Figures of Speech
by Michael J. Cummings...©
2003, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
Kindle for Christmas
Drama Play that depicts life as meaningless, senseless,
uncertain. For example, an absurdist playwright's story generally ends
up where it started; nothing has been accomplished and nothing gained.
The characters may be uncertain of time and place, and they are virtually
the same at the end of the play as they were at the beginning. Here is
how the genre came about: A group of dramatists in 1940's Paris believed
life is without apparent meaning or purpose; it is, in short, absurd, as
French playwright and novelist Albert Camus (1913-1960) wrote in a 1942
essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus." Parodoxically, the only certainty in life
is uncertainty, the absurdists believed. For more about absurdist drama,
see Waiting for Godot.
One of the main divisions of a play. Shakespeare's plays each have five
acts. Each act is subdivided into scenes. An act generally
focuses on one major aspect of the plot or theme. Between acts, stagehands
may change scenery, and the setting may shift to another locale.
Wise saying; proverb; short, memorable saying that expresses a truth and
is handed down from one generation to the next; short saying that expresses
an observation or experience about life; maxim; aphorism; apothegm. Examples
of adages are the following:
bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.–Unknown
author, 16th Century.
Stage direction in a Shakespeare play (or a play by another author in Shakespeare's
time) indicating the coming of a battle; a call to arms.
a feather flock together [probably based on an observation of Robert
Burton (1577-1640) in The Anatomy of Melancholy: "Birds of a feather
will gather together."]
dowry is a bed full of brambles.–George Herbert, Outlandish Proverbs,
visitors smell in three days.–Benjamin Franklin.
is enough for a woman.–J. Ray, English Proverbs (1670).
in need is a friend indeed.–Of Latin origin.
learns to shave by shaving fools.–J. Ray, English Proverbs (1670).
form popularized in France in which each line contains twelve syllables
(and sometimes thirteen). Major accents occur on the sixth and twelfth
syllables; two minor accents occur, one before the sixth syllable and one
before the twelfth syllable. A pause (caesura) occurs
immediately after the sixth syllable. Generally, there is no enjambment
in the French Alexandrine line. However, enjambment does occur in English
translations of Alexandrine verse. The name Alexandrine derives
from a twelfth-century work about Alexander the Great that was written
in this verse format. Jean Baptiste
Racine was one of the masters of this format. Some English writers
later adapted the format in their poetry.
Literary work in which characters, events, objects, and ideas have secondary
or symbolic meanings. One of the most popular allegories of the twentieth
century was George Orwell's Animal
Farm, about farm animals vying for power. On the surface, it is
an entertaining story that even children can enjoy. Beneath the surface,
it is the story of ruthless Soviet totalitarianism. Other famous examples
of allegories are John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and the fifteenth-century
morality play, Everyman.
Repetition of consonant sounds. Examples: (1) But now I am cabined,
bound into saucy doubts and fears.–Shakespeare. (2) Duncan is in his grave;
after life's fitful
he sleeps well–Shakespeare. (3) When
Housman. (Note that "one" has a "w" sound. (4) I sent thee late a rosy
Jonson. (Note that "wr" has an "r" sound.)
Reference to a historical event or to a mythical or literary figure. Examples:
(1) Sir Lancelot fought with Herculean strength. (Reference to the
mythological hero Hercules). (2) "I have met my Waterloo," the mountain
climber said after returning from a failed attempt to conquer Everest.
(Reference to the Belgian town where Napoleon lost a make-or-break battle).
(3) Since my elementary-school days, math has always been my Achilles
heel. (Reference to the weak spot of Achilles, the greatest warrior
to fight in the Trojan War. When his mother submersed him in the River
Styx after he was born, the magical waters made him invulnerable. His flesh
was impervious to all harm–except for the heel of a foot. His mother was
grasping the heel when she dipped him into the river. Because the river
water did not touch his heel, it was the only part of his body that could
suffer harm. He died when a poison-tipped arrow lodged in his heel. Hence,
writers over the ages have used the term Achilles heel to refer
to a person's most pronounced weakness.
A thing from a different period of history than that which is under discussion;
a thing that is out of place historically. Suppose, for example, that a
literary work about World War I says that a wounded soldier is treated
with penicillin to prevent a bacterial infection. The writer of the work
would deserve criticism for committing an anachronism, for penicillin and
other antibiotics did not come into use until 1941, twenty-three years
after the end of World War I.
(an uh dih PLOH sis) Figure of speech in which a word or phrase at the
end of a sentence, clause, or line of verse is repeated at or near the
beginning of the next sentence, clause, or line of verse. Here are examples:
pledged the country his loyalty; loyalty was his only possession.
(an ag NOR ih sis) In Greek drama, a startling discovery; moment of epiphany;
time of revelation when a character discovers his true identity. In the
Sophocles play Oedipus Rex,
anagnorisis occurs when Oedipus realizes who he is.
hath a thousand several tongues,
brings in a several tale,
condemns me for a villain.–Shakespeare, Richard III.
Literary work, film, character, setting, etc. that resembles another literary
work, film, character, setting, etc. The film West Side Story is
an analogue of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Stephen Spielberg's film Jaws is an analogue of Herman Melville's
novel Moby Dick.
Anapest and Anapestic
See Meter .
NAF uh ruh) Repetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning
of word groups occurring one after the other. Examples: (1) Give me
wine, give me women and give me song. (2) For everything
there is a season . . . a time to be born, and a time to
die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.–Bible,
Ecclesiastes. (3) To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream.–Shakespeare,
One of the most famous examples of anaphora in Shakespeare occurs in Act
II, Scene I, Lines 40-68.
(uh NAS truh fe) Inversion of the normal word order, as in a
man forgotten (instead of a forgotten man) or as in the opening
lines of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn": In Xanada did Kubla
Kahn / A stately pleasure dome decree (instead of
In Xanadu, Kubla
Kahn decreed a stately pleasure dome). Here is another example, made
up to demonstrate the inverted word order of anastrophe:
In the garden green and dewy
Anecdote A little story,
often amusing, inserted in an essay or a speech to help reinforce the thesis.
A rose I plucked for Huey
note that accompanies text; footnote; comment.
in a story or poem who opposes the main character (protagonist). Sometimes
the antagonist is an animal, an idea, or a thing. Examples of such antagonists
might include illness, oppression, or the serpent in the biblical story
of Adam and Eve.
Antonomasia (an tihn
uh MAY zha) Identification of a person by an appropriate substituted phrase,
such as her majesty for a queen or the Bard of Avon for Shakespeare.
Antiphrasis (an TIF
ruh sis) See Irony, Definition 1.
of contrasting or opposing words, phrases, clauses, or sentences side by
side. Following are examples:
I am tall; you are short.
Aphorism Short, often
witty statement presenting an observation or a universal truth; an adage.
Examples: (1) Fish and visitors smell in three days–Benjamin Franklin.
