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Literary Terms and Definitions: C

This page is under perpetual construction! It was last updated 14 March, 2014.


This list is meant to assist, not intimidate. Use it as a touchstone for important concepts and vocabulary that we will cover during the term. Vocabulary terms are listed alphabetically.

[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K] [L] [M]

[N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]

CACOPHONY (Greek, "bad sound"): The term in poetry refers to the use of words that combine sharp, harsh, hissing, or unmelodious sounds. It is the opposite of euphony.

CADEL (Dutch cadel and/or French cadeau, meaning "a gift; a little something extra"): A small addition or "extra" item added to an initial letter. Common cadels include pen-drawn faces or grotesques. Examples include the faces appearing in the initial letters of the Lansdowne 851 manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

CADENCE: The melodic pattern just before the end of a sentence or phrase--for instance an interrogation or an exhortation. More generally, the natural rhythm of language depending on the position of stressed and unstressed syllables. Cadence is a major component of individual writers' styles. A cadence group is a coherent group of words spoken as a single rhythmical unit, such as a prepositional phrase, "of parting day" or a noun phrase, "our inalienable rights."

CADENCE GROUP: See discussion under cadence.

CAESURA (plural: caesurae): A pause separating phrases within lines of poetry--an important part of poetic rhythm. The term caesura comes from the Latin "a cutting" or "a slicing." Some editors will indicate a caesura by inserting a slash (/) in the middle of a poetic line. Others insert extra space in this location. Others do not indicate the caesura typographically at all.

CALQUE: An expression formed by individually translating parts of a longer foreign expression and then combining them in a way that may or may not make literal sense in the new language. Algeo provides the example of the English phrase trial balloon, which is a calque for the French ballon d'essai (Algeo 323).

CALLIGRAPHIC WORK: In medieval manuscripts, this is (as Kathleen Scott states), "Decorative work, usually developing from or used to make up an important or introductory initial, or developing from ascenders at the top of the page and descenders at the bottom of the justified text; a series of strokes made by holding a quill constant at one angle to produce broader and narrower lines, which in combination appear to overlap one another to form strap-work" (Scott 370).

CANCEL: A bibliographical term referring to a leaf which is substituted for one removed by the printers because of an error. For instance, the first quarto of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida has a title page existing in both cancelled and uncancelled states, leaving modern readers in some doubt as to whether the play should be considered a comedy, history, or tragedy.

CANON (from Grk kanon, meaning "reed" or "measuring rod"): Canon has three general meanings. (1) An approved or traditional collection of works. Originally, the term "canon" applied to the list of books to be included as authentic biblical doctrine in the Hebrew and Christian Bible, as opposed to apocryphal works (works of dubious, mysterious or uncertain origin). Click here for more information. (2) Today, literature students typically use the word canon to refer to those works in anthologies that have come to be considered standard or traditionally included in the classroom and published textbooks. In this sense, "the canon" denotes the entire body of literature traditionally thought to be suitable for admiration and study. (3) In addition, the word canon refers to the writings of an author that scholars generally accepted as genuine products of siad author, such as the "Chaucer canon" or the "Shakespeare canon." Chaucer's canon includes The Canterbury Tales, for instance, but it does not include the apocryphal work, "The Plowman's Tale," which has been mistakenly attributed to him in the past. Likewise, the Shakespearean canon has only two apocryphal plays (Pericles and the Two Noble Kinsmen) that have gained wide acceptance as authentic Shakespearean works beyond the thirty-six plays contained in the First Folio. NB: Do not confuse the spelling of cannon (the big gun) with canon (the official collection of literary works).

The issue of canonical literature is a thorny one. Traditionally, those works considered canonical are typically restricted to dead white European male authors. Many modern critics and teachers argue that women, minorities, and non-Western writers are left out of the literary canon unfairly. Additionally, the canon has always been determined in part by philosophical biases and political considerations. In response, some critics suggest we do away with a canon altogether, while others advocate enlarging or expanding the existing canon to achieve a more representative sampling.

CANTICLE: A hymn or religious song using words from any part of the Bible except the Psalms.

CANTO: A sub-division of an epic or narrative poem comparable to a chapter in a novel. Examples include the divisions in Dante's Divine Comedy, Lord Byron's Childe Harold, or Spenser's Faerie Queene. Cf. fit.

CANZONE: In general, the term has three meanings. (1) It refers generally to the words of a Provençal or Italian song. (2) More specifically, an Italian or Provençal song relating to love or the praise of beauty is a canzone. (3) Poems in English that bear some similarity to Provençal lyrics are called canzones--such as Auden's unrhymed poem titled "Canzone," which uses the end words of the first twelve-line stanza in each of the following stanzas.

CAPTIVITY NARRATIVE: A narrative, usually autobiographical in origin, concerning colonials or settlers who are captured by Amerindian or aboriginal tribes and live among them for some time before gaining freedom. An example would be Mary Rowlandson's A Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, which details her Indian captivity among the Wampanoag tribe in the late seventeenth century. Contrast with escape literature and slave narrative.

CARDINAL VIRTUES (also called the Four Pagan Virtues): In contrast to the three spiritual or Christian virtues of fides (faith), spes (hope), and caritas (love) espoused in the New Testament, the four cardinal virtues consisted of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. Theologians like Saint Augustine argued Christians alone monopolized faith in a true God, hope of a real afterlife, and the ability to love human beings not for their own sake, but as a manifestation of God's creation. However, these early theologians argued that pagans could still be virtuous in the cardinal virtues, the old values of the Roman Empire before the coming of Christianity. In Latin terminology, pagan Rome espoused the four cardinal virtues as follows:

  • prudentia (or sapientia): prudence, wisdom, foresight, planning ahead for emergencies, seeing the good of the whole community
  • fortitudo: fortitude, toughness, bravery, enduring pain in stoic silence, willingness to sacrifice or suffer for the good of the whole community
  • moderatio (or temperentia): moderation, avoiding extremes of appetite and enthusiasm, seeking balance
  • iustitia: justice, the preservation of the good and the punishment of the wicked.

The Latin four-fold classification--later adopted by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas--originates in much older Greek philosophy. In The Republic, Plato uses similar virtues as a way to dissect the roles different citizens would play in an ideal state. Cf. pietas.

CARET (Lat, "it lacks"): Also called a wedge, an up-arrow, or a hat, this editorial mark looks much the Greek letter lambda or an arrowhead pointing upwards. Here is an example: ^. An editor will write a caret underneath a line of text to indicate that a word, letter, or punctuation mark needs insertion at the spot where the two lines converge.

CARPE DIEM: Literally, the phrase is Latin for "seize the day," from carpere (to pluck, harvest, or grab) and the accusative form of die (day). The term refers to a common moral or theme in classical literature that the reader should make the most out of life and should enjoy it before it ends. Poetry or literature that illustrates this moral is often called poetry or literature of the "carpe diem" tradition. Examples include Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," and Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time." Cf. Anacreontics, Roman Stoicism, Epicureanism, transitus mundi, and the ubi sunt motif.

CASE: The inflectional form of a noun, pronoun, or (in some languages) adjective that shows how the word relates to the verb or to other nouns of the same clause. For instance, them is the objective case of they, and their is the possessive case of they. Common cases include the nominative, the accusative, the genitive, the dative, the ablative, the vocative, and the instrumental forms. Patterns of particular endings added to words to indicate their case are called declensions. Click here for expanded information.

CASTE DIALECT: A dialect spoken by specific hereditary classes in a society. Often the use of caste dialect marks the speaker as part of that particular class. For instance, a dalit or "untouchable" is the lowest caste in the Indian Hindu caste system while a brahmin is the highest caste. Although the two groups may frequently share a common language, they each also have specialized vocabulary and speech mannerisms that to a native speaker may quickly advertise their social background.

CATACHRESIS (Grk. "misuse"): A completely impossible figure of speech or an implied metaphor that results from combining other extreme figures of speech such as anthimeria, hyperbole, synaesthesia, and metonymy. The results in each case are so unique that it is hard to state a general figure of speech that embodies all of the possible results. It is far easier to give examples. For instance, Hamlet says of Gertrude, "I will speak daggers to her." A man can speak words, but no one can literally speak daggers. In spite of that impossibility, readers know Shakespeare means Hamlet will address Gertrude in a painful, contemptuous way. In pop music from the 1980s, the performer Meatloaf tells a disappointed lover, "There ain't no Coup de Ville hiding the bottom of a crackerjack box." The image of a luxury car hidden as a prize in the bottom of a tiny cardboard candybox emphasizes how unlikely or impossible it is his hopeful lover will find such a fantastic treasure in someone as cheap, common, and unworthy as the speaker in these lyrics. Sometimes the catachresis results from stacking one impossibility on top of another. Consider these examples:

  • "There existed a void inside that void within his mind."
  • "Joe will have kittens when he hears this!"
  • "I will sing victories for you."
  • "A man that studies revenge keeps his own wounds green."--Bacon
  • "I do not ask much: / I beg cold comfort." --Shakespeare, (King John 5.7.41)
  • "His complexion is perfect gallows"--Shakespeare, (Tempest 1.1.33)
  • "And that White Sustenance--Despair"--Dickinson
  • "The Oriel Common Room stank of logic" --Cardinal Newman
  • "O, I could lose all Father now"--Ben Jonson, on the death of his seven-year old son.
  • "The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses" --e.e. cummings

For a more recent example, consider the disturbingly cheerful pop song by Foster the People, "Pumped Up Kicks," which deals with a school shooting. Here, the shooter/narrator thinks, "I've waited for a long time. Yeah, the sleight of my hand is now a quick-pull trigger. / I reason with my cigarette." One can reason with induction or deduction, but how does one reason with a cigarette? Here, the catachresis might evoke the idea of the "cool" kid using personal style instead of a persuasive argument, or it might evoke the imagery of torture--burning victims with a cigarette-butt to make one's point. This sort of evocative, almost nonsensical language is the heart of good catachresis. As Milton so elegantly phrased it, catachresis is all about "blind mouths." Such catachresis often results from hyperbole and synaesthesia.

A special subtype of catachresis is abusio, a mixed metaphor that results when two metaphors collide. For instance, one U. S. senator learned of an unlikely political alliance. He is said to have exclaimed, "Now that is a horse of a different feather." This abusio is the result of two metaphors. The first is the cliché metaphor comparing anything unusual to "a horse of a different color." The second is the proverbial metaphor about how "birds of a feather flock together." However, by taking the two dead metaphors and combining them, the resulting image of "a horse of a different feather" truly emphasizes how bizarre and unlikely the resulting political alliance was. Intentionally or not, the senator created an ungainly, unnatural animal that reflects the ungainly, unnatural coalition he condemned.

Purists of languages often scrowl at abusio with good reason. Too commonly abusio is the result of sloppy writing, such as the history student who wrote "the dreadful hand of totalitarianism watches all that goes on around it and growls at its enemies." (It would have been better to stick with a single metaphor and state "the eye of totalitarianism watches all that goes on around it and glares at its enemies." We should leave out the mixed imagery of watchful hands growling at people; it's just stupid and inconsistent.) However, when used intentionally for a subtle effect, abusio and catachresis can be powerful tools for originality.

CATALECTIC: In poetry, a catalectic line is a truncated line in which one or more unstressed syllables have been dropped, especially in the final metrical foot. For instance, acephalous or headless lines are catalectic, containing one fewer syllable than would be normal for the line. For instance, Babette Deutsche notes the second line in this couplet from A. E. Housman is catalectic:

And if my ways are not as theirs,
Let them mind their own affairs.

On the other hand, in trochaic verse, the final syllable tends to be the truncated one, as Deutsche notes about the first two lines of Shelley's stanza:

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory--
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the senses they quicken.

