They are credited to have influenced the development of love lyric in Europe. A troubadour is essentially a male poet. A female troubadour is called a trobairitz.
Understatement: Understatement is a literary device that stands completely opposite to the figure of speech, hyperbole. An understatement is when an issue or situation is expressed in a much lesser magnitude than it actually is. Understatement usually creates an ironic effect and sometimes is also used to create humor.
Unintrusive Narrator: Unintrusive narrator is someone who is completely different to an intrusive narrator. An unintrusive narrator is one who does not give away his opinions or judgments on a character or situation while narrating a novel.
Unities: Aristotle in his Poetics introduced the concept of ‘unity of action’, where he said that a play should revolve around a single plot and should not have any subplots. Later in the 16th and 17th centuries, Italian critics added two more, namely the ‘unity of time’ and the ‘unity of place’. The unity of time emphasizes that the time period of the play should not be more than the actual duration of the play, and the unity of place stresses that the action that takes place in the play should be restricted to one place. However, these three unities, especially that of time and place, were not followed strictly by the English playwrights, but were popular among the Italian and French writers.
University Wits: 16th century England saw the emergence of a group of playwrights who had completed their university education. This group of playwrights were called the University Wits. Thomas Lodge, Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge, John Lyly, etc., are some of the known university wits.
Unreliable Narrator: An unreliable narrator is a narrator who interprets the events in the novel according to his opinions, rather than that of the author. Unreliable narrators are deceptive as they are influenced by personal bias, psychological instability, faulty perception, and limited understanding. A novel narrated by an unreliable narrator would have some hints by the author so that the reader recognizes the unreliability of the narrator’s interpretations.
Utopia: The term ‘utopia’ refers to those fictional writings where the social and political conditions are portrayed as perfect, which is actually not possible in real life. The Utopian way of life was first described by Plato in his treatise Republic. Later this was adapted by Sir Thomas More in his book ‘Utopia’. The Utopian society is free from poverty and vices, all the citizens are happy, virtuous, and healthy or in other words, it is a perfect world.
Variorum: The term varorium can have two interpretations. Firstly, it is a collection of all the works of the writer including the various revisions done to those works. Variorum also refers to an edition which contains all the annotations, criticisms, and commentaries of various critics and editors on a particular piece of work.
Verbal Irony: Verbal irony is a kind of irony, where the character says something that he actually does not mean, which the reader would understand immediately, but the other character would fail or take time to comprehend. Works like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, etc., have several examples of verbal irony in them.
Verisimilitude: The term ‘verisimilitude’ is where people get a felling that whatever they are reading or observing on the stage is real or somewhere close to reality. For instance, a person in London watching a play that is set in Italy has a sense of verisimilitude, where he is able to think the stage represents Italy.
Verse: Any line, stanza, or composition which follows some kind of meter and rhythm is called a verse. Poems can be found in rhymed verse, free verse as well as in blank verse.
Victorian Period: Victorian Period is the era when the British Empire was ruled by Queen Victoria, starting from the year 1837 till the year 1901, when the Queen died. During the Victorian Era, England had become a supreme industrial power. The novel form was the most popular during the Victorian Period which reflected the economic, social, intellectual, and religious issues of that time. The famous novelists of the Victorian Period include Charles Dickens, George Eliot, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Thomas Hardy to count a few.
Villain: The term ‘villain’ is derived from the old French word, vilein, and refers to a character in the play who is evil and performs cruel and malicious deeds on other people. A villain is an antagonist who is pitted against the protagonist or the hero, and plots against him to make his life hell. For instance, Iago in Othello and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.
Vilanelle: The term ‘villanelle’ is adapted from the Italian word villanella, which means rustic. It is a type of poem which contains nineteen lines, divided into five terctes (a stanza made of three lines) and a quatrain. The vilanelle has only two rhyme sounds which is followed throughout the poem. Dylan Thomas’ Do not Go Gentle Into that Good Night is a good example of a vilanelle.
Voice: Voice refers to a distinct style of the author which reflects in the way he creates a piece of work. It is influenced by various factors including the author’s personality, way of thinking, attitude, character, etc. It can also be referred to as the persona of the author.
Well-made Play: The well made play was introduced by Eugene Scribe and Victorien Sardou in the 19th century. This dramatic genre was later adopted by realistic writers like Henrik Ibsen. Well-made plays were created with careful as well as logical construction of the plot.
Western Fiction: Western fiction became a part of American literature during the early 20th century. This literary genre refers to those novels which spun stories around the American Old West frontier, particularly in the late 19th century.
Wit: The term ‘wit’ is often considered synonymous to humor, and is a form of verbal expression that is used to make others laugh.
Women’s Studies: Women’s studies refer to an academic field which focuses on researching and studying issues concerning women, including topics like gender, feminism, and politics. Women’s history, women’s fiction, feminist art as well as feminist theory are a part of women’s studies.
Xanaduism: The term ‘Xanaduism’ was initiated by John Livingston Lowes in his work, Road to Xanadu which is the study of Coleridge’s poem, Kubla Khan. Xanaduism refers to the literary study of sources that helped in the formation of fantasy and imaginative works.
Xenia: The term ‘Xenia’ refers to the Greek concept of hospitality. People in Greece had to follow this custom very strictly where they had to look after the comfort of travelers who came to their city by providing them with food and shelter. The belief is that if they do not do so, they would have to bear the brunt of Zeus, who is the King of the Gods.
Xenophanic: The term comes from the name of the Greek poet Xenophanes, who wrote poems during 550 BCE. Xenophanic poets are those who wrote satirical and witty poems while traveling around the world.
Yarn: A story that talks about adventures and events that are made interesting by adding impossible fantastic elements. The language used in yarn is usually colloquial English which has a realistic tone.
Zeitgeist: Zeitgeist is a German word which means ‘the spirit of the times’. The term refers to the spiritual, cultural, political, and intellectual attitudes, and spirit of a country or society during a particular period.
Zeugma: Zeugma is a Greek word which means ‘bonding’ or ‘yoking’. In literature, when a word is used in relation with two or more words grammatically, though it is appropriate logically for one of the two, it is called zeugma. Sometimes, the word would be in literal relation to one of the words and metaphorical to the other. For e.g., The Queen of England sometimes takes advice in that chamber and sometimes tea.