(2) Many hands make light work.–John Heywood. (3) In charity there is no
excess–Francis Bacon. (4) Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown–William
Shakespeare. (See also Epigram.)
The world will little note nor long
remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.–Abraham
Lincoln, "Gettysburg Address."
To err is human, to forgive divine.–Alexander
Pope, "Essay on Criticism."
Addressing an abstraction or a thing, present or absent; addressing an
absent entity or person; addressing a deceased person. Examples: (1) Frailty,
thy name is woman.–William Shakespeare. (2) Hail, Holy Light, offspring
of heaven firstborn!–John Milton. (3) God in heaven, please help me.
Novel (Bildungsroman) Novel that centers on the period
in which a young person grows up. This type of novel was pioneered by Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) in his novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre
(Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship). An apprenticeship novel can
also be identified by its German name, bildungsroman, meaning novel
(roman) of educational development (bildungs).
(1) Original model or models for persons appearing later in history or
characters appearing later in literature; (2) the original model or models
for places, things, or ideas appearing later in history or literature;
(3) a primordial object, substance, or cycle of nature that always symbolizes
or represents the same positive or negative qualities.
of Definition 1: The mythical Hercules is an original model of a strong
man. Consequently, he is an archetype. Exceptionally strong men who appear
later in history or literature are said to be archetypical Hercules figures
because they resemble the original Hercules. Similarly, the biblical Eve
is an original model of a woman who tempts a man to commit sin. Thus, she
is an archetype. Temptresses who appear later in history or literature
are said to be archetypical Eve figures because they resemble the original
Eve. Examples of archetypical Eve figures include the housewife who goads
her husband to steal from his employer and the prostitute who tempts a
married man to have illicit sex. In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth,
Lady Macbeth is an archetypical Eve figure because she, like Eve, urges
her husband to commit sin–in the case of Macbeth, to commit murder. In
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus is an archetypical Judas (the apostle
who betrayed Christ) because Brutus betrays Caesar.
of Definition 2: The biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as Babylon,
are original examples of cities corrupted by sin. Thus, they are archetypes.
Decadent cities–or cities perceived to be decadent–that appear later in
history or literature are said to be archetypical sin cities. Hollywood
and Las Vegas are examples.
of Definition 3: Rivers, sunlight, serpents, the color red and green,
and winter are examples of primordial things (existing since the beginning
of time) that are archetypes because they always symbolize the same positive
or negative qualities, according to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung
(1875-1961). Rivers represent the passage of time or life; sunlight represents
happiness, a new beginning, glory, truth, goodness, or God; the color red
represents passion, anger, blood, or war; the color green represents new
life, a new beginning, or hope; winter represents death, dormancy, or atrophy.
Tapestry hung on the stage to conceal scenery until the right moment. In
Shakespeare's Hamlet, an arras played a crucial role. Polonius hid
behind one to eavesdrop on a conversation between Hamlet and his mother,
Queen Gertrude. When Hamlet saw the tapestry move, he stabbed at it, thinking
King Claudius was behind it, and killed Polonius.
Romance Literary work in which a knight in the age of the legendary
King Arthur goes on a quest.
Words an actor speaks to the audience which other actors on the stage cannot
hear. Sometimes the actor cups his mouth toward the audience or turns away
from the other actors. An aside serves to reveal a character's thoughts
or concerns to the audience without revealing them to other characters
in a play. Near the end of Hamlet, Queen Gertrude raises a cup of
wine to her lips during the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes. King
Claudius had poisoned the wine and intended it for Hamlet. In an aside,
Claudius–unwilling to warn Gertrude in an effort to preserve his innocence–says,
"It is the poison'd cup: it is too late."
Repetition of vowel sounds preceded and followed by different consonant
sounds. Use of "bite" and "like" in a line of poetry would constitute assonance.
Examples: (1) There are no tricks in plain and simple faith.–Shakespeare.
(2) But I am pigeon-livered, and lack gall to make oppression bitter.
(3) John met his fate by the lake.
Use of words or phrases in a series without connectives such as and
Examples (1) One cause, one country, one heart.–Daniel Webster. (2) Veni,
vidi, vici (Latin: I came, I saw, I conquered).–Julius Caesar.
Peninsula in southeastern Greece that included Athens. According to legend,
the King of Athens, Theseus, unified 12 states in Attica into a single
state dominated by Athenian leadership and the Athenian dialect of the
Greek language. The adjective Attic has long been associated
with the culture, language and art of Athens. The great period of Greek
drama, between the Sixth and Fourth Centuries, B.C., is known as the Attic
Period. Drama itself was invented by an Attic actor, Thespis,
who introduced speaking parts to accompany choral odes.
[oh BAHD] Joyful song about dawn and its beauty; morning serenade. One
of the finest aubades in literature occurs in Act II, Scene III, of Shakespeare's
play Cymbeline. It begins with the the famous words "Hark, hark!
the lark at heaven's gate sings" (Line 22).
Folk Poem that tells a story that centers on a theme popular with
the common people of a particular culture or place. Generally of unknown
authorship, a folk ballad passes by word of mouth from one generation to
the next. One of its key characteristics is a candence that makes the poem
easy to set to mustic and sing.
Literary Ballad that imitates a folk ballad. But unlike the folk
ballad, the literary ballad has a known author who composes the poem with
careful deliberation according to sophisticated conventions. Like the folk
ballad, it tells a story with a popular theme.
Lyric poem of French origin usually made up of three eight-line stanzas
and a concluding four-line stanza called an envoi that offers parting advice
or a summation. At the end of each stanza is a refrain. Each line of the
poem contains about eight syllables. The rhyme scheme of the eight-line
stanza is ababbcbc.
rhyme scheme of the envoi is bcbc.
des dames du temps jadis" is an excellent example of the genre.
Originally, a Celtic poet who sang epic poems while playing a harp. In
time, bard was used to refer to any poet. Today, it is often used
to refer to William Shakespeare (the Bard of Avon).
Fable See Fable.
See Apprenticeship Novel.
Inflated, pretentious speech or writing that sounds important but is generally
Lay Fourteenth Century English narrative poem in rhyme about courtly
love. The poem contains elements of the supernatural. The English borrowed
the Breton-lay format from storytellers in Brittany, France. A lay is a
medieval narrative poem originally intended to be sung.
an adjective describing anyone or anything from Brittany. "The Franklin's
Tale," a story in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, is an
example of a Breton lay.
Literary work, film, or stage production that mocks a person, a place,
a thing, or an idea by using wit, irony, hyperbole, sarcasm, and/or understatement.
For example, a burlesque may turn a supposedly distinguished person into
a buffoon or a supposedly lofty subject into a trivial one. A hallmark
of burlesque is its thoroughgoing exaggeration, often to the point of the
absurd. Cervantes used burlesque in Don
Quixote to poke fun at chivalry and other outdated romantic ideals.
Among English writers who used burlesque were Samuel Butler (Hudibras)
and John Gay (The Beggar’s Opera). Burlesque is a close kin of parody.