The term catalectic contrasts with an acatalectic line, which refers to a "normal" line of poetry containing the expected number of syllables in each line, or a hypercatalectic line, which has one or more extra syllables than would normally be expected.

CATALEXIS: Truncation of a poetic line--i.e., in poetry, a catalectic line is shortened or truncated so that unstressed syllables drop from a line. The act of such truncation is called catalexis. If catalexis occurs at the start of a line, that line is said to be acephalous or headless. See catalectic.

CATALOGING: Creating long lists for poetic or rhetorical effect. The technique is common in epic literature, where conventionally the poet would devise long lists of famous princes, aristocrats, warriors, and mythic heroes to be lined up in battle and slaughtered. The technique is also common in the practice of giving illustrious genealogies ("and so-and-so begat so-and-so," or "x, son of y, son of z" etc.) for famous individuals. An example in American literature is Whitman's multi-page catalog of American types in section 15 of "Song of Myself." An excerpt appears below:

The pure contralto sings in the organ loft,
The carpenter dresses his plank, the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp,
The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanksgiving dinner,
The pilot seizes the king-pin, he heaves down with a strong arm,
The mate stands braced in the whale-boat, lance and harpoon are ready,
The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches,
The deacons are ordained with crossed hands at the altar,
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel,
The farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a First-day loaf and looks at the oats and rye,
The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirmed case.... [etc.]

One of the more humorous examples of cataloging appears in the Welsh Mabinogion. In one tale, "Culhwch and Olwen," the protagonist invokes in an oath all the names of King Arthur's companion-warriors, giving lists of their unusual attributes or abilities running to six pages.

CATASTROPHE: The "turning downward" of the plot in a classical tragedy. By tradition, the catastrophe occurs in the fourth act of the play after the climax. (See tragedy.) Freytag's pyramid illustrates visually the normal charting of the catastrophe in a plotline.

CATCH: A lyric poem or song meant to be sung as a round, with the words arranged in each line so that the audience will hear a hidden (often humorous or ribald) message as the groups of singers sing their separate lyrics and space out the wording of the poem. For example, one might write a song in which the first line contained the words "up," the word "look" appears in the middle of the third line, the word "dress" appears in the second line, and the word "her" appears in the middle of the fourth line. When the song or poem is sung as a round by four groups of singers, the word order and timing is arranged so that the singers create the hidden phrase "look up her dress" as they sing, to the amusement of the audience as they listen to an otherwise innocent set of lyrics. Robert Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" is an example of a catch, and when William Lawes adapted the poem to music for Milton's masque Comus, it became one of the most popular drinking songs of the 1600s (Damrosche 844-45).

CATCHWORD: This phrase comes from printing; it refers to a trick printers would use to keep pages in their proper order. The printer would print a specific word below the text at the bottom of a page. This word would match the first word on the next page. A printer could thus check the order by flipping quickly from one page to the next and making sure the catchword matched appropriately. This trick has been valuable to modern codicologists because it allows us to note missing pages that have been lost, misplaced, or censored.

CATHARSIS: An emotional discharge that brings about a moral or spiritual renewal or welcome relief from tension and anxiety. According to Aristotle, catharsis is the marking feature and ultimate end of any tragic artistic work. He writes in his Poetics (c. 350 BCE): "Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; . . . through pity [eleos] and fear [phobos] effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions" (Book 6.2). (See tragedy.) Click here to download a pdf handout concerning this material.

CAUDATE RHYME: Another term for tail-rhyme or rime couée. See discussion under tail-rhyme.

CAVALIER: A follower of Charles I of England (ruled c. 1625-49) in his struggles with the Puritan-dominated parliament. The term is used in contrast with Roundheads, his Puritan opponents. Cavaliers were primarily wealthy aristocrats and courtiers. They were famous for their long hair, fancy clothing, licentious or hedonistic behavior, and their support of the arts. See Cavalier drama and Cavalier poets, below. Ultimately, Cromwell led the Roundheads in a coup d'état and established a Puritan dictatorship in England, leading to the end of the English Renaissance and its artistic, scientific, and cultural achievements. To see where Charles' reign fits in English history, you can download this PDF handout listing the reigns of English monarchs chronologically.

CAVALIER DRAMA: A form of English drama comprising court plays that the Queen gave patronage to in the 1630s. Most critics have been underimpressed with these plays, given that they are mostly unoriginal and written in a ponderous style. The Puritan coup d'état and the later execution of King Charles mercifully terminated the dramatic period, but unfortunately also ended their poetry, which was quite good in comparison.

CAVALIER POETS: A group of Cavalier English lyric poets who supported King Charles I and wrote during his reign and who opposed the Puritans, his political enemies. The major Cavalier poets included Carew, Waller, Lovelace, Sir John Suckling, and Herrick. They largely abandoned the sonnet form favored for a century earlier, but they still focused on the themes of love and sensuality and their work illustrates "technical virtuosity" as J. A. Cuddon put it (125). They show strong signs of Ben Jonson's influence.

CEDILLA: A diacritical mark used in several languages, such as the ç in French.

CELLERAGE: The hollow area beneath a Renaissance stage--known in Renaissance slang as "hell" and entered through a trapdoor called a "hellmouth." The voice of the ghost comes from this area in Hamlet, which has led to scholarly discussion concerning whether or not the ghost is really Hamlet's father or a demon in disguise.

CELTIC: A branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Celtic includes Welsh and Breton. Celtic languages are geographically linked to western Europe, and they come in two general flavors, goidelic (or Q-celtic) and brythonic (or P-celtic).

CELTIC REVIVAL: A literary movement involving increased interest in Welsh, Scottish, and Irish culture, myths, legends, and literature. It began in the late 1700s and continues to this day. Thomas Gray's Pindaric ode The Bard (1757) and Ieuan Brydydd's publication of Some Specimens of the Poetry of the Ancient Welsh Bards (1764) mark its emergence, and Charlotte Guest's translation of The Mabinogion in 1839 marks its continued rise. Matthew Arnold's lectures on Celtic literature at Oxford helped promote the foundation of a Chair of Celtic at that school in 1877. The Celtic Revival influenced Thomas Love Peacock, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and W. B. Yeats, and probably lead to the creation of the Abbey Theatre. A continuing part of the Celtic Revival is the Irish Literary Renaissance, a surge of extraordinary Irish talent in the late nineteenth and twentieth century including Bram Stoker, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, and Seamus Heaney.

CENOTAPH: A carving on a tombstone or monument, often in the form of a verse poem, biblical passage, or literary allusion appearing after the deceased individual's name and date of birth/death. Often used synonymously with epitaph.

CENSORSHIP: The act of hiding, removing, altering or destroying copies of art or writing so that general public access to it is partially or completely limited. Contrast with bowdlerization. Click here to download a PDF handout discussing censorship in great detail. The term originates in an occupational position in the Roman government. After the fifth century BCE, Rome commissioned "censors." These censors at first were limited to conducting the census for tax estimations, but in latter times, their job was to impose moral standards for citizenship, including the removal of unsavory literature. See also the Censorship Ordinance of 1559 and the Profanity Act of 1606.

CENSORSHIP ORDINANCE OF 1559: This law under Queen Elizabeth required the political censorship of public plays and all printed materials in matters of religion and the government. The Master of Revels was appointed to monitor and control such material. All of Shakespeare's early works were written under this act. We can see signs of alteration in his early works to conform to the requirements of the censors. Contrast with the Profanity Act of 1606.

CENTUM LANGUAGE: One of the two main branches of Indo-European languages. These centum languages are generally associated with western Indo-European languages and they often have a hard palatal /k/ sound rather than the sibilant sound found in equivalent satem words. See discussion under Indo-European.

CHAIN OF BEING: An elaborate cosmological model of the universe common in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Great Chain of Being was a permanently fixed hierarchy with the Judeo-Christian God at the top of the chain and inanimate objects like stones and mud at the bottom. Intermediate beings and objects, such as angels, humans, animals, and plants, were arrayed in descending order of intelligence, authority, and capability between these two extremes. The Chain of Being was seen as designed by God. The idea of the Chain of Being resonates in art, politics, literature, cosmology, theology, and philosophy throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It takes on particular complexity because different parts of the Chain were thought to correspond to each other. (See correspondences.) Click here for more information.

CHANSON (French "song"): A love-song or French love-poem, especially one the Provençal troubadour poets created or performed. Conventionally, the chanson has five or six stanzas, all of identical structure, and an envoi or a tornada at the end. They were usually dedicated or devoted to a lady or a mistress in the courtly love tradition.

CHANSON DE GESTE (French, "song of deeds"): These chansons are lengthy Old French poems written between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries glorifying Carolingian noblemen and their feudal lords. The chansons de geste combine history and legend. They focus on religious aspects of chivalry rather than courtly love or the knightly quests so common in the chivalric romance. Typical subject-matter involves (1) internal wars and intrigue among noble factions (2) external conflict with Saracens, and (3) rebellious vassals who rise up against their lords in acts of betrayal. Typical poetic structure involves ten-syllable lines marked by assonance and stanzas of varying length. The chansons de geste are in many ways comparable to epics. Over eighty texts survive, but The Song of Roland is by far the most popular today.

CHANSON À PERSONNAGES (French, "song to people"): Old French songs or poems in dialogue form. Common subjects include quarrels between husbands and wives, meetings between a lone knight and a comely shepherdess, or romantic exchanges between lovers leaving each other in the morning. See aubade.

CHARACTER: Any representation of an individual being presented in a dramatic or narrative work through extended dramatic or verbal representation. The reader can interpret characters as endowed with moral and dispositional qualities expressed in what they say (dialogue) and what they do (action). E. M. Forster describes characters as "flat" (i.e., built around a single idea or quality and unchanging over the course of the narrative) or "round" (complex in temperament and motivation; drawn with subtlety; capable of growth and change during the course of the narrative). The main character of a work of a fiction is typically called the protagonist; the character against whom the protagonist struggles or contends (if there is one), is the antagonist. If a single secondary character aids the protagonist throughout the narrative, that character is the deuteragonist (the hero's "side-kick"). A character of tertiary importance is a tritagonist. These terms originate in classical Greek drama, in which a tenor would be assigned the role of protagonist, a baritone the role of deuteragonist, and a bass would play the tritagonist. Compare flat characters with stock characters.

CHARACTERIZATION: An author or poet's use of description, dialogue, dialect, and action to create in the reader an emotional or intellectual reaction to a character or to make the character more vivid and realistic. Careful readers note each character's attitude and thoughts, actions and reaction, as well as any language that reveals geographic, social, or cultural background.

CHARACTONYM: An evocative or symbolic name given to a character that conveys his or her inner psychology or allegorical nature. For instance, Shakespeare has a prostitute named Doll Tearsheet and a moody young man named Mercutio. Steinbeck has the sweet-natured Candy in Of Mice and Men. Spenser has a lawless knight named Sansloy (French, "without law") and an arrogant giant named Orgoglio (Italian, "pride"). On a more physical level, Rabelais might name a giant Gargantua. These names are all charactonyms. Cf. eponym.

CHASTUSHKA (plur. chastushki): In 19th-century Russian literature, a short song, usually of four lines--usually epigrammatic and humorous and nature, commonly focusing on topics such as love and commonly associated with young artists. Chastushki on political topics became more common in the 20th century. Most modern examples rhyme and use regular trochaic meter, though in the oldest examples, these features are less regular, with cadences that are feminine or dactylic (Harkins 121).

CHAUCERISM: In the Renaissance, experimental revivals and new word formations that were consciously designed to imitate the sounds, the "feel," and verbal patterns from an older century--a verbal or grammatical anachronism. Spenser uses many Chaucerisms in The Fairie Queene.

