Terms and Definitions: P
This page is under perpetual
construction! It was last updated January 5, 2017.
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
TEXT, THE (Also called the P Document):
In biblical scholarship, the common editorial abbreviation for the Priestly
Text (see below,
or click here for more detailed
Among the earliest Greeks, the word paean signifies
"a dance and hymn
with a specific rhythm which is endued with an absolving and
healing power" (Burkett 44). In later usage, any song
of praise to a deity is called a paean.
In linguistics, any sound involving the hard palate--especially
the tongue touching or moving toward the hard palate.
DIPTHONGIZATION: A sound change in which
either the ash
or the /e/ sound in Old English
words became a diphthong when preceded by palatal consonants.
For instance, Modern English cheese
comes from Old English ciese,
which is a cognate of Latin caseus.
Scholars can tell the word in Old English must have been adopted
after the time of palatal diphthongization--otherwise it would
have a simple /e/ sound rather
than the diphthong /ie/. Thus, palatal dipthongization is useful
for philologists who wish to date a borrowed word in Old English.
In linguistics, the process of making a sound more palatal--i.e.,
moving the blade of the tongue closer to the hard palate.
In linguistics, a sound that is either palatal
PALIMBACCHIUS: Also called an anti-bacchius, this is a three-syllable foot in which the first two syllables are stressed and the third syllable unstressed. It is very rare in English prosody, though Gerard Manley Hopkins and Ezra Pound make occasional use of it.
PALIMPSEST (Grk, "rubbed away): A surface such as a piece of parchment or vellum in which one text had been written, but then later became partially or completely "erased" when a subsequent scribe or bookmarker recycled the page and used a knife or edged tool to scrape away the original surface. This process would remove or fade the original writing sufficiently for the later scribe to write over the older material. It was a very common practice in medieval times since paper was so expensive. Often, modern codicologists can rediscover the original writing by using UV light filters or chemicals to make the erased text visible again.
A word, sentence, or verse that reads the same way backward
or foreward. Certain words in English naturally function as
palindromes: for instance, civic, rotor, race
car, radar, level and so on. However, when individuals
seek to combine several words at once, the result becomes
a sort of perverse art. Here are some longer English examples
culled from J. A. Cuddon's Dictionary of Literary
Terms and Literary Theory:
The tradition goes back
a long ways. Cuddon notes several, including a Greek palindrome
inscribed on a vial of holy water in Saint Sophia's church
in Constantinople that translates as "Wash
not only my face, but also my sins."
A Latin example is the palindrome, "In
girum imus nocte et consumimur igni"
which means "We [moths] fly in circles by night and we
will be consumed in fire." Probably the most excessive
use of palindromes is the 1802 collection by Ambrose Pamperis,
in which Pamperis writes 416 palindromic verses celebrating
Catherine the Great's military campaigns (See Cuddon 673-74).
was I ere I saw Elba. (attributed
apocryphally to Napoleon, who was exiled on Elba, though
in historical fact he apparently spoke no English!)
man, a plan, a canal: Panama!
at noon taxes.
did I live & evil I did dwel."
(anonymous 18th-century gravestone)
No, too stupid a fad; I put soot on warts!
desserts," demanded Nemesis--emended, named, stressed,
Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad. I'd
assign it a name: "Gnat dirt upset on drab pot toilet."
(W. H. Auden)
Syrian! I start at rats in airy spots!
(Greek: "singing again"): A poem, song, or section
of a poem or song in which the poet renounces or retracts
his words in an earlier work. Usually this is meant to apologize
or counterbalance earlier material.
The first recorded use
of the palinode is a lyric written by the Greek author Stesichorus
(7th century BCE), in which he retracts his earlier statement
claiming that the Trojan War was entirely Helen's fault. Ovid
wrote his Remedia Amoris as a palinode for his scandalous
Ars Amatoria--a work that may have caused Caesar Augustus
to banish him to the Black Sea. As a theme, the palinode is
especially common in religious poetry and love poetry. The
use of the palinode became conventional in patristic and medieval
writings--as evidenced in Augustine, Bede, Giraldus Cambrensis,
Jean de Meun, Sir Lewis Clifford, and others.
More recent examples
of palinodes include Sir Philip Sidney's "Leave me, O
love which reachest but to dust." Here, his palinode
renounces the poetry of sexual love for that of divine grace.
Likewise, Chaucer's Legend of Good Women includes a
palinode in which the author "takes back" what he
said about unfaithful women like Criseyde in Troilus and
Criseyde. At the end of the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer
goes so far as to write a retraction for all his secular literature.
See also retraction.
PANDECT (Grk. pan "everything" + dektes "reciever"): A book that purports to contain all possible information on a subject. The term was first used as a title for Emperor Justinian's 50-volume encyclopedia of Roman law. Cf. summa.
PANEGYRIC: A speech or poem designed to praise another person or group. In ancient Greek and Roman rhetoric, it was one branch of public speaking, with established rules and conventions found in the works of Menander and Hermogenes. Famous examples include Pliny's eulogy on Emperor Trajan and Isocrates' oration on the Olympic games of 380.
pan "everything" + Lat. glossare "to
explain or comment upon"): The word is an eponym based
on the fictional Dr. Pangloss from Voltaire's satire, Candide.
Dr. Pangloss is a naively
optimistic pedant who upholds the doctrine that "all
is for the best," and that "we live in the best
of all possible worlds," claiming that a benevolent
deity creates all things for positive purposes, and if
we could only decipher cause/effect
accurately, we would see this. His arguments are a parody
of Alexander Pope's claim that "Whatever
a straw-man in Candide,
and Voltaire tries to show through the more inane Panglossian
arguments that, in fact, the world is a highly flawed place
and it does not live up to its ideal possibilities.
"all the gods"): (1) A pantheon
is a collective term for all
the gods believed to exist in a particular religious belief
Thus, we can talk of the Hittite pantheon, the Greek pantheon,
etc. (2) The Pantheon is a great
temple in Rome dedicated to all the Olympian gods, not
to be confused with the Parthenon,
the great temple dedicateSd to the virgin goddess Athena,
which is situated on top of the Acropolis in Athens.
PANTOUM: A variant spelling of pantun (see below).
PANTUN: A verse form from Malaysia. The pantun is a poem of no specific length, composed of quatrains using internal assonance. The rhymes are interlinked much like terza rima in the sense that the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the following stanza. In the last quatrain, the first line of the poem appears again as the last, and the third line as the second, forming a "circle" for closure. (Alternatively, the poet may end the work with a simple couplet). Ernest Fouinet introduced the genre to French literature in the 1800s. Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, and Leconte de Lisle later also experimented with it in French verse. Although rare in English poetry, Austin Dobson used it in his work, In Town.
INDULGENCE: See discussion under pardoner.
PARABASIS (Greek, "stepping forward" or "going aside"): A moment at the end of a Greek tragedy in which the chorus would remove their masks and step forward to address the audience directly in speech rather than song. The parabasis usually contained the final thoughts or opinions of the playwright on some matter of government, theology, or philosophy. The concluding words of the chorus in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex serve as one example.
(Greek: "throwing beside" or "placing beside"):
A story or short narrative designed to reveal allegorically
some religious principle, moral lesson, psychological reality,
or general truth. Rather than using abstract discussion,
parable always teaches by comparison with real or literal
occurrences--especially "homey" everyday occurrences a wide
number of people can relate to. Well-known examples of
include those found in the synoptic Gospels, such as "The
Prodigal Son" and "The Good Samaritan." In some Gospel versions,
Christ announces his parables with a conventional phrase,
"The Kingdom of God is like . . . ." Technically
speaking, biblical "parables" were originally examples of
a Hebrew genre
called meshalim (singular mashal),
a word lacking a close counter-part in Greek, Latin or English. Meshalim
in Hebrew refer to "mysterious speech," i.e., spiritual riddles
or enigmas the speaker couches in story-form. Thus, in Matthew
13:11 and Mark 4:11-12, Christ states that he speaks in parables
so that outsiders will not be able to understand
his teachings. It is only late in the Greek New Testament
these meshalim are conflated with parables or allegorical
readings designed for ease of understanding.
Non-religious works can
be parables as well. For example, Melville's Billy Budd
demonstrates that absolute good--such as the impressionable,
naive young sailor--may not co-exist with absolute evil--the
villain Claggart. Cf. fable,
or click here for a PDF
handout discussing the differences between these terms.
CHANGE (also called associative change):
In linguistics, these are language changes brought about because
a sound or a word was associated with a different sound or
word. Algeo provides the following example:
. . The side of a ship on which it was laden (that is
was called the ladeboard, but its opposite, starboard,
influenced a change in pronunication to larboard.
Then, because larboard was likely to be confused
with starboard because of their similarity of
sound, it was generally replaced by port. (11)
(also called oxymoron): Using contradiction in a manner that
oddly makes sense on a deeper level. Common paradoxes
seem to reveal a deeper
truth through their contradictions, such as noting that "without
laws, we can have no freedom." Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
also makes use of a famous paradox: "Cowards die many times
before their deaths" (2.2.32). Richard
Rolle uses an almost continuous string of paradoxes
in his Middle English work, "Love is Love That Lasts
For Aye." Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol" notes
"And all men kill the thing they love." The
taoist master Lao-Tzu makes extraordinary use of paradox
in the Tao-te
Ching in his discussion of "the Way."
- PARAGRAM (Greek, "letter joke"):
A sub-type of pun involving similarities in sound. See examples and discussion under pun.
PARAGRAPH (Greek, "side writing"): (1) Originally, a short stroke below the start of a line running horizontally to separate that material from earlier commentary. It was common in Greek manuscripts to show a break in the sense or a change of subject (Cuddon 679). (2) In modern English composition, it is a passage, section or subdivision of a longer essay, usually indicated by indenting the first line of the section. Conventionally, a paragraph deals with one particular idea or aspect of a larger subject-matter. For the sake of reader comprehension, the writer typically includes some sort of "topic sentence" to tie the paragraph together, and the writer might also include a transitional sentence before or after the paragraph to smooth the flow of ideas.
The non-verbal features that accompany speech and help convey
meaning. For example, facial expression, gesticulation, body
stance, and tone can help convey additional meaning to the
spoken word; these are all examples of communication through
When the writer establishes similar
patterns of grammatical structure and length. For instance,
"King Alfred tried to make the law clear, precise,
and equitable." The previous sentence has parallel
structure in use of adjectives. However, the following sentence
does not use parallelism: "King Alfred tried
to make clear laws that had precision and were equitable."
