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A line of iambic hexameter. The final line of a Spenserian stanza is an alexandrine. eg: "A needless alexandrine ends the song / That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along". The second line is an alexandrine from Pope's "Essay on Criticism"


The use of a repeated consonant or sound, usually at the beginning of a series of words. eg: "I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet / When far away an interrupted cry / Came over houses from another street...". "Acquainted with the Night" by Robert Frost


A reference to someone or something, usually literary. eg: "Call me Ishmael" in Moby-Dick, referring to the biblical figure of Ishmael (son of Abraham). Consider too titular allusions like Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury," which echoes Macbeth


The main character opposing the protagonist; often a "villain". eg: Iago from Othello


the attribution of humanlike characteristics, such as emotions or physical characteristics, to nonhuman inanimate objects, animals, or forces of nature. Differs from personification in that it's not a one-off reference, but a sustained part of a work's structure. See Aslan from the Narnia series, Orwell's Animal Farm, or a deity like Zeus who acts and behaves like a human


A speech addressed to someone not present, or to an abstraction. The form often lends itself to parody. eg: Donne, in "The Sun Rising," addressing the sun: "Busy old fool, unruly sun..."


German for the "novel of education". Follows the education and maturation of a character from naivete and inexperience through the harsh realities of the adult world. eg: Joyce's Portrait, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye


The pause that breaks a line of Old English verse. Also any particularly deep pause in a line of verse. eg: "Hwaet! we Gar-Dena | | on geardagum..." (Beowulf); "Arma virumque cano | | Troiae qui primus ab oris" (Aeneid)


A principle of neoclassical drama. The relation of style to content in the speech of dramatic characters, as when a figure's social station matches a particular mode of speech. eg: Moliere, Wilde


A derogatory term used to describe poorly written poetry of little or no literary value. eg: Shakespeare used doggerel in dialogue between the Dromio twins in The Comedy of Errors for comic effect


A poem or other work written to celebrate a wedding. eg: Spenser's poem of the same title: "Song! made in lieu of many ornaments, / With which my love should duly have been dect, / Which cutting off through hasty accidents, / Ye would not stay your dew time to expect..."


Derived from Lyly's Euphues to characterize writing self-consciously laden with elaborate figures of speech. Polonius' dialogue in Hamlet is often reminiscent of euphuism, as in "To thine own self be true"

Feminine Rhyme

Lines rhymed by their final two syllables. A pair of lines ending "running" and "gunning" would be an example of feminine rhyme. Properly, in a feminine rhyme (and not simply a 'double rhyme'), the penultimate syllables are stressed and the final ones unstressed. eg: Sonnet 20 by Shakespeare: "Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion... / With shifting change, as is false women's fashion"

Flat and Round Characters

Terms coined by EM Forster to describe characters built around a single dominant trait (flat) and those with psychological complexity (round). eg: Dickens' Mr. Micawber from David Copperfield (flat) v. Anna Karenina from Tolstoy (round)


Not to be confused with pastoral, deals instead with the labour (rather than ease) of country people--pushing ploughs, raising crops, etc. eg: Virgil's Georgics, from which the term is derived


Aristotle's term for what is popularly called the 'tragic flaw'. Differs from tragic flaw, however, in that hamartia implies fate, whereas tragic flaw implies an inherent psychological flaw in the tragic character. eg: Oedipus' hasty temper and Macbeth's ambition

Homeric epithet

A repeated descriptive phrase, as found in Homer's epics. "The wine dark sea"


From Samuel Butler's "Hudibras," refers to the couplets of rhymed tetrameter (8 syllables long), which Butler employed in "Hudibras." Any deliberate, humorous, ill-rhymed, ill-rhythmed couplets. eg: "We grant, although he had much wit / He was very shy of using it"


purposeful exaggeration for effect. eg: Emerson's "the shot heard round the world" (The Concord Hymn)


a type of understatement in which an idea is expressed by negating its opposite or negation eg: describing a particularly horrific scene by saying, "It was not a pretty picture." of Paul in the Book of Acts: "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city" (Acts 21:39)

Masculine rhyme

A rhyme ending on the final stressed syllable. eg: Frost's "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening": "Whose woods these are I think I know. / His house is in the village though"


A term for a phrase that refers to a person or object by a single important feature of that thing. eg: Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Richelieu: ("The pen [writing] is mightier than the sword [war/fighting].")