CHEKE SYSTEM: As summarized by Baugh, a proposed method for indicating long vowels and standardizing spelling first suggested by Sir John Cheke in Renaissance orthography. Cheke would double vowels to indicate a long sound. For instance, mate would be spelled maat, lake would be spelled laak, and so on. Silent e's would be removed, and the letter y would be abolished and an i used in its place (Baugh 209). It did not catch on.

CHIASM: A specific example of chiasmus, see below.

CHIASMUS (from Greek, "cross" or "x"): A literary scheme in which the author introduces words or concepts in a particular order, then later repeats those terms or similar ones in reversed or backwards order. It involves taking parallelism and deliberately turning it inside out, creating a "crisscross" pattern. For example, consider the chiasmus that follows: "By day the frolic, and the dance by night." If we draw the words as a chart, the words form an "x" (hence the word's Greek etymology, from chi meaning "x"):

The sequence is typically a b b a or a b c c b a. "I lead the life I love; I love the life I lead." "Naked I rose from the earth; to the grave I fall clothed." Biblical examples in the Greek can be found in Philippians 1:15-17 and Colossians 3:11, though the artistry is often lost in English translation. Chiasmus often overlaps with antimetabole.

CHICANO / CHICANA LITERATURE: Twentieth- and twenty-first-century writings and poetry by Mexican-American immigrants or their children--usually in English with short sections or phrases in Spanish. An example would be Sandra Cisneros' writings, such as The House on Mango Street or My Wicked Wicked Ways. Following the grammatical conventions for gender in Spanish, the adjective Chicano takes an -o suffix in reference to male authors and an -a suffix in reference to female authors. Cf. Latino Writing.

CHILDREN'S LITERATURE: See juvenile literature.

CHIMES: See discussion under cynghanedd.

CHIVALRIC ROMANCE: Another term for medieval romance. See also chivalry, below.

CHIVALRY: An idealized code of military and social behavior for the aristocracy in the late medieval period. The word "chivalry" comes from Old French cheval (horse), and chivalry literally means "horsemanship." Normally, only rich nobility could afford the expensive armor, weaponry, and warhorses necessary for mounted combat, so the act of becoming a knight was symbolically indicated by giving the knight silver spurs. The right to knighthood in the late medieval period was inherited through the father, but it could also be granted by the king or a lord as a reward for services.

The tenets of chivalry attempted to civilize the brutal activity of warfare. The chivalric ideals involve sparing non-combatants such as women, children, and helpless prisoners; the protection of the church; honesty in word and bravery in deeds; loyalty to one's liege; dignified behavior; and single-combat between noble opponents who had a quarrel. Other matters associated with chivalry include gentlemanly contests in arms supervised by witnesses and heralds, behaving according to the manners of polite society, courtly love, brotherhood in arms, and feudalism. See knight for additional information.

This code became of great popular interest to British readers in the 1800s, leading to a surge of historical novels, poems, and paintings dealing with medieval matters. Examples of this nineteenth-century fascination include the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, William Morris's revival of medieval handcrafts, Scott's novels such as Ivanhoe, and the earnestly sympathetic (though unrealistic) depiction of knighthood in Tennyson's Idylls of the King. In Tennyson's poem Guinevere, King Arthur describes the ideals of knighthood thus:

I made them lay their hands in mine and swear
To reverence the King, as if he were
Their conscience, and their conscience as their King
To break the heathen and uphold the Christ,
To ride abroad redressing human wrongs,
To speak no slander, no, nor listen to it,
To honor his own word as if his God's,
To lead sweet lives in purest chastity,
To love one maiden only, cleave to her,
And worship her by years of noble deeds,
Until they won her.

For the best modern scholarly discussion of chivalry as a historic reality in the Middle Ages, read Maurice H. Keen's Chivalry (Yale University Press, 1984).

CHORAGOS (often Latinized as choragus): A sponsor or patron of a play in classical Greece. Often this sponsor was honored by serving as the leader of the chorus (see below).

CHÒREE: Another term for trochee. See trochee.

CHORIC FIGURE: Any character in any type of narrative literature that serves the same purpose as a chorus in drama by remaining detached from the main action and commenting upon or explaining this action to the audience. See chorus, below.

CHORUS: (1) A group of singers who stand alongside or off stage from the principal performers in a dramatic or musical performance. (2) The song or refrain that this group of singers sings. In ancient Greece, the chorus was originally a group of male singers and dancers (choreuti) who participated in religious festivals and dramatic performances by singing commenting on the deeds of the characters and interpreting the significance of the events within the play. This group contrasts with the actors (Greek hypocrites). Shakespeare alters the traditional chorus by replacing the singers with a single figure--often allegorical in nature. For instance, "Time" comes on stage in The Winter's Tale to explain the passing years. Likewise, "Rumor" appears in Henry IV, Part Two to summarize the gossip about Prince Hal. See also choragos and choric figure, above.

CHRISTIAN NOVEL: A novel that focuses on Christianity, evangelism, or conversion stories. Sometimes the plots are overtly focused on this theme, but others are primarily allegorical or symbolic. Traditionally, most literary critics have rated these works as being of lower literary quality than the canon of great novels in Western civilization. Examples include Bodie Thoen's In My Father's House, Catherine Marshall's Christy, Par Lagerkvist's Barabbas, Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis, and Lloyd C. Douglas's The Robe.

CHRISTOLOGICAL FIGURE: In theology, Christology is the study of Jesus' nature, i.e., whether Christ had both a human and divine nature, whether he had one sentient will alone or one human will and one divine will, whether he was theoretically capable of sin like humanity or perfectly righteous like the other persons in the trinity, whether he shared in the Father's omniscience or suffered from human afflictions like doubt or ignorance, whether he existed or not before his biological birth, whether he was equal in authority and power to the other persons in the trinity, and whether he actually had a physical body (the orthodox view) or was composed entirely of spirit (the Arian view).

In literary studies, the term christological has been commandeered to refer to (1) an object, person, or figure that represents Christ allegorically or symbolically, or (2) any similar object, person, or figure with qualities generally reminiscent of Christ. Examples of christological figures include the Old Man in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, who after his struggle with the fish ends up bleeding from his palms and lying on the floor in a cruciform pattern; the lion Aslan in C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, who allows himself like the lion of the tribe of Judah to be slain in order to redeem a traitorous child; and the unicorn in medieval bestiaries, which would lie down and place its phallic, ivory-horned meekly in a maiden's lap so that hunters might kill it--which medieval monks interpreted as an allegory of Christ allowing himself to enter the womb of the virgin Mary so that he might later be sacrificed. Zora Neale Hurston creates a christ-figure in Delia Jones, who in the short story "Sweat" suffers to support her ungrateful husband and "crawled over the earth in Gethsemane and up the rocks of Calvary many, many times . . ." and so on.

CHRONICLE: A history or a record of events. It refers to any systematic account or narration of events that makes minimal attempt to interpret, question, or analyze that history. Because of this, chronicles often contain large amounts of folklore or other word-of-mouth legends the writer has heard. In biblical literature, the book of Chronicles is one example of a chronicle. Medieval chronicles include Joinville's account of the Crusades and Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, a source for much Arthurian legend. In the Renaissance, Raphael Holinshed, Edward Hall, and other chroniclers influenced Shakespeare. Chronicles were popular in England after the British defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. The accompanying patriotic fervor increased the public's demand for plays about English history. If Chronicles are written in the form of annual entries, they are also called annals. See also lepotis.

CHRONOLOGY (Greek: "logic of time"): The order in which events happen, especially when emphasizing a cause-effect relationship in history or in a narrative.

CHTHONIC: Related to the dead, the grave, the underworld, or the fertility of the earth. In Greek mythology, the Greeks venerated three categories of spirits: (1) the Olympian gods, who were worshipped in public ceremonies--often outdoors on the east side of large columned temples in the agora, (2) ancestral heroes like Theseus and Hercules, who were often worshipped only in local shrines or at specific burial mounds, (3) chthonic spirits, which included (a) earth-gods and death-gods like Hades, Hecate, and Persephone; (b) lesser-known (and often nameless) spirits of the departed; (c) dark and bloody spirits of vengeance like the Furies and Nemesis, and (d) (especially in Minoan tradition) serpents, which were revered as intermediaries between the surface world of the living and the subterranean realm of the dead. This is why snakes were so prominent in the healing cults of Aesclepius. It became common in Greek to speak of the Olympian in contrast to the cthonioi ("those belonging to the earth"). See Burkert 199-203 for detailed discussion.

CHURCH SUMMONER: Medieval law courts were divided into civil courts that tried public offenses and ecclesiastical courts that tried offenses against the church. Summoners were minor church officials whose duties included summoning offenders to appear before the church and receive sentence. By the fourteenth century, the job became synonymous with extortion and corruption because many summoners would take bribes from the individuals summoned to court. Chaucer satirized a summoner in The Canterbury Tales.

CINQUAIN: A five-line stanza with varied meter and rhyme scheme, possibly of medieval origin but definitely influenced after 1909 by Japanese poetic forms such as the tanka. Most modern cinquains are now based on the form standardized by an American poet, Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1918), in which each unrhymed line has a fixed number of syllables--respectively two, four, six, eight, and two syllables in each line--for a rigid total of 22 syllables. Here is probably the most famous example of a cinquain from Crapsey's The Complete Poems;

TRIAD
These be
Three silent things:
The falling snow... the hour
Before the dawn... the mouth of one
Just dead.

Perhaps under the influence of diamante poems, many modern elementary school teachers have begun adding an additional set of conventions to the cinquain in which each line has a specific structural requirement:

Line 1 - Consists of the two-syllable title or subject for the poem
Line 2 - Consists of two adjectives totaling four syllables describing the subject or title
Line 3 - Consists of three verbs totaling six syllables describing the subject's actions
Line 4 - Consists of four words totaling eight syllables giving the writer's opinion of the subject.
Line 5 - Consists of one two-syllable word, often a synonym for the subject.

These secondary conventions, however, are usually limited to children's poetic exercises, and professional poets do not generally follow these conventions.

CIRCULAR STRUCTURE: A type of artistic structure in which a sense of completeness or closure does not originate in coming to a "conclusion" that breaks with the earlier story; instead, the sense of closure originates in the way the end of a piece returns to subject-matter, wording, or phrasing found at the beginning of the narrative, play, or poem. An example of circular structure might be "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," which ends with an ellipsis identical to the opening sequence, indicating that the middle-aged protagonist is engaging in yet another escapist fantasy. Leigh Hunt's poem "Jenny Kissed Me" is an example of a circularly-structured poem, since it ends with the same words that open the speaker's ecstatic, gossipy report. Langdon Smith's poem "Evolution" is circular in its concluding repetition of the opening phrase, "When you were a tadpole, and I was a fish," but it is also thematically circular, in that it implies the cycle of reincarnated love will continue again and again in spite of death. In many ways, the smaller tales within a larger frame narrative act as part of a circular structure, because each small tale begins by breaking the reader away from the larger, encompassing narrative and concludes by returning the reader to that larger frame-narrative.

CIRCUMLOCUTION: Roundabout or indirect speech or writing, rather than short, brief, clear writing. See discussion under periphrasis. Cf. related terms like acyrologia, ambage, macrologia, macrology, pleonasm, prolixity, tautology, and verbiage.

CITY DIONYSIA: See discussion under dionysia.

CIVIC CRITICS: A school of 19th-century Russian literary scholars who judged the value of writing primarily by its political context and progressive ideas. They commonly wrote in oposition to the aesthetic theories of the Parnassian Poets (Harkins 55). Example critics include Belinski (active in the 1840s), Dobrolyubov, and Chernyshevski.