If the writer uses
two parallel structures, the result is isocolon parallelism:
"The bigger they are, the harder they fall."
If there are three
structures, it is tricolon parallelism: "That government
of the people, by the people, and for the people shall
not perish from the earth." Or, as one student wrote,
"Her purpose was to impress the ignorant, to perplex the
dubious, and to startle the complacent." Shakespeare used
this device to good effect in Richard II when King
Richard laments his unfortunate position:
give my jewels for a set of beads,
gorgeous palace for a hermitage,
gay apparel for an almsman's gown,
figured goblets for a dish of wood . . . . (3.3.170-73)
A brief restatement in one's own words of all or part of
a literary or critical work, as opposed to quotation, in
which one reproduces all or part of a literary or critical
work word-for-word, exactly.
Wilfred Owen's term for a slant
rhyme. An example appears in his poem, "Strange
Meeting," in which Owen rhymes words like years
/ yours and tigress / progress.
Rhetorically juxtaposing two or more clauses or prepositions
together in strings or with few or no connecting conjunctions
or without indicating their relationship to each other
in terms of co-ordination or subordination; i.e. a loose
association of clauses as opposed to hypotaxis.
A common form of parataxis is asyndeton,
in which expected conjunctions fail to appear for artistic
reasons. For example,
Shipley points out how the Roman playwright Terence writes
("they are silent; that is praise enough"). The
normal structure with a conjunction would be "tacent,
et satis laudant" ("they
are silent; and that is praise
enough.") See Shipley 422-23 for this discussion and
a comparison among Greek and Latin and English writers. Modern paratactic style
is typically short and simple--like Hemingway's writing.
In Gérard Genette's work, Paratext: Thresholds
Genette introduces the idea of "paratext," i.e., anything
external to the text itself that influences the way
we read a text. These "paratexts" can be almost infinite
in number, but they might include a list of other works
the author has published on
cover of a book, the gender of the author as indicated by his or
her name, reviews written about the book, and editorial
commentary about the work. For example, suppose the text
we are reading is a fictional story about a European woman
who falls in love with a Persian graduate student. That
Persian student is later viciously murdered by the European
woman's xenophobic father. If we see the author's name
is "Susan Jones" we might interpret the
differently than if we saw the author's name was "Achmed
for instance. If the same author wrote a number of murder
mysteries, we might be especially prone to read this new
text as influenced by that early genre work, or even expect
the current text to be (rightly or wrongly) yet another
murder mystery. If we read a review calling attention to
of lust in a work, we might experience the book differently
than if we had read a different review focusing on the
theme of intolerance. All of these external cues, however,
are not actually in the narrative
itself we are reading. Thus, they are paratextual. A New
Critic from the 1930s would probably argue that all paratexts
are irrelevant to determining the meaning of literary art,
and the paratextual should be ignored accordingly. Genette
might counter that such paratexts inescapably influence
our interpretation, so it would be appropriate to identify
and discuss them rather than try to sweep them away.
Goatskin or sheepskin used as
a writing surface--the medieval equivalent of "paper."
A technical distinction is usually made between parchment
which is made from the hide of young calves. As Michelle P. Brown
notes in Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts, the
process for creating vellum or parchment is quite complicated:
produce parchment or vellum, the animal skins were defleshed
in a bath of lime, stretched on a frame, and scraped with
a lunular knife while damp. they could then be treated with
pumice, whitened with a substance such as chalk, and cut to
size. Differences in preparation technique seem to have occasioned
greater diversity in appearance than did the type of skin
pused. Parchment supplanted papyrus as the most popular writing
support material in the fourth century, although it was known
earlier. Parchment was itself largely replaced by paper in
the sixteenth century (with the rise of printing) but remained
in use for certain high-grade books. (95)
An individual licensed by the medieval church to sell papal
indulgences (i.e., "pardons"), official documents
excusing the recipient from certain acts of penitence and
alleviating the sinner's punishment while in purgatory.
The Catholic Encyclopedia
defines an indulgence as "the extra-sacramental remission
of the temporal punishment due" to a sinner. Protestant
students might wish to peruse the Catholic Encyclopedia's
of indulgences to avoid common misconceptions and distortions.
The practice of selling these pardons as a means of fund-raising
for the church or as a means of rewarding those who offered
the church some service rose in prominence after the council
of Clermont in 1095. There, Pope Urban II announced sweeping
indulgences would be given to any individuals willing to go
on Crusade. By the fourteenth century, the practice had developed
extensively, and pardoners were lay officials authorized
by the pope to sell indulgences in exchange for financial
donations. Ecclesiastical abuses become commonplace problems.
These abuses included unauthorized sales, the sale of forged
pardons, extortion, and deliberate misrepresentation of the
scope of an indulgence (i.e., treating the indulgence as a
"get-out-of-hell-free" card). Chaucer's Pardoner
in The Canterbury Tales represents the worst excesses
of pardoners during this period.
Another term for papal indulgences. See discussion under pardoner.
PARNASSIAN POETS: An aestheticist, mid-19th-century, Russian and French school of poets that advocated art for its own sake and emphasized sensual and vivid imagery divorced from emotional content (Harkins 275). The term "Parnassian" refers to Mount Parnassus in Greece. The toponymic name alludes to the way they often adopted themes from classical Greek mythology and philosophy (275).
In Greek tragedy, the ceremonial entrance of the chorus. Usually
the chorus at this time chants a lyric relating to the main
theme of the play.
(Greek: "beside, subsidiary, or mock song"): A parody
imitates the serious manner and characteristic features of
a particular literary work in order to make fun of those same
features. The humorist achieves parody by exaggerating certain
traits common to the work, much as a caricaturist creates
a humorous depiction of a person by magnifying and calling
attention to the person's most noticeable features. The term
parody is often used synonymously with the more general
which makes fun of the general traits of a genre rather
than one particular work or author. Often the subject-matter
of a parody is comically inappropriate, such as using the
elaborate, formal diction of an epic to describe something
trivial like washing socks or cleaning a dusty attic.
Aristotle attributes the
first Greek parody to Hegemon of Thasos in The Poetics,
though other writings credit the playwright Hipponax with
the first creation of theatrical parody. Aristophanes makes
use of parody in The Frogs (in which he mocks the style
of Euripides and Aeschylus). Plato also caricatures the style
of various writers in the Symposium. In the Middle
Ages, the first well-known English parody is Chaucer's "Sir
Thopas," and Chaucer is himself the basis of parodies
written by Alexander Pope and W. W. Skeat. Cervantes creates
a parody of medieval romance in Don Quixote. Rabelais
creates parodies of similar material in Gargantua and
Pantagruel. Erasmus parodies medieval scholastic writings
in Moriae Encomium. In Shamela (1741), Henry
Fielding makes a parody of Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela
by turning the virtuous serving girl into a spirited and sexually
ambitious character who merely uses coyness and false chasteness
as a tool for snagging a husband. In Joseph Andews
(1742), Henry Fielding again parodies Samuel Richardson's
novel Pamela, this time by replacing Richardson's sexually
beleaguered heroine, Pamela, with a hearty male hero who must
defend his virtue from the sexually voracious Lady Booby.
In the Romantic period, Southey, Wordsworth, Browning, and
Swinburne were the victims of far too many parodies in far
too many works to list here. See also mock
"speech"): In Ferdinand de Saussure's theory of semiology,
parole is the use of language--i.e., manifestations
of actual speech and writing. Parole contrasts with langue,
the invisible underlying
system of language that makes parole possible.
The technical Greek term for what English-speakers commonly
refer to as a "pun." See extended discussion under pun, below.
(Latin partum, "a piece"): An actor's role
in a play, the character the actor portrays or pretends to
be. The term comes from Renaissance drama. Since it was too
expensive in Shakespeare's day to print playbooks for every
single actor involved in a play, penny-pinching acting companies
would only give each actor a roll of paper called a "part";
the part would list the dialogue for one character and all
the cues belonging to that character (Greenblatt 1140). The
term role, synonymous with "part," is similarly
derived from such rolls of paper (ibidem).
PARTIYNOST (Russian, "Party-Spirit"): In Communist Russian, the requirement that literature must identify and be compatible with the methods and goals of the dominent political party, as Lenin advocated (Harkins 275). Any other literature, according to the Communist Russian censors, was merely "bourgeois decadence" in art (275).
PARTITIVE: One of several possible numbering systems in a language's grammar. For a discussion of partitives, see multiplicatives.
PARTS OF SPEECH:
The traditional eight divisions or categories for words
described by the Latin grammarian Aelius Donatus around
350 CE, which he is turn borrowed from earlier Greek categories.
In English, these are slightly modified:
English Parts of Speech:
usually treated as a separate category from
the other parts of speech.
Latin Parts of Speech:
SUCCESSION: The opposite of primogeniture,
partible succession is the practice in which all the children
share equally in an inheritance. Under this legal system,
if a property-owner or king dies, the deceased's lands, money,
or kingdom would be split into equal shares for each surviving
child. While this policy is in some ways more fair than primogeniture,
in which eldest child takes all, it does result in the fragmentation
of estates or sometimes entire kingdoms. In the late medieval
period, primogeniture was the common practice in much of
and Britain, but in the early "dark ages," partible
succession was notoriously common among some Celtic tribes
in England and the Merovingian and Frankish tribes of France
and Germany. This practice is behind King Lear's sycophantic
games in the first act of King Lear, as the play
is set in ancient Celtic times, though the subplot about Edgar
involves the much later later practice of primogeniture.
(Latin, "step"): William Langland uses the term
passus to refer to each numbered subdivision of his
poem, The Vision of Piers Plowman. The idea is each
section is a "step" toward salvation or spiritual
truth. Cf. canto
(Latin pastor, "shepherd"): An artistic
composition dealing with the life of shepherds or with a simple,
rural existence. It usually idealized shepherds' lives in
order to create an image of peaceful and uncorrupted existence.
More generally, pastoral describes the simplicity, charm,
and serenity attributed to country life, or any literary convention
that places kindly, rural people in nature-centered activities.
The Greek Theocritus (316-260 BCE) first used the convention
in his Idylls, though pastoral compositions also appear
in Roman literature, in Shakespeare's plays, and in the writings
of the Romantic poets. Typically, pastoral liturgy depicts
beautiful scenery, carefree shepherds, seductive nymphs, and
rural songs and dances. Conventional names for the shepherds
and nymphs come from bastardized Latin nicknames such as Mopsy,
Flopsy, and Dorcas (from Mopsius, Doricas,
etc.). See also pastoral elegy under elegy.
