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WAB IB Eng Lit 11-12 - Lit Terms ---------- Terms A-C: Terms D-E: Terms F: Terms G-M: Terms N-R: Terms S-W:

Ab ovo

This phrase (Latin, "from the egg") refers to a narrative that starts "at the beginning" of the plot, and then moves chronologically through a sequence of events to the tale's conclusion. This pattern is the opposite of a tale that begins in medias res, one in which the narrative starts "in the middle of things," well into the middle of the plot, and then proceeds to explain earlier events through the characters' dialogue, memories, or flashbacks.


a major division of a play.


is a form of extended metaphor in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. In an ** narrative, each character (or, sometimes, object) has both a literal meaning and a consistent metaphorical meaning, and the story proceeds on two levels at once. Thus, when Spenser's Redcross Knight fights with the dragon named Error, we see the battle of a knight and a dragon at the literal level, and a conflict between the (generalized) Christian and the idea of error at the allegorical level. Personification is a crude kind of ** in which abstract qualities are turned into people.


The repetition of consonant sounds in words that are near each other, especially at the beginning of words. It is the sound (not the letter) that is important; therefore 'city' and 'code' do not **, but 'kitchen' and 'code' do. Strictly, it is * when these same sounds come at the start of the words, or at the start of their first stressed syllable; it becomes consonance when the similar sounds are found in other places within the word. Sean O'Brien's use of * in the opening stanzas of 'Reading Stevens in the Bath' has the effect of separating the two rivers. For example, the flow of the phrase "far / from the furnished banks". Anne Ridler's 'Choosing a Name' presents her new-born son "wailing over a world / With walls too wide", the effect of the ** here being to link the wailing with the reason for it. An example of the use of this term is "Sebastian Barker even uses alliteration in the title of 'Holy the Heart on Which we Hang Our Hope.'"

Historically, *** is a characteristic of much Old English verse (such as Beowulf, which includes verses like "feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad, / weox under wolcnum, weorþ-myndum þah," alliterating "f" in the first line and "w" in the second) and some Middle English (such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which begins, "Siþen þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at Troye / The borgh brittened and brent to brondez and askez, / The tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wroght," alliterating "s," "b," and "t" respectively). In verse since the Renaissance it tends to be used less systematically, but it's still common.


reference to a statement, person, place, event, or thing that is known from literature, history, religion, myth, politics, sports, science, the arts.


statement which has two or more possible meanings; a statement whose meaning is unclear


something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time, esp. a thing or person that belongs to an earlier time Analogy a comparison of two or more like objects that suggests if they are alike in certain respects


a recognition or discovery, especially in tragedy - for example, when the hero understands the reason for his or her fall.


Two unaccented syllables followed by an accented one, as in com-pre-HEND or in-ter-VENE. An *** meter rises to the accented beat as in Byron's lines from "The Destruction of Sennacherib" - "And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, / When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee."


repetition of a word or words at the beginning of two or more successive verses, clauses, or sentences.


a brief account of an interesting incident or event that usually is intended to entertain or to make a point


Counterpart to the main character and source of a story's main conflict. The person may not be "bad" or "evil" by any conventional moral standard, but he/she opposes the protagonist in a significant way.


Where animals or inanimate objects are portrayed in a story as people, such as by walking, talking, or being given arms, legs and/or facial features. (This technique is often incorrectly called personification.)


A protagonist who possesses none of the qualities, such as bravery, honestly, and unselfishness, of the traditional hero.


Challenging the traditional conventions surrounding the concept of a narrative, an ** makes use of those conventions to call attention to itself and the practices and modes being used to convey meaning to an audience. Many times ironic, ** implicitly question the validity of conventional narrative logic and the structural aspects and strategies of a narrative in general.

"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice--they won't hear you otherwise--"I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell; "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you's not that you expect anything in particular from this particular book. You're the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything. There are plenty, younger than you or less young, who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store. But not you. You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst. This is the conclusion you have reached, in your personal life and also in general matters, even international affairs. What about books? Well, precisely because you have denied it in every other field, you believe you may still grant yourself legitimately this youthful pleasure of expectation in a carefully circumscribed area like the field of books, where you can be lucky or unlucky, but the risk of disappointment isn't serious." -Calvino, Italo. If on a winter's night a traveler.

This passage illustrates aspects of "***" in that Calvino is clearly aware of the novelistic conventions he is breaking, not just in his manner of addressing the reader, but in also demonstrating awareness of the reading process and the expectations of the "modern" reader.