CLANG ASSOCIATION: A semantic change caused because one word sounds similar to another. For instance, the word fruition in Middle English meant "enjoyment." In Modern English, its meaning has changed to "completion" because it sounds like the word fruit--hence the idea of ripeness, of growing to full size, as Algeo notes (314).

CLASSICAL: The term in Western culture is usually used in reference to the art, architecture, drama, philosophy, literature, and history surrounding the Greeks and Romans between 1000 BCE and 410 BCE. Works created during the Greco-Roman period are often called classics. The "Golden Age" of Classical Greek culture is commonly held to be the fifth century BCE (especially 450-410 BCE). The term can be applied more generally to any ancient and revered writing or artwork from a specific culture; thus we refer to "Classical Chinese," "Classical Hebrew," and "Classical Arabic" works. For extended discussion, click here. To download a PDF handout placing the periods of literary history in order, click here.

CLASSICAL HAIKU: Another term for the hokku, the predecessor of the modern haiku. See hokku and haiku.

CLASSICS: See discussion under classical, above.

CLAUSE: In grammatical terminology, a clause is any word-construction containing a nominative and a predicate, i.e., a subject "doing" a verb. The term clause contrasts with the term phrase. A phrase might contain nouns as appositives or objects, and it might contain verb-like words in the form of participles or gerunds, but it crucially lacks a subject "doing" a verb. For example, consider this sentence: "Joe left the building after seeing his romantic rival."

Clause: Joe left the building
Phrase: after seeing his romantic rival

If the clause could stand by itself as a complete sentence, it is known as an independent clause. If the clause cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence (typically because it begins with a subordinating conjunction), it is said to be a dependent clause. For expanded discussion and examples, click here. For a discusion of clauses according to functional type, click here ( TBA).

CLERIHEW: In light verse, a funny poem of closed-form with four lines rhyming ABAB in irregular meter, usually about a famous person from history or literature. Typically the historical person's name forms one of the rhymes. The name comes from Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956), the purported inventor. He supposedly had a habit of scribbling down such rhymes during dull lectures at school, including this one from his chemistry class:

Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

CLICHÉ: A hackneyed or trite phrase that has become overused. Clichés are considered bad writing and bad literature. Click here to download a PDF handout for more information. Cliché rhymes are rhymes that are considered trite or predictable. Cliché rhymes in poetry include love and dove, moon and June, trees and breeze. Sometimes, to avoid cliché rhymes, poets will go to hyperbolic lengths, such as the trisyllabic rhymes in Lord Byron's Don Juan.

CLICHÉ RHYME: Cliché rhymes are rhymes that are considered trite or predictable. They include love and dove, moon and June, trees and breeze. Sometimes, to avoid cliché rhymes, poets will go to hyperbolic lengths, such as the trisyllabic rhymes in Lord Byron's Don Juan.

CLICK: A sound common in some non-Indo-European languages in Polynesia made by clucking the tongue or drawing in air with the tongue rather than expelling it from the lungs--such as the sound represented by the letter combination tsk-tsk. Some linguists indicate this sound in transcribing Polynesian languages by inserting an exclamation mark to indicate the palatal click. For instance, the !chung tribe has a palatal click as part of its name.

CLIFFHANGER: A melodramatic narrative (especially in films, magazines, or serially published novels) in which each section "ends" at a suspenseful or dramatic moment, ensuring that the audience will watch the next film or read the next installment to find out what happens. The term comes from the common 1930's film-endings in which the main characters are literally left hanging on the edge of a cliff until the story resumes. The term cliffhanger has more loosely been applied to any situation, event, or contest in which the outcome remains uncertain until the last moment possible.

CLIMAX, LITERARY (From Greek word for "ladder"): The moment in a play, novel, short story, or narrative poem at which the crisis reaches its point of greatest intensity and is thereafter resolved. It is also the peak of emotional response from a reader or spectator and usually the turning point in the action. The climax usually follows or overlaps with the crisis of a story, though some critics use the two terms synonymously. (Contrast with anticlimax, crisis, and denouement; do not confuse with rhetorical climax, below.)

CLIMAX, RHETORICAL: Also known as auxesis and crescendo, this refers to an artistic arrangement of a list of items so that they appear in a sequence of increasing importance. See rhetorical schemes for more information. The opposite of climax is bathos.

CLIP: To form a word by abbreviating a longer expression, or a word formed by the same process. For instance, the word auto (as in "auto shop") is a clipped form of automobile.

CLOSE READING: Reading a piece of literature carefully, bit by bit, in order to analyze the significance of every individual word, image, and artistic ornament. Click here for more information. The term is sometimes used synonymously with critical reading, though I arbitrarily prefer to reserve close reading as a reference for analyzing literature and critical reading as a reference for breaking down an essay's argument logically. Cf. critical reading.

CLOSED POETIC FORM: Poetry written in a a specific or traditional pattern according to the required rhyme, meter, line length, line groupings, and number of lines within a genre of poetry. Examples of a closed-form poetry include haiku, limericks, and sonnets, which have set numbers of syllables, lines, and traditional subject-matter. Contrast with open poetic form.

CLOSURE (Latin clausura, "a closing"): Closure has two common meanings. First, it means a sense of completion or finality at the conclusion of play or narrative work--especially a feeling in the audience that all the problems have been resolved satisfactorily. Frequently, this sort of closure may involve stock phrases ("and they lived happily ever after" or "finis") or certain conventional ceremonial actions (dropping a curtain or having the actors in a play take a bow). The narrative may reveal the solution of the primary problem(s) driving the plot, the death of a major character (especially the antagonist, the protagonist's romantic interest or even the protagonist herself), or careful denouement. An example of extended denouement as closure occurs in George Eliot's Middlemarch, in which the author carefully explains what happened in later years to each character in the novel. Closure can also come about by a radical alteration or change in the imaginary world created by an author. For instance, in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, much of the closure to the saga comes from the departure of the elves and wizards, who sail across the sea, leaving the world of human men and women forever, an act which apparently causes magic to fade. Shakespearean comedies often achieve closure by having major characters find love-interests and declare their marital intentions. Other more experimental forms of literature and poetry may achieve closure by "circular structure," in which the poem or story ends by coming back to the narrative's original starting spot, or by returning a similar situation to what was found at the beginning of the tale. See discussion under denouement. Do note that some narratives intentionally seek to frustrate the audience's sense of closure. Examples of literature that reject conventions of closure include cliffhanger serials (see above), which reject normal closure in an attempt to gain returning audiences. Many postmodern narratives influenced by existential philosophy, on the other hand, reject closure as too "simplistic" and "artificial" in comparison with the complexities of human living.

Secondly, some critics use the term "closure" as a derogatory term to imply the reduction of a work's meanings to a single and complete sense that excludes the claims of other interpretations. For extended discussion of closure, see Frank Kermode's The Sense of An Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, as reprinted in 2001.

CLOWN: (1) A fool or rural bumpkin in Shakespearean vocabulary. Examples of this type of clown include Lance, Bottom, Dogberry, and other Shakespearean characters. (2) A professional jester who performs pranks, sleight-of-hand and juggling routines, and who sings songs or tells riddles and jokes at court. By convention, such jesters were given considerable leeway to speak on nearly any topic (even criticizing court policy) as long as the criticism was veiled in riddles and wordplay. Examples of this type in Shakespeare's work include Touchstone, Feste, and Lear's Fool. Cf. fool.

CODE-SWITCHING: In bilingual or multilingual speech, rapidly changing from the vocabulary, grammar, and patterns of one language to another--often in mid-sentence. An example sentence to illustrate this process using Latin, Spanish, German, and French might read as follows: "Imprimus, el commander qui runs his troops y sus attendants to death in a blitzkrieg isn't tres sapiens, n'est-pas?" [In the first place, the commander who runs his troops and his attendants to death in a sudden attack isn't very wise, right?]

Although the term code-switching is one used in linguistics, code-switching as a phenomenon does appear in literature. The character of Salvatori the monk in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose engages continuously in code-switching among Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, and German tongues, for instance. Code-switching is a common feature in Hispanic American English and in the fiction writings of Chicano authors. Cf. dog-latin and macaronic texts.

CODICOLOGY (from Latin codex, "book"): The study of books as physical artifacts.

COGNATE: Cognates are words that (1) match each other to some degree in sound and meaning, (2) come from a common root in an older language, but (3) did not actually serve as a root for each other. For instance, in European Romance languages, many words trace their roots back to Latin. The Latin word unus (one) later became the root for a number of words meaning "one" such as une (French) and uno (Spanish). Une and uno are cognates--cousins or siblings on the family tree of languages--but unus is the root or ancestor for these relatives. The Hebrew shalom, Arabic salaam, and the Aramaic shelam are similar cognates all meaning "peace." Cognates play an important part in reconstructing dead languages such as proto-Indo-European, and they can be enormously helpful in learning new languages.

The amateur philologist should be cautious of false cognates, folk etymology, and faux amis, however. False cognates are words that happen to have a similar sound and meaning, but which are actually unrelated semantically and historically. Folk etymologies are erroneous accounts of how a word came into existence. Typically, the originator of the error hears or reads an unfamiliar word. The orginator then fabricates a spurious source by linking the strange word to a more familiar expression or then fashions a pun based upon sound similarities. Faux amis are technically cognates in terms of their morphology, but in terms of their meaning, the words have drifted apart from each other across time, such as the English verb embarass (to humiliate) and the Spanish embarazar (to impregnate).

COGNOMEN (plural, cognomina): See discussion under tria nomina.

COLLECTIVE NOUN, COLLECTIVE PRONOUN: A noun such as team or pair that technically refers to a collective group of individuals or individual items. What makes them tricky in grammar? They can be singular or plural (e.g., one team, two teams, or one pair, two pairs.) Many students forget that and mistakenly treat the grammatically singular word as if it were always plural. Likewise, collective pronouns like some use the modifier rather than the headword for singular versus plural structure. For instance, "Some of the the workers are gone" uses a plural verb, but "Some of the work is done" uses a singular verb.

COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS: In twentieth-century Jungian Psychology, this term refers to a shared group of archetypes (atavistic and universal images, cultural symbols, and recurring situations dealing with the fundamental facts of human life) passed along to each generation to the next in folklore and stories or generated anew by the way must face similar problems to those our ancestors faced. Within a culture, the collective unconscious forms a treasury of powerful shared images and symbols found in our dreams, art stories, myths, and religious icons. See more detailed discussion under archetypal criticism.

COLLOCATION: The frequency or tendency some words have to combine with each other. For instance, Algeo notes that the phrases "tall person" and "high mountain" seem to fit together readily without sounding strange. A non-native speaker might talk about a "high person" or "tall mountain," and this construction might sound slightly odd to a native English speaker. The difference is in collocation.

COLLOQUIALISM: A word or phrase used everyday in plain and relaxed speech, but rarely found in formal writing. (Compare with cliché, jargon and slang.)

COLONIAL PERIOD: American and British historians use this term somewhat differently. American scholars usually use the term "colonial period" to refer to the years in the American colonies before the American Revolution against the British Monarchy--usually dating it from 1607 (when Jamestown was founded) to 1787 (when Congress ratified the Federal Constitution). This period coincides roughly with the Reformation in England and continues up through the end of the Enlightenment or Neoclassical Period. American writers from the colonial period include Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Anne Bradstreet. See also Neoclassic. Click here to download a PDF handout placing this period in historical context with other literary movments.

When British historians use the term, they sometimes tend to apply the word "colonial" in more general reference to the British expansions into the Americas, the Indies, India, Africa, and the Middle-East over the course of several centuries, even up to the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. See colonialism, below.

