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Flashcards in Literary Terms Deck (125)
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Greek "recognition": the moment of protagonist's recognition in a narrative, which is also often the moment of moral understanding



Greek "carrying back": figure of speech. The repetition of words or groups of words at the beginning of consecutive sentences, clauses, or phrases.

Blake: "In every voice, in every ban . . ."


Animal fable

A genre. Short narrative of speaking animals, followed by moralizing comment, written in a low style and gathered into a collection.

Robert Henryson, "The Cock and the Fox"



Greek "placing against": A figure of thought. The juxtaposition of opposed terms in clauses or sentences that are next to or near each other.

Milton, PL: "They but now who seemed / In bigness to surpass Earth's giant sons / Now less than smallest dwarfs, in narrow room / Throng numberless"



A term of syntax. The repetition of elements serving an identical grammatical function in one sentence. The effect of this repetition is to arrest the flow of the sentence, but in doing so to add extra semantic nuance to repeated elements. This is an especially important feature of Old English poetic style. See, for example, Caedmon's Hymn, where the phrases "heaven-kingdom's Guardian," "the Measurer's might," "his mind-plans," and "the work of the Glory-Father" each serve an identical syntactic function as the direct objects of "praise."


Ballad stanza

A verse form. Usually a quatrain in alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter lines, rhyming abcb.

"Sir Patrick Spens"; Eliot, "Sweeney among the Nightingales"; Larkin, "This Be the Verse."



A verse form. A form consisting usually of three stanzas followed by a four-line envoi (French: "send off"). The last line of the first stanza establishes a refrain, which is repeated, or subtly varied, as the last line of each stanza. The form was derived from French medieval poetry; English poets, from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries especially, used it with varying stanza forms.

Chaucer, "Complaint to His Purse"


Beast epic

A genre. A continuous, unmoralized narrative, in prose or verse, relating the victories of the wholly unscrupulous but brilliant strategist Rynard the Fox over all adversaries.

Chaucer arouses, only to deflate, expectations of the genre in The Nun's Priest's Tale.



Strictly, a heraldic shield; in rhetorical usage, a topos whereby the individual elements of a beloved's face and body are singled out for hyperbolic admiration.

Spenser, Epithalamiom, ll. 167 - 84. Shakespeare's "My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun" is an inversion of this topos.



(French and Italian "mocking"): a work that adopts the conventions of a genre with the aim less of comically mocking the genre than of satirically mocking the society so represented.

Pope's Rape of the Lock, for instance, does not mock classical epic so much as contemporary mores.



(Greek "overturning"): the decisive turn in tragedy by which the plot is resolved and, usually, the protagonist dies.



(Greek "pointing"): relevant to point of view. Every work has, implicitly or explicitly, a "here" and a "now" from which it is narrated. Words that refer to or imply this point from which the voice of the work is projected (such as "here," "there," "this," "that," "now," "then") are examples of deixis, or "deictics." This technique is especially important in drama, where it is used to create a sense of the events happening as the spectator witnesses them.



(Greek "narration"): a term that simply means "narration," but is used in literary criticism


Dramatic irony

A feature of narrative and drama, whereby the audience knows that the outcome of an action will be the opposite of that intended by a character.


Dramatic monologue

(Greek "single speaking"): a genre. A poem in which the voice of a historical or fictional character speaks, unmediated by any narrator, to an implied though silent audience.

See Tennyson's "Ulysses," Browning, "The Bishop ORders His Tomb," Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"



(Greek "an insertion"): a figure of thought. A picture allegorically expressing a moral, or a verbal picture open to such interpretation.

Donne, "A Hymn to Christ": "In what torn ship soever I embark, / That ship shall be my emblem of thy ark"



A genre. Heroic poetry. An extended narrative poem celebrating martial heroes, invoking divine inspiration, beginning in medias res, written in a high style (including the deployment of epic similes) and divided into long narrative sequences. Homer's Illiad and Virgil's Aeneid were the prime models for English writers of epic verse. With its precise repertoire of stylistic resources, epic lent itself easily to parodic and burlesque forms, known as the mock epic (Rape of the Lock).

Thus Milton, Paradise Lost; Wordsworth, The Prelude; and Walcott, Omeros.



A genre. A short, pithy poem wittily expressed, often with wounding intent.

See Walter Savage Landor’s “Dirce,” Ben Jonson’s “On Gut,” or much of the work of J.V. Cunningham:

This Humanist whom no beliefs constrained
Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained.

See Jonson, Epigrams.



(Greek "inscription"): a genre. Any formal statement inscribed on stone; also the brief formulation of a book's title page, or a quotation at the beginning of a poem, introducing the work's themes in the most compressed form possible.

Grace Schulman’s “American Solitude” opens with a quote from an essay by Marianne Moore. Lines from Phillis Wheatley’s “On Being Brought from Africa to America” preface Alfred Corn’s “Sugar Cane.”



(plural "epyllia") (Greek: "little epic"): a genre. A relatively short poem in the meter of epic poetry.

Marlowe, Hero and Leander.



(French "little story," plural fabliaux): a genre. A short, funny, often bawdy narrative in low style imitated and developed from French models most subtly by Chaucer.

The Miller's Prologue and Tale



(French "stuffing"): a genre. A play designed to provoke laughter through often humiliating antics of stock characters.

Congreve's The Way of the World draws on this tradition.


Figures of thought

Language can also be patterned conceptually, even outside the rules that normally govern it. Literary language in particular exploits this licensed linguistic irregularity. Synonyms for figures of thought are "trope" (Greek "twisting," referring to the irregularity of use) and "conceit" (Latin "concept," referring to the fact that these figures are perceptible only to the mind). Be careful not to confuse trope with topos.


Free indirect style

Relevant to point of view, a narratorial voice that manages, without explicit reference, to imply, and often implicitly to comment on, the voice of a character in the narrative itself.

Virginia Woolf, "A Sketch of the Past," where the voice, although strictly that of the adult narrator, manages to convey the child's manner of perception: "--I begin: the first memory. This was of red and purple flowers on a black background--my mother's dress."


Genre and mode

The style, structure, and, often, length of a work, when coupled with a certain subject matter raise expectations that a literary work conforms to a certain genre (French "kind"). Good writers might upset these expectations, but they remain aware of the expectations and thwart them purposefully. Works in different genres may nevertheless participate in the same mode, a broader category designating the fundamental perspectives governing various genres of writing. For mode, see tragic, comic, satiric, and didactic modes. Genres are fluid, sometimes very fluid (e.g. the novel); the word "usually" should be added to almost every account of the characteristics of a given genre.



(Greek "discourse"): a genre. A sermon, to be preached in church. Writers of literary fiction sometimes exploit the homily, or sermon, as in Chaucer, The Pardoner's Tale.

Book of Homilies



(Greek "same sound"): a figure of speech. A word that sounds identical to another word but has a different meaning.

"bear" / "bare"



(Greek "overstepping"): a term of syntax. The rearrangement, or inversion, of the expected word order in a sentence or clause. Poets can suspend the expected syntax over many lines, as in the first sentence of Canterbury Tales and of Paradise Lost.

Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,": "If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise"



(adj.; Greek "over measured"): a term of meter; the word describes a breaking of the expected metrical pattern by at least one extra syllable.


Hypotaxis, or subordination

(respectively Greek and Latin "ordering under"): a term of syntax. The subordination, by the use of subordinate clauses, of different elements of a sentence to a single main verb. The contrary principle to parataxis.

Milton, PL: "As when a ship by skillful steersman wrought / Night river's mouth or foreland, where the wind / Veers oft, as oft so steers, and shifts her sail; So varied he"