Literary Terms
Including Figures of Speech
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Absurdist 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
Act 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.
Adage 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:
    Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.–Unknown author, 16th Century.
    Birds of 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."]
    A great dowry is a bed full of brambles.–George Herbert, Outlandish Proverbs, 1640.
    Fish and visitors smell in three days.–Benjamin Franklin. 
    One tongue is enough for a woman.–J. Ray, English Proverbs (1670). 
    A friend in need is a friend indeed.–Of Latin origin. 
    A barber learns to shave by shaving fools.–J. Ray, English Proverbs (1670).
Alarum 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.
Alexandrine Verse 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. 
Allegory 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
Alliteration Repetition of consonant sounds. Examples: (1) But now I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound into saucy doubts and fears.–Shakespeare. (2) Duncan is in his grave; after life's fitful fever he sleeps well–Shakespeare. (3) When I was one-and- twenty–A.E. Housman. (Note that "one" has a "w" sound. (4) I sent thee late a rosy wreath–Ben Jonson. (Note that "wr" has an "r" sound.)
Allusion 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. 
Anachronism: 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.
Anadiplosis (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:
    The peasant pledged the country his loyalty; loyalty was his only possession.
    My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
    And every tongue brings in a several tale,
    And every tale condemns me for a villain.–Shakespeare, Richard III.
Anagnorisis (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.
Analogue: 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
Anaphora (uh 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, Hamlet. One of the most famous examples of anaphora in Shakespeare occurs in Act II, Scene I, Lines 40-68. 
Anastrophe (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
    A rose I plucked for Huey 
Anecdote A little story, often amusing, inserted in an essay or a speech to help reinforce the thesis. 
Annotation Explanatory note that accompanies text; footnote; comment.
Antagonist Character 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.
Antithesis Placement of contrasting or opposing words, phrases, clauses, or sentences side by side. Following are examples: 
    I am tall; you are short.
    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."
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.) 
Apostrophe 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.
Apprenticeship 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).
Archetype (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. 
Explanation 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. 
Explanation 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. 
Explanation 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.
Arras 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.
Arthurian Romance Literary work in which a knight in the age of the legendary King Arthur goes on a quest.
Aside 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." 
Assonance 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.
Asyndeton Use of words or phrases in a series without connectives such as and or so. Examples (1) One cause, one country, one heart.–Daniel Webster. (2) Veni, vidi, vici (Latin: I came, I saw, I conquered).–Julius Caesar.
Attica 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
Aubade [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).
Ballad, 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.
Ballad, 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.
Ballade  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. The rhyme scheme of the envoi is bcbc. "Ballade des dames du temps jadis" is an excellent example of the genre.
Bard  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).
Beast Fable See Fable.
Bildungsroman: See Apprenticeship Novel.
Bombast Inflated, pretentious speech or writing that sounds important but is generally balderdash. 
Breton 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. Breton is 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.
Burlesque 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. 

Caesura Pause in a line of verse shown in scansion by two vertical lines ( || ).
Canon 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.
Canto Major division division of an epic poem, such as Dante's Divine Comedy. The word is derived from the Latin cantus (song). 
Caricature 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, meaning 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
Catastasis Climax of a stage play. 
Catastrophe (1) Denouement, or conclusion, of a stage tragedy; (2) denouement of any literary work. 
Catchword 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.
Catharsis 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.
Chalmys In the drama of ancient Greece, sleeveless outer garment, or cloak, worn by some actors.
Chantey (pronounced 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, Static Character in a literary work who does not change his or her outlook in response to events taking place. 
Chivalric Romance 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.
Chiasmus  (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.
    John is a good worker, and a bright student is Mary.
    A fop their passion, but their prize a sot.–Alexander Pope.
    Flowers are lovely, love is flowerlike–Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Chorus (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.
Chronicler [KRON ih kler]: recorder of medieval events; historian 
Chronique Scandaleuse [kron EEK skan duH LOOZ]: Literary work centering on gossip and intrigue at the court of a king.
Classicism 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 romanticism, 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. 
Cliché Overused expression. Examples: raining cats and dogs, snug as a bug in a rug, chills running up and down my spine, warm as toast, short 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 Samson 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. 
Comedy 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. 
Coming-of-Age Novel  See Apprenticeship novel.
Concrete 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 Hamlet, the conflict is manifold. Hamlet struggles against the villain Claudius, against the unbecoming conduct of his mother, and against his conscience and indecision. 
Conte Philosophique Philosophical novel or philosophical story, a genre Voltaire is credited with inventing. His contes philosophiques (which include Micromégas 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.
Cothurni.(singular, cothurnus): Boots worn by actors in ancient Greece to increase their height and, thus, visibility to theater audiences. Singular: cothurnus.
Couplet 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. Following is an example:
    What dire offence from am'rous causes springs,
    What mighty contests rise from trivial things 
    (Lines 1 and 2, The Rape of the Lock, by Alexander Pope)
Dactyl and Dactylic See Meter
Denouement 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.
Deus Ex Machina See Machine.
Deuteragonist In Greek drama, the character second in importance to the main character, or protagonist.
Dialogue 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, Symposium, and Phaedo are examples of literary works that are dialogues.
Diction 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.
Didactic Adjective describing a literary work intended to teach a lesson or a moral principle.
Dimeter See Meter
Dionysia, Greater See Dionysus.
Dionysia, Rural See Dionysus.
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.
Dithyramb 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 bad poetry. 
Domesday 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).
Doppelgänger(pronounced 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. 
Drama 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."
Dramatic 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.
Dramatic 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."
Dramatis 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 dramatists.
Dumb 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
Egoism, 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 Notes From the Underground. There are two types of rational egoism, which are as follows:
Psychological Egoism: 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.