COLONIALISM: The term refers broadly and generally to the habit of powerful civilizations to "colonize" less powerful ones. On the obvious level, this process can take the form of a literal geographic occupation, outright enslavement, religious conversion at gun-point, or forced assimilation of native peoples. On a more subtle level, this process can take the form of bureucratic policy that incidentally or indirectly leads to the extinction of a minority's language or culture, economic exploitation of cheap labor, and globalistic erasure of cultural differences. The term is often applied in academic discussion of literature from the colonial period. We can see the concerns of colonialism and imperial ambition in the works of George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant," in Rudyard Kipling's fictional tales about India, and in Josef Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness. See Colonial Period, above.

COMEDY (from Greek: komos, "songs of merrimakers"): In the original meaning of the word, comedy referred to a genre of drama during the Dionysia festivals of ancient Athens. The first comedies were loud and boisterous drunken affairs, as the word's etymology suggests. Later, in medieval and Renaissance use, the word comedy came to mean any play or narrative poem in which the main characters manage to avert an impending disaster and have a happy ending. The comedy did not necessarily have to be funny, and indeed, many comedies are serious in tone. It is only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that comedy's exclusive connotations of humor arose. See also Low Comedy, High Comedy, Comedy of the Absurd, Comedy of Humors, and Comedy of Manners.

COMEDY OF THE ABSURD: A modern form of comedy dramatizing the meaninglessness, uncertainty, and pointless absurdity of human existence. A famous example is Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Cf. existentialism.

COMEDY OF HUMORS: A Renaissance drama in which numerous characters appear as the embodiment of stereotypical "types" of people, each character having the physiological and behavioral traits associated with a specific humor in the human body. The majority of the cast consists of such stock characters. (See "humors, bodily" for more information.) Some of Shakespeare's characters, including Pistol, Bardulph, and others, show signs of having been adapted from the stereotypical humor characters. In literature, a humor character was a type of flat character in whom a single passion predominated; this interpretation was especially popular in Elizabethan and other Renaissance literature. See also stock character.

COMEDY OF INNOCENCE: We have two definitions here. (1) In anthropological terms, a comedy of innocence is a ritualized symbolic behavior (or set of such behaviors) designed to alleviate individual or communal guilt about an execution or sacrifice or to hide the blame for such an action. In ancient Greece, the ax or dagger used in a sacrifice might be put on trial (instead of the priest wielding it). The sacrificial animal might be required to "volunteer" by shaking its head or by walking up to the altar to eat the grain sitting on it. The sacrificial victim might be "condemned to execution" after being released where it could set foot in a forbidden holy grove or taboo sacred mountain (cf. Exodus 19:12-13 and Judges 11:30-40). In America, we see remnants of the comedy of innocence in customs such as the 19th-century's hangman's black mask (to erase the executioner's identity) or the custom of granting the condemned prisoner's last request or final meal (to alleviate any sense of cruelty on the jailer's part).

(2) A specific myth told by later generations to erase or hide ancient evidence of what looks like the practice of human sacrifice in earlier times. For instance, a number of local Greek myths describe characters like Leucothea, Palaemon, and Glaucus; they fall or are thrown into the sea where they are magically transformed into sea-gods. Given the relative insignificance of these gods in the Greek pantheon, it is likely this sort of tale either (a) developed out of local hero cults or (b) the tale alludes to an ancient or prehistoric belief that drowned sacrificial victims would live on as animistic spirits. Another common version of the comedy of innocence is the motif of a human sacrificial victim (usually a child) who is miraculously saved (deus ex machina) and an animal substituted in his or her place. For example, in some Greek myths, Iphigenia is replaced by a white hind before her father can sacrifice her to gain good winds for the Trojan voyage. Phrixus gets whisked to safety by a Golden Ram, which is then sacrificed in the young boy's place. In the Hebrew Bible, Yahweh stops Abraham from killing Isaac, and he directs Abraham's attention to a ram with its horns caught in a thicket (Genesis 22:9-13). Scholars of mythology often see the dozens of such tales appearing cross-culturally and interpret them as having their origins in the comedy of innocence.

COMEDY OF MANNERS: A comic drama consisting of five or three acts in which the attitudes and customs of a society are critiqued and satirized according to high standards of intellect and morality. The dialogue is usually clever and sophisticated, but often risqué. Characters are valued according to their linguistic and intellectual prowess. It is the opposite of the slapstick humor found in a farce or in a fabliau.

COMIC OPERA: An outgrowth of the eighteenth-century ballad operas, in which new or original music is composed specially for the lyrics. (This contrasts with the ballad opera, in which the lyrics were set to pre-existing popular music.)

COMIC RELIEF: A humorous scene, incident, character, or bit of dialogue occurring after some serious or tragic moment. Comic relief is deliberately designed to relieve emotional intensity and simultaneously heighten and highlight the seriousness or tragedy of the action. Macbeth contains Shakespeare's most famous example of comic relief in the form of a drunken porter.

COMING-OF-AGE STORY: A novel in which an adolescent protagonist comes to adulthood by a process of experience and disillusionment. This character loses his or her innocence, discovers that previous preconceptions are false, or has the security of childhood torn away, but usually matures and strengthens by this process. Examples include Wieland's Agathon, Herman Raucher's Summer of '42, Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. The most famous examples are in German. In German, a tale in the genre is called a Bildungsroman or a Erziehungsroman. Examples include Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers and Thomas Mann's Königliche Hoheit.

COMITATUS: (Latin: "companionship" or "band"): The term describes the tribal structure of the Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic tribes in which groups of men would swear fealty to a hlaford (lord) in exchange for food, mead, and heriot, the loan of fine armor and weaponry. The men who swore such an oath were called thegns (roughly akin to modern Scottish "thane"), and they vowed to fight for their lord in battle. It was considered a shameful disaster to outlive one's own lord. The comitatus was the functional military and government unit of early Anglo-Saxon society. The term was first coined by the classical historian Tacitus when he described the Germanic tribes north of Rome.

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. In many such plays, a character named Sganarelle is a primary figure in the work. 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. Commedia dell'arte may have influenced Shakespeare's comedies, such as The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Moliere's plays, such as L'amour Medecin, commonly translated into English as Love is the Doctor.

COMMON MEASURE: Also called common meter, common measure consists of closed poetic quatrains rhyming ABAB or ABCB, in which the lines of iambic tetrameter (eight syllables) alternate with lines of iambic trimeter (six syllables). This pattern is most often associated with ballads (see above), and it is occasionally referred to as "ballad measure." Many of Emily Dickinson's poems are in loose common measure using slant rhyme, for instance:

Much Madness is divinest Sense--
To a discerning Eye--
Much Sense--the starkest Madness--
'Tis the Majority

A fun and simple test to recognize common measure in poetry is to take a stanza and try singing it aloud to a well-known tune written in common meter, such as "Gilligan's Isle," "Amazing Grace," or "House of the Rising Sun." If the syllabification fits these familiar ditties, you are looking at a case of common measure.

COMMON METER: Another term for common measure (see above).

COMMONIZATION: The linguistic term for an eponym--a common word that is derived from the proper name of a person or place. For instance, the sandwich gained its name from its inventor, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. The word lynch comes from Captain William Lynch, who led bands of vigilantes to hang hoboes and bums residing near Pittsylvania County. The verb shanghai, meaning to kidnap or press into forced labor, comes from the practices of conscription common in the oriental city of Shanghai. The word stentorian comes from the loud-mouthed Stentor in Greek legend, and herculean comes from the muscle-bound Hercules, and so on.

COMPERT (plural: comperta): Specifically, birth-tales in Old Irish literature that detail the conception and birth of a hero. Examples include the Compert Con Culainn (Birth of Cú Chulainn). Usually supernatural or extraordinary events involve themselves in the conception, such as the Druid Cathbad's seduction of Nessa after prophesying what the hour would be lucky for (begetting a king upon a queen!) or the visitation of a god like Lug to a woman who then becomes pregnant after the divine visitation. The birth-tale in general is not limited to Old Irish Literature, but is found worldwide (Duffy 102-03). Examples outside of Irish literature include the birth of Jesus, or the Buddha, or Leda and Hercules in Greek myth, Pryderi's conception in the First Branch of The Mabinogion, or King Arthur's conception in Arthurian legends.

COMPLETENESS: The second aspect of Aristotle's requirements for a tragedy. By completeness, Aristotle emphasizes the logic, wholeness, and closure necessary to satisfy the audience.

COMPLEX METAPHOR: Another term for a telescoped metaphor.

COMPOSITE MONSTER (in architecture, often called a chimera after the Greek monster): The term is one mythologists use to describe the fantastical creatures in Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, and medieval European legends in which the beast is composed of the body-parts of various animals. For instance, in Greek mythology, the chimera has the body of a lion, tale of a serpent, wings of a bat, and a goat-head, a lion-head, and a serpent's head. Likewise, the sphinx has a lion's body and a woman's head and breasts; the centaur has a horse's body and human torso and a human head where the horse-head should be; the minotaur has a bull's head and a man's body; and the harpy has an avian body and a woman's head, breasts, and arms. Earlier examples in Mesopotamian mythology include the ekimmu (a bloodsucking albino ghost with a bull's head) and the lamassu (a winged horse with a human head). In the medieval period, composite monsters include the formecolion, with an ant's body and a lion's head; the mermaid, with a human top and a fish bottom; and the cockatrice, which mingles parts of a rooster and a serpent. Contrast with additive monster, above.

Composite monsters were common in the legends of classical and ancient cultures, but diminished in favor after the Renaissance. Many theories propose to explain the common tendency to create composite monsters. Theories include mistranslation in traveler's tales, in which an animal is describing as having a head like such-and-such a creature, but the simile is lost in translation; the encounter of fossil remnants of extinct animals, or bones found jumbled together and misassembled; and the heraldic practice of dimidiation, in which a nobleman's son might take two animals found on his father's and mother's coats of arms combine them into a composite creature to illustrate his genealogy.

An example in 20th century films includes The Fly. In this 1950s horror classic, a fly and a human trade bodies and heads.Cf. therianthropic and theriomorphic.

COMPOSITOR: A typesetter in a Renaissance print shop. To speed the printing process, most of Shakespeare's plays appear to have been set by multiple compositors. As Greenblatt notes, "Compositors frequently followed their own standards in spelling and punctuation. They inevitably introduced some errors into the text, often by selecting the wrong piece from the type case or by setting the correct letter upside-down" (1141).

COMPOUNDING: A term from linguistics used to describe the creation of a new word ("neologism") that comes about by taking two existing words and sticking them together to create a brand new concept (Horobin 192). All languages do this to some extent. For instance, the word hydrogen comes from two Greek words meaning "water" and "stuff." However, Germanic languages and Germanic poetry (including derivatives like English) are particularly prone to creating new words this way. Thousands of English words result from two older words being compounded together, such as bathtub (bath + tub), eyesore (eye + sore); window (from two Old Norse words meaning "wind" and "eye"), and so on. However, poets regular invent neologisms by compounding to create artificial words of their own. Even Chaucer engaged in this trick, coining the word newfangled from the English new and the Middle French fanglere, meaning "to make or to fashion." See neologism, blending, and kenning.

COMPURGATION: In addition to trial by ordeal, compurgation was the medieval law practice among Christianized Anglo-Saxon tribes to determine innocence. A man accused of a crime would publicly swear to his innocence. The judge then gave the defendant thirty days to to collect a number of "oath-helpers" who would also swear to his innocence (or at least his good character). If he was unable to find the required number, he was either found guilty or he could appeal to trial by ordeal. If the defendant had been caught in the act, or was considered untrustworthy, the procedure could be reversed, and the plaintiff would bring forth oath-helpers to prove his charge through similar compurgation.