A figure of speech in which words and phrases with opposite meanings are balanced against each other. An example of *** is "To err is human, to forgive, divine." (Alexander Pope)


A figure of speech in which someone absent or dead or something nonhuman is addressed as if it were alive and present and could reply


the original model or pattern from which copies are made. It is also a symbol, theme, setting, or character that is thought to have some universal meaning and recurs in different times and places in myth, literature, folklore, dreams, and rituals


implies a humble and constant striving for perfection and self-improvement combined with a realistic awareness that such perfection cannot be reached. As long as an individual strives to do and be the best, that individual has ***. As soon as the individual believes he has actually achieved arête, however, he or she has lost that exalted state and fallen into hubris, unable to recognize personal limitations or the humble need to improve constantly. This leads to overwhelming pride, and this in turn leads to a downfall.


Words spoken by an actor directly to the audience, which are not "heard" by the other characters on stage during a play. In Shakespeare's Othello, Iago voices his inner thoughts a number of times as "***" for the play's audience.


The repetition of vowel sounds in words that are close to each other. Like alliteration, it is the sound rather than the letter used that is important. When the speaker of John Betjeman's 'A Subaltern's Love Song' says "westering, questioning settles the sun / On your low-leaded window", the line is bound up with assonance on the e sound; like the strong alliteration and rhyme throughout, this adds to the jaunty music of the poem. More subtle is Adrienne Rich's use of the technique in the opening of 'For This', where the vowel sounds of "stir the nerves" are woven together with those of "letters from the dead" and "skeletons and petals". An example of how to use this in a commentary would go something like "Charles Tomlinson's poem, 'A Rose for Janet', opens with a sustained display of assonance."


Is the deliberate omission of conjunctions in a series of related clauses. An example is "I came, I saw, I conquered" or "Men, women, children went hurrying down the street."


In the literary analysis of drama, the name given to the intended receiver (i.e. this takes the place of "the reader")

balanced sentence

the phrases or clauses balance each other by virtue or their likeness of structure, meaning, or length: e.g., He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.


A poem that tells a story similar to a folk tale or legend and often has a repeated refrain. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is an example of a ***.


This German word means "a novel of formation": that is, a novel of someone's growth from childhood to maturity. A kind of subset of the ** is the Kunstlerroman, the story of an artist's growth to maturity. Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a famous example of both. It's easy to find examples that don't exactly fit the mold, but still involve elements of the **. About a third of Jane Eyre, for instance, is concerned with her childhood.

Blank verse

A line of poetry or prose in unrhymed iambic pentameter that is close to normal speech (indeed, "the form is one that's close to normal speech" is itself an iambic pentameter) so it gives a subtle pulse to a poem, rather than an obvious shaping as a limerick might. However, there is a tendency in contemporary poetry to use shorter lines, so the form can also sound stately or slow to a modern ear. Shakespeare's sonnets, Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, and Robert Frost's meditative poems such as "Birches" include many lines of ** *. Here are the opening blank verse lines of "Birches" - When I see birches bend to left and right / Across the lines of straighter darker trees, / I like to think some boy's been swinging them. To use this term say something like "Michael Hamburger's 'Ave Atque Vale', which looks at permanence and change, has a base of * ** but makes variations to it."

Blocking agent

A person, circumstance, or mentality that prevents two potential lovers from being together romantically.


The spatial grouping and movement of characters on stage. Typically, good *** ensures that all characters are visible to the audience, that the stage is not cluttered with a clump of actors in any one area, and that important action or actors remain positioned in such a way as to emphasize their centrality to the story.


a term for someone who provides amusement through inappropriate appearance and/or behavior. Strictly, a ** describes a "ridiculous, but nevertheless amusing person." In broader terms, a ** is a clown-like, publicly amusing person, such as a court jester.


A harsh, discordant, unpleasant sounding choice and arrangement of sounds


A strong pause within a line of verse; is often found alongside enjambment. It is often used to alter the rhythm of a poem in order to focus the reader/listener's attention to a particular idea being expressed in the word. A ** is typically recognized with the "em dash", which is two hyphenated lines in succession like this '--' The following stanza from Hardy's "The Man He Killed" contains * in the middle two lines "He thought he'd 'list, perhaps, / Off-hand-like--just as I-- / Was out of work-had sold his traps-- / No other reason why." Similarly, John Mole's 'Coming Home' has a first stanza that sets off in a very steady rhythm, with the first four sentences the same length as the line, and the same length as each other. The fifth sentence is only half-a-line long, and the pause following that full stop creates a * in the line, which draws attention to the important paradox in the fifth line, that "They lie together now. They sleep apart". To use this term say something like "'Walking Wounded', by Vernon Scannell, has its first ** after the word "blood", which sets an ominous note for what will come in the following lines."


A representation, especially pictorial or literary, in which the subject's distinctive features or peculiarities are deliberately exaggerated to produce a comic or grotesque effect.


The section of the play that contains the unknotting of the entanglements of the plot and initiates the denouement or falling action of a play.


Aristotle's term for the purgation or purification of the pity and terror supposedly experienced while witnessing a tragedy.


An imaginary person that inhabits a literary work. Literary ** may be major or minor, static (unchanging) or dynamic (capable of change). In Shakespeare's Othello, Desdemona is a major *, but one who is static, like the minor * Bianca. Othello is a major ** who is dynamic, exhibiting an ability to change.