ELEGY: See discussion under pastoral
PATHETIC FALLACY: A type of often accidental or awkward personification in which a writer ascribes the human feelings of his or her characters to inanimate objects or non-human phenomena surrounding them in the natural world. J. A. Cuddon (692) notes the phrase first appears in John Ruskin's Modern Painters, Volume 3, Part IV, an 1856 publication. For Ruskin, the term is derogatory. An example might be Coleridge's Christabel, in which we read of a dancing autumn leaf:
The one red leaf, the last of its clan
That dances as often as dance it can.
For Ruskin, only the greatest of poets can get away with it. Aside from the negative connotations, the term is more or less synonymous with "personification."
(Greek, "emotion"): In its rhetorical sense,
pathos is a writer or speaker's attempt to inspire
an emotional reaction in an audience--usually a deep feeling
of suffering, but sometimes joy, pride, anger, humor, patriotism,
or any of a dozen other emotions. You can read more about
rhetorical uses for pathos
here. In its critical sense, pathos signifies a scene
or passage designed to evoke the feeling of pity or sympathetic
sorrow in a reader or viewer.
PERIOD (from Latin Pater, "father"):
The time of the "church fathers," i.e., the time
of the early Church and the Church's first theologians, running
through the last days of the apostles through the time of
Saint Augustine's conversion and Saint Jerome's compilation
of the Bible in the fourth and fifth centuries after Christ.
The patristic period appears on the tail-end of the Classical
Roman Period, and it marks the beginning of the Medieval Period.
Click here to download
a PDF handout that puts these periods in chronological
See discussion under Patrologia Latina, below.
LATINA: A famous (or perhaps infamous) scholarly
collection of 228+ fat volumes of biblical and theological
commentary that has been both a boon and bane to twentieth-century
medieval scholarship. The Patrologia Graeca
reproduces a series of Greek writings from the patristic and
medieval Christian writers, while the Patrologia Latina
covers the same sort of material in Latin sources. These works
are often not available in print in any other texts. This
collection, known familiarly as the PL or "the Migne"
(after one of its French editors), includes vast quantities
of theological interpretations, Biblical exegesis, typological
and anti-typological discussion, medieval treatises on hagiography,
medieval medicine, lapidary lore, and oodles of relevant materials
necessary for students seeking to understand the medieval
world and medieval literature. Unfortunately, the material
is all in Latin, with facing French translations, which makes
it less useful for English-speakers hindered by linguistic
inabilities. Additionally, a series of editors compiled the
volumes of the PL and they did not follow the same system
of cataloging and organization as their predecessors. The
result is a confusing mishmash that requires four volumes
of indices and an additional index to the indices. Four generations
of scholars have blessed the PL as an astonishing and ambitious
collection of medieval lore, while simultaneously cursing
it as a devilish, misorganized amalgam riddled with errors,
typos, and blunders in pagination. The PL is being displaced
from its throne by the Corpus Christianorum, an electronic
collection superseding the older half-edited material. However,
major research libraries at this time are more likely to have
an old, dusty set of shelves devoted to the PL than to have
an expensive, computerized copy of the Corpus Christianorum.
For a student of medieval literature who can speak Latin,
the best starting spot is the index to the indices, and from
there work one's way backward. If any readers find a library
that is about to throw away or sell its copies of the PL,
please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to have a copy myself, provided I can find a
room large enough to store all 228 of these books.
See discussion under patronage,
(from Latin pater, "father"): The act of
giving financial or political support to an artist. A person
who provides financial support for an artist is known as a
patron regardless of his or her gender. Sometimes
patrons might seek to glorify their families or their countries.
For instance, the Emperor Augustus was a patron for Virgil.
Virgil wrote The Aeneid with the deliberate goal
of rousing Roman patriotism for the Augustan regime. Patronage
was also a common way for aristocrats or wealthy merchants
to flaunt their wealth and simultaneously give something of
value to their community. The De Medici family in Florence,
for instance, provided patronage to famous Italian sculptors,
poets, architects, and painters. In England, John of Gaunt
and Richard II both served as patrons for Chaucer at various
points in his career. Many literary works are dedicated to
a patron. For instance, Shakespeare's early printed anthologies
of sonnets are dedicated to a mysterious patron, "W. H."
In Renaissance drama, acting companies were required to have
an important noble or royal family member as a patron, for
actors not in the service of such illustrious individuals
were punishable as vagabonds and tramps. Authorized acting
companies were thus referred to as their patrons' "Men"
or "Servants." For most of Shakespeare's dramatic
career, his acting company was first known as the Lord Chamberlain's
Men. After Queen Elizabeth died, the name was changed to the
King's Men in 1603, when King James I ascended the throne
and took up patronage of the company.
PEACE-WEAVER: In Anglo-Saxon
culture, a woman who is married to a member of an enemy tribe
to establish a peace-treaty or end a blood-feud
wergild. This was a vital role for women
in Anglo-Saxon custom--but probably also a stressful and
responsibility. Hildeburh and Freawaru in Beowulf
and the speaker of "The Wife's Lament" are probably
examples of characters in Old English literature who are
REVOLT: Also known as Wat Tyler's Rebellion,
this uprising occurred in 1387 when lower-class Londoners
from the surrounding areas, fed up with repressive government
measures such as the Labor Statutes of 1351, marched
and incinerated the Savoy palace belonging to John of Gaunt
and damaged property belonging to other noblemen, appealing
directly to the young king, Richard II, for his intervention.
The rebels burned unfavorable contracts and records
They also lynched a number of competing foreign workers from
Flanders along with government officials whom they
for their economic woes. According to legend, they chanted,
"When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?"
(i.e., when Adam and Eve first existed, who was an aristocrat?)
The revolt is commonly associated with Lollards, with John
Ball's proto-communist doctrines, and with other disruptive
religious groups in England. At the time of their march on
passed directly beneath Chaucer's residence. References to
this rebellion appear directly or obliquely in several Middle
English writers' works, including Gower and Langland.
JOURNAL: Also called a refereed journal,
a juried publication, a scholarly
journal, or a critical journal,
a peer-reviewed journal is a periodical publication with strict
standards for accuracy and clear thinking. Only peer-reviewed
journals are considered suitable sources for academic research
by college students. Most are published two to four times
a year. These publications are held in such high esteem because,
when an article is submitted for publication, it is passed
on to two or three other experts in the field; they in turn
critique the author's thinking and check the article's claims
and facts to make sure it is as accurate as possible and (theoretically)
free from distorting political, religious, ideological bias;
citation errors; logical fallacies; and misattributions. This
contrasts with a book, in which only a copy-editor or two
will check for typos, but nobody challenges the author's ideas,
and it contrasts even more starkly with a web page like this
one, in which no official structure is consistently available
to ensure scholarly accuracy let alone find all the typos.
Good college students learn to use peer-reviewed journals;
they do not rely on Google and web-browsing for their primary
information. Some of the most important peer-reviewed journals
for medieval literature students in English include The
Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Medievalia
et Humanistica, Medium Aevum, Arthuriana,
Medieval Studies, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen,
the PMLA, Philological Quarterly, Reading
Medieval Studies, Speculum, Chaucer Review,
and Studies in the Age of Chaucer. The tell-tale
signs of a scholarly journal are its typically copious footnotes,
the absence of advertisements or glossy photographs, often
its plain, unadorned cover, its guidelines in the back or
front for scholarly submissions, and its pages, which are
typically on expensive acid-free paper to ensure archival
survival. Often libraries do have these journals available
in electronic databases (such as JSTOR) that can be searched
as easily and as efficiently as webpages, so students have
no excuse for not using them. If you need help, contact your
teacher or a reference librarian. Bribe this helper with chocolate.
A semantic change in which a word gains increasingly negative
connotation. For instance, the word lewd originally
referred to laymen as opposed to priests. It underwent pejoration
to mean "ignorant," then "base" and finally
"obscene," which is the only surviving meaning in
Modern English usage. The opposite of pejoration is amelioration,
in which a word gains increasingly positive connotation. Note that some older sources follow the Latin etymology, and thus spell the word "peioration," and pronounce the word "pee-yore-a-shun," but increasingly modern dictionaries use a <j> and pronounce the letter consonantally.
NAME: Another term for nom
The word indicates a fictitious name that a writer employs
to conceal his or her identity. For example, Samuel Clemens
used the pen name "Mark Twain." William Sydney Porter
wrote his short stories under the pen name "O. Henry."
Mary Ann Cross used the pen name "George Eliot"
to hide that she was a female writer, just as science-fiction
writer Alice Bradley Sheldon used the pen name "James
Tiptree, Junior." C.S. Lewis used the pen name "N.W." (Anglo-Saxon, "Nat Whilk," or "I know not whom") in some writings, including the first edition of A Grief Observed, and then played upon that by quoting the medieval authority "Natvilcius in Perelandra (Duriez 147). Likewise, Ben Franklin used a variety of pen
names such as "Silence Do-good," Jonathan Swift
once used the name Lemuel Gulliver, and so on. Writers might
choose to use a pen name as a way to keep a certain name associated
with certain types of work, so that a writer might use one
name for westerns and another name for science fiction novels.
Other authors might seek to hide their identity to avoid negative
repercussions (such as hate-mail, imprisonment, lynch-mobs,
or even execution--all of these misfortunes can and do occur
to authors, especially those writing in totalitarian regimes).
DREADFUL: A sensational novel of crime, adventure,
violence, or horror. The term is an English archaism
referring to cheaply printed books bound in paper at only
a few pennies' cost. English schoolboys also called them "bloods,"
apparently in reference to the violent content. The equivalent
term in American slang is "dime-novel," again referring
to the cheap price, or "pulp fiction," referring
to the cheap wood-pulp pressed to make the paper. My personal
favorite penny dreadful from pre-1800 writing is Varney
the Vampire: Or, The Feast of Blood! The title gives
some indication of the content. See also dime novel.
When poetry consists of five feet in each line, it is written
in pentameter. Each foot
has a set number of syllables. Iambs, spondees, and trochees
are feet consisting of two syllables. Thus, iambic pentameter,
spondaic pentameter, and trochaic pentameter lines would have
a total of ten syllables. Anapests and dactyls are feet consisting
of three syllables. Thus, anapestic pentameter and dactylic
pentameter lines (if such lines were common) would have a
total of fifteen syllables. See foot
You can click here
to download a handout discussing meter in greater detail.