CONCEIT (also called a metaphysical conceit): An elaborate or unusual comparison--especially one using unlikely metaphors, simile, hyperbole, and contradiction. Before the beginning of the seventeenth century, the term conceit was a synonym for "thought" and roughly equivalent to "idea" or "concept." It gradually came to denote a fanciful idea or a particularly clever remark. In literary terms, the word denotes a fairly elaborate figure of speech, especially an extended comparison involving unlikely metaphors, similes, imagery, hyperbole, and oxymora. One of the most famous conceits is John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," a poem in which Donne compares two souls in love to the points on a geometer's compass. Shakespeare also uses conceits regularly in his poetry. In Richard II, Shakespeare compares two kings competing for power to two buckets in a well, for instance. A conceit is usually classified as a subtype of metaphor. Contrast with epic simile and dyfalu.

CONCORD: See discussion under agreement.

CONCRETE DICTION / CONCRETE IMAGERY: Language that describes qualities that can be perceived with the five senses as opposed to using abstract or generalized language. For instance, calling a fruit "pleasant" or "good" is abstract, while calling a fruit "cool" or "sweet" is concrete. The preference for abstract or concrete imagery varies from century to century. Philip Sidney praised concrete imagery in poetry in his 1595 treatise, Apologie for Poetrie. A century later, Neoclassical thought tended to value the generality of abstract thought. In the early 1800s, the Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley once again preferred concreteness. In the 20th century, the distinction between concrete and abstract has been a subject of some debate. Ezra Pound and T. E. Hulme attempted to create a theory of concrete poetry. T. S. Eliot added to this school of thought with his theory of the "objective correlative." Contrast with abstract diction / abstract imagery.

CONCRETE POETRY: Poetry that draws much of its power from the way the text appears situated on the page. The actual shape of the lines of text may create a swan's neck, an altar, a geometric pattern, or a set of wings, which in some direct way connects to the meaning of the words. Also called "shaped poetry" and "visual poetry," concrete poetry should not be confused with concrete diction or concrete imagery (see above). The object here is to present each poem as a different shape. It may appear on the page, on glass, stone, wood, or other materials. The technique seems simple, but can allow great subtlety. Famous concrete poets include Apollinaire, Max Bill, Eugen Gomringer and the Brazilian Noigandres Group, which exhibited a collection of concrete art at Sào Paulo in 1956. In Germany, this school of poetry is called konkretisten by critics. It includes Ernst Jandl, Achleitner, Heissenbüttel, Mon, and Rühm. Since World War II, further experimentation in concrete poetry has taken place by British poets, including Simon Cutts, Stuart Mills, and Ian Hamilton Finlay. See also diamante.

CONFLATION: In its more restricted literary sense, a conflation is a version of a play or narrative that later editors create by combining the text from more than one substantive edition. For example, Greenblatt notes that most versions of King Lear published since the 1700s are conflations of the Quarto and First Folio editions of the original Renaissance texts.

CONFLICT: The opposition between two characters (such as a protagonist and an antagonist), between two large groups of people, or between the protagonist and a larger problem such as forces of nature, ideas, public mores, and so on. Conflict may also be completely internal, such as the protagonist struggling with his psychological tendencies (drug addiction, self-destructive behavior, and so on); William Faulkner famously claimed that the most important literature deals with the subject of "the human heart in conflict with itself." Conflict is the engine that drives a plot. Examples of narratives driven mainly by conflicts between the protagonist and nature include Jack London's "To Build a Fire" (in which the Californian struggles to save himself from freezing to death in Alaska) and Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat" (in which shipwrecked men in a lifeboat struggle to stay alive and get to shore). Examples of narratives driven by conflicts between a protagonist and an antagonist include Mallory's Le Morte D'arthur, in which King Arthur faces off against his evil son Mordred, each representing civilization and barbarism respectively. Examples of narratives driven by internal struggles include Daniel Scott Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon," in which the hero struggles with the loss of his own intelligence to congenital mental retardation, and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," in which the protagonist ends up struggling with his own guilt after committing a murder. In complex works of literature, multiple conflicts may occur at once. For instance, in Shakespeare's Othello, one level of conflict is the unseen struggle between Othello and the machinations of Iago, who seeks to destroy him. Another level of conflict is Othello's struggle with his own jealous insecurities and his suspicions that Desdemona is cheating on him.

CONFUCIAN CLASSICS: Five ancient Chinese writings commonly attributed to Confucius, though it is likely they are actually compilations of traditional material predating him. The five classics include the I Ching (The Book of Changes), the Shu Ching (The Book of History), the Shih Ching, (The Book of Odes), the Record of Rites (Li Chi), and the Spring and Autumn Annals. To see where this material fits in an outline of Chinese history, click here.

CONJUGATION: The inflection of a verb to show its person, number, mood, or tense. Here is a sample conjugation of the present tense indicative forms of to sing in English and cantar in Spanish:

English: Infinitive To Sing

I sing. We sing.
You (singular) sing. You (plural) sing.
He / She / It sings. They sing.

Spanish: Infinitivo Cantar

Yo canto Nosotros cantamos.
Tu cantas Ustedes cantan (or vosotros cantais)
El/ Ella / Lo canta Ellos / Ellas cantan.

CONNOTATION: The extra tinge or taint of meaning each word carries beyond the minimal, strict definition found in a dictionary. For instance, the terms civil war, revolution and rebellion have the same denotation; they all refer to an attempt at social or political change. However, civil war carries historical connotations for Americans beyond that of revolution or rebellion. Likewise, revolution is often applied more generally to scientific or theoretical changes, and it does not necessarily connote violence. Rebellion, for many English speakers connotes an improper uprising against a legitimate authority (thus we speak about "rebellious teenagers" rather than "revolutionary teenagers"). In the same way, the words house and home both refer to a domicile, but home connotes certain singular emotional qualities and personal possession in a way that house doesn't. I might own four houses I rent to others, but I might call none of these my home, for example. Much of poetry involves the poet using connotative diction that suggests meanings beyond "what the words simply say." Contrast with denotation.

CONSONANCE: A special type of alliteration in which the repeated pattern of consonants is marked by changes in the intervening vowels--i.e., the final consonants of the stressed syllables match each other but the vowels differ. As M. H. Abrams illustrates in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, examples include linger, longer, and languor or rider, reader, raider, and ruder. Do not confuse consonance with a consonant (see below). See also assonance and sound symbolism.

CONSONANT: A speech sound that is not a vowel. To download a PDF file listing consonants and their symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet, click here.

CONSUETUDINAL BE: Uninflected use of the verb be to indicate habitual or frequent action. This grammatical structure is characteristic of Black Vernacular. An example would be as follows: "What you be doing on Thursdays?" "I be working every afternoon." Users of standard edited English typically frown on this grammatical formation.

CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE: Literature written "at the present moment." Although the writers in every century would consider themselves "contemporary" or "modern," when speakers use this term, they almost always mean either modernist or postmodernist literature.

CONTEXTUAL SYMBOL: A unique or original symbol an author creates within the context of an individual work or an author's collected works. Examples include the Snopes family in Faulkner's collected works, who together function as a symbol of the South's moral decay, or the town of Castle Rock, Maine, which in Stephen King's works functions as a microcosmic symbol of human society. Contrast with cultural symbol, below.

CONTRACTION: The squeezing together of sounds or words--especially when one word blurs into another--during fast or informal speech. Contractions such as I'm (I am), he's (he is), and they're (they are) are common in verbal communication, but they are often considered too loose for more formal writing.

CONTRAPASSIO ("counter-suffering): A thematic principle involving situational irony in which a punishment's nature corresponds exactly to the nature of a crime. Much of Dante's Inferno revolves around elaborate contrapassio.

CONTRASTIVE PAIR: Another term for a minimal pair.

CONTROL TEXT: A specific text upon which a modern edition is based. For instance, there are at least three dominant manuscript traditions of Langland's Piers Plowman poem: the A-text, the B-text, and the C-text (and possibly a Z-text, as recent scholarship has tentatively suggested). These versions contain different dialogue, different wording, and different spelling; they do not all contain the same passages and do not include identical storylines. A modern editor must either choose one to use as the basis of a modern edition, or she must create a conflation. Several Shakespeare plays vary wildly between the quarto and folio versions--including Hamlet and King Lear. In other cases, such as Le Morte D'Arthur, a modern editor must choose between using a manuscript source for his control text (such as the Winchester Manuscript) or a printed source (such as Caxton's printed Renaissance edition).

CONVENTION: A common feature that has become traditional or expected within a specific genre (category) of literature or film. In Harlequin romances, it is conventional to focus on a male and female character who struggle through misunderstandings and difficulties until they fall in love. In western films of the early twentieth-century, for instance, it has been conventional for protagonists to wear white hats and antagonists to wear black hats. The wandering knight-errant who travels from place to place, seeking adventure while suffering from the effects of hunger and the elements, is a convention in medieval romances. It is a convention for an English sonnet to have fourteen lines with a specific rhyme scheme, abab, cdcd, efef, gg, and so on. The use of a chorus and the unities are dramatic conventions of Greek tragedy, while, the aside, and the soliloquy are conventions in Elizabethan tragedy. Conventions are often referred to as poetic, literary, or dramatic, depending upon whether the convention appears in a poem, short story or novel, or a play.

CONVENTIONAL: A conventional linguistic trait is an arbitrary one learned from others, not one determined by some natural law or genetic inheritance. Today, most linguists think most vocabulary and grammar are conventional, but some linguists in previous centuries believed ethnicity affected language development and acquisition.

CORPUS CHRISTI PLAY: A religious play performed outdoors in the medieval period that enacts an event from the Bible, such as the story of Adam and Eve, Noah's flood, the crucifixion, and so on. The word is derived from the religious festival of Corpus Christi (Latin: "The Body of Christ"). See also cycle and mystery play.

CORRESPONDENCES: An integral part of the medieval and Renaissance model of the universe known as the "Chain of Being." The idea was that different links on the Chain of Being were interconnected and had a sort of sympathetic correspondence to each other. Each type of being or object (men, beasts, celestial objects, fish, plants, and rocks) had a place within a hierarchy designed by God. Each type of object had a primate, which was by nature the most noble, rare, valuable, and superb example of its type. For instance, the king was primate among men, the lion among beasts, the sun among celestial objects, the whale among fish, the oak among trees, and the diamond among rocks. Often, there was a symbolic link between primates of different orders--such as the lion being a symbol of royalty, or the king sleeping in a bed of oak. This symbolic link was a "correspondence." However, correspondences were thought to exist in the material world as well as in the world of ideas. Disturbances in nature would correspond to disturbances in the political realm (the body politic), in the human body (the microcosm), and in the natural world as a whole (the macrocosm). For instance, if the king were to become ill, Elizabethans might expect lions and beasts to fall sick, rebellions to break out in the kingdom, individuals to develop headaches or fevers, and stars to fall from the sky. All of these events could correspond to each other on the chain of being, and each would coincide with the others. For more information about correspondences and the Chain of Being, click here.

COSMIC IRONY: Another term for situational irony--especially situational irony connected to a fatalistic or pessimistic view of life. See discussion under irony, below.

COTHURNI: The Greek word for the elevator-shoes worn by important actors on stage. See discussion under buskins.

COTTABUS: See kottabos.

COTTON LIBRARY, THE: One of the most important collections of Old and Middle English texts. Click here for details.

COTTON NERO A.X: The Middle English manuscript that includes Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the Legend of Saint Erkenwald. Click here for details.

COTTON VITELLIUS A.XV: The Old English manuscript that includes The Passion of Saint Christopher, The Wonders of the East, and The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle, Beowulf, and the Old English translation of Judith. Click here for details.