The means by which writers present and reveal character. Although techniques of *** are complex, writers typically reveal characters through their speech, dress, manner, and actions. Readers come to understand the character Miss Emily in Faulkner's story "A Rose for Emily" through what she says, how she lives, and what she does.


A group of characters in Greek tragedy (and in later forms of drama), who comment on the action of a play without participation in it. Their leader is the choragos. Sophocles' Antigone and Oedipus the King both contain an explicit ** with a choragos. Tennessee Williams's Glass Menagerie contains a character who functions like a **.


The principles and ideals of beauty that are characteristic of Greek and Roman art, architecture, and literature. Examples of *** in poetry can be found in the works of John Dryden and Alexander Pope, which are characterized by their formality, simplicity, and emotional restraint.


the culmination of a conflict; a turning point, often the point of greatest tension in a plot.

Closed form

A type of form or structure in poetry characterized by regularity and consistency in such elements as rhyme, line length, and metrical pattern. Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" provides one of many examples. Here, a single stanza illustrates some of the features of closed form: Whose woods these are I think I know. / His house is in the village though. / He will not see me stopping here / To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Clown character

A comic character who may be simpleminded, an ironic commentator, or an actual jester.


** expression; characteristic of spoken or written communication that seeks to imitate informal speech. ** give writing something of the flavour of talk; they make writing less formal, and more entertaining.

Comedy of Manners

Satirizes the manners and accepted traditional customs of a given segment of society.


a literary work, especially a play, characterized by humor and by a happy ending.

Comic relief

The use of a comic scene to interrupt a succession of intensely tragic dramatic moments. The comedy of scenes offering ** * typically parallels the tragic action that the scenes interrupt. * ** is lacking in Greek tragedy, but occurs regularly in Shakespeare's tragedies.

Commedia dell'arte

A genre of Italian farce from the sixteenth-century characterized by stock characters, stock situations, and spontaneous dialogue. Typically, the plot is an intrigue plot and it involves a soubrette who aids two young lovers in foiling the rigid constraints of their parents. Often there is a zani, or foolish-servant, who provides physical comedy in contrast to the anguish of the young lovers. In the end, the couple achieves a happy marriage.

Complex Sentence

A sentence which contains an independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses. An example: "Since John was engaged last month, I haven't stopped crying." (This contains one independent clause <I haven't stopped crying>. <Since John was engaged> is a bit of information that contextualizes the independent clause by providing information about the time during which the action occurs.)


Any incident that further entangles or intensifies the conflict in a story or play. *** builds up, accumulates, and develops the primary or central conflict in a literary work.

Compound Sentence

A sentence which contains two independent clauses combined with a coordinating conjunction or semi-colon. An example: "John was engaged last month, and I am still crying." (<John was engaged last month> and <I am still crying> are both independent clauses, meaning they are complete sentences. They are joined by a comma and the coordinating conjunction <and>.)

Compound-Complex Sentence

A sentence which contains two or more independent clauses and one or more subordinate clauses. An example: "John was engaged last month, and I haven't stopped crying since I heard the news." (<John was engaged last month> and <I haven't stopped crying> are both independent clauses, meaning they are complete sentences. The clause <since I heard the news> is a subordinate clause that contextualizes the action by providing a time frame for the action. The independent clauses are joined by a comma and the coordinating conjunction <and>.)


the term given to describe when a character hides within a scene in order to overhear and/or discover information by listening to other characters.


A finely wrought phrase, often an extended metaphor, and, in excess, an overly elaborate analogy.


a struggle between a character and some obstacle or between internal forces, such as divided loyalties.

connective words

Any word or phrase that signifies a relationship between two words, phrases, clauses, sentences, or paragraphs, such as "similarly", "however", "additionally", etc. See a list of transition words for more.


the associated or secondary meaning of a word or expression in addition to its explicit or primary meaning: A possible *** of "home" is "a place of warmth, comfort, and affection."


is the repetition of consonant sounds. Although its similar to alliteration, *** is not limited to the first letters of the words. For example, the "hard-k" sound in "Take the bike back."


An implied agreement by the audience to accept an artistic reality for an everyday reality. Like other art farms, drama depends for its effectiveness on certain conventions, such as the stage. The audience accepts this partial representation of reality, using its imagination to complete the illusion.


A ** is pair of rhymed lines that may or may not constitute a separate stanza. These need not be the same length, but can be. If there is no enjambment at the end of the second line, it can be called a closed * (the opposite being an open *), especially if this is a recurring pattern. A closed rhyming * in iambic pentameter, especially one which forms a unit of sense, is called a heroic **; many of these can be found in Pope's 'Essay on Man'. It is also possible to find a longer poem whose lines are rhymed in pairs - aabbcc etc - described as being in rhyming couplets, even if the stanzas are longer than two lines. To use this term say something like "Elaine Feinstein's 'Urban Lyric' has an individual aspect of the scene in each couplet, each of which is linked, however, to the adjacent aspects."


a high point in the conflict that leads to the turning point.