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.
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. 
Elegy 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." 
Elizabethan 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 on).
Encomium (Plural: Encomia).(1) 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. 
Enjambment.Carrying 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): 
    That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
    Looking as if she were alive. I call
    That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
    Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Enter.Stage direction in a play manuscript indicating the entrance onto the stage of a character or characters.
Epic Long poem in a lofty style about the exploits of heroic figures. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, as well as the Old English poem Beowulf, are examples of epics.
Epic Conventions Literary practices, rules, or devices that became commonplace in epic poetry. Among the classical conventions Milton used are the following: 
    .......(1) The invocation of the muse, in which a writer requests divine help in composing his work.
    .......(2) 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, The Ten Commandments, Troy, Spartacus, Pearl Harbor, and Gettysburg
    .......(3) 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. 
    .......(4) 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).
    .......(5) 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 forces. 
    .......(6) 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 knowsthat 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. 
Epicedium Funeral hymn or ode; dirge
Epigram Wise or witty saying expressing a universal truth in a few words. Following are examples of epigrams from Shakespeare:
    There's small choice in rotten apples.–The Taming of the Shrew: Act I, Scene I.
    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.
    Every cloud engenders not a storm.–Henry VI, Part III: Act V, Scene III. 
    Words pay 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. 
Epigraph (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, trophy, etc. 
Epilogue 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.
Epinicion (Plural: Epinicia): In ancient Greece, a choral ode celebrating an athletic victory. For additional information, click here.
Episode Scene or incident in a literary work.
Epistle 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 Frankenstein, 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 form. 
Epitaph  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
Epithalamion (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 the term–epithalamium
Epithet 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, wine-dark 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.
Epitome (1) Statement summarizing the content of a book, essay, report, etc. (2) Person or object that embodies all the qualities of something
Esprit 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 him.
Essay 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. 
Eulogy 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. 
Euphemism Word or phrase that softens the hard reality of the truth, such as senior citizen for old person, passed away for died, misstatement 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 Health Evaluation Committee for assassination team. In general, good writers avoid euphemisms.
Euphuism Ornate, high-flown style of speaking or writing.
Excursion 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. 
Exemplum..Short narrative in verse or prose that teaches a moral lesson or reinforces a doctrine or religious belief.
Exeunt..[EX e unt] Stage direction in a play manuscript indicating the departure of two or more characters from the stage. 
Exeunt Omnes..[EX e unt] Stage direction in a play manuscript indicating the departure of all the characters from the stage.
Exit Stage direction in a play manuscript indicating the departure of a character from the stage.
Exodos (EX 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
Exposition 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.
Fable 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.
Fabliau 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 themselves.
Fair Copy In Shakespeare's time, a play manuscript after it has been edited. 
Farce Type of comedy that relies on exaggeration, horseplay, and unrealistic or improbable situations to provoke laughter. In a farce, plotting takes precedence over characterization. 
Figure 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. (Literal language) 
    The leaves danced across the lawn. (Figurative language)
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 examples: 
    Mr. Piper harvested a bushel of green vegetables. (Literal language) 
    Peter Piper picked four pecks of peppers. (Figurative 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, Irony, Metaphor, Metonymy, Onomatopoeia, Oxymoron, Paradox, Personification, Simile, and Synecdoche
Flashback 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. 
Flourish 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.
Foil (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 personality traits.
Folio 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
Folklore 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 folklore 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. 
Fool 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) See Meter
Foreshadowing 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: Bobby 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 Romeo 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.
Foul Papers In Shakespeare's time, the original manuscript of a playwright which was later edited.
Frame 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!"
Free 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 "When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom'd."
Gasconade 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.
Genre 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.
Gleeman Anglo-Saxon minstrel who sang or recited poetry. Gleemen traveled from place to place but sometimes found employment in the court of a monarch.
Gnomic (NO mik) Adjective describing writing that contains wise, witty sayings (aphorisms)
Goliard (GAWL yerd) Wandering student of Medieval Europe who made merry and wrote earthy or satiric verses in Latin. Goliards sometimes served as jesters or minstrels
Gothic 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 Southern Gothic.
Hagiography Book on the lives of saints; scholarly study of the lives of saints.
Hamartia 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. 
Hautboys [OH bwah] Stage direction in a play manuscript indicating that entering characters are playing hautboys, which are Elizabethan oboes. 
Heptameter See Meter
Heroic Couplet.Unit of two rhyming lines in iambic pentameter. Following is an example:
    What dire offence from am'rous causes springs,
    What mighty contests rise from trivial things 
    (Lines 1 and 2, The Rape of the Lock, by Alexander Pope)
Hexameter See Meter
High 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.
Homily A clergyman's talk that usually presents practical moral advice rather than a lesson on a scriptural passage, as in a sermon. 
Hubris or Hybris Great pride that brings about the downfall of a character in a Greek drama or in other works of literature.
Huitain: Eight-line stanza (French).
Hyperbole 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 genre. 
Iamb and Iambic See Meter
Induction In a Shakespeare play, an introductory event that precedes Act 1. For additional information, see The Taming of the Shrew.
In Medias 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 Iliad and The Odyssey
Internal 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." 
Invocation 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
Irony (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 planet 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.
.Jargon 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.
Jongleur Itinerant 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 and Motif
Lexis The complete vocabulary of a language or a field of study.
Litotes 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.
Low 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.
Lyric 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. William 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 word for lyre, a stringed instrument in use since ancient times. 
Machine 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."
Macrocosm The world as a whole; the universe. See also Microcosm.
Magnum Opus Great work; masterpiece; an author's most distinguished work. Latin: magnum, great; opus, work.
Malapropism 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