Neoclassical unities

Principles derived from Aristotle's Poetics (popular in the neoclassical movement 17th and 18th century), which speak of the essential unities of narrative: time, place, and action. Takes place in one day, within the confines of a single locale, and contains only a single dramatic plot, no subplot.

Pastoral elegy

A lament for the dead that is sung by a shepherd; the shepherd is a figure for the author, and the subject of the elegy is another poet (e.g. Milton's "Lycidas"; Shelley's "Adonais")

Pastoral literature

A work that gives an idealized vision of the lives of people, especially shepherds, in the country or in nature. eg: Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love"

Pathetic Fallacy

The attribution of human emotions or characteristics to inanimate objects or to nature; for example angry clouds; a cruel wind. The term was invented by Ruskin (cf. his famous line on "The cruel crawling foam")


a figure of speech in which an object or animal is given human feelings, thoughts, or attitudes. See Emily Dickinson's "The Train"


A chronicle, usually autobiographical, presenting the life story of a rascal of low degree making her/his living more through wits than industry. A picaresque tale tends to be episodic and structureless, and the picaro, or central figure, tends not to develop or change in the course or her/his adventures. Eg: Twain's Huckleberry Finn or Defoe's Moll Flanders


The main character, usually the "hero". Shakespeare's Othello is an example


A form of humorous poetry, using very short rhymed lines and a pronounced rhythm; made popular by Renaissance poet John Skelton. Similar to doggerel, the only difference being the quality of the thought expressed. eg: O ye wretched Scots / Ye puant pisspots" (Skelton's "How the Doughty Duke of Albany")

Sprung rhythm

The rhythm created and used in the nineteenth century by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Like Old English verse, it fits a varying number of unstressed syllables in a line - only the stresses count in scansion. eg: Hopkins' "Pied Beauty": "Glory be to God for dappled things-- / For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow / For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim..."


describing one kind of sensation in terms of another, thus mixing senses. eg: Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale": "Tasting of Flora and the country green... O for a beaker of the warm South"


a form of metonymy that's restricted to cases where a part is used to signify the whole. eg: Eliot's "Prufrock": "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas"


The perspective from which a story is written; first-person, third-person, etc.

First Person Narration

Look for the pronoun "I". Omniscient or limited. Consider Shelley's "Ozymandias"

Third Person Narration

Either narrated by named characters or those referred to by pronouns. eg: Jane Austen's novels or Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

Second Person Narration

Author speaks using the pronoun "you" to bring the reader into the work

First Person Plural Narration

Using the pronoun "we"

ballad stanza

Typical stanza of folk ballad. Length of lines, as in sprung rhythm and Old English verse, is determined by the number of stressed syllables only. Rhyme scheme abcb. eg: Coleridge's "Mariner"

In Memoriam

Four lines of iambic tetrameter, ABBA. Derived from Tennyson's poem of the same name

Ottava Rima

a stanza of eight lines (usually iambic pentameter) with the rhyme scheme abababcc. See Byron's Don Juan

Rhyme Royal

A seven-line stanza of iambic pentameter rhymed ababbcc, used by Chaucer and other medieval/Renaissance poets. eg: Wyatt's "They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek": "With naked foot stalking in my chamber. / I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek, / That now are wild, and do not remember"


Stanza of 9 lines in total; 8 lines of iambic pentameter, with five feet, followed by an alexandrine (iambic hexameter). Rhyme scheme: (ababbcbcc). Created for The Faerie Queene