An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others


A stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones, as in FLUT-ter-ing or BLUE-ber-ry. The following playful lines illustrate double **, two ** per line: Higgledy, piggledy, / Emily Dickinson / Gibbering, jabbering.

Declarative Sentence

A sentence which makes a statement

Delayed emergence

the technique of characters revealing information about another character before the audience has seen him. This technique has the effect of creating expectations of the *** character that can then be compared to the character himself when he is revealed.


the explicit or direct meaning or set of meanings of a word or expression, basically the dictionary definition


the resolution or the outcome (literally, the "unknotting") of a plot.

Deus ex machina

A god who resolves the entanglements of a play by supernatural intervention. The Latin phrase means, literally, "a god from the machine." The phrase refers to the use of artificial means to resolve the plot of a play.


The phase in the action after the exposition has been presented and the entanglements in the plot begin building to the climax.


The conversation of characters in a literary work. In fiction, *** is typically enclosed within quotation marks. In plays, characters' speech is preceded by their names.


The selection of words in a literary work. A work's ** forms one of its centrally important literary elements, as writers use words to convey action, reveal character, imply attitudes, identify themes, and suggest values. We can speak of the * particular to a character, as in Iago's and Desdemona's very different ways of speaking in Othello. We can also refer to a poet's * as represented over the body of his or her work, as in Donne's or Hughes's **.


the artistic philosophy that art should not just entertain, it should instruct or inform.

Direct discourse

makes an effort at mimesis, attempting to represent exactly what a character says--this many times involves narrator commentary in between and surrounding the speech. It is sometimes referred to as "*** speech."

"'You get off early or what?'
'I took off early.'
'Anything the matter?'
'In a way of speaking,' he said and wiped his lips.
'Not cut back?'
'No, no. They got plenty work. I just--'
'Sethe, you won't like what I'm 'bout to say.'"
(Toni Morrison, Beloved)

This passage is an example of ** ** in its treatment of dialogue. The narrator here gives to the reader in the form of direct quotations from characters.


refers to the set of principles governing how a story is told, referencing both its linguistic situation and the relationship between giver/sender/narrator of that information and its receiver/audience.


To wear masks, false hair, character makeup, or clothing either to conceal a character's identity.


a ghostly double of another character, especially if it haunts its counterpart - a ***, in german, means "double walker" - it's like a carbon copy of a character with a different soul. However, one of the criteria for a doppelganger isn't that it looks like its counterpart. Frankenstein and his monster are considered to be doppelgangers. It has come to refer (as in German) to any double or look-alike of a person—most commonly an "evil twin".

Double entendre

(French, "*** meaning"): The deliberate use of ambiguity in a phrase or image in order to convey more than one possible meaning--especially involving sexual or humorous meanings.

Dramatic irony

The form of irony in which the audience knows something a character in the play does not.

Dramatic monologue

A type of poem in which a speaker addresses a silent listener. As readers, we overhear the speaker in a ** **. Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess" represents the epitome of the genre.

Dramatis personae

Latin for the characters or persons in a play.

Dynamic character

is complex in temperament and motivation; drawn with subtlety; capable of growth and change during the course of the narrative


An ** is a poem of mourning; this is often the poet mourning one person, but the definition also includes Thomas Gray's '* Written in a Country Churchyard', which mourns all the occupants of that churchyard, and looks into the future to mourn the poet's own death. The difference between an * and a eulogy is that the latter is a speech given to honor someone's best qualities, often (but not necessarily) after their death. To use this term say something like "Michael Longley's 'Between Hovers' is a touching **."


The omission of an unstressed vowel or syllable to preserve the meter of a line of poetry. Alexander uses *** in "Sound and Sense" when he writes "Flies o'er th' unbending corn...."

Embedded narrative

Contained within a framing narrative, an ** * hinges contextually on the framing *, while typically becoming the bulk of the story itself. In other words, the * ** usually comprises the majority of the text, while the framing narrative occupies just the first and last few pages.

End-stopped Line

A line that ends with a natural speech pause, usually marked by punctuation


A run-on line of poetry in which logical and grammatical sense carries over from one line into the next. An ** line differs from an end-stopped line in which the grammatical and logical sense is completed within the line. In the opening lines of Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess," for example, the first line is end-stopped and the second *: "That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive. I call / That piece a wonder, now...." If a poet allows all the sentences of a poem to end in the same place as regular line-breaks, a kind of "deadening" can happen in the ear, and in the brain too, as all the thoughts can end up being the same length. ** is one way of creating audible interest; others include caesurae, or having variable line-lengths. To use this term say something like "In Vicki Feaver's 'Marigolds', the lines about "the flowers men give women" are primarily end-stopped, whereas the more exciting flowers appear in lines that use enjambment strongly."