The latter usually ridicules a specific literary work or artistic production.
Pause in a line of verse shown in scansion by two vertical lines ( || ).
Complete works of an author. When reasonable doubt exists that an author
wrote a work attributed to him, scholars generally exclude it from the
author’s canon. Such doubt sometimes arises when a centuries-old work–for
example, a play, poem, or novel–has survived intact to the present day
without an author’s byline or other documentation proving that a particular
author wrote it.
Major division division of an epic poem, such as Dante's Divine
Comedy. The word is derived from the Latin cantus (song).
Literary work or cartoon that exaggerates the physical features, dress,
or mannerisms of an individual or derides the ideas and actions of an organization,
institution, movement, etc. The word is derived from the Italian caricare,
load, exaggerate, surcharge, fill to excess. In literature,
caricature is a form of burlesque.
Carpe Diem Latin expression
meaning seize the day. Literary works with a carpe diem theme
tell readers to enjoy life while they can. In other words, they should
eat, drink and be merry and not worry about dying. Sir John Falstaff, the
fun-loving and hard-drinking knight in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I,
Henry IV Part II, and The Merry Wives of Windsor believed in
carpe diem. An example of a poem with a carpe diem theme is Andrew Marvell's
"To His Coy Mistress."
Catalexis See Meter.
of a stage play.
Catastrophe (1) Denouement,
or conclusion, of a stage tragedy; (2) denouement of any literary work.
In published Shakespeare plays in earlier times, a single word on the bottom
of the right side of every page. This word was the first word appearing
on the next page.
In literature and art, a purification of emotions. The Greek philosopher
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) used the term to describe the effect on the audience
of a tragedy acted out on a theater stage. This effect consists in cleansing
the audience of disturbing emotions, such as fear and pity, thereby releasing
tension. This purgation occurs as a result of either of the following reactions:
(1) Audience members resolve to avoid conflicts of the main character–for
example, Oedipus in Oedipus Rex and Creon in Antigone–that
arouse fear or pity or (2) audience members transfer their own pity and
fear to the main character, thereby emptying themselves of these disquieting
emotions. In either case, the audience members leave the theater as better
persons intellectually, morally, or socially. They have either been cleansed
of fear of pity or have vowed to avoid situations that arouse fear and
pity. In modern usage, catharsis may refer to any experience, real or imagined,
that purges a person of negative emotions.
In the drama of ancient Greece, sleeveless outer garment, or cloak, worn
by some actors.
SHAN te; alternate spellings: chantey, shantey, shanty) In earlier
times, a song sung by sailors that kept time with the work they were doing,
such as tugging on a rope to hoist a sail. The length of chanteys varied
in relation to the length of the tasks being performed.
Character, Flat Character
in story who has only one prominent trait, such as greed or cruelty.
Character, Round Character
in a story who has many aspects to his or her personality. The character
may have a good side and a bad side; he or she may be unpredictable.
Character in a literary work who does not change his or her outlook in
response to events taking place.
Tale of courtly love. In such tales, nights exhibit nobility, courage,
and respect for their ladies fair, and the ladies exhibit elegance, modesty,
and fidelity. Although knights and ladies may fall passionately in love,
they eschew immoral behavior. In conflicts between good and evil, justice
prevails. Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale," the first story in The
Canterbury Tales, is an example of a chivalric romance.
(pronounced ki AZ mis) Words in a second clause or
phrase that invert or transpose the order of the first clause or phrase.
Here are examples:
I come from
the rural north, from the urban south comes she.
(Greek Play) Bystanders in a Greek play who present odes
on the action. A parode (or parados) is a song sung by the
chorus when it enters. A stasimon is a song sung during the play,
between episodes of action. The chorus generally had the following roles
in the plays of Sophocles and other Greek playwrights: (1) to explain
the action, (2) to interpret the action in relation to the law of the state
and the law of the Olympian gods, (3) to foreshadow the future, (4) to
serve as an actor in the play, (5) too sing and/or dance, and (6)
to give the author's views. In some ways, the chorus is like the narrator
of a modern film or like the background music accompanying the action of
the film. In addition, it is like text on the film screen that provides
background information or identifies the time and place of the action.
John is a
good worker, and a bright student is Mary.
A fop their
passion, but their prize a sot.–Alexander Pope.
lovely, love is flowerlike–Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
[KRON ih kler]: recorder of medieval events; historian
Scandaleuse [kron EEK skan duH LOOZ]: Literary work centering on
gossip and intrigue at the court of a king.
In literature, a tradition espousing the ideals of ancient Greece and Rome:
objectivity, emotional restraint, systematic thinking, simplicity, clarity,
universality, dignity, acceptance of established social standards, promotion
of the general welfare, and strict adherence to formal rules of composition.
A classical writer typically restrained his emotions and his ego while
writing in clear, dignified language; he also presented stories in carefully
structured plots. Classicism remained a guiding force in literature down
through the ages. Writers in the 15th,
16th and 17th
centuries, as well as the first half of the 18th Century, highly esteemed
classical ideals. In the mid-18th Century, writers began to rebel against
classical ideals in what came to be known as the Romantic Movement, or
which advocated emotional freedom, imaginative thinking, and individuality
in writing. However, neither classical nor romantic writing was always
entirely faithfully to its ideals. For example, a classical writer may
have exhibited emotional effusion from time to time or expressed himself
with language less than dignified; conversely, a romantic writer may have
exhibited emotional restraint and cool objectivity on occasion. Writers
today continue to use many of the principles of both the classical and
romantic schools of writing.
expression. Examples: raining cats and dogs, snug as a bug in
a rug, chills running up and down my spine, warm as toast,
and sweet. Writers should avoid using clichés whenever possible.
Climax High point
in a story. In Hamlet, this point occurs when Hamlet and Laertes
duel with swords and mortally wound each other. In classic detective stories,
this point usually occurs when Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, Hercules
Poirot, etc., lay out the evidence and finger the killer.
Closet Drama A drama
written to be read rather than acted on a stage. An example is
Agonistes, by John Milton, a 1671 tragedy about the final days of the
biblical hero Samson.
Comedy (Stage) Play
with a happy ending. The stage comedies in ancient and Renaissance times
did not always contain humor, the staple of the modern stage and film comedy,
but they did end happily. By contrast, a stage tragedy
always ends unhappily.
of Manners Comedy that ridicules
the manners (way of life, social customs, etc.) of the privileged and fashionable
segment of society. An example is Oliver Goldsmith's She
Stoops to Conquer, in which Goldsmith pokes fun at the English upper
class. The play uses farce (including many mix-ups) to ridicule the class-consciousness
of 18th Century Englishmen.
Novel See Apprenticeship
Poetry Poetry with lines arranged to resemble a familiar object,
such as a Christmas tree. Concrete poetry is also called shaped verse.