Terza Rima

an Italian form of iambic verse consisting of eleven-syllable lines arranged in tercets (three-line stanzas), the middle line of each tercet rhyming with the first and last lines of the following tercet (called an interlocking rhyme scheme). Invented by Dante for the Commedia

Blank Verse

Unrhymed iambic pentameter verse. eg: Tennyson's "Ulysses": "One equal temper of heroic hearts, / Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"

Free Verse

Unrhymed verse without a strict meter. eg: Whitman's "Song of Myself": "I celebrate myself, and sing myself, / And what I assume you shall assume / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you"

Old English Verse

Verse characterized by the internal alliteration of lines and a strong midline pause called a caesura

Example: Beowulf: "Protected in war; so warriors earn / Their fame, and wealth is shaped with a sword"


Fourteen-line lyric poem that is usually written in iambic pentameter and that has one of several rhyme schemes.

Italian/Petrarchan Sonnet

A 14-line sonnet consisting of an octave rhyming abbaabba and of a sestet (or two tercets) rhyming cdecde. eg: Milton's "When I Consider How My Light is Spent"

Shakespearean/English Sonnet

A sonnet form composed of three quatrains and a final couplet written in iambic pentameter, with the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg.

Spenserian Sonnet

a sonnet consisting of three quatrains and a concluding couplet in iambic pentameter with the rhyme pattern abab bcbc cdcd ee. eg: "One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand" by Spenser


a nineteen-line poem divided into five tercets and a final quatrain. The villanelle uses only two rhymes which are repeated as follows: aba, aba, aba, aba, aba, abaa. Line 1 is repeated entirely to form lines 6, 12, and 18, and line 3 is repeated entirely to form lines 9, 15, and 19; thus, eight of the nineteen lines are refrain. Dylan Thomas's poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" is an example of a villanelle.


A 39-line poem of six stanzas of six lines each and a final stanza (called an envoi) of three lines. Rhyme plays no part in the sestina. Instead, one of six words is used as the end word of each of the poem's lines according to a fixed pattern. eg: Kipling's "Sestina of Tramp-Royal"


A 'helping verb' (often a form of "be", "have", or "do") eg: "I am working on it"


a verb ending in -ing and functions as a noun; example: "eating worms is bad for your health"


a form of a verb expressing a command; that which is necessary or required. eg: "Do it now!"


relating to the mood of verbs that is used in simple declarative statements in the present tense. eg: "John plays with the ball"


the unconjugated form of a verb that generally appears with the word 'to' in front of it. "To be, or not to be"


Verb that can be used as a adjective. Present ends in -ing-----*Past ends in ed.-d,-t,-en,-n. eg: "John has often played with the ball"


tells something about the subject (a verb and its cohorts)


a mood that represent an act or state (not as a fact but) as contingent, possible, or counterfactual. "If I were a rich man"

Subordinate conjunction

a conjunction (like 'since' or 'that' or 'who') that introduces a dependent or subordinate clause. eg: "Since you're awake, I'll turn on the TV"


a group of words that is used in place of a noun. eg: "Playing the banjo is extremely annoying"


the case (in some inflected languages) used when the referent of the noun is being addressed directly (in short, direct address). "Sit, Ubu!"

Lacanian criticism

Famous texts: "The Mirror Stage in the Formation of the I"
Major ideas: how selfhood is formed in a childhood act of misrecognition of the self, in which he becomes alienated from himself and enters the symbolic order; language shapes and maps an individual's consciousness
Related thinkers: Freud, Saussure, Hegel
Jargon: mirror, phallus, signifier/signified, substitution, desire, jouissance, objet petit a, imaginary/symbolic/real orders

Marxist criticism

Essential idea: texts are not timeless works subject to universal standards of evaluation. Individuals, consciousnesses, and their products (like literature) are shaped by historical and cultural context
Jargon: base and superstructure, class, proletariat, means of production, bourgeoisie, imperialism, dialectical materialism