A long narrative that records the adventures of a hero. *** typically chronicle the origins of a civilization and embody its central values. Examples from western literature include Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and Milton's Paradise Lost.


An ** is a brief bit of text, usually borrowed from another writer, that is found before a poem, but after the title. (You may also find one at the start of a book, before the poems, but after the title page.) It gives a reader, or listener, something else to hold in mind as the poem is read. Neither part of the poem, nor wholly separate from it, an * can be used for various purposes; it can be necessary information to understand a poem, for example, or it can be something with which the poem disagrees. To use this term say something like "Ian McMillan's 'The Texas Swing Boys Dadaist Manifesto' has an invented quotation as its **, which - like the title - aims to create a mood of collision between country music and surrealist collage that the poem can work in."


a sudden moment of understanding that causes the audience or a character to change or to act in a certain way


An ** novel is also called a novel of letters, because the narration takes place in the form of letters, possibly journal entries, and occasionally newspaper reports. Frankenstein, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Color Purple may have little in common on the surface, but they all share ** structure. Most or all of the narrative of these stories comes to readers through letters or other correspondence rather than a more traditional storytelling manner.


a manner of persuasion which appeals to the ethics of the audience


the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt


A smooth, pleasant sounding choice and arrangement of sound


To enlarge, increase, or represent something beyond normal bounds so that it becomes ridiculous and its faults can be seen.

Exclamatory Sentence

A sentence which is simply a more forceful version of a declarative sentence, marked at the end with an exclamation mark.


a setting-forth of information. In fiction and drama, introductory material introducing characters and the situation.

Extrinsic idea

The idea(s) the play expresses on the literal level—it is often verbalized by a character. In Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, Lena remarks, "Seem like God didn't see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams—but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worthwhile." The words have a strong effect on her son and move him to a course of action.

Falling action

The action after the climax of the play.


comedy based not on clever language or on subtleties of characters but on broadly humorous situations.

Feminine Rhyme

Is a rhyme that matches two or more syllables, usually found at the end of the verse

feminist criticism

An umbrella term that describes a whole range of approaches to literature and culture. All are concerned somehow with women, but beyond that they may not have much in common. The earliest, and perhaps simplest, kinds of ** * were concerned with recovering ignored works by women. In "A Room of One's Own" (1929), for instance, Virginia Woolf famously writes about the problems that would have been faced by Shakespeare's (imaginary) sister, and Woolf's works include many readings of women authors who had not been taken seriously. This kind of * * continues today, turning up many once-important figures who've been excluded from the canon. Other comparatively simple kinds of * * include biographical and historical studies of women writers, women readers, or women's issues in literature, and examinations of the way women are depicted in literature. Another form of * * looks at the way children acquire a language structured around binary oppositions that give the privileged place to masculinity, associating it with power, reason, activity, and so on; * is contrarily associated with passive, irrational, or other negative qualities. Be aware that men, too, can engage in "* writing," and one does not have to be a female to practice or understand a * ** of a text.


The word ** comes orignally from Latin fingere, to fashion or to form. ** is usually narrative, although it can be either verse or prose.

figurative language

A verbal expression in which words or sounds are arranged in a particular way to achieve a particular effect. ** * ** are organized into different categories, such as alliteration, assonance, metaphor, metonymy, onomatopoeia, simile, and synecdoche.

First-person point of view

In this case, the narrator is a character in the story who relates events in the first-person (in other words, "I remember the first time I saw her.")


A reference to an event which took place prior to the beginning of a story, poem or play. It provides important information about the character or the present situation.

Flat character

a term referring to a character who boasts no mental or emotional development. Much like a stock character, this type of character exhibits strong defining characteristics, speech habits, and the like, but still falls short of the complexity of a round character.


A character who contrasts and parallels the main character in a play or story. Much can be learned about each by comparing and contrasting the characteristics of the two, often illuminating important themes. Laertes, in Hamlet, is a ** for the main character; in Othello, Emilia and Bianca are ** for Desdemona.


A metrical unit composed of stressed and unstressed syllables. For example, an iamb or iambic ** is represented by "/u", that is, an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one. Frost's line "Whose woods these are I think I know" contains four iambs, and is thus an iambic *. The main types are: Iamb ([ u / ], such as "delight". (The adjective is "iambic".)), Trochee ([ / u ], such as "badger" (Trochaic)), Anapest, ([ u u / ], such as "unaware" (Anapestic / anapaestic)), and Dactyl ([ / u u ], such as "multiple" (Dactylic)). To use this term say something like "John Mole's 'Variation on an Old Rhyme' predominantly uses a three-syllable *, with varying numbers of ** to each line."


when the writer provides clues or hints that suggest or predict future event in a story

Formal Verse

Poetry that overtly uses the effects of metre, rhyme and form, especially the fixed forms (sonnets, villanelles etc) is known as ** *. Its opposite, strictly, is free verse. Many poets, however, can and do operate in both free and formal ways in their work, and sometimes within the one poem. A classic example of this is T S Eliot's 'The Waste Land', which moves between blank verse and free verse, and shifts in and out of rhyming. To use this term say something like "Felix Dennis writes almost entirely in * **."