Conflict The struggle
in a work of literature. This struggle may be between one person and another
person or between a person and an animal, an idea or a thing. It may also
be between a person and himself or herself (internal conflict). In Shakespeare's
the conflict is manifold. Hamlet struggles against the villain Claudius,
against the unbecoming conduct of his mother, and against his conscience
Philosophique Philosophical novel
or philosophical story, a genre Voltaire
is credited with inventing. His contes philosophiques (which include
and Zadig) are characterized by a “swift-moving adventure story
in which characterization [counts] for little and the moral (or sometimes
immoral) lesson for much" (Brumfitt, J.H. Voltaire: Candide.
Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1968, Page 9.)
Coronach Funeral song
(dirge) in Scotland and Ireland. In addition to being sung, it was sometimes
played on bagpipes.
Boots worn by actors in ancient Greece to increase their height and, thus,
visibility to theater audiences. Singular: cothurnus.
Two successive lines of poetry with end rhyme.
Coup de Théâtre
(pronounced KOO duh tay AH truh) (1) Startling development in a drama that
is unforeseen and unmotivated; (2) a cheap plot development intended solely
to create a sensation.
Couplet, Heroic Two
successive end-rhyming lines in iambic pentameter.
is an example:
offence from am'rous causes springs,
Dactyl and Dactylic See
contests rise from trivial things
(Lines 1 and
2, The Rape of the Lock, by Alexander Pope)
The outcome or resolution of the plot, occurring after the climax. In a
murder mystery, the denouement may outline the clues that led to the capture
of a murderer. In a drama about family discord, it may depict the reconciliation
of family members after a period of estrangment–or the permanent dissolution
of family ties if the drama reaches a climax in which the discord worsens.
Ex Machina See Machine.
In Greek drama, the character second in importance to the main character,
Conversation in a play, short story, or novel. A literary work on a single
topic presented in the form of a conversation. Plato's Republic,
and Phaedo are examples of literary works that are dialogues.
Word choice; the quality of the sound of a speaker or singer. Good diction
means that a writer pleases the eye of a reader or the ear of a listener.
Adjective describing a literary work intended to teach a lesson or a moral
Greater See Dionysus.
Rural See Dionysus.
Patron god of Greek drama; god of wine and vegetation. Dionysus, called
Bacchus by the Romans, was the son of Zeus and one of the most important
of the Greek gods. Dionysus died each winter and was reborn each spring,
a cycle his Greek devotees identified with the death and rebirth of nature.
He thus symbolized renewal and rejuvenation, and each spring the Greeks
celebrated his resurrection with ceremonies that eventually included drama
contests. The most prestigious of these festivals was the Greater Dionysia,
held in Athens for five days and participated in by playwrights such
as Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Euripides. Festivals held in
villages and small towns were called the Rural Dionysia.
In the drama of ancient Greece, a choral hymn that praised Dionysus,
god of wine and revelry, and sometimes told a story. In his great workPoetics,
Aristotle wrote that dithyrambs inspired the development of Greek tragic
plays, such as those of Sophocles. The first "play" supposedly took place
in the 6th Century B.C. when Thespis, a member of a chorus, took the part
of a character in a dithyramb. The action shifted back and forth between
him and the chorus. See also Thespian.
Doggerel Trivial or
Book [DOOMS day book] official census of the English people and
their possessions, notably land, which was completed in 1086 at the behest
of King William I (William the Conqueror).
DOP l gayng er) In folklore, the spirit double of
a living person. Among well-known writers who have used doppelgängers
in their works are Fyodor Dostoevski and E.T.A. Hoffman. A doppelgänger
is not the same as a ghost; the latter is an apparition of a dead person.
Literary work with dialogue written in verse and/or prose and spoken by
actors playing characters experiencing conflict and tension. The English
word drama comes from the Greek word "dran," meaning "to do."
Irony Failure of a character to see or understand what is obvious
to the audience. The most notable example of dramatic irony in all of literature
occurs in Oedipux Rex, by Sophocles, when Oedipus fails to realize
what the audience knows–that he married his own mother.
Monologue: Poem that presents a moment in which a narrator/speaker
discusses a topic and, in so doing, reveals his feelings and state of mind
to a listener or the reader. Only the speaker, talks–hence the term monologue,
meaning "single (mono) discourse (logue)." During his discourse,
the speaker intentionally and unintentionally reveals information about
himself. The main focus of a dramatic monologue is this personal information,
not the speaker's topic. A dramatic monologue is a type of character study.
Perhaps the most famous dramatic monologue in English literature is Robert
Browning's "My Last Duchess."
Personae List of the characters in a play. Such a list is found
at the beginning of each Shakespeare play, as well as the plays of other
Show Part of play performed in gestures, without speech; pantomime.
In Shakespeare's plays, "dumb show" appears as a stage direction.
Edition and Issue:
Terms describing published versions of newspapers and magazines. A newspaper
printed on a specific date, such as August 22, is an issue. However, the
August 22 issue of the newspaper may go through several printings: one
at 6 a.m., for example, and one at 2 p.m. and one at 10 p.m. The 2 p.m.
version would update or revise news in the 6 a.m. version--or add new stories;
the 10 p.m. version would update or revise news in the 2 p.m. version--or
add new stories. The newspapers printed at 6 a.m., 2 p.m., and 10 p.m.
would all be editions of the August 22 issue.
Rational: Acting in oneself’s best interests (that is, acting
selfishly) by selecting what appears to be the most beneficial of all the
choices available. Russian writer Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky (1828-1889)
centered various writings on this subject. His great contemporary, Fyodor
Mikhailovitch Dostoevsky (1821-1881), attacked rational egoism in his novel
From the Underground. There are two types of rational egoism, which
are as follows:
Belief that a person’s nature, or biological makeup, will always cause
him to act in his own self-interest. In other words, a person has no free
will; he will always end up choosing what he perceives is best for him.
Suppose, for example, that two persons each have a toothache and a fear
of dentists. After reviewing the alternatives, the first person decides
to go to the dentist to have the tooth extracted because he perceives that
the latter course will cause him less pain and distress in the long run.
The second person, after reviewing the alternatives, decides to pull the
tooth himself because he perceives that this course of action—despite the
pain and greater risk of complications that self-treatment poses—will cause
him less mental trauma than a dentist’s treatment. In both cases, there
is no real "decision." What the persons do is dictated by their genetic
makeup and other determining factors, according to proponents of this theory.
The rational egoists Dostoevsky criticizes—most
notably Chernyshevsky—maintained that one always acted in his own self-interest,
as in psychological egoism, but also ought to investigate the available
alternatives or options in order to make the most informed choice. However,
there is a conflict here. On the one hand, psychological egoism presumes
that a person has no free will. On the other hand, normative egoism implies
that a person has at least a modicum of free will and, after educating
himself, acts with "enlightened self-interest." Nevertheless, Chernyshevsky
believed that a person had no free will regardless of how he went about
making his choice.