PENTATEUCH: The first
five books of the Hebrew Bible--i.e., Genesis, Exodus,
Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
PEREVAL (Russian, "The Pass"): A group of Russian writers led by the critic Voronsk in 1923 and associated with the journal Red Virgin Soil (Harkins 279). This group of writers opposed the concept of enforced "proletarian literature" and the oppression of Communist conformity on writers--but the Russian authorities dissolved the group in 1932 and forced its members to merge with the Union of Soviet Writers (Harkins 279-80).
RHYME: Another term for exact rhyme or true rhyme. See
PERFECTING: In the Renaissance printing industry, the term "perfecting" refered to printing on the second side of a sheet of paper after the first side of that sheet had already been printed to make a double-sided copy. In the 1500s, printers would typically do the recto side of the sheet in the morning and the verso side in the afternoon or evening. By the 1700s, it became common to use two presses consecutively--one side done on the first press and the other side done on the second press.
See discussion under speech act theory.
"section"; the last two syllables rhyme with "dopey"):
(1) In biblical studies, a story, brief passage, or selection
from gospel narrative or passage found embedded inside
another story, narrative, or passage. (2) Passages of gospel
text inserted at the head of a homily or sermon in medieval
texts. See frame
PERIPHRASE: See discussion under periphrasis. Not to be confused with paraphrase.
PERIPHRASIS (Grk. "roundabout speech"): The act of intentional circumlocution, expressing a short idea with many more words than is absolutely necessary, or expressing indirectly an idea that one could express briefly and simply. J.A. Cuddon cites an example the sentence, "Her olfactory system was suffering from a temporary inconvenience," instead of "her nose was blocked" (701). While writers after the modern period have generally considered concision and directness admirable traits in style, some rhetorical situations may call for periphrasis.
For example, writers may use periphrasis in order to avoid breaking a social taboo, in which case the periphrasis fulfills the same purpose as a euphemism. E.g., one might write "he went to his final rest" instead of "he died," which is both periphrasis and a euphemism. In the 18th century, periphrasis was often considered valuable for its own sake as a means of displaying a writer's erudition or facility with language, so such writings of the time might refer to "the scaly breed" for reptiles or "the feathered kind" for birds in a manner akin to Germanic kennings (Shipley 429).
If a writer or speaker uses periphrasis with the deliberate goal of tricking, misleading, or confusing the audience, that act is called ambage.
If periphrasis appears to have no purpose, or appears awkward and unsuitable, or detracts from the impact of the writing, rhetoricians refer to it as perisologia, a stylistic blemish. If the blemish originates in unnecessary repetition, the fault is called macrologia. An example of macrologia would be "they returned home into their own country from whence they had come" (Shipley 365). This sentence would be briefer as "they returned home."
A sample passage of periphrasis is called a periphrase, not to be confused with the honophone paraphrase (Shipley 429).
See discussion under periodization
of English literature.
ESSAY: The forefather of modern periodicals like
magazines and literary journals, these publications contained
essays appearing at regular intervals (monthly, quarterly,
and so on). The subject-matter varied from current events,
literary criticism, social commentary, fashion, geographic
and architectural features of London, childhood memories,
and whatever other reverie entered the author's head. The
essays often began with a Latin epigraph as a rhetorical flourish
illustrating the good taste and education of the "gentleman
author," a practice that has fallen out of favor in more
fiercely democratic and egalitarian times. The first literary
periodicals were French. They included Journals des Scavans
(1665). Italian ones followed such as Giornale de Letterati
(1668). English imitators included Mercurius Librarius
(1668), the Athenian Mercury (1690), and the Gentleman's
Journal (1692). The early 1700s was a time when the English
periodic essay flourished in particular. This time was especially
important in the development of the modern periodical and
in the growing acceptance of the essay as a valid genre.
Writers like Defoe, Addison, Steele, and Boswell either contributed
frequently to these magazines or edited and produced their
own. The Tatler (1709), the Spectator (1711),
and the Guardian (1731), all established by Addison
and Steele, became profoundly influential in shaping the writing
habits and publication customs of the modern world. Most of
these publications ran for only two or three years before
vanishing, but some lasted for decades. The Gentleman's
Magazine first came out in 1731 and the last issue appeared
in 1907, for instance, and the Quarterly Review (1809)
was still being published as of 1991, when I last subscribed.
SENTENCE: A long sentence
that is not grammatically complete (and hence not intelligible
to the reader) until the reader reaches the final portion
of the sentence. An example is this sentence by Bret Harte:
pulseless and cold, with a Derringer by his side and a bullet
in his heart, though still calm as in life, beneath the snow
lay he who was at once the strongest and yet the weakest of
the outcasts of Poker Flat.
The most common type of
periodic sentence involves a long phrase in which the verb
falls at the very end of the sentence after the direct object,
indirect object and other grammatical necessities. For example,
"For the queen, the lover, pleading
always at the heart's door, patiently waits."
In a non-periodic sentence, we would normally
write, "Always pleading at the
heart's door, the lover waits patiently for the
queen." The non-periodic sentence is clearer in
English. It tends to follow the subject-verb-object
pattern we are accustomed to. The periodic sentence is more
exotic and arguably more poetic, but initially confusing.
Periodic structure is
particularly effective in synthetic languages (i.e. languages
in which meaning does not depend on the order of words). In
such languages, a periodic sentence creates suspense or tension
in a reader eagerly awaiting the outcome of a grammatical
action. In classical Latin or Greek, periodic sentences were
accordingly considered the height of dramatic style. In English,
however, the result can become confusing or comic if the writer
loses control, as evidenced in the work of Victorian novelist
George Bulwer-Lytton, which has been much mocked by modern
readers. Milton's employs a periodic style in Paradise
Lost because he seeks boldly to imitate the features
of a classical epic--including
the very grammatical structure of the original Latin and Greek
works he loves and emulates. Compare to anastrophe.
STYLE: A style of writing in which the sentences
tend to be periodic. See discussion under periodic
sentence, above. Periodic style in English is
usually considered indirect or artificially "artsy"
in comparison with the more straight-forward non-periodic
The division of literature into chronological categories of
historical period or time as opposed to the categorization
of literature according to genre,
i.e., categories based on conventional features shared between
works of similar type. For instance, if I were organizing
my bookshelf, and I placed all the books from the early 1800s
on one shelf, and all the books written in the Victorian period
on the next shelf, and all the twentieth-century books on
the last shelf, I have organized my literature by periodization.
If, however, I placed all the books containing tragic drama
together on one shelf, ands placed all my Western novels on
another shelf, and put all the poetry collections on the last
shelf, I have organized my books according to genre.
(Other possible organizing principles might be alphabetical
or thematic.) Periodization is not always clear. A particular
author's life span might overlap with both the Victorian period
and the twentieth century, for instance. Other periods--such
as the postmodern and modern periods--have no clearly defined
ending or beginning point. Still, the intellectual exercise
can be useful for thinking about how particular literary artists
fit (or don't fit) into an era and for thinking about the
or "spirit-of-the-age" in which they live.
OF ENGLISH LITERATURE: The common historical eras
scholars use to divide literature into comprehensible sections
Dividing literature into these sometimes arbitrary periods
allows us to better compare and contrast the writing, poetry,
and drama produced in different ages, to more easily trace
chains of influence from one writer to another, and to appreciate
more readily the connection between historical events and
intellectual trends. A few common divisions include the following:
English period, Renaissance
period, and Postmodern
period. No universally accepted scheme exists for the divisions.
For instance, some editors or anthologists might lump both
the Anglo-Saxon and Middle English periods together as the
Medieval period. Another might subdivide the Renaissance into
the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, and so on. Click here
for a PDF handout
listing the periods in more detail.
PERIODS OF LITERATURE:
See discussion under periods
of English literature.
Another spelling of peripeteia.
(Also spelled peripetea, Greek for "sudden change"):
The sudden reversal of fortune in a story, play, or any narrative
in which there is an observable change in direction. In tragedy,
this is often a change from stability and happiness toward
the destruction or downfall of the protagonist.
Another term for peripeteia.
See above. The word was particularly common in older English
PERPETUUM CARMEN (Latin, "continuous song"): Ovid's twist on Callimachus' sarcastic description for his literary adversaries' work. Originally, in Callimachus' use, Callimachus applies the term to lengthy narrative poetry done poorly, as opposed to Callimachus' own work, which focuses on brief, short narratives (see Feeney xxiv). Ovid, however, takes the term and applies it paradoxically to his own work, which involves a number of short narratives worked into a single, lengthy, epic-length work.
(Plural, personae or personas; Latin,"mask"):
An external representation of oneself which might or might
not accurately reflect one's inner self, or an external representation
of oneself that might be largely accurate, but involves exaggerating
certain characteristics and minimizing others. One of the
most famous personae is that of the speaker in Jonathan
Swift's "A Modest Proposal." Here, the Irish author
Swift, outraged over Britain's economic exploitation of Ireland,
creates a speaker who is a well-to-do English intellectual,
getting on in years, who advocates raising and eating Irish
children as a means of economic advancement. Another famous
persona is Geoffrey Chaucer's narrator in The
Canterbury Tales, who presents himself as poetically
inept and somewhat dull. Contrast with alter
ego and poetic
ENDING: In linguistics and grammar, a verb inflection
that shows if the subject is first person, second person,
or third person.
SYMBOL: Another term for
symbol. See below.
A trope in
which abstractions, animals, ideas, and inanimate objects
human character, traits, abilities, or reactions. Personification
is particularly common in poetry, but it appears in nearly
all types of artful writing. Examples include Keat's treatment
of the vase in "Ode on a Grecian Urn," in which
the urn is treated as a "sylvan historian, who
canst thus express / A flowery tale more sweetly than
or Sylvia Plath's "The Moon and the Yew Tree," in
which the moon "is a face in its own right, / White
as a knuckle and terribly upset. / It drags the sea after
like a dark crime." When discussing the ways that animistic
religions personify natural forces with human qualities,
refer to this process as "anthropomorphizing,"
sometimes with derogatory overtones. A special sub-type of
personification is prosopopoeia,
in which an inanimate object is given the ability of human
(not to be confused with the punctuation mark) is a special
type of personification in which a speaker in a poem or
work pauses to address some abstraction that is not physically
present in the room. See also prosopopoeia, apostrophe
therianthropic, and theriomorphic.