Fourth wall

The invisible wall of a set through which the audience sees the action of the play.


A ** (also known as a sentence **) is anything punctuated like a sentence but lacking at least one crucial ingredient--usually either a subject or a verb: "Landed in my backyard." "The guy next door." These should be avoided in formal writing, though you should understand that authors can use them for deliberate effect.

Framing narrative

A narrative that contains a second narrative, or embedded narrative, in order to provide a context or setting for it. Sometimes this ** * will begin and end the narrative as a whole, providing book ends, while other times the * * will simply be present in the beginning of the narrative. The * ** "sets the scene" for the embedded narrative, giving us a context in which we can read and interpret the text.

Free indirect discourse

a style of third-person narration which uses some of the characteristics of third-person along with the essence of first-person direct speech. (It is also referred to as ** * *, * ** style).

What distinguishes free indirect speech from normal indirect speech is the lack of an introductory expression such as "He said" or "he thought". It is as if the subordinate clause carrying the content of the indirect speech is taken out of the main clause which contains it, becoming the main clause itself. Using free indirect speech may convey the character's words more directly than in normal indirect, as devices such as interjections and exclamation marks can be used that cannot be normally used within a subordinate clause.


Quoted or direct speech: He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. "And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?" he asked.
Reported or normal indirect speech: He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.
Free indirect speech: He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?

Free verse

Poetry without a regular pattern of meter or rhyme. The verse is "**" in not being bound by earlier poetic conventions requiring poems to adhere to an explicit and identifiable meter and rhyme scheme in a form such as the sonnet or ballad. In other words, it allows the poet to make the poem * to find its own shape according to what the poet - or the poem - wants to say, but still allows him or her to use rhyme, alliteration, rhythms or cadences (etc) to achieve the effects that s/he feels are appropriate. Not all poets like * *. Robert Frost who, when asked about * *, said "I'd just as soon play tennis with the net down". 'What Is Poetry', by John Ashbery, is a good example of * ** - it has neither regular metre nor rhyme, but the exploration of the title's question contains effects based on rhythm and repetition.


a literary kind — and, in fact, the word means just that in French, a "kind" or "type." The word is used with various degrees of precision. Some, for instance, classify the novel as a **, and consider the kinds of novels (Bildungsroman, picaresque, Gothic, and so on) "sub-*." Others consider these specific kinds of novels **, and consider the term novel a kind of catch-all. The adjective is generic.


a physical movement, especially in a play.


This comes from the Goths, one of the tribes that took part in the conquering of the Roman Empire. For centuries, the word stood for medieval barbarism, and sometimes was used to represent the culture of the Middle Ages generally: ** architecture, for instance. Late in the eighteenth century, a new kind of novel made use of many of the traditional trappings of the Middle Ages: dark castles, secret passages, stormy nights, gloom, and terror. The early * novels (Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, 1764, is often called the first) were actually set in the Middle Ages, although later examples of the genre (such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) were set in the present. The ** vogue probably peaked in the Romantic period with such authors as Shelley, Anne Radcliffe, and Charles Brockden Brown, but it survived well into the nineteenth century (as with Edgar Allan Poe), and, in spite of some transformations, into the twentieth.


Aristotle coined this word to describe tragedies, particularly those brought about by an aristocrat's ego, gluttony or silly mistake rather than outright sin. It is most commonly used to refer to a flaw in the tragic hero, or an error made by the tragic hero.

High comedy

Elegant comedies characterized by witty banter and sophisticated dialogue rather than the slapstick physicality and blundering common to low comedy.