Normative Egoism: Belief
that a person will act in his own best interests if he first thoroughly
educates himself about the choices available. In this type of egoism, the
second person in the example above would presumably decide to go to a dentist
because, after educating himself about both alternatives, he would realize
that professional treatment is more likely to produce a positive outcome.
A somber poem or song that praises or laments the dead. Perhaps the finest
elegy in English literature is Thomas Gray's "Elegy
Written in a Country Churchyard."
Pertaining to the time when Elizabeth I reigned as queen of England. Elizabeth,
born in 1533, reigned from 1558 until her death in 1603. Elizabethan
may be used to describe the literature of the period (for example, Elizabethan
poems and Elizabethan plays) or anything else associated with the age (such
as Elizabethan costumes, Elizabethan customs, Elizabethan music, and so
In ancient Greece, a poem in the form of a choral song praising a victor
in the Olympic games. (2) In modern usage, any speech, essay, poem, etc.,
that praises a person.
the sense of one line of verse over to the next line without a pause. In
the first four lines of "My Last Duchess," by Robert Browning, enjambment
joins the second and third lines (I call / That) and the third and
fourth lines (Pandolf's hands / Worked):
last Duchess painted on the wall,
direction in a play manuscript indicating the entrance
onto the stage of a character or characters.
if she were alive. I call
a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
a day, and there she stands.
Long poem in a lofty style about the exploits of heroic figures. Homer's
and Odyssey, as well as the Old English
poem Beowulf, are examples of epics.
Conventions Literary practices, rules, or devices that became commonplace
in epic poetry. Among the classical conventions Milton
used are the following:
The invocation of the muse, in which a writer requests divine help in composing
Funeral hymn or ode; dirge
Telling a story with which readers or listeners are already familiar; they
know the characters, the plot, and the outcome. Most of the great writers
of the ancient world–as well as many great writers in later times, including
Shakespeare–frequently told stories already known to the public. Thus,
in such stories, there were no unexpected plot twists, no surprise endings.
If this sounds strange to you, the modern reader and theatergoer, consider
that many of the most popular motion pictures today are about stories already
known to the public. Examples are The Passion of the Christ, Titanic,
Ten Commandments, Troy, Spartacus, Pearl Harbor,
Beginning the story in the middle, a literary convention known by its Latin
term in media res (in the middle of things). Such a convention
allows a writer to begin his story at an exciting part, then flash back
to fill the reader in on details leading up to that exciting part.
Announcing or introducing a list of characters who play a major role in
the story. They may speak at some length about how to resolve a problem
(as the followers of Satan do early in Paradise Lost).
Conflict in the celestial realm. Divine beings fight and scheme against
one another in the epics of Homer and Vergil, and they do so in Paradise
Lost on a grand scale, with Satan and his forces opposing God and his
Use of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is a figure of speech in which a
character in a story fails to see or understand what is obvious to the
audience. Dramatic irony appears frequently in the plays of the ancient
Greeks. For example, in Oedipux Rex, by Sophocles,
dramatic irony occurs when Oedipus fails to realize what the audience knows–that
he married his own mother. In Paradise Lost, dramatic irony occurs
when Adam and Eve happily go about daily life in the Garden of Eden unaware
that they will succumb to the devil's temptation and suffer the loss of
Paradise. Dramatic irony also occurs when Satan and his followers fail
to understand that it is impossible ultimately to thwart or circumvent
divine will and justice.
Wise or witty saying expressing a universal truth in a few words. Following
are examples of epigrams from Shakespeare:
choice in rotten apples.–The Taming of the Shrew: Act I, Scene I.
(1) Quotation inserted at the beginning of a poem, a novel, or any other
literary work; (2) a dedication of a literary work or a work of art such
as a painting; (3) words inscribed or painted on a monument, building,
A goodly apple
rotten at the heart, O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!–The Merchant
of Venice: Act I, Scene III.
They are as
sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing.–The
Merchant of Venice: Act I, Scene II.
How far that
little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.–The
Merchant of Venice: Act V, Scene I.
engenders not a storm.–Henry VI, Part III: Act V, Scene III.
no debts.–Troilus and Cressida: Act III, Scene II.
O! it is excellent
to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.–Measure
for Measure: Act II, Scene II.
In Shakespeare, a short address spoken by an actor at the end of a play
that comments on the meaning of the events in the play or looks ahead to
expected events; an afterword in any literary work.
(Plural: Epinicia): In ancient Greece, a choral ode celebrating
an athletic victory. For additional information, click
Scene or incident in a literary work.
Letter written by an apostle in the New Testament of the Bible; any letter,
especially an informal or instructive one.
Epistolary Novel Novel
in which a character (or characters) tells the story through letters (epistles)
sent to a friend, relative, etc. For example, in Mary Shelley's
Captain Robert Walton writes letters to his sister to bring her up to date
on his expedition in the Arctic. After his ship takes Victor Frankenstein
aboard, he listens to Frankenstein’s story and writes it down in letter
Inscription on a tomb or a written work praising a dead person; any commemoration,
eulogy, or remembrance.
Epitasis The part
of a stage play that develops the characters, plot, and theme. The epitasis
follows the protasis.
(or Epithalamium, Epithalamy) Poem or song honoring the bride and
groom on the day of their wedding. The term is derived from Greek words
referring to the bedroom of a woman. In ancient times, an epithalamion
was performed in front of the bridal chamber. However, epithalamion
can also refer to a song performed during the wedding ceremony. Surviving
fragments of the Greek poetess Saphho (610-580 B.C.) indicate that she
wrote wedding songs called epithalamia. In Rome, the great lyric
poet Catullus (84-54 B.C.) wrote epithalamions. In the Renaissance, English
poets such as John Donne, Sir Philip Sydney, Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick,
and Richard Crashaw wrote epithalamions. Many critics believe Edmund Spenser's
"Epithalamion"–written in 1595 on the occasion of his second marriage–is
the greatest English poem in this genre. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
wrote a famous epithalamion, which used as its title the Latin word for
One of the hallmarks of the style of the Greek epic poet Homer is the epithet,
a combination of a descriptive phrase and a noun. An epithet presents a
miniature portrait that identifies a person or thing by highlighting a
prominent characteristic of that person or thing. In English, the Homeric
epithet usually consists of a noun modified by a compound adjective, such
as the following: fleet-footed Achilles, rosy-fingered dawn,
sea, earth-shaking Poseidon, and gray-eyed Athena. The
Homeric epithet is an ancient relative of such later epithets as Richard
the Lion-Hearted, Ivan the Terrible, and America the Beautiful.
Homer repeated his epithets often, presumably so the listeners of his recited
tales could easily remember and picture the person or thing each time it
was mentioned. In this respect, the Homeric epithet resembles the leitmotiv
of opera composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883). The leitmotiv was a repeated
musical theme associated with a character, a group of characters, an emotion,
or an idea.