CONCEIT: A conceit
used by the Italian poet Petrarch or similar to those he used.
In the Renaissance, English poets were quite taken with Petrarch's
conceits and recycled them in their own poetry. Examples include
comparing eyes to the stars or sun, hair to golden wires,
lips to cherries, women to goddesses, and so on. His oxymora,
such as freezing fire or burning ice, were also common.
SONNET: See discussion under sonnet.
PETRASHEVSKI CIRCLE (aka Petrashevski Conspiracy): A secret society of Russian Utopian socialists who formed in 1845 and met at the home of M. B. Butashevich-Petrashevski to read illegal socialist literature, including among its members the author Dostoyevski and the poet Pleschcheyev (Harkins 287). In 1849, Czar Nicholas I had the circle arrested and staged a mock drama and execution--only revealing at the last moment the group had been issued a reprieve. Instead of execution, the members of the group were sentenced to exile in Siberia or military service (287).
DOCTRINE: Roman Catholics (and pretty much all medieval
Christians in western Europe) have traditionally believed
the Petrine doctrine. The Petrine doctrine is the belief
that Saint Peter was given special authority by Christ that
has since passed on to each Pope. In the Gospel narratives,
Matthew 16:18-19, Christ states, "You
are Peter [petrus], the Rock [petros], and on
this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will
not prevail against it. To you I will give the keys to the
Kingdom of Heaven. What you bind on earth shall be bound in
heaven, and what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
(A similar verse is found in John 21:15-17.) Medieval and
modern Catholics believed the Archbishop of Rome (i.e., the
Pope) was in direct apostolic lineage back to Saint Peter.
That means the Archbishop who anointed the Pope had been annointed
by others all the way back to Saint Peter. Thus, the Pope
inherited the same special authority Saint Peter had.
The Orthodox Greek church
did not share this belief. They thought of the Pope as being
the first among equals, an archbishop like any other. He did
not have authority to command the whole church. The two halves
of the medieval church in the West and the East argued about
this, but that was the sum of the dispute for several centuries.
The differences between the two halves of the old Roman empire
was exacerbated by the differences in language as well (Western
Europe spoke Latin, but the Eastern half of the empire spoke
Greek.) See also schism.
(from Greek phallos, "penis"): A phallic
symbol or phallus is a sexualized representation of male
or domination--particularly through some object vaguely reminiscent
of the penis. Common phallic symbols include sticks, staves,
swords, clubs, towers, trees, missiles, and rockets. Contrast
with a yonic
symbol. See also herm.
See discussion under phallic.
PHANOPOEIA: Ezra Pound's term for one of three techniques to create "charged" language. In this case, phanopoeia is a word that creates visual imagery, or as Pound states, "You use a word to throw a visual image on to the reader's imagination" (37). See also melopoeia and logopoeia.
COMMUNICATION: Exchanges or conversation designed
primarily not to transmit information, but rather to reinforce
social bonds, signal the beginning or end of a conversation,
or engage in ritual activities. For instance, if we pass a
stranger in the hallway and say, "Hi, howya doing?"
and pass on after a nod, the linguistic exchange was not an
actual request for data, but merely a politeness acknowledging
the other's presence. Similarly, "thanks for stopping
by" or "you're welcome, come again" are all
social lubricants to ease the transition to and from ritual
activity rather than attempts at factual communication. Phatic
communication is the term for this phenomenon.
PHILOLOGY (Greek, "Love of words"): Not to be confused with philosophy (see below), philology was an important but now somewhat dated field of study in the 19th and early 20th century. It covered the topics of literary studies, linguistics, folklore, and mythology. Philologists were the ones who reconstructed proto-Indo-European, developed comparative mythology, deciphered the relationships between modern languages, and compiled records of regional folklore, fairy tales, and mythology before they vanished into modernity. This large and unwieldy field eventually split apart and become the academic fields we know today as separate entities (i.e., the distinct degrees of literature, lingustics, folklore, and so forth). Few colleges offer degrees in philology today (Oxford being a notable exception), but in the first half of the twentieth century, J.R.R. Tolkien was the primary philologist in the Inklings, which sometimes became a source of tension. C. S. Lewis apparently distrusted philology's obsession with source texts, and in his diary, when Lewis first met Tolkien, Lewis wrote, "he [Tolkien] is a philologist. No harm in him: only needs a good smack or two."
(Greek, "Love of wisdom"): The methodical and systematic
exploration of what we know, how we know it, and why it is
important that we know it. Too frequently, students use the
term somewhat nebulously. They often mistakenly state, "My
philosophy about X is . . ." when they
really mean, "My opinion about X is . . ." or "My
attitude toward X is . . ." Traditional
areas of Western philosophic inquiry include the following
the use of critical thinking, particularly binary yes/no
thinking and inductive/deductive reasoning, as a means
of testing ideas and debate--logos.
the study of how we know things with any certainty and what
limitations there may be to our ability to think, perceive,
the study of being and what constitutes objective and subjective
existence, and what it means to exist
the study of what is right and wrong, why it is right
or wrong, and whether a common basis for of absolute
can be found outside the individual mind in the laws of
nature or the community
theory: the study
of what makes some things seem beautiful that have no practical
benefit and whether these things are necessary in some way
thought: the practice of controlling observable
phenomena to test hypotheses with repeatable experiments
(an idea that has become profoundly important for scientific
proof, though it is not, as many people mistakenly
the only basis for scientific proof)
speculative thought about matters outside the perceivable
PHOBOS (Grk, "fear"): The emotional purgation of negative feelings known as catharsis involved, according to Aristotle's Poetics, two emotions: eleos (pity) and phobos (fear). If the audience did not feel pity for the tragic hero in a play, or feel fear at his downfall, the play failed in its purpose. See discussion under catharsis.
The smallest sound or part of a spoken word that serves as a building block in a larger syllable or word, and which cannot be broken down further into smaller constitutive sounds. Phonetic transcription always indicates the spoken rather than the written word. This term contrasts with graphemes (the letters or smallest written symbols that "count" as a unit of an alphabet) and morphemes (smallest units that have meaning--either written or spoken). For instance, in the word rerun,
the morphemes are re- and run. Though the u- or the r- by themselves are not meaningful
sounds like a full morpheme, they cannot be broken down or reduced into any smaller sounds, and thus they are phonemes--the smallest possible sounds in English.
Linguists often transcribe English words into phonetic markings to indicate subtle differences in accent, pronunciation, etc., which may or may not correspond to the graphemes (the markings we use to symbolize sounds--i.e., the written word). When they do so, they often enclose the phonetic symbols in slashes /laik ∂Is/ and enclose the graphic markings in chevrons <like this> so the reader can tell whether that linguist is discussing the spoken form of the word or the written form of the word. Contrast with graphemeand morpheme.
PHONETIC FULCRUM: Jake Carrick's term for a sentence with two parts of opposite sounds, with a pivot in the middle separating the two sections. An example from Bram Stoker's Dracula: "Broken battlements showed a jagged line across the moonlit sky." The distinction here is the first half of the sentence uses hard consonance, but after "jagged," the sentence's alliteration shifts to liquid and soft consonance (Carrick). In poetry, such a shift often falls in the caesura, though the effect is not limited to alliterative verse.
The study of phonemes, or units of sound in spoken language.
TRANSCRIPTION: Written symbols that linguists use
to represent speech sounds. One common transcription system
is the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). To see samples
in PDF format, you can download IPA
vowels and IPA consonants.
A written symbol that indicates a spoken sound. Students should
not confuse this term with a gramophone (an antique
According to Algeo, "The units of sound (phonemes) of
a language with their possible arrangements and varieties
of vocal expression" (329). More generally, the study
of sounds and sound-systems in a language.
NARRATIVE: Any narrative (including short stories)
that has the same traits as a picaresque novel. See discussion
NOVEL (from Spanish
picaro, a rogue or thief; also called the picaresque
narrative and the Räuberroman
in German): A humorous novel in which the plot consists of
a young knave's misadventures and escapades narrated in comic
or satiric scenes. This roguish protagonist--called a picaro--makes
his (or sometimes her) way through cunning and trickery rather
than through virtue or industry. The picaro frequently
travels from place to place engaging in a variety of jobs
for several masters and getting into mischief. The picaresque
novel is usually episodic
in nature and realistic in its presentation of the seamier
aspects of society.
first emerged in 1553 in the anonymous Spanish work Lazarillo
de Tormes, and later Spanish authors like Mateo Aleman
and Fracisco Quevedo produced other similar works. The first
English specimen was Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller
(1594). Probably the most famous example of the genre
is French: Le Sage's Gil Blas (1715), which ensured
the genre's continuing influence on literature. Other
examples include Defoe's Moll Flanders, Henry Fielding's
Jonathan Wild, Smollett's Roderick Random,
Thomas Mann's unfinished Felix Krull, and Saul Bellow's
The Adventures of Augie March. The genre
has also heavily influenced episodic humorous novels as diverse
as Cervantes' Don Quixote and Mark Twain's The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry
(Spanish "thief," also called picaroon):
A knave or rascal who is the protagonist
in picaresque novels. See discussion under picaresque
PICKUP SYLLABLE: Another term for the unstressed syllable in anacrusis.
PICTOGRAPH: See discussion
A simplified, limited language combining features from
languages and used among persons who share no common language
amongst themselves. By definition, a pidgin language is
a native language--but rather it is one used between
ethnic groups rather than within any particular
single ethnic group. However, artificial conditions (such
enforced assimilation on slave plantations) can cause children
to grow up with little use for their native tongues. This
cause the pidgin language to develop into a much richer creole.
The French term for the dramatic genre
called the "well-made play." See discussion under
"reverance"): In Roman times, pietas is
the quality of revering those things that deserve reverence.
The word is the source for our
modern English words piety and piousness (reverence
toward the divine), but the Latin term is far more all-embracing--indicating
not only devotion to the gods, but also devotion to one's
gens (family) and patria (homeland or
country). Thus, it also means patriotism and familial responsibility.
In Virgil's Aeneid, one epithet frequently applied
to Aeneas is pius Aeneas, implying that
Aeneas particularly embodies this quality so valued by
An act of spiritual devotion or penance in which an individual
travels without material comforts to a distant holy place.