history of the English language

A thumbnail sketch of the history of the language might be handy. English derives from the Germanic language family: several tribes from the Continent — the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes -- arrived in England in the fifth century C.E. and took their language with them. Soon their language was distinct enough to warrant a new name; it's now known as either Anglo-Saxon (from two of the tribes) or Old English (abbreviated OE). Although students of Anglo-Saxon can see the continuity with the English of today, at first sight it seems to be a completely foreign language. The most famous work in OE is the anonymous epic poem, Beowulf (around the eighth century). OE was spoken in the early part of the Middle Ages, but with the Norman Invasion in 1066 came a strong French influence on the English language. Over time, the language reached the state now known as Middle English (or ME). ME, to the untrained eye, looks a bit more like English, but beginners would do well to start with a glossary. By around the year 1500, the language had reached the stage known as Modern English (ModE). Even the first few centuries' worth of Modern English can be difficult for beginners, as anyone who's read Shakespeare can attest. But the structure of the language has remained the same for the last half millennium, with only some surface changes. Words like "dost" and "hath" lasted a few more centuries, but by 1750 were pretty much archaic, except perhaps in religious language. (We probably associate the language of the Bible with this early stage of ModE — "thou shalt not," "who art in heaven" -- because the most important English translation of the Bible, the King James Version or Authorized Version, appeared in 1611, toward the end of Shakespeare's career.) English spelling was fluid for a long time: it settled down only in the middle of the eighteenth century, around the time when Samuel Johnson published the first major Dictionary of the English Language (1755). As a glance at the history of the language will show, English is derived from a Germanic language — Old English, in fact, is thoroughly Germanic in its forms, structures, and vocabulary. But around the year 1100, English saw an influx of words from French (which is a romance language, i.e., derived ultimately from Latin); and in the Renaissance, words by the thousands were imported directly from Latin. For this reason, English is today a mongrel language, mixing Germanic and latinate roots. Often we can find pairs of words, near synonyms, of which one comes from an Anglo-Saxon root and one from a latinate root. Sometimes, in fact, we have three closely related words, one each from Anglo-Saxon, from Latin via French, and directly from Latin, as in kingly (Germanic), royal (from French roi), and regal (from Latin rex, regis). As a (very rough) general rule, words derived from the Germanic ancestors of English are shorter, more concrete, and more direct, whereas latinate words are longer and more abstract: compare, for instance, the Anglo-Saxon thinking with the Latinate cogitation. Most of our vulgarities are of Anglo-Saxon ancestry: compare, for instance, sh*t (Germanic) with excrement (latinate).


excessive pride that typically leads to a hero's downfall or the harm of others.


figure of speech in which the truth is exaggerated for emphasis or humorous effect


An idea developed by a computer scientist named Ted Nelson in the late 1960s defined simply as "non-linear reading." Whereas traditional writing on paper tends to be linear — you start at the beginning, and go through to the end — it needn't be; it can, in fact, be designed to let you jump around between related ideas. This is possible on paper — the "See Also" section of an encyclopedia entry is the same idea, as are the "choose-your-own-adventure" books ("If you want to open the door, turn to page 73") — but it's cumbersome. But with computer technology, it's easy to direct readers to related ideas through links. This computer-based glossary is hypertextual; I can refer you to terms or ideas and you can go directly there — and once there, you can follow links elsewhere. Text turns into a web of connections, and the reader chooses which connections to follow.


An unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one, as in to-DAY. See Foot.


Language that appeals to the senses. Most *** are visual - that is, they appeal to the sense of sight. Images can also appeal to the senses of taste, touch, sound, or smell.

Imperative Sentence

A sentence which gives a direct command to someone -- this type of sentence can end either with a period or with an exclamation mark

In media res

Latin for "in the middle of things," this is the classical tradition of opening an epic not at the chronological point at which the sequence of events would start, but rather at the midway point of the story. Later on in the narrative, the hero will recount verbally to others what events took place earlier. Usually in medias res is a technique used to heighten dramatic tension or to create a sense of mystery. This term is the opposite of the phrase ab ovo, when a story begins in the beginning and then proceeds in a strictly chronological manner without using the characters' dialogue, flashbacks, or memories.

Inciting incident

(Or *** event) The first incident leading to the rising action of a play.


To present things that are out of place or are absurd in relation to its surroundings

independent clause

A group of words containing a subject and a verb (or predicate) that can stand on its own as a sentence.

Internal rhyme

rhyme that occurs within the line of poetry

Interrogative Sentence

A sentence which asks a question

interrupted movement

When a clause, an absolute word, or a phrase occurs between a subject and verb, or between a verb and its object. An example is "The idea, as I was saying, is to slow things down and add emphasis" or "The man--all 340 pounds of him--lumbered through the archway, choking the light from the room."

In effect, ** ** introduces a narrative interjection that may reveal a narrator's or author's attitude toward a subject.


the concept of texts' borrowing of each others' words and concepts. This could mean as much as an entire ideological concept and as little as a word or phrase. As authors borrow pro-actively from previous texts, their work gains layers of meaning. Also, another feature of *** reveals itself when a text is read in light of another text, in which case all of the assumptions and implications surrounding the other text shed light on and shape the way a text is interpreted.


(also known as *** word order) Any variation of the normal order of subject-verb-object. Can be used in poetry to improve the rhythm or sound of a line. Is sometimes used in prose for emphasis.

For example, "Sweet is the night air" instead of "The night air is sweet." The *** allows the writer to focus the reader's attention on something particular by disrupting the usual flow of the sentence.

inverted order of a sentence

(sentence inversion) involves constructing a sentence so that the predicate comes before the subject: e.g., In China stands the Great Wall. This is a device in which normal sentence patterns are reverse to create an emphatic or rhythmic effect.


The actual definition is an instance of a "gap" between what is said and what is meant, what is said and what is done, what is expected or intended and what happens, or what is meant or said and what others understand. But the gap has to be significant; it can't be merely a factual error, nor even a lie; the irony depends on the audience's recognition of the gap. Examples of some of the kinds of *** might make things clearer.