(1) Statement summarizing the content of a book, essay, report, etc. (2)
Person or object that embodies all the qualities of something
d'escalier (es PRE duh SKAL yay): Slow wit. Used to characterize
a person who thinks of the ideal reply or retort after leaving a conversation
and going upstairs (escalier). On the stairs, the ideal reply occurs to
Short, nonfiction composition on a single topic. The typical essay contains
500 to 5,000 words, although some essays may contain only 300 words and
others 10,000 or more words. Examples of essays are newspaper or magazine
articles that inform readers about current events, newspaper or magazine
editorials that argue for or against a point of view, movie reviews, research
papers, encyclopedia articles, articles in medical journals, and articles
in travel magazines. There are four types of essays: those that inform
the reader without taking a position; those that argue for or against a
point of view; those that describe a person, place, thing, or idea; and
those that tell a true story. Essays often require extensive research to
support claims made by the writer of the essay.
Speech or written work paying tribute to a person who has recently died;
speech or written work praising a person (living, as well as dead), place,
thing, or idea.
Word or phrase that softens the hard reality of the truth, such as senior
citizen for old person, passed away for died,
for lie, previously owned car for used car, collateral
damage for civilian deaths during war, and pleasingly plump
for fat. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency once used the euphemism
Evaluation Committee for assassination team. In general, good
writers avoid euphemisms.
Ornate, high-flown style of speaking or writing.
Stage direction in a play manuscript indicating that
a military attack is taking place. The opening of Scene II in Act III of
Shakespeare's King John contains such a stage direction.
narrative in verse or prose that teaches a moral lesson or reinforces a
doctrine or religious belief.
e unt] Stage direction in a play manuscript indicating the
of two or more characters from the stage.
Omnes..[EX e unt] Stage direction
in a play manuscript indicating the
all the characters from the stage.
Stage direction in a play manuscript indicating the departure
of a character from the stage.
uh doss): In a drama of ancient Greece, the exit scene; the final part
of the play
Expressionism In literature,
expressionism is a writing approach, process, or technique in which a writer
depicts a character’s feelings about a subject (or the writer’s own feelings
about it) rather than the objective surface reality of the subject. A writer,
in effect, presents his interpretation of what he sees. Often, the depiction
is a grotesque distortion or phantasmagoric representation of reality,
for the character or writer must reshape the objective image into his mind's
image. However, there is logic to this approach for these reasons: (1)
Not everybody perceives the world in the same way. What one person may
see as beautiful or good another person may see as ugly or bad. Sometimes
a writer or his character suffers from a mental debility, such as depression
or paranoia, which alters his perception of reality. Expressionism enables
the writer to present this altered perception. An example of a character
who sees reality through his mind's eye is Joseph K., the protagonist of
Franz Kafka's novel The Trial.
In a story, the part of the plot that introduces the setting and characters
and presents the events and situations that the story will focus on. Exposition
also refers to an essay whose primary purpose is to inform readers rather
than to argue a point.
Story that teaches a lesson or rule of living. The characters are usually
animals that speak and act like humans. The most famous fables are those
attributed to Aesop, a Greek, Thracian, Phrygian, Babylonian, or Lydian
storyteller or a group of storytellers who assigned the name Aesop
to a collection of fables popularized in Greece. Aesop's fables are sometimes
referred to as beast fables.
Short verse tale with coarse humor and earthy, realistic, and sometimes
obscene descriptions that present an episode in the life of contemporary
middle- and lower-class people. The fabliau uses satire and cynicism, along
with vulgar comedy, to mock one or several of its characters. Not infrequently,
the ridiculed character is a jealous husband, a wayward wife, a braggart,
a lover, a proud or greedy tradesman, a doltish peasant, or a lustful or
greedy clergyman. Plot development often depends on a prank, a pun,
a mistaken identity, or an incident involving the characters in intrigue.
The fabliau was popular in France from 1100 to 1300, then went out of fashion.
Chaucer revived the format in The Canterbury Tales to write “The
Miller’s Tale," “The Reeve’s Tale," “The Cook’s Tale," “The Shipman’s Tale,"
and The Summoner’s Tale." It is not entirely clear whether the fabliau
was a pastime of the upper classes as a means to ridicule their social
inferiors or of the middle and lower classes as a means to poke fun at
Copy In Shakespeare's time, a play manuscript after it has been
Type of comedy that relies on exaggeration, horseplay, and unrealistic
or improbable situations to provoke laughter. In a farce, plotting takes
precedence over characterization.
of Speech Word, phrase or sentence that (1) presents a “figure"
to the mind of the reader, (2) presents an imaginative or unusual use of
words that the reader is not to take literally, or (3) presents a special
arrangement or use of words or word sounds that create an unusual effect.
Ordinary language that does not contain a figure of speech is called literal
language. Language that contains a figure of speech is called figurative
language. Figurative language is also sometimes called imagery because
it presents an image to the mind. Consider the following sentences:
The leaves blew across the lawn.
Notice that the second sentence presents
a figure to the mind of the reader: The leaves are dancing as if they were
people. Obviously, the writer does not mean that the leaves literally danced.
However, they “figuratively" danced. Now consider the following additional
The leaves danced across the lawn.
Mr. Piper harvested a bushel of
green vegetables. (Literal language)
The repetition of the "p" in the second
sentence is considered a figure of speech because it presents a sound to
the mind. This glossary contains definitions of various figures of speech.
The most common figures of speech are Alliteration,
Peter Piper picked four pecks of
peppers. (Figurative language)
Device in which a writer describes significant events of an earlier time
or actually returns the plot to an earlier time. Flashback enables the
author to inform the reader of significant happenings that influence later
action. Vehicles that writers use to return to earlier times include dreams,
memories, and stories told by the narrator or a character.
Stage direction in a play manuscript for music introducing the entrance
or exit of a king or another important person. The music may consist of
a short trumpet passage.
(1) A secondary or minor character in a literary work who contrasts or
clashes with the main character; (2) a secondary or minor character with
personal qualities that are the opposite of, or markedly different from,
those of another character; (3) the antagonist in a play or another literary
work. A foil sometimes resembles his or her contrasting character in many
respects, such as age, dress, social class, and educational background.
But he or she is different in other respects, including personality, moral
outlook, and decisiveness. In Sophocles’ play Antigone, Ismene is
a foil of Antigone, her sister. Ismene is easygoing, soft-spoken, and willing
to keep her place. Antigone, on the other hand, is headstrong, outspoken,
and unwilling to keep her place. Creon is also a foil of Antigone, and
Antigone is a foil of Creon. Creon represents government law and male dominance;
Antigone represents the moral law and female rights. They clash. In so
doing, one foil sets off the other. Their quarreling helps to reveal their
A folio is a sheet of printing paper folded once to form four separate
pages for printing a book. To better visualize a folio, hold before you
a standard sheet of typing paper and fold it as you would a letter..You
now have a rectangular piece of paper. Hold it so it opens from right to
left. What you are looking at is Page 1. Now turn the flap from right to
left to open the rectangle. You are now looking at Pages 2 and 3 separated
by a crease. When you close the right flap over the left, you will be looking
at Page 4. A folio was considerably larger than a quarto.In
1623, friends and admirers of Shakespeare compiled a reasonably authentic
collection of 36 of Shakespeare's plays in a folio edition of more than
900 pages that was entitled Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories
& Tragedies. The printer and publisher was William Jaggard, assisted
by his son Isaac. This edition became known as The First Folio. Because
of the authenticity of this collection, later publishers used it to print
copies of the plays. Other folios were printed in 1632, 1663 and 1685.