The journey often has spiritual overtones--it may symbolize
a journey to the celestial city of heaven or repeat the journey
of a saint or biblical hero. Pilgrimage has become a prominent
symbol in both Western Christian writings and Middle-Eastern
Islamic writings. John Bunyon's Pilgrim's Progress
and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are two literary examples
using the pilgrimage motif.
HUA: A Chinese
tall tale. The genre typically involves a strong narrative
presence and colloquial or idiomatic Chinese.
The tone is realistic, but the content is typically fantastic
or hyperbolic. Contrast with the Russian skaz.
In indoor theaters during the Renaissance, the most expensive
and prestigious bench seating was the pit--an area directly
in front of the stage. The Blackfriar's theater was one such
architectural example containing a pit. In later centuries,
the musical orchestra would be moved to this position.
In linguistics, a semi-musical tone or quality used in some
languages to distinguish meaning.
OF ARTICULATION: The point in the oral cavity where
the position of speech organs (lips, teeth, tongue, etc.)
is most important for a particular sound.
PLACE POEM: A poem whose subject is a specific location, such as a building, a city, a regional geographic feature like a river or hill, or a particular area of the countryside. Examples include Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Mont Blanc," William Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," or the Galician poems of Rosalia de Castro. Contrast with occasional poem.
Accidental or intentional intellectual theft in which a writer,
poet, artist, scholar, or student steals an original idea,
phrase, or section of writing from someone else and presents
this material as his or her own work without indicating the
source via appropriate explanation or citation. Click
here for more information.
In common usage, people often use the word "platonic"
to mean "intellectual rather than physical." Thus,
a Platonic love-affair is one in which the couple is attracted
to each other for mental or psychological qualities rather
than bodily attributes. More specifically, however, Platonic
philosophy is Plato's idea that behind (or above or outside)
the imperfect physical world, another intangible world of
abstract ideas has its own existence. These abstract-but-perfect
ideas (called Platonic forms) appear only
as dim outlines (or shadows) in the physical world. For
Plato argues that traits such as "Justice," "Beauty,"
and "Goodness" theoretically exist in perfect forms.
Material creatures, who cannot see or enjoy the abstract
quality of Beauty itself, can only enjoy specific manifestations
as sunsets or starlight or silvery snow. What the unenlightened
do not realize is that it is not these specific
objects they should admire, but the quality of beauty behind
form of absolute Beauty that is eternal and unchanging even
as specific sunsets fade and yearly snowfalls melt away.
these abstract traits remain eternal even as the physical
world changes ever, Plato concludes that the Platonic forms
are somehow even more real than the concrete things we see,
hear, smell, touch, and taste every day. His breathtaking,
nearly mystical conclusion is that the physical world is
the illusion or dream, and the world of the mind is closer
the "real" world of the eternal forms. See also Cave, Plato's.
Platonic thinking profoundly
influences Plotinus, Boethius, Saint Augustine, Castiglione's
The Book of the Courtier, Spenser's "Hymn in
Honor of Beauty," Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual
Beauty," and Wordsworth's Ode on Intimations of Immortality
from Recollections of Early Childhood.
The permanent and perfect ideas, images, or patterns of which physical reality is
but an imperfect or transitory symbol or expression. See discussion
See discussion under Platonic.
A specific piece of drama, usually enacted on a stage by diverse
actors who often wear makeup or costumes to make them resemble
the character they portray. See drama.
A bad habit of speech or writing in which an idea repeats itself
in a single sentence, i.e., a redundancy. For example,
"tiny little town" is a pleonasm, as opposed to "tiny town"
or "little town." Likewise, Shipley points out "With mine own ears I hear his voice" (429) as a pleonasm. Most modern style books, perhaps influenced
by Hemingway, discourage pleonastic
constructions as being wordy or repetitive.
I also steer students away from them. However, pleonasms
have been fashionable in other centuries. Geoffrey of Vinsauf
favored them in his twelfth-century style manual, the Poetria
Nova. The New Testament book of
Mark happily used them, as David Smith points out (8).
Consider Mark 13:33, "Blepete, agrupneite!" ("Watch out!
Be aware!") in which the author emphasizes alertness by
using a pleonasm.
In linguistics, another term for a stop.
The structure and relationship of actions and events in a
work of fiction. In order for a plot to begin, some sort of
catalyst is necessary. While the temporal order of events
in the work constitutes the "story," we are speaking of plot
rather than story as soon as we look at how these events relate
to one another and how they are rendered and organized so
as to achieve their particular effects. Note that, while it
is most common for events to unfold chronologically or ab
ovo (in which the first event happens first,
the second event happens second, and so on), many stories
structure the plot in such a way that the reader encounters
happenings out of order. A common technique along this line
is to "begin" the story in the middle of the action, a technique
called beginning in
medias res (Latin for "in the middle[s]
of things"). Some narratives involve several short episodic
plots occurring one after the other (like chivalric romances),
or they may involve multiple subplots taking place simultaneously
with the main plot (as in many of Shakespeare's plays).
BUFFET: Anthropologists suggest that pre-adolescent
male children in a variety of cultures share the game of "pluck
buffet." In this game, one child trades blows on the
arm or chest with another to see who is "bravest"
or "toughest." Alternatively, pluck buffet also
refers to any game in which two individuals challenge each
other to some contest (often archery) and the loser must receive
a strike from the winner. For instance, the poem "Garland"
depicts Richard the Lion-Hearted and Robin Hood having an
archery contest, and the loser must "Beare a buffet on
his hede." This exchange becomes an important theme in ballads
like Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne. Pluck buffet
may also lie at the heart of a Celtic motif
known as the "trade of blows" in which one warrior
agrees to trade strikes with another; in the case of Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight, pluck buffet takes a potentially
lethal turn when Gawain and the green elf-knight play the
game using giant axes.
DICTION: Distinctive language used by poets, i.e.,
language that would not be common in their everyday speech.
The most common signs of poetic diction include involve archaisms,
and unusual figures of speech. Teachers often point to Spenser's
use of words like gentil and tobraken, or
Shakespeare's use of abysm and climature,
or Emily Dickinson's use of thee and thine.
When they ask students, "why did this poet write in such
a way?" students often mistakenly reply, "Because
that's the way people talked back then." On the contrary,
in the 1500s, Spenser is resurrecting language that was common
in Chaucer's day in the 1300s--not the language of his own
time. The words abysm and climature are
made-up words Shakespeare invented from abyss/chasm
and climate/temperature, not words he would hear
in everyday use on the London streets. Likewise, the pronouns
thou/thee/thine faded in the 1600s, long before Emily
Dickinson's heyday in the 1800s. These poets chose such language
precisely because it is unusual for their time--because it
is different from humdrum ordinary speech. (That's what makes
it striking poetry, after all.)
The concept of literary
its requirement for certain genres
and characters to use lofty, elevated language) also generated
thick poetic diction. As M. H. Abrams notes in volume I
The Norton Anthology, the results were phrases such
as "the finny tribe" for "fish" and
"the bleating kind" for "sheep" (2958).
To modern poets, such phrasing might seem overblown. The
however, is that poetic diction is vastly different from
LICENSE: The freedom of a poet or other literary
writer to depart from the norms of common discourse, literal
reality, or historical truth in order to create a special
effect in or for the reader. When applied to prose writers,
the term is often called "artistic license." Contrast
JUSTICE: The phrase and the idea was coined by Thomas
Rymer in the late 1600s. He claimed that a narrative or drama
should distribute rewards and punishments proportionately
to the virtues and villainies of each character in the story.
Thus, when a particularly vicious character meets a despicable
end appropriate for his crimes, we say it is "poetic
justice." This formula for resolving plots has fallen
into disfavor in later centuries, and no widely influential
critics today advocate such a formula without qualifications.
SPEAKER: The narrative or elegiac voice in a poem (such
as a sonnet, ode, or lyric) that speaks of his or her situation
or feelings. It is a convention in poetry that the speaker
is not the same individual as the historical author
of the poem. For instance, consider the poet Lord Byron's
Don Juan. Lord Byron wrote the poem as a young man
in his late twenties. However, the speaker of the poem depicts
himself as being an elderly man looking back cynically on
the days of youth. Clearly, the "voice" talking
and narrating the story is not identical with the author.
In the same way, the speaker of the poem "My Last Duchess"
characterizes himself through his words as a Renaissance nobleman
in Italy who is cold-blooded--quite capable of murdering a
wife who displeases him--but the author of the poem was actually
Robert Browning, a mild-mannered English poet writing in the
early nineteenth-century. Many students (and literary critics)
attempt to decipher clues about the author's own attitudes,
beliefs, feelings, or biographical details through the words
in a poem. However, such an activity must always be done with
caution. Shakespeare may write a sonnet in which the poetic
speaker pours out his passion for a woman with bad breath
and wiry black hair (Sonnet 130), but it does not necessarily
mean that Shakespeare himself was attracted to halitosis,
or that his wife had black hair, or that he had a fling with
such a woman. In fact, it is a convention in some genres,
such as the medieval visio or dream vision, that the
poetic speaker is a dull, imperceptive caricature of the author.
See also authorial
voice and dream
A variable literary genre
characterized by rhythmical patterns of language. These patterns
typically consist of patterns of meter
(regular patterns of high and low stress), syllabification
(the number of syllables in each line of text), rhyme,
or combinations of these elements. The poem typically involves
figurative language such as schemes
and tropes, and the poem may bend
(or outright break) the conventions of normal communicative
speech in the attempt to embody an original idea or convey
a linguistic experience. Many modern students mistakenly believe
that rhyme is the dominant feature separating poetry from
prose (non-poetic) writings. However, rhyme is actually a
fairly recent addition to poetry. In classical Greece and
was the trait that separated poetry from prose.
POEISIS (from Greek poieo, "to make"): In Plato's Symposium, this term refers to act of creating or making something--both in the biological act of procreation and in the realm of the mind. It covers the action itself as well as the moment of transition where one thing becomes something new, and encompasses, as the character Diotima argues in The Symposium, all of the following (1) natural poiesis or reproductive sexuality, (2) poiesis in a city through the attainment of worthy fame, and (3) poiesis in the soul through virtuous habits and moral education. The word is related to the root of the modern English word poetry.