New Historicism

A subset of Marxist criticism.
Major ideas: specific institutions of culture produce effects on the consciousness of society's members and the works they produce
Jargon: ideology (and its effects on consciousness)

Feminist, Black, and Post-Colonial Criticism

All work within Marxist/New Historicist frameworks.
Essentially critique Euro-American society's dominance and marginalization of the other from diff. perspectives
Jargon: patriarchy, imperialism, phallocratic/phallocentric, hegemony, Euro-American dominance

Psychological Criticism

The application of the analytical tools of psychology and psychoanalysis to authors and/or fictional characters in order to understand the underlying motivations and meanings of a literary work. Concerned with the universals of human consciousness and how the psyche manifests itself in literature. Considers authorial biography and personality as legitimate objects of study.
Jargon (of Freudian criticism in particular): Oedipal complex, libido, id, ego, superego, subconscious, repression, resistance
Consider too Bloom's Freudian idea of the "strong-poet," a father figure who exerts an anxious influence on later writers.

Archetype/Myth Criticism

Influenced by Jung's theories and those of James G. Frazer in The Golden Bough.
Major thinkers: Northrop Frye and Joseph Campbell
Major Ideas: Looks for recurring symbols, plots, motifs, character types, etc. across world literatures. Myth critics believe that these persistent, powerful stories point to universal needs in the human psyche--the collective unconscious

Linguistic Criticism

Incl. Formalism, New Criticism, etc.; those forms broadly concerned with language


Russian, 1920s.
Major Ideas: Explores how literature defamiliarizes expectations about linguistic structure to create new meaning through story, plot, voice, etc.

New Criticism

Anglo-American, mid-20C. dominant
Major Figures:TS Eliot, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, IA Richards, John Crowe Ransom, FR Leavis
Major idea: close reading and examination of text for inherent meaning in complex language
Jargon: ambiguity, irony, symbol, meaning


Continental Europe, mid-20C.; assoc. with Saussurean linguistics in particular
Major ideas: Like semiotics, interested in the linguistic underpinnings of literature; meaning is produced by structure of language
Jargon: sign, signifier, signified; look too for binary oppositions and spatial metaphors when describing a text's structure


Major schools/ideas: deconstruction; focus on the gaps, displacements, excesses of a text rather than its ordered, deliberate structure
Major Figures: above all, Derrida
Deconstructionist Jargon: erasure, trace, bracketing, differance, slippage, dissemination, logocentrism, indeterminacy, decentering
Post-Structuralist Jargon: mimesis, alterity, marginality, desire, lack

Reader-Response Criticism

Major Focus: studying what happens in a reader's mind in the act of reading; the subjective experience of the literary text
Similar Schools: Reception Aesthetics
Major Figures; Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser, Barthes
Jargon: implied/ideal reader, horizon of expectations

Book of Genesis: Creation

Seven-day creation (light and darkness, heaven/firmament, earth and foliage, lights in the firmament, animals of sea and sky, beasts of the earth and man in God's image, rest, in that order)

Genesis: Cain and Abel

Tiller of the ground/shepherd, respectively. Lord appreciates Abel's offerings more, Cain murders Abel and is driven into the land east of Eden after being marked by God for protection. See Steinbeck's East of Eden

Genesis: Noah's Flood

God decides to destroy the wickedness of man
Chooses Noah to collect two and two of all flesh and restart life on earth; rainbow appears after the flood to symbolize a new compact with man

Genesis: Tower of Babel

Builders aspire to the heavens, God curses them with not being able to understand each other and they're scattered across the earth

Genesis: Abraham and Isaac

Isaac a gift from god to the aging Abe and Sarah; God demands his sacrifice as a burnt offering, but retracts this command at the last minute


Moses hidden from Pharaoh, adopted by Egyptian princess, becomes a prince. Sees God in burning bush in the wilderness who helps him convince the Hebrews to follow him. Ten plagues released on Pharaoh for not letting his people go (bloody water, frogs, locusts, fire and brimstone, death of firstborn(origin of Passover)). Hebrews, in escaping, cross the Red Sea parted by Moses.
See also: Aaron (Moses' brother), the golden calf (idolatry), Mount Sinai, covenant, manna, the Ten Commandments

Samuel and Kings

Son of first Hebrew king Saul, David defeats the Philistine Goliath, composes the Psalms. His son Solomon (by Bathsheba) is a figure of wisdom. His other son Absalom rebels (the subject of Dryden's poem Absalom and Achitopel and Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom!)