In 1664, a second printing of the 1663 folio included the first publication
of Pericles, Prince of Athens.
Stories, songs, and sayings transmitted by memory (that is, orally) rather
than by books or other printed documents, from one generation to the next.
Folklore thrives indepently of polished, sophisticated literature in the
form of ballads, fairytales, superstitions, riddles, legends, fables, plays,
nursery rhymes, and proverbs. Englishman William Thoms invented the term
in 1846. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German scholars who studied folklore
in the early 1800's, compiled many tales based on their research, including
the stories of Briar-Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and Rumpelstiltskin.
In the courts of England in Shakespeare's time, a fool was a comic figure
with a quick tongue who entertained the king, the queen, and their guests.
He was allowed to–and even expected to–criticize anyone at court. Many
fools were dwarfs or cripples, their odd appearance enhancing their appeal
and, according to prevailing beliefs, bringing good luck to the court.
Actors William Kempe and Richard Armin became London celebrities for their
performances as fools in Shakespeare's plays. Armin wrote a book about
fools entitled Foole Upon Foole; or Six Sortes of Sottes.Egypt's
pharaohs were the first rulers to use fools, notably Pygmies from African
territories to the south.
Foot and Feet (Meter)
Device a writer uses to hint at a future course of action. The words a
heart trouble in the first line of “The Story of an Hour," by Kate
Chopin, refer to a condition of the main character, Mrs. Mallard, and foreshadow
the story's ironic ending, in which Mrs. Mallard dies from shock when her
husband–whom she thought dead–walks through the front door. Because of
foreshadowing in the opening paragraph of the story, the ending becomes
believable. Shirley Jackson also uses foreshadowing in the second paragraph
of her outstanding short story “The Lottery" in the following sentence:
Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys
soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones.
. . . This sentence foreshadows the stoning scene at the end of the
story. Another example of foreshadowing occurs in the prologue of Shakespeare's
and Juliet. An actor called “the chorus" recites a sonnet in which
he describes the bitter hatred separating the Montagues and Capulets and
identifies Romeo and Juliet as lovers who had the misfortune to be born
into warring families: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes [the
Montagues and the Capulets] / A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their
life" (Lines 5-6). Take their life appears to have a double-meaning:
first, that they come into existence; second, in a foreshadowing of events
to come, that they go out of existence by taking their own lives.
Papers In Shakespeare's time, the original manuscript of a playwright
which was later edited.
Tale Story with a plot structure in which an author uses two or
more narrators to present the action. The first narrator sets the scene
and reports to the reader the details of a story told by a character. (In
some frame tales, the first narrator reports the details of several stories
told by several narrators.) In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Captain
Robert Walton–a minor character–is the first
narrator. He sets the scene and listens to the story told by Victor Frankenstein,
the main character. All of the information Walton reports to the reader
is in the form of letters written to his sister. Thus, Frankensteinis
a frame tale in that it is like a framed painting: Walton's story is the
frame, and Frankenstein's story is the painting. Some frame tales–such
as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio's The Decameron–have
several narrators telling stories "inside the frame." One famous frame
tale–the Arabian Nights (also called The Thousand and
One Nights)–has only one narrator, a sultan's
bride named Scheherazade, who tells many tales "inside the frame," including
the well-known stories of Sindbad the Sailor, Aladdin and his magic lamp,
and Ali Baba and his magical command "Open sesame!"
Verse Form of poetry that ignores standard rules of meter
in favor of the rhythms of ordinary conversation. In effect, free verse
liberates poetry from conformity to rigid metrical rules that dictate stress
patterns and the number of syllables per line. French poets originated
free verse (or vers libre) in the 1880s, but earlier poems of American
poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and other writers exhibited characteristics
of free verse. Although free verse generally contains no metrical patterns
it may contain other types of patterns. For examples, see
Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom'd."
Excessive boasting; incessant bragging. Perhaps the most famous braggart
in all of literature is Sir John Falstaff, the rotund knight (Henry
IV Part I, Henry IV Part II)
who is brave in words but timid in deeds.
Type or kind, as applied to literature and film. Examples of genres are
romance, horror, tragedy, adventure, suspense, science fiction, epic poem,
elegy, novel, historical novel, short story, and detective story.
Anglo-Saxon minstrel who sang or recited poetry. Gleemen traveled from
place to place but sometimes found employment in the court of a monarch.
(NO mik) Adjective describing writing that contains wise, witty sayings
(GAWL yerd) Wandering student of Medieval Europe who made merry and wrote
earthy or satiric verses in Latin. Goliards sometimes served as jesters
Fiction Literary genre focusing on dark, mysterious, terrifying
events. The story unfolds at one or more spooky sites, such as a dimly
lit castle, an old mansion on a hilltop, a misty cemetery, a forlorn countryside,
or the laboratory of a scientist conducting frightful experiments. In some
Gothic novels and short stories, characters imagine that they see ghosts
and monsters. In others, the ghosts and monsters are real. The weather
in a Gothic story is often dreary or foul: There may be high winds that
rattle windowpanes, electrical storms with lightning strikes, and gray
skies that brood over landscapes. The Gothic genre derives its name from
the Gothic architectural style popular in Europe between the 12th and 16th
centuries. Gothic structures–such as cathedrals–featured cavernous interiors
with deep shadows, stone walls that echoed the footsteps of worshippers,
gargoyles looming on exterior ledges, and soaring spires suggestive of
a supernatural presence. See also
Book on the lives of saints; scholarly study of the lives of saints.
Serious character flaw of the main character (protagonist) of a Greek tragedy.
Often, this flaw is great pride, or hubris. But it
may also be prejudice, anger, zealotry, poor judgment, an inherited weakness,
or any other serious shortcoming.
[OH bwah] Stage direction in a play manuscript indicating that entering
characters are playing hautboys, which are Elizabethan oboes.
Heptameter See Meter.
of two rhyming lines in iambic pentameter.
Following is an example:
offence from am'rous causes springs,
contests rise from trivial things
(Lines 1 and
2, The Rape of the Lock, by Alexander Pope)
Comedy Comedy that relies on wit and subtle irony or sarcasm. High
comedy usually focuses on the everyday life of upper classes. It is generally
verbal rather than physical. See also Low Comedy.
A clergyman's talk that usually presents practical moral advice rather
than a lesson on a scriptural passage, as in a sermon.
or Hybris Great pride that brings about the downfall of a character
in a Greek drama or in other works of literature.