OF VIEW: The way a story gets told and who tells it. It
is the method of narration that determines the position, or
angle of vision, from which the story unfolds. Point of view
governs the reader's access to the story. Many narratives
appear in the first person (the narrator speaks as
"I" and the narrator is a character in the story who may or
may not influence events within it). Another common type of
narrative is the third-person narrative (the narrator
seems to be someone standing outside the story who refers
to all the characters by name or as he, she,
they, and so on). When the narrator reports speech
and action, but never comments on the thoughts of other characters,
it is the dramatic third person point of view or objective
point of view. The third-person narrator can be omniscient--a
narrator who knows everything that needs to be known about
the agents and events in the story, and is free to move at
will in time and place, and who has privileged access to a
character's thoughts, feelings, and motives. The narrator
can also be limited--a narrator who is confined to
what is experienced, thought, or felt by a single character,
or at most a limited number of characters. Finally, there
is the unreliable narrator (a narrator who describes
events in the story, but seems to make obvious mistakes or
misinterpretations that may be apparent to a careful reader).
Unreliable narration often serves to characterize the narrator
as someone foolish or unobservant. See also authorial
OF VIEW CHARACTER: The central figure in a limited point
of view narration, the character through whom the reader experiences
the author's representation of the world. See point
of view, above.
(Greek, "City"): The Greek city-state, a small,
independent government consisting of a single town and its
immediate environs. Some of these city-states were democracies
in which every male citizen voted on every government action.
Others were oligarchies in which a few rich or aristocratic
families cooperated and shared powers. Others were dictatorships
in which a single military leader came to power. The two most
influential city-states were Athens and Sparta. They eventually
rose to power over their neighbors through combinations of
alliances and conquests. Athens was famous for its culture
and art and intellectual life. Sparta was famous for its toughness
and its martial lifestyle.
The theory that, if two similar stories, words, or images
appear in two different geographic regions
or languages, they are actually unrelated to each other.
one arose independently. For an analogy, in both early Mayan
architecture and in Egyptian architecture, pyramids are striking
engineering features. However, since no contact
took place between the two cultures, archeologists believe
each group invented
design independently rather than adopting it from a single
source (such as one group borrowing it from the other). Circumstances
such as the lack of mortar, concrete, or flying buttresses
ensured that both Mayans and Egyptians would come up with
a wide-base structure to support any large edifice--leading
to pyramid designs by default.
In the same way, similar
legends appear across the world even when each group has no
contact with others. Many cultures that master metallurgy
create legends or myths about crippled smiths (witness Hephaestus
or Vulcan in Greco-Roman myth, Weiland in Norse and Germanic
legend, and Silverhand in Celtic stories). Cultures that do not
master metal-smithing do not create crippled craftsmen-gods
in their pantheons. This lack can be explained by the theory of
polygenesis. Men who are crippled cannot join the hunters
in gathering food or join the farmers in digging irrigation
ditches, so they tend to stay in the village and work as craftsmen,
developing skills that ultimately seem magical to the untrained
without these years of experience. However, the
archetype of the crippled craftsman/god
does not appear in cultures without the technology of metal-working.
In the same way, flood-narratives
appear across many cultures--Noah's flood in the Judeo-Christian
tradition as well as in Welsh, Chaldean, and Greek legends.
Fundamentalist Christian interpretations accordingly see
as evidence of a literal flood occurring world-wide. Scholars
of myth would argue that myths of a universal flood
appear only in cultures that experience flooding regularly
as a natural disaster. Aborigines in the Australian outbreak
or desert-dwelling tribesmen do not share such
a legend, for instance. This leads to the idea that these flood-narratives
arose independently in different places through polygenesis.
See also archetype.
Contrast with monogenesis.
more than one syllable.
Using many conjunctions to achieve an overwhelming effect
in a sentence. For example, "This term, I am taking biology
and English and history and math and music and physics
sociology." All those ands make the student sound
like she is completely overwhelmed. It is the opposite
Both polysyndeton and asyndeton are examples of rhetorical
schemes. For a literary example
of polysyndeton, click
POLYTHEISM: The belief in multiple deities--usually non-omniscient and non-omnipotent--in contrast with the idea of a single all-powerful deity.
In classical Greco-Roman culture, many major festivals
were marked by a pompé. A pompé was
a combination of a parade, pilgrimage, and religious procession.
Worshippers would don special garb, line up in rows by the
thousands, and then travel
from one holy
site to another (such as from the Parthenon to the site
of the Eleusinian mysteries). The most important pompé in
Athens celebrated Athena's birthday. On this day, her shrine
would be cleaned and scrubbed, and the cult
statue would be physically carried or carted in a procession
leading to the Aegean, where it would be cleansed with
sea-water and given a new peplos (woman's cloak)
to wear for the upcoming year.
HYPOTHESIS: In linguistics, the idea that language
began as emotional outbursts or surprised exclamations;
contrast with the bow-wow
theory, the ding-dong theory,
and the yo-he-ho theory.
The French term for a linguistic blending.
A rhetorical or literary device in which a writer mentions
an absence to
the counterpart presence. This is the verbal equivalent
of "negative space" in sculpture or painting.
A general (and often hotly debated) label referring to the
philosophical, artistic, and literary changes and tendencies
after the 1940s and 1950s up to the present day. We can speak
of postmodern art, music, architecture, literature, and poetry
using the same generic label. The tendencies of postmodernism
include (1) a rejection of traditional authority, (2) radical
experimentation--in some cases bordering on gimmickry, (3)
eclecticism and multiculturalism, (4) parody and pastiche,
(5) deliberate anachronism or surrealism, and (6) a cynical
or ironic self-awareness (often postmodernism mocks its own
characteristic traits). In many ways, these traits are all
features that first appeared in modernism,
but postmodernism magnifies and intensifies these earlier
characteristics. It also seems to me that, while modernism
rejected much of tradition, it clung to science as a hopeful
and objective cure to the past insanities of history, culture
and superstition. Modernism hoped to tear down tradition and
longed to build something better in its ruins. Postmodernism,
on the other hand, is often suspicious of scientific claims,
and often denies the possibility or desirability of establishing
any objective truths and shared cultural standards. It usually
embraces pluralism and spurns monolithic beliefs, and it often
borders on solipsism. While modernism mourned the passing
of unified cultural tradition, and wept for its demise in
the ruined heap of civilization, so to speak, postmodernism
tends to dance in the ruins and play with the fragments.
Some of the new literary
movements growing from postmodernism include the darker or
horrific tales of science fiction, neo-Gothic literature,
late twentieth-century horror stories, concrete poetry, magic
realism, Theater of the Absurd, and so on. Finally, postmodernism
is often used loosely and interchangeably with the critical
movements following post-structuralism--the growing realms
of Marxist, materialist, feminist, and psychoanalytical approaches
to literature that developed during and after the 1970s. To
see where postmodernism fits into a chronology of literary
movements, click here for a PDF
A function word--often a preposition--that must come after
its object rather than before it. By definition, a postpositive
word or phrase cannot begin a sentence. Several words in Latin
and Greek are postpositives.
A collective and loose term for any of the literary theories
appearing after the
structuralist movement in linguistics--including Derrida's
infamous concept of deconstruction.
The more radical poststructuralists attempt to subvert,
or eliminate common concepts accepted before the structuralist
movement--like individual identity, the subconscious mind,
rules for social
interaction, and so on.
PRAENOMEN (plural, praenomina): See discussion under tria nomina.
A morpheme added to the beginning of a word. For instance,
the prefix re- can be added to the word play to create
the word replay.
(formed from the prefix pre- and the root
sequel): A novel, play, film, or other narrative
usually written after the popular success of an
earlier work but set before the events in that
successful earlier work, and incorporating characters,
situations with which the audience is already familiar. Contrast
Pre-Raphaelitism, or the Pre-Raphaelite movement, begins in
1848 as a protest against conventional art and literature.
A band of young London artists, poets, and intellectuals formed
a "brotherhood" dedicated to re-creating the type
art existing before the Renaissance.
Hence, they took their name from Raphael (1483-1520), the
earliest major Renaissance artist in Italy. Like the Romantic
poets, Pre-Raphaelites wished to regain the spirit of simple
devotion and adherence to nature. Hence, they rejected modernity,
mass production, and urbanization. Typical Pre-Raphaelite
writings involve an interest in chivalry,
diction, pictorial qualities and visual imagery.
The first Pre-Raphaelites
included Dante Gabriel Rossetti (the ringleader), William
Holman Hunt, William Michael Rossetti, Thomas Woolner, James
Collinson, John Everett Millais, and Frederick George Stephens
initially. The movement later grew to include or influence
Dante Rossetti's sister, the poet Christina Rossetti; William
Morris, the craftsman and writer; the author Swinburne, and
Burne-Jones the artist. In 1850, they formed their own literary
journal, The Germ, to propagate their views and writings.
Click here to download a PDF file of Christina Rossetti's
poem, "A Birthday,"
to sample the diction and style of Pre-Raphaelite poetry.
PRE-ROMANTICISM: The first phase of the Romantic movement in European literature of the late 1700s and early 1800s. Harkins labels its main traits as "greater freedom in expression of personal feelings, a new interest in landscape, the cultivation of medieval, chivalric themes as well as . . . the supernatural, and the melancholy mood of 'graveyard' poetry" (309). See Romanticism for further details.
A grammatical treatise or a lexicon is said to be prescriptivist
if it has the goal of fashioning guidelines or "rules"
for grammar, spelling, and word use, as opposed to describing
unjudgmentally how a group of people tend to use language.
Contrast with descriptivist.
VARIANT: Unlike a deliberately revised edition printed
at a later date, a press variant is a minor and usually unintentional
variation among books printed in the same edition or print
run. Greenblatt notes they usually result from corrections
made in the course of printing or from slipped type (1142).
TEXT (Also called the P Text or
the Priestly Document): In biblical scholarship,
this refers to material in Genesis and the Hebrew Bible
that probably appeared during a late period of editing--in
contrast with the older J
Text and E
Text. The name P Text comes
from "Priestly Text." Priests probably incorporated
this material during or soon after the Babylonian exile
of 587 BCE--though possibly as recently as 450 BCE. (Some
scholars in the minority argue that portions of the material
might date "pre-exilicly" from the late eighth/early
seventh century BCE during Hezekiah's reign, but this stance
is not widely held.) At the time of the exile, the Judaic
priests were probably desperate to retain their unique
monotheistic beliefs in the face of overwhelming Babylonian
influence, but they also faced the challenge of harmonizing
their world view with that of Babylonian tradition.