In verbal ** (sometimes called rhetorical *), probably the most straightforward kind of *, the speaker says something different from what he or she really believes. In its crudest form it's called sarcasm, where the speaker intentionally says the opposite of what he or she believes, and expects the audience to recognize the dissembling: for example, "Rutgers's Hill Hall is truly a palace, suited only to kings and princes." But verbal * needn't be so crude: more subtle kinds of verbal **, including understatement and hyperbole, abound.
In dramatic **, the audience is more aware than the characters in a work (often, but not necessarily, a drama), and what the characters say takes on a new significance to the audience. A famous example of tragic dramatic ** is the opening of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, when Oedipus, the ruler of Thebes, promises to punish the man whose sins have brought a plague upon the city. Oedipus does not know, but the audience does, that he is himself the evil-doer.
Cosmic *** comes closest to the common usage: it seems that God or fate is manipulating events so as to inspire false hopes, which are inevitably dashed.


the language, esp. the vocabulary, peculiar to a particular trade, profession, or group


to place directly opposite ideas side by side or within proximity in a work of literature

Literary Periods

Dividing literary history into ** is always a tricky matter, because cultural change never happens all at once. In other words, people didn't wake up on 1 January 1500 and suddenly change their habits from medieval to Renaissance. Besides, literary and cultural movements rarely coincide with century boundaries. To make matters worse, * differ from country to country — by the time England got around to having a Renaissance, Italy's Renaissance was long since over (and that's to say nothing about such incommensurable traditions as Sri Lanka or Ghana). With those caveats in mind, though, we can at least consider the usual Some common designations for English ** history: after antiquity, mostly confined to the literatures of Greece and Rome, come:

The Middle Ages
The Renaissance
The Restoration
The eighteenth century
The Romantic period
The Victorian age
The Modern age
The Postmodern age.
American literature doesn't divide up the same way, but there isn't one widely agreed-upon set of period designations.


In its most basic sense, ** is anything written, as suggested by its etymology: littera is Latin for "letters." We still have that sense when we talk about "product literature" and the like — it's just any printed matter. It lets us distinguish literate from oral cultures, for instance. But that's not a particularly useful sense, because literate and oral cultures share a great many qualities, which leads us to the embarrassing oxymoron, "oral *." In its most loaded sense, * refers to "good" or "important" ** — and you can easily see why it's a loaded sense, because there's little agreement over what's good or important.


a manner of persuasion which appeals to the logic of the audience

Loose Sentence

A sentence in which the main clause comes first, so that the basic idea is complete before the sentence ends. ** ** make even if the end of the sentence is deleted, e.g., We reached Edmonton / that morning / after a turbulent flight / and some exciting experiences. Loose sentences are less formal than periodic sentences.

Low comedy

In contrast with high **, * ** consists of silly, slapstick physicality, crude pratfalls, violence, scatology, and bodily humor rather than clever dialogue or banter.

Masculine rhyme

is a rhyme on a single stressed syllable at the end of a line of poetry. This is much more common than feminine rhyme


Aristotle's classic definition of *** is "giving a thing a name that belongs to something else." In the form of a mathematical equation it is:

X = Y
(Target) is (Source)
A *** works in our mind to give attributes of the source (Y) to the target (X) because, when we lend a thing a name that belongs to something else, we lend it a complex pattern of relations and associations along with it.

For example, look at the statement, "Man is a wolf." When we call a man a wolf we begin thinking about the attributes related to the **'s source and target. What we know of wolves interacts with what we know of man, and man is immediately seen through the prism of wolf-associated commonplaces. We zoom in on those aspects of wolves that apply to man (sly, predatory, hungry, vicious) while discarding those that don't (four-legged, furry, litter-bearing, living in the woods). Therefore, ** focuses our attention on a specific set of associated commonplaces, but in so doing narrows and clarifies our view to the point where the target gains attributes of the source.


poetic measure; arrangement of words with a regular beat (metrical foot), patterned, or rhythmic verses such as (a) mono**: one foot/beat per line, (b) di*: two feet/beats per line, (c)tri*: three feet/beats per line, (d) tetra*: four feet/beats per line, (e) penta*: five feet/beats per line, (f) hexa*: six feet/beats per line, (g) hepta**: seven feet/beats per line


A figure of speech in which a closely related term is substituted for an object or idea. When a poet refers to something by one of its characteristics rather than its name - for example, referring to a country's 'strength' rather than 'armies' - this is a **. It differs from synecdoche, in that these are abstract qualities rather than concrete parts. Another example would be "We have always remained loyal to the crown." To use this term say something like "Kevin Crossley-Holland uses ** when he writes "give me the gruff", rather than "give me the gruff things", in 'The Grain of Things'."


characterized by, exhibiting, or of the nature of imitation or mimicry: *** gestures.

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