Satan and God compete to sway Job's faith; God curses him with poverty and sickness but he remains faithful and has his goods restored to him. "The patience of Job" important.


Set in Babylonian captivity. Skilled interpreter of dreams, appointed to high office by King Darius, thrown into a den of lions by jealous court officials. "Writing on the wall" from Daniel's interpretation of prophecy for King Belshazzar


Ordered to go to Nineveh, refuses and tries to escape, swallowed by whale, repents and argues with God. See Moby-Dick


Immaculate conception of Jesus, three Magi come to visit, Herod's massacre of the innocents fails, Christ baptized by John the Baptist, tempted by Satan in the wilderness, performs miracles, convenes the Last Supper with his apostles, Judas betrays him in Gethsemane (for thirty pieces of silver), Jesus is crucified and risen. See also Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20, Matthew 13:1-23, Luke 8:1-15)

Biblical allusion

See Morrison's Song of Solomon, Faulker's Absalom! Absalom!, Proust's Sodom and Gomorrah, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, Butler's The Way of All Flesh, Ibsen's The Master Builder, etc.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth's famous speech from 5.5

Romeo and Juliet

Characters: the lovers, Friar Laurence, the Nurse, Mercutio, Benvolio, Tybalt


NB Harold Bloom on Iago as the prototype of evil; Coleridge on motiveless malignity

Taming of the Shrew

Cf. Chaucer's Wife of Bath's tale
Characters: Petruchio, Lucentio, Grumio, Gremio, Hortensio, Tranio, Vincentio, Baptista, Bianca, Katherine

The Tempest

Caliban and post-colonialism (especially Robert Browning's "Caliban in Setebos" (1864))

Merchant of Venice

Issues of Judaism, conversion, anti-Semitism. Portia's act as lawyer. Mercy v. Justice. "Hath not a Jew eyes?"

Richard III

"Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York"


154 sonnets; most important are 18, 116, and 130


Old English, Caedmon ("Hymn"), Beowulf


Middle English, Gutenberg Bible (1456). Langland (Piers Plowman), Chaucer, Thomas Malory


Early Tudor period (Henry VII, VIII, Edward VI, and Mary). John Skelton, Thomas More


Elizabethan. Sidney, Spenser, Lyly, Marlowe, Shakespeare


Jacobean. Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher


Caroline Period, Charles I. John Donne, John Webster


Execution of Charles I, Cromwell and the Interregnum. Milton, Robert Herrick, and Marvell


Restoration, Reign of Charles II. Congreve, George Etherege, John Bunyan (Pilgrim's Progress), John Dryden (Absalom and Achitopel)


Queen Anne, last Stuart ruler. Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope


George I, House of Hanover. Swift, Henry Fielding, Thomas Gray


George III, The Enlightenment, The American Revolution (1775-83), the Gothic Novel. Samuel Johnson, Laurence Sterne, Horace Walpole, Thomas Chatterton (forger of medieval poetry under name Thomas Rowley, died at 17 of self-inflicted arsenic poisoning), Mary Wollstonecraft, William Cowper (hymnodist, most famous for Olney Hymns, The Task, and translations of Homer; "God moves in mysterious ways")


Early Romantic Period, Sturm und Drang. Anne Radcliffe, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, Keats, Charles Lamb ("Tales of Shakespeare" and working with Coleridge), Austen