COUNTING: A technique of determining stylistic qualities of a piece of writing by counting the numbers of words in paragraphs or sentences, and determining the average number of modifiers, average word lengths, and so on.

COUPLET: Two lines--the second line immediately following the first--of the same metrical length that end in a rhyme to form a complete unit. Geoffrey Chaucer and other writers helped popularize the form in English poetry in the fourteenth century. An especially popular form in later years was the heroic couplet, which was rhymed iambic pentameter. It was popular from the 1600s through the late 1700s. Much Romantic poetry in the early 1800s used the couplet as well. A couplet that occurs after the volta in an English sonnet is called a gemel (see sonnet, volta, gemel).

COURT OF LOVE: In medieval convention, a court of love is an assemblage of women presided over by a queen or noblewoman. At this mock-court, various young knights or courtiers are summoned to court and put on "trial" by the ladies for their crimes against love. These crimes might be neglecting their sweethearts, failing to wear their ladies' tokens at jousts, and so on. Chaucer himself may have been summoned to a court of love for his "libelous" depiction of Criseyde in Troilus and Criseyde, and Queen Anne may have required him to write The Legend of Good Women as a penance for his literary "crimes." In "The Wife of Bath's Tale," we find an inversion of the normal play-acting in which King Arthur gives Gwenevere and her ladies the right to try a rapist-knight for his crimes. Here, the women literally have power of life or death over the subject. Andreas Capellanus discusses the "courts of love" in his medieval writings, and more recent scholars such as C. S. Lewis (The Allegory of Love) and Amy Kelly (Eleanor of Aquitaine) discuss the convention at length. Cf. demand d'amour.

COURTLY LOVE (Medieval French: fin amour or amour courtois): Possibly a cultural trope in the late twelfth-century, or possibly a literary convention that captured popular imagination, courtly love refers to a code of behavior that gave rise to modern ideas of chivalrous romance. The term itself was popularized by C. S. Lewis' and Gaston Paris' scholarly studies, but its historical existence remains contested in critical circles. The conventions of courtly love are that a knight of noble blood would adore and worship a young noble-woman from afar, seeking to protect her honor and win her favor by valorous deeds. He typically falls ill with love-sickness, while the woman chastely or scornfully rejects or refuses his advances in public but privately encourages him. Courtly love was associated with (A) nobility, since no peasants can engage in "fine love"; (B) secrecy; (C) adultery, since often the one or both participants were married to another noble who was unloved; and (D) paradoxically with chastity, since the passion should never be consummated due to social circumstances, thus it was a "higher love" unsullied by selfish carnal desires or political concerns of arranged marriages. In spite of this ideal of chastity, the knightly characters in literature usually end up giving in to their passions with tragic results--such as Lancelot and Guenevere's fate, or that of Tristan and Iseult.

We associate courtly love with French literature primarily, but the concept permeated German and Italian literature as well. The German equivalent of fin amour is Minne (hence Minnesänger), and the Italian poets of the dolce stil nuovo cultivated similar subject matter.

The convention of courtly love eventually becomes a source of parody. Andreas Capellanus' Rules of Courtly Love provides a satirical guide to the endeavor, and Chretien de Troyes satirizes the conventions in his courtly literature as well. Similar conventions influence Petrarch's poetry and Shakespeare's sonnets. These sonnets often emphasize in particular the idea of "love from afar" and "unrequited love," and make use of imagery and wording common to the earlier French tradition.

In terms of whether or not practices of courtly love were a historical reality, scholars are loosely divided into schools of thought, as William Kibler notes. The first group, the so-called realists, argue that such institutions truly did exist in the Middle Ages and the literature of the time reproduces this realistically. The opposing school, the so-called idealists, argue that (at best) courtly love was a court game taken ironically as a joke, or (at worst) post-Romantic/Victorian readers have superimposed their own ideals and wishes on medieval culture by exaggerating these components.

CRADLE TRICK: A sub-category of the "bed-trick," this is a folk motif in which the position of a cradle in a dark room leads one character to climb into bed with the wrong sexual partner. It appears prominently in Chaucer's "The Reeve's Tale." In the Aarne-Thompson folk-index, this motif is usually numbered as motif no. 1363.

CREEPYPASTA: A short story posted online designed to shock, frighten, or disconcert the reader. For more discussion, see ghost story.

CREOLE: A native language combining the traits of multiple languages, i.e., an advanced and fully developed pidgin. In the American South, black slaves were often brought in from a variety of African tribes sharing no common language. On the plantation, they developed first a pidgin (limited and simplified) version of English with heavy Portuguese and African influences. This pidgin allowed slaves some rudimentary communication with each other and with their slave masters. In time, they lost their original African languages and the mixed speech became the native tongue of their children--a creole. Contrast with pidgin.

CRESCENDO: Another term for rhetorical climax. See climax, rhetorical, above.

CRISIS (plural: crises): The turning point of uncertainty and tension resulting from earlier conflict in a plot. At the moment of crisis in a story, it is unclear if the protagonist will succeed or fail in his struggle. The crisis usually leads to or overlaps with the climax of a story, though some critics use the two terms synonymously. See climax, literary, above.

CRITICAL READING: Careful analysis of an essay's structure and logic in order to determine the validity of an argument. Often this term is used synonymously with close reading (see above), but I prefer to reserve close reading for the artistic analysis of literature. Click here for more information about critical reading. Cf. close reading.

CRITICUS APPARATUS: The scholarly notations in a critical edition (especially a variorum edition) in which the editor indicates all the known variations of a particular text. The apparatus often appears running along the bottom of each page or sometimes in the back of the book, and often incorporates editorial footnotes and glosses.

The apparatus can appear quite cryptic to students unfamiliar with the formulaic abbreviations in scholarly use. For instance, below is an illustrative notation from A. V. C. Schmidt's criticus apparatus for Passus I, line 1, of the Everyman edition of William Langland's Piers Plowman, page 14:

"Collation WHmCrGYOC2CLMHRF. RUBRIC Passus primus de visione W&r (pr] Secundus F; de v.] de petri le ploughman BR; om O); om GC2."

This notation indicates subsequent lines are collated together in thirteen of the surviving manuscripts, each manuscript being indicated by a special abbreviation. Furthermore, the opening line in manuscripts "W" and "r" has a Latin title written in red ink ("rubricated") as indicated, but another manuscript "F" has labeled it as "secundus" rather than "primus," while the "B" and "R" manuscripts label it in a combination of French and Latin, and so on. A good criticus apparatus helps document all this diversity by gathering it together, line-by-line, for convenient comparison at a glance, but the editor presumes the reader knows the dense, standardized abbreviations involved in this notation.

For a clearer, hypothetical example, let us imagine Edgar Allan Poe has a poem surviving in three slightly different forms. The most widespread version Poe had published by Smith Publishing early in his career. Ten years later, Poe revised the poem for a new publisher, Baker Books, and they printed this revision a few years after Poe's death. Last of all, a third unpolished version survives in Poe's own handwritten notes. Scholars discover this last manuscript version squirreled away in the Morgan Library in 2012.

Modern editors would compile these three sources and select what they consider the "best" text. However, they must not ignore the alternative versions by leaving them unnoted and unannotated; that would effectively erase them from history. Accordingly, the editors might add a criticus apparatus. Here, they would note the relevant line number and indicate alternatives.

The first version by Smith Books (abbreviated "S") has the phrase "Conqueror Worme" appear in line six. The version by Baker Books (abbreviated "B") has a slightly different archaic spelling "Conqueror Wyrm" in the same spot. Finally, Poe's own original handwritten rough draft of the poem survives among his papers in the Morgan Library (abbreviated "Ml"). This manuscript uses the abbreviation "Conqu. Wm." scrawled in that line.

Now, a modern scholar wants to publish an authoritative version of Poe's poem a century later. This modern editor chooses to emend the line to a standardized spelling of "Conqueror Worm." The criticus apparatus at the bottom of the page might consist of a footnote such as this:

6 Conqeror Worm] S: Conqueror Worme; B: Conqueror Wyrm, Ml: Conqu. Wm.

The "6" indicates line six as the section with variant readings. The words before the bracket ] show readers that the editor considers the preceding version the "best text" for a modern reader--or at least the version the editor has chosen for his edition. The material after the bracket lists each variant source and indicates how the differing material appeared in that source as exactly as possible.

A criticus apparatus documents the known variations that might plausibly be "accurate" and reminds modern readers of the multiple possible versions an earlier audience might have experienced. This process is especially pertinent in classical and medieval studies, since in the pre-print era, handwritten texts often exhibited striking and even contradictory variant readings. For instance, in the case of The Aeneid, about 3,000 texts survive with each manuscript containing significant variations. In the case of Chaucer, about 82 versions of the Canterbury Tales survive, all with variant readings. In the case of Shakespeare, striking differences appear in the F (folio) and Q1, Q2, Q3 (first, second, and third quarto) versions of his plays, and so on.

CROSSED-D: Another term for the capital letter edh or eth used in Anglo-Saxon orthography.

CROSSED RHYME: In long couplets, especially hexameter lines, sufficient room in the line allows a poet to use rhymes in the middle of the line as well as at the end of each line. Swinburne's "Hymn to Proserpine" illustrates its use:

Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from Thy breath;
We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.
Laurel is green for a season, and love is sweet for a day;
But love grows bitter with treason, and laurel outlives not May.

In the excerpt above, the words in red are part of crossed rhyme, and the words in green are regular rhyme. Crossed rhyme is also called interlaced rhyme. Contrast with internal rhyme and leonine rhyme.

CTHULHU MYTHOS (also spelled Cthulu and Kutulu, pronounced various ways): Strongly influential in pulp science fiction and early twentieth-century horror stories, the Cthulhu mythos revolves around a pantheon of malign alien beings worshipped as gods by half-breed cultists. These aliens were invented and popularized by pulp fiction horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. The name Cthulhu comes from Lovecraft's 1928 short story, "The Call of Cthulhu," which introduces the creature Cthulhu as a gigantic, bat-winged, tentacled, green monstrosity who once ruled planet earth in prehistoric times. Currently in a death-like state of hibernation, it now awaits an opportunity to rise from the underwater city of R'lyeh and plunge the earth once more into darkness and terror. August Derleth later coined the term "Cthulhu mythos" to describe collectively the settings, themes, and alien beings first imagined by Lovecraft but later adapted by pulp fiction authors like Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Henry Kuttner, and Brian Lumley. Some common elements, motifs, and characters of the mythos include the following:

  • "The Great Old Ones," an assortment of ancient, horrible, powerful (and often unpronounceable) deities/aliens including Cthulhu, Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, Hastur, Dagon, and Yog-Sothoth.
  • "The Elder Gods/Elder Things," A term used interchangeably with "The Great Old Ones" by Lovecraft, but used by August Derleth to refer to a separate group of aliens at war with the evil "Great Old Ones." They serve as a deus ex machina in several short stories of the Cthulhu mythos.
  • Servitor races, i.e., lesser alien species that worship and/or act as slaves to The Great Old Ones, including the shape-changing shoggoths, the intelligent fungus crabs (Mi-go) living on Pluto, the tentacled star-spawn, and the aquatic race of "Deep Ones" living near Devil's Reef in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."
  • The imaginary town of Arkham, New England, used as a setting, along with nearby towns like Dunwich and Innsmouth along the Miskatonic river valley.
  • The theme of insanity (often protagonists suffer mental breakdowns merely by viewing one of the Old Ones).
  • The appearance of forbidden books of ancient and dangerous lore, such as the fictional Necronomicon, The Book of Eibon, and Unaussprechlichen Kulten.