Eight-line stanza (French).
Exaggeration; overstatement. Examples: (1) He [Julius Caesar] doth bestride
the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his...huge
legs.–Shakespeare. (Caesar has become a giant.) (2) Ten thousand oceans
cannot wash away my guilt. (3) Oscar has the appetite of a starving lion.
Idyll Poem focusing
on the simplicity and tranquillity of rural life; prose work with a similar
focus. Idyll is derived from the Greek eidýllion (little
picture or image). The Greek poet Theocritus (300-260 B.C.) developed this
Iamb and Iambic See
In a Shakespeare play, an introductory event that precedes Act 1. For additional
information, see The Taming
of the Shrew.
Res Latin phrase for in the middle of things. It means that
a story begins in the middle of the plot, usually at an exciting part.
The writer of the story later uses flashback to
inform the reader of preceding events. The Greek poet Homer originated
this technique in his two great epics, The
Conflict See Conflict.
Inversion See Anastrophe.
In everyday conversation, a person
would say, "I plucked a rose for Huey in the green and dewy garden."
of the Muse In ancient Greece and Rome, poets generally requested
a muse (goddess) to fire them with creative genius when they began long
narrative poems, called epics, about godlike heroes and villains. This
request appeared in the opening lines of their poems. In Greek mythology,
there were nine muses, all sisters, who were believed to inspire not only
poets but also historians, flutists, dancers, singers, astronomers, philosophers,
and other thinkers and artists. If one wanted to write a great poem, play
a musical instrument with bravado, or develop a grand scientific or philosophical
theory, he would ask for help from a muse by “invoking the muse." The muse
of epic poetry was named Calliope [kuh LY uh pe].
Ipse Dixit Dogmatic
or arbitrary statement made without supporting evidence. This Latin term
means He said [it] himself.
(1) Saying the opposite of what is meant, or verbal irony; (2) result or
ending that is the opposite of what is expected, or situational irony;
(3) situation in which the audience attending a dramatic presentation grasps
the incongruity of a situation before the actors do, or dramatic irony.
Examples: (1) "What a beautiful day," Maxine said, opening her umbrella.
(2) In the movie Planet of the Apes, an astronaut who lands on another
where intelligent apes rule discovers a startling irony at the end of the
movie: When looking over a vast wasteland, he sees the head of the Statue
of Liberty and realizes he was on earth all the time. Apparently, a nuclear
war had destroyed humankind while he was time-traveling. While in his Einsteinian
time warp, the apes had evolved to an almost human level. (3) In Oedipus
Rex, by Sophocles, Oedipus is unaware that he has married his own mother
even though the audience is well aware of the incestuous union.
Vocabulary understood by members of a profession or trade but usually not
by other members of the general public. Cerebrovascular accident
is medical jargon for stroke; perp is police jargon for perpetrator,
a person who commits a crime. Jargon can also refer to writing or speech
that makes no sense–gibberish.
Jeu d'esprit (Pronounce
the eu like the oo in wood; pronounce esprit as uh
SPREE) Witty writing; clever wording; jest; pun, ingenious turn of phrase.
A literary work with jeu d'esprit is quick-witted but not necessarily
profound. The literal English translation of this French term is play
of the spirit or play of intelligence.
Jeu de mots (Pronounce
the eu like the oo in wood; pronounce de as duh;
pronounce mots as moh) Pun; play on words.
minstrel in medieval England and France who sang songs (his own or those
written by others) and told stories.
Kenning Compound expression,
often hyphenated, representing a single noun. For example, the Old English
epic Beowulf uses the two-word term whale-road to refer to
the sea or ocean. Other examples of kennings include devil's helper
for sinner and widow-maker for gun.
Laurel Wreath Wreath
woven of the large, glossy leaves of the laurel tree. It was customary
in ancient Greece to crown a champion Olympic athlete, poet, or orator
with a laurel wreath for outstanding achievement. Over the years, other
nations and cultures adopted this custom. Today, the phrase to win one's
laurels is often used figuratively to indicate that an athlete, scholar,
or stage performer has earned distinction in his or her field.
Lay Medieval narrative
poem, written in couplets, for singing by a minstrel
to the accompaniment. A lay had eight syllables in each line.
Leitmotiv See Epithet
Lexis The complete
vocabulary of a language or a field of study.
Creation of a positive or opposite idea through negation. Examples: (1)
I am not unaware of your predicament. (2) This is no small problem.
(3) I'm not forgetful that you served me well.–John Milton.
Comedy Comedy that relies on slapstick and horseplay. It often
focuses on the everyday life of lower classes. Low comedy is generally
physical rather than verbal. See also High Comedy.
Poetry (1) Poetry that presents the deep feelings and emotions
of the poet as opposed to poetry that tells a story or presents a witty
observation. Sonnets, odes, and elegies are examples of lyric poems.
Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy
Bysshe Shelley, and William Blake
are among the writers of lyric poetry. Shakespeare's
sonnets are lyric poems, although his verse plays are not; they tell
a story. Lyric poetry often has a pleasing musical quality. (2) Poetry
that can be set to music. The word lyric derives from the Greek
lyre, a stringed instrument in use since ancient times.
Armlike device in an ancient Greek theater that could lower a "god" onto
the stage from the "heavens." The Greek word for machine, mechane, later
gave rise to a pejorative Latin term, deus ex machina (god from a machine),
to describe a contrived event in a literary work or film. A contrived event
is a plot weakness in which a writer makes up an incident–such as a detective
stumbling upon an important clue or a hero arriving in the nick of time
to save a damsel in distress–to further the action. The audience considers
such events improbable, realizing that the writer has failed to develop
the plot and the characters in such a way that their actions spring from
their motivations. The term (pronounced DAY ihs ex MAHK in uh orDE
ihs ex MAHK in uh) is usually used adverbially, as in The policeman
arrived deus ex machina to overhear the murderder admit his guilt
to his hostage. However, it can also refer to a character who becomes
the "god from the machine."
The world as a whole; the universe. See also Microcosm.
Opus Great work; masterpiece; an author's most distinguished work.
Latin: magnum, great; opus, work.
Unintentional use of an inappropriate word similar in sound to the appropriate
word, often with humorous effect. The word derives from the name Mrs.
Malaprop, a character in The Rivals, a 1775 play by Richard
Brinsley Sheridan. Sheridan invented her name from the French words mal
à propos, loosely translated as badly chosen, not
right for the occasion, or not appropriate. Mrs. Malaprop has
the habit of using near-miss words. For example, she observes that she
does not have much affluence over her niece and refers to contiguous
countries as contagious countries. However, almost two centuries
before Sheridan presented a character who mixed up words in this way, Shakespeare
introduced characters who did so–most notably Dogberry in Much Ado About
Nothing. Examples of Dogberry's malapropisms are the following:
Comparisons are odorous.
Our watch, sir, have indeed
two auspicious persons." (apprehended,
O villain! thou wilt be condemned
into everlasting redemption for this.