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Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing (fifth edition) X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia Pearson-Longman ISBN: 0-321-47577-1


work of storytelling in which actors represent the characters


exchanges of speech

pantomime (dumb show)

mimed dramatic performance whose purpose is to prepare the audience for the main action of the play to follow


form of literary composition designed for performance in the theater



closet drama

play or dramatic poem designed to be read aloud rather than performed


any established feature or technique in literature that is commonly understood by both authors and readers


a speech by a character alone onstage in which he or she utters his or her thoughts aloud


generally recurring subject or idea conspicuously evident in a literary work


particular arrangement of actions, events and situations that unfold in a narrative


central character in a literary work


opening portion of a narrative or drama


technique of arranging events and information in such a way that later events are prepared for, or shadowed, beforehand

dramatic question

primary unresolved issue in a drama as it unfolds

double plot (subplot)

second story or plotline that is complete and interesting in its own right


moment of greatest intensity in a story, which almost inevitably occurs toward the end of the work

resolution (conclusion or dénouement)

final part of a narrative, the concluding action or actions that follow the climax


enjoyable anxiety created in the reader by the author's handling of the plot

stage business

nonverbal action that engages the attention of the audience

rising action

part of the play or narrative, including the exposition, in which events start moving toward a climax


point in a drama when the crucial action, decision or realization must be made, marking the turning point of the protagonist's fortunes

falling action

events in a narrative that follow the climax and bring the story to its conclusion


three formal qualities recommended by Italian Renaissance literary to critics to unify a plot in order to give it a cohesive and complete integrity


person, place or thing in a narrative that suggests meanings beyond its literal sense


central struggle between two or more forces in a story

tragic flaw

fatal weakness or moral flaw in the protagonist that brings him or her to a bad end


literary work aimed at amusing an audience

satiric comedy

genre using derisive humor to ridicule human weakness and folly or attack political injustices and incompetence

high comedy

comic genre evoking so-called intellectual or thoughtful laughter from an audience that remains emotionally detached from the play's depictions of the folly, pretense and incongruity of human behavior


very short poem, often comic, usually ending with some sharp turn of wit or meaning

comedy of manners

realistic form of comic drama that deals with social relations and sexual intrigues of sophisticated, intelligent, upper-class men and women, whose verbal fencing and witty repartee produce the principal comic effects

Restoration period

In England, the period following the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660; reintroduced a strong secular and urbane element back into English literature

low comedy

comic style arousing laughter through jokes, slapstick humor, sight gags and boisterous clowning


incongruous imitation of either the style or subject matter of a serious genre, humorous due to disparity of the treatment of the subject

commedia dell'arte

form of comic drama developed by guilds of professional Italian actors in the mid-sixteenth century

slapstick comedy

kind of farce, featuring pratfalls, pie throwing, fisticuffs and other violent actions

romantic comedy

form of comic drama in which the plot focuses on one or more pairs of young lovers who overcome difficulties to achieve a happy ending

satyr play

type of Greek comic play that was performed after the tragedies at the City Dionysia; structure was similar to a tragedy


circular level performance space at the base of a horseshoe-shaped amphitheater where twelve, then later fifteen, young, masked, male chorus members sang and danced the odes interspersed between the dramatic episodes


temporary wooden stage building in which actors changed masks and costumes when changing roles


incident in a large narrative that has unity in itself


last scene


full facial masks made of leather, linen or light wood, with headdress; allowed male actors to embody the conventionalized characters of the tragic and comic stage


high thick-soled boots worn by Greek and Roman tragic actors in late classical times to make them appear taller than ordinary men


offense committed in ignorance of some material fact (without deliberate criminal intent) and therefore free of blameworthiness


overweening pride, outrageous behavior or the insolence that leads to ruin

purgation (katharsis)

purification; refers to the feeling of emotional release or calm the spectator feels at the end of a tragedy


the moment when ignorance gives way to knowledge, illusion to disillusion

reversal (peripeteia)

reversal of fortune


attempt to reproduce faithfully the surface appearance of life, especially that of ordinary people in everyday situations

picture-frame stage

held the action within a proscenium arch; only one seat (royal patron or sponsor) enjoyed complete perspectivist illusion

proscenium arch

architectural picture frame or gateway that separated the auditorium from the raised stage and the world of the play

box set

three walls joined in two corners and a ceiling that tilted as if in perspective


type of fiction or drama in which the characters are presented as products or victims of environment and heredity

Symbolist movement

international literary movement that originated with nineteenth-century French poets; avoided direct statement and exposition in an attempt to achieve a resemblance of music


dramatic style developed between 1910 and 1924 in Germany; used episodic plots, distorted lines and exaggerated shapes to draw an audience into a dreamlike subjective realm

arena theater (theater in the round)

modern, nontraditional performance space in which the audience surrounds the stage on four sides

flexible theater

modern, nontraditional performance space in which actor-audience relationships can be flexibly configured, with movable seating platforms


protagonist who is lacking in one or more of the conventional qualities attributed to a hero

comic relief

appearance of a comic situation, character or clownish humor in the midst of a serious action

theater of the absurd

post World War II European genre depicting the grotesquely comic plight of human beings thrown by accident into an irrational and meaningless world

feminist theater

plays which explore the lives, problems and occasional triumphs of contemporary women

new naturalism

term describing some American plays of the 1970s and 1980s frankly showing the internal and external forces that shape the lives of unhappy, alienated, dehumanized and often impoverished characters


play that stirs not only pity and fear but also laughter


song for the entrance of the chorus

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