Middle Romantic Period. Reign of George IV (1820-30) and William IV (1830-7). Thomas Carlyle (Historian of French Rev., source for Dickens), Tennyson (Ulysses and In Memoriam), Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe

1837-69 (Britain)

Late Romantic/Victorian. Macaulay (essayist and writer on British history; important for "Whig history"), Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning

1837-69 (America)

Transcendentalism. Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Melville


Late Victorian; Realism. Ruskin (art critic w/ interest in nature's role in society), George Meredith (novelist and poet), Algernon C. Swinburne (decadent poetry on classical themes, like Atalanta in Calydon), George Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins (sprung rhythm, Catholicism, The Windhover), Thomas Hardy, Mark Twain, Henry James


Modernism. Yeats, Conrad, DH Lawrence, Auden, Joyce, Woolf, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, TS Eliot, Pound, WEB Du Bois

Epic Invocation

The address to the Muse with which epics begin

In medias res

"In the midst of things", or in the middle of the narrative action, where most epics begin

epic catalogue

Background information, lists of equipment and participants in battles

Epic simile

A stylized comparison that is extended across unusual length (see PL for English examples)


Supernatural beings who interfere in human affairs; resolution enabled by a great battle, contest, or deed


Homeric epic, takes place in 12th c. BCE. Siege of Troy, ruled by Priam and attacked by Spartan Agamemnon. Paris has stolen Helen, wife of Ag.'s brother Menelaus. Achilles withdraws from the siege, Hector turns the tide of the siege for the Trojans, and Ach.'s friend Patroclus is killed by Hector while wearing his armour. Ach. enters the field in divine armour crafted by Hephaestus, kills Hector. Gods continually favour different humans


goddess of the hearth


goddess of the harvest


goddess of the underworld


goddess of strife


god of goatherds/shepherds

The Graces

Daughters of Zeus and Eurynome






Good Cheer

The Muses

Daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, whose music brings joy












Epic poetry


Love poetry


songs to the Gods (hymns)


lyric poetry

The furies

punish transgression

The Fates

Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos


Saturn, ruler of the titans, father of Zeus

Water nymphs

Naiads, Nereides, Oceanides

The Odyssey

Odysseus leaves the sack of Troy, gets lost, blinds cyclops Polyphemus, enrages his father Poseidon, men transformed into pigs by the witch Circe, sail between Scylla and Charybdis, resist the sirens' song, men struck down by Zeus for killing sacred cows, Odysseus survives and stranded with Calypso, detained for 7 years, brought to Ithaca by Scherian people. Odysseus' son Telemachus evades attempts to murder him by Penelope's suitors, Odysseus and Telemachus slaughter suitors. THE END


Aeneas, son of Priam, leads a fleet from fallen Troy to found a new city under command of the gods, having fled carrying his father Anchises (NB story of Trojan horse and death of Laocoon). Blown to shores of Carthage by resentful Juno where Aeneas wins Dido's love. Reminded by Jupiter and Mercury of his purpose, he leaves Dido, who kills herself, and lands on Italian shores where he victoriously battles Turnus' armies and prepares to settle the land. Allusions: Mercutio's Queen Mab, Dante, Eliot's "Lil" in The Waste Land


House of Atreus plays/The Oresteia: Agamemnon, Choephoroe, Eumenides (5th C. BCE)


Clytemnestra, angry with husband Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter (Iphigenia) and bringing home his slave/lover Cassandra, conspires with her lover Aegisthus to murder him

Choephoroe ("The Libation Bearers")

Based on the advice of an oracle, Orestes (Ag. and Cly.'s son) decides to avenge his father. He and sister Electra murder Cly. and Aegist., but Orestes is tormented by the furies.

Eumenides ("Benevolent Ones")

Athena presides over a precedent-setting murder trial: Orestes v. the Furies for the murder of Aegist. and Cly. The jury is hung. Athena decides in favour of Orestes but placates the Furies by offering to share in her rule of Athens.


Oedipus plays (5th C. BCE)