CULTURAL SYMBOL: A symbol widely or generally accepted as meaning something specific within an entire culture or social group, as opposed to a contextual symbol created by a single author that has meaning only within a single work or group of works. Examples of cultural symbols in Western culture include the cross as a symbol of Christianity, the American flag as a symbol of America's colonial history of thirteen colonies growing into fifty states, the gold ring as a symbol of marital commitment, the Caduceus as a symbol of medicine, and the color black as a symbol of mourning. Examples of cultural symbols in other cultures include white as a symbol of mourning in Japan, the Yin-Yang sphere as an oriental symbol of oppositional forces in balance, the white crane as a symbol of longevity in Mandarin China, and so forth. Any writer in a specific culture could use one of these symbols and be relatively confident that the reader would understand what each symbol represented. Thus, if a writer depicted a pedophilic priest as trampling a crucifix into the mud, it is likely the reader would understand this action represents the way the priest tramples Christian ideals, and so forth. Contrast with contextual symbol and archetype.

CYBERPUNK MOVEMENT: (1) A loose school of science fiction authors including William Gibson, Bruce Stirling, Rudy Rucker, and Neal Stephenson who rose in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. (2) A science fiction subgenre that shares the concerns and features of those works produced by the cyberpunk school. Features of their novels and short stories in this period include the following motifs:

  • a disturbing, amoral vision of the near-future focusing on urban life, often in post-industrial dystopias.
  • casual violence between gangs, private armies of mercenaries, and decadent government agencies
  • ubiquitous (and often dangerous) cybernetic implants and sensory enhancements in the general population
  • powerful multi-national corporations or franchises that have gradually become more influential than passé governments
  • appearances of high-tech multicultural crime syndicates--especially the Japanese yakuza and Jamaican drug posses
  • renegade or illegal artifical intelligence programs seeking to free themselves from corporate control
  • cheap designer drugs or precise mind-altering and mood-altering chemicals
  • failures of space travel, which forces ever greater numbers of people into cramped urban conditions
  • finally (and most especially) computer hackers who link to computers by directly plugging their brains into networks (often referred to as "jacking in" in cyberpunk parlance) or by wearing virtual reality goggles.

Common themes include the dehumanization, commodification, and mechanization of the individual; the negative effects of commercialization upon society; and implicit philosophical questions regarding consciousness and sensory reality. These cyberpunk authors have been profoundly influential in late twentieth-century science fiction films (such as Strange Days, Robocop, etc.) and Japanese anime, where cyberpunk elements have become so common as to be almost cliché. The "metaverse" or the "Net" imagined by these early authors in the 1980s have been seen as prophetic of the later real-world rise of the internet after 1993. Examples of novels, anthologies, short stories, and other literary works from the cyberpunk movement include Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Islands in the Net, and "Johnny Mnemonic." (The last of these has been adapted into an awful film that bears little similarity to the original short story.) More recently, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash has put a more satirical spin on the genre.

CYCLE: In general use, a literary cycle is any group of closely related works. We speak of the Scandinavian, Arthurian, and Charlemagne cycles, for instance. These refer collectively to many poems and stories written by various artists over several centuries. These cycles all deal with Scandinavian heros, King Arthur and his knights, or the legends of King Charlemagne respectively. More specifically, a mystery cycle refers to the complete set of mystery plays performed during the Corpus Christi festival in medieval religious drama (typically 45 or so plays, each of which depicted a specific event in biblical history from the creation of the world to the last judgment). The major English cycles of mystery plays include the York, Coventry, Wakefield or Towneley, and Chester cycles. See Corpus Christi play, above. See also sonnet cycle.

CYFARWYDD: A Welsh professional storyteller. The equivalent Irish term is an ollamh. Cf. bard and sceop.

CYHYDEDD HIR: A syllabic verse form in ancient Welsh poetry. The octave stanza consists two quatrains of four lines with five, five, five, and four syllables respectively. The rhyme scheme is AAAx AAAx, with X's indicating unrhymed lines. See octave and rhyme.

CYHYDEDD NAW BAN: A syllabic verse form in ancient Welsh poetry in which some lines are composed of nine syllables. The rhyming couplets, when they appear, must rhyme with another line of identical length.

CYNGHANEDD (pronounced kun HAN neth, lit. Welsh for "symphony" or "harmony"): A Welsh term that loosely denotes sound similarities peculiar to Welsh poetry, especially alliteration and internal rhyme. Typically, the consonants in one word or line repeat in the same pattern at the beginning and end of the next word or line--but the vowel sounds between the consonants change slightly. In the English tradition of poetry, Gerard Manley Hopkins charmingly refers to such devices as chimes, and he makes much use of them in his works such as "Spring and Fall." See also awdl and englyn. For an example of cynghanedd in English, click here.

CYNING: A king, another term for an Anglo-Saxon hlaford. Not to be confused with kenning, an Anglo-Saxon poetic device.

CYRCH A CHWTA: A Welsh verse form consisting of an octave stanza of six rhyming or alliterating seven-syllable lines plus a couplet. The second line of the couplet rhymes with the first six lines. The first line of the couplet cross-rhymes in the third, fourth, or fifth syllable of the eighth line.

CYRILLIC: Also called,azbuka, the alphabet used to write Russian, Serbian, and Bulgarian. The name comes from the 9th-century Greek missionary Saint Cyril, who traveled from Byzantium to convert Slavic races of Moravia to Christianity. Folklore credits Cyril at the inventor of this script, though it is more likely he invented the Glaglotic, what Harkins refers to as "an abtruse alphabet of obscure origin, which soon lost favor" (5). Cyrillic, modeled largely on the Greek alphabet, rise to replace Glaglotic, though Cyril retained credit. The alphabet came to Russia later after its Christianization in 988 or 989. Modern Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Bulgarian, and Serbian alphabets were later offshoots of Cyrillic. Peter the Great simplified the alphbet in 1708, so the lettering required less ornate design, and later modifiers removed four characters as redundant in 1918. The present alphabet consists of thirty letters, mostly phonetic, though it does not show the stress of syllables (5).

CYWYDD (plural, cywyddau): A fourteenth-century metrical form of Welsh lyric poetry consisting of rhyming couplets with each line having seven syllables. Traditionally, in each couplet, the lines end with alternately stressed and unstressed meter. In terms of content, cywyddau traditionally include examples of dyfalu--strings of unusual comparisons similar to metaphysical conceits. The genre is associated with the poet Dafydd ap Gwilym.

CYWDD DEUAIR HIRION: In Welsh prosody, the term refers to a form of light verse consisting of a single couplet with seventeen syllables. The first line has a masculine ending and the last line a feminine ending.

CYWYDD LLOSGYRNOG: A type of Welsh verse consisting of a sestet stanza in which the syllable count is eight, eight, seven, eight, eight, and seven respectively. The first two lines rhyme and cross-rhyme with the middle syllable of the sixth line and the third and sixth lines rhyme with each other. Rime coueé or tail-rhyme has a similar scheme.

[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K] [L] [M]

[N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]

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I consulted the following works while preparing this list. I have tried to give credit to specific sources when feasible, but in many cases multiple reference works use the same examples or provide the same dates for common information. Students should examine these resources for more information than these humble webpages provide:

Works Cited:

  • Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 6th edition. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Pub., 1993. [Now superseded by later editions.]
  • ---. "Poetic Forms and Literary Terminology." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th edition. Volume 1. New York: Norton, 2000. 2944-61. 2 Vols.
  • Algeo, John and Thomas Pyles. The Origin and Development of the English Language. 5th edition. U.S.A., 2004.
  • Baugh, A. C. and Thomas Cable. A History of the English Language. 5th edition. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2002.
  • Brown, Michelle P. Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms. London: The British Library and the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994.
  • Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. [Originally published 1977 as Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche.] Trans. John Raffan. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1985.
  • Catholic University of America Editorial Staff. The New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: McGraw-Hill. 1967-79.
  • Corbett, Edward P. J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990.
  • Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin Books, 1991.
  • Damrosch, David, gen. ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 2nd Compact Edition. Volume A. New York: Pearson, 2004. 3 Vols.
  • Deutsch, Babette. Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms. Fourth Edition. New York: Harper and Row, 1974. Reprint as Barnes and Noble Edition, 1981.
  • Drout, Michael D. C. J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Duffy, Seán. Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2005.
  • Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.
  • Elkhadem, Saad. The York Dictionary Literary Terms and Their Origin: English, French, German, Spanish. York P, 1976.
  • Gabel, John B. and Charles B. Wheeler. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction. New York: Oxford U P, 1986.
  • Giroux, Joan. The Haiku Form. New York: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1974. Reprinted New York: Barnes and Noble, 1999.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen. "Glossary." The Norton Shakespeare: Tragedies. New York: Norton, 1997. 1139-43.
  • Guerin, Wilfred L., et al. "Glossary." A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1979. 317-29.
  • Harkins, Williams E. Dictionary of Russian Literature. The New Students Outline Series. Patterson, New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams, and Co., 1959.
  • Harvey, Sir Paul and Dorothy Eagle, eds. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969.
  • Holman, C. Hugh. A Handbook to Literature. 3rd edition. New York: The Odyssey Press, 1972.
  • Hopper, Vincent Foster. Medieval Number Symbolism: Its Sources, Meaning, and Influence on Thought and Expression. 1938. Republished Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000.
  • Horobin, Simon. Chaucer's Language. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007.
  • Kane, George. The Autobiographical Fallacy in Chaucer and Langland Studies. London: H. K. Lewis, 1965.
  • Lacy, Norris J. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
  • Lanham, Richard A. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. 2nd edition. Berkeley: U of California P, 1991.
  • Marshall, Jeremy and Fred McDonald. Questions of English. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.
  • Mawson, C. O. Sylvester and Charles Berlitz. Dictionary of Foreign Terms. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 2nd ed. 1975.
  • McManus, Damian. Ogam Stones At University College Cork. Cork: Cork U P, 2004.
  • Metzger, Bruce M. and Michael D. Coogan, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York: Oxford U P, 1993.
  • O'Donoghue, Heather. Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA:Blackwell Publishing, 2004.
  • Page, P.K. "Forward." Hologram. Brick Books, London, Ontario: 1994.
  • Palmer, Donald. Looking At Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter. 2nd edition. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994.
  • Peck, Harry Thurston. Harper's Dictionary of Clasical Literature and Antiquities. New York: The American Book Company, 1923. 2 vols.
  • Perelman, Ch. and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Notre Dame, U of Notre Dame P, 2000.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.
  • Quinn, Arthur. Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase. Davis, California: Hermagoras P, 1993.
  • Rae, Gail. Guide to Literary Terms. Staten Island, New York: Research and Educational Association, 1998.
  • Roberts, Edgar V. and Henry E. Jacobs. "Glossary of Literary Terms." Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 6th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 2028-50.
  • Scott, Kathleen L. Later Gothic Manuscripts, 1390-1490. A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles 6. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1996. 2 Vols.
  • Shaw, Harry. Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
  • Shipley, Joseph T. Dictionary of World Literature: Criticism, Forms, Technique. The Philosophical Library. New York: Philosophical Library, 1943.
  • Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. 1989.
  • Smith, David P. "Glossary of Grammar Terms." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to students in Basic Greek at Carson-Newman College in the Fall Term of 2006.]
  • Swain, Dwight V. Creating Characters. The Elements of Fiction Writing. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1990.
  • Williams, Jerri. "Schemes and Tropes." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to her graduate students at West Texas A & M University in the Fall Term of 1993.]
  • Yasuda, Kenneth. The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1957.
  • Zenkovsky, Serge A. Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales. Rev Ed. New York: Meridian Books, 1974.
  • Zireaux. E-mail Communication. 21 June 2012.

 

 

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