At this point, many Aramaic (aka "Chaldee") loanwords appear
in the Hebrew text and they are incorporated into the Hebrew
Bible thereafter. This influence explains why today most
biblical concordances and dictionaries (such as the 1979
version of Strong's Comprehensive Concordance of the
Bible) refer to their Hebrew sections as a "Concordance
of Hebrew and Chaldean," a "Hebrew and Chaldee
Dictionary," or a "Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary." Christ
will still be using some Aramaic terms 400 years later in
the New Testament gospels, which show how influential and
long-lasting the linguistic effects of the Exile were on
the Hebrew vocabulary. Biblical scholars think that Genesis
1:1-2:3 and other sections such as Genesis 6 come from the
P Text, and these are probably the latest additions to the
Genesis account. The foreign loanwords mean these sections
couldn't have been written before coming into contact with
the Chaldeans--at least not in the form in which they come
down to us today in surviving manuscripts.
Some features of the
P text include a stress on ritual observances such as the
and dietary taboos believed to be late additions to the
religious tradition. Other features of the P text--such as
the details of the Passover ritual, ordination ceremonies,
of the tabernacle--appear to have come from now lost older
manuscript traditions after being updated and modified in
the P tradition. Finally, the P text is marked the prominence
it gives to Aaron (as opposed to the dominant role of Moses
in the J and E texts), the account of Moses' death in Deuteronomy,
the legal materials of Leviticus and Numbers, and a series
of genealogies showing some influence from Mesopotamian sources.
If students are reading a study Bible like
the Anchor Bible series, the editors helpfully mark
which sections come from the J, E, and P Texts.
PRIFODL: TBA (Shipley 620)
SOURCE: Literary scholars distinguish between primary
sources, secondary sources, and educational
should also. To understand the difference, click
See discussion under Chain
The late medieval custom of allowing the first born legitimate
male child to inherit all of his father's properties, estates,
wealth, and titles upon the father's death. Primogeniture
was a key issue in determining succession to the royal throne,
and it plays an important part in Edmund's villainy in King
Lear, in King Henry V's claim to the French throne in
Henry V, and in many other Shakespearean plays. In
medieval times, primogeniture lead to huge social problems
since Western Europe was producing large numbers of second
born militarily trained knights who had no means of making
a livelihood. Since the firstborn son inherited everything,
the only legitimate option for the other sons was becoming
celibate and then joining the church hierarchy as clerics
or entering monasteries. Since this was not always a preferable
option for hot-blooded young men, many involved themselves
in coups to gain the family estate, took up lives of
brigandage, or became mercenaries and wandered from one war
to another seeking their fortunes. When Pope Urban II called
the first crusade to reclaim Jerusalem, the church saw that
part of the solution to this problem was to provide a legitimate
arena of warfare for these dispossessed knights. The opposite
custom of dividing inheritance is known as partible
PRESS: Chinese and Japanese inventors developed
simple printing techniques centuries earlier in monasteries,
in the 1440s and 1450s, Europe developed printing independently.
Even though forerunners of the printed book might have
in Holland, the most important developments were in Mainz,
Germany, where "Indulgence" was printed in
1454, and the Gutenberg Bible in 1456. John of Gutenberg
with the invention by fifteenth-century writers, and the
invention spread rapidly to Italy, France, Holland,
and other countries.
William Caxton set up a printing press in Europe (Bruges)
in 1475, and there printed the first book in English, The
Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. Returning
to England in 1476, Caxton set up his second printing
press in Westminster.
He next printed a number of Latin texts before printing in
English the Dicts or Sayings of the Philosophers (1477),
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1483), Malory's Le
Morte Darthur (1485), and others for about
a hundred titles in total. His assistant, Wynkyn
de Worde, took over
the business after Caxton's death and published perhaps 800
The printing press was
a revolution comparable to the modern internet revolution.
It made books for the first time cheap enough for mass production
and mass purchasing, ensuring a rise in literacy, blurring
dialectal vocabularies, spreading geographic and cultural
knowledge, and fueling the flames of religious reformation.
PRIS: See prys.
SYMBOL: In contrast with an archetype
(universal symbol), a private symbol is one that an individual
artist arbitrarily assigns a personal meaning to. Nearly all
members of an ethnic, religious, or linguistic group might
share a cultural
symbol and agree upon its meaning with little
discussion, but private symbols may only be discernable in
the context of one specific story or poem. Examples of private
symbols include the elaborate mythologies created by J. R.
R. Tolkien in The Silmarillion (such as the One Ring
as a symbol of power lust) or William Butler Yeats' use of
Constantinople as a symbol to represent poetic artifice in
"Sailing to Byzantium," or Yeats' use of a gyre
to symbolize the cycles of history and the sphinx as an emblem
of the Antichrist in "The Second Coming."
See also token
PLAY: There are two common meanings to this term.
(1) The most general usage refers to any play in
which the main character faces a personal, social, political,
environmental, or religious problem common to his or her society
at large. Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is representative of a problem
play in that Loman must face the challenges of what the
author considers false values in a capitalistic society.
(2) In a narrower sense, Shakespearean scholars apply
the term "problem play" to a group of Shakespeare's
plays, also called "bitter comedies," especially
Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and
All's Well That Ends Well. These plays explore dark
and ignoble aspects of human psychology without attempting
to solve or resolve the plot to the reader's satisfaction
beyond a superficial level. Because of the uneasy endings,
the plays do not seem to follow the standard conventions of
(Greek "anticipation"): Procatalepsis is a rhetorical
strategy in which the writer raises an objection and then
immediately answers it; by doing so, the rhetor seeks to strengthen
his argument by dealing with possible objections before his
audience can raise counter-arguments.
ACT OF 1606: This law passed under King James I required
that any profanity in a publicly performed play or in published
material would result in a ten-pound fine for the performer
or printer, a substantial sum. Three of Shakespeare's quartos
show signs of revision to meet the requirement of the Profanity
Act, such as omissions of obscenity, the word "God" changed
to "heaven," or "Jove," etc. Contrast with the Censorship
PROLIXITY: A type of wordiness or periphrasis characterized by unnecessary rambling or excessive detail, as Shipley puts it (429). A writer or speaker who has this tendency is said to be prolix. See dicussion under periphrasis.
(1) In original Greek tragedy, the prologue was either the
action or a set of introductory speeches before the first
of the chorus. Here, a single actor's monologue or a dialogue
between two actors would establish the play's background events.
(2) In later literature, a prologue is a section of any introductory
material before the first chapter or the main material of
a prose work, or any such material before the first stanza
of a poetic work.
A manuscript of a play adapted for performance by a theatrical
company--usually with extra stage directions, notes on special
effects or props, and last minute revisions or corrections.
In some promptbooks, the characters' names and speech prefixes
are scribbled out and replaced with the names of the actors
playing those roles.
A summary of the moral of a fable appearing before the main
narrative. If the summary is found at the end of the
narrative, it is called an epimythium.
Contrast with prologue.
SPELLING: A new spelling of an
old word that more accurately reflects the current pronunciation
than the original spelling does.
(Latin, "things that must be sent forth"): In its
original use, the term referred to a committee of cardinals
the Roman Catholic church founded in 1622 (the Congregatio
de propaganda fide). This group established specific
educational materials to be sent with priests-in-training
for foreign missions . The term is today used to refer to
information, rumors, ideas, and artwork spread deliberately
to help or harm another specific group, movement, belief,
institution, or government. The term's connotations are
negative. When literature or journalism is propaganda and
when it is not is hotly debated. For instance, the Roman
Augustus commissioned Virgil to write The Aeneid for
specific goals. He wanted Virgil to glorify Rome's greatness,
instill public pride in Rome's past, and cultivate traditional
Roman virtues such as loyalty to the family, the Empire,
the gods. Is this propaganda? Or patriotism?
Typically, readers claim
a work is propaganda when it sets forth an argument with which
they personally disagree. In other cases, readers will call
a work propagandistic if they can perceive that the characters
or the author advances particular doctrines or principles.
Harry Shaw notes: "Propaganda is attacked by most critics
and general readers because it is an attempt to influence
opinions and actions deliberately, but by this definition
all education and most literature are propagandistic"
(plural: proparalepses): A type of neologism
that occurs by adding an extra syllable or letters to the
end of a word. For instance, Shakespeare in Hamlet
creates the word climature
by adding the end of the word temperature
to climate (1.1.12). The
wizardly windbag Glyndwr (Glendower) proclaims that he "can
call spirits from the vasty deep" in 1 Henry IV
(3.1.52). We would expect him to speak of the "vast deep"
normally. Proparalepsis is an example of a rhetorical scheme.
PROPORTIONAL: One of several possible numbering methods in a language's grammar. For a discussion of proportionals, see multiplicatives.
(abbreviation of "stage properties"): Handheld objects,
furniture and similar items on stage apart from costumes and
the stage scenery itself used to provide verisimilitude,
to reinforce the setting,
to help characterize
the actors holding or wearing them, or to provide visual objects
for practical, symbolic, or demonstrative purposes on the
An arch that frames a box set and holds the curtain, thus
creating a sort of invisible boundary through which the audience
views the on-stage action of a play.
Any material that is not written in a regular meter like poetry.
Many modern genres
such as short stories, novels, letters, essays, and treatises
are typically written in prose.
A raised stage constructed before the skene
in classical Greek drama. The proskenion sharply divided the
actors from the chorus, and the elevated height made the actors
more visible to the audience.
SIGNAL: Algeo defines this as the "[p]itch,
stress, or rhythm as grammatical signals" (327).
(1): the mechanics of verse poetry--its sounds, rhythms,
scansion and meter, stanzaic form, alliteration, assonance,
euphony, onomatopoeia, and rhyme. (2) The
study or analysis of the previously listed material. This
is also called versification.
(Grk prosopon, "face"):
a form of personification in which an inanimate object
the ability to speak. For instance, in the Anglo-Saxon
"The Dream of the Rood," the wooden cross verbally describes
the death of Christ from its own perspective. Ecocritical
writers might describe clearcutting from the viewpoint
of the tree, and so on. See personification,
Adding an extra syllable or letters to the beginning of a
word for poetic effect. Shakespeare writes in his sonnets,
"All alone, I beweep
my outcast state." He could have simply
but beweep matches
his meter and is more poetic. Too many students are all afrightened
by the use of prosthesis. Prosthesis creates a poetic effect,
turning a run-of-the-mill word into something novel. Prosthesis
is an example of a rhetorical scheme.
It results in a neologism.
The main character in a work, on whom the author focuses most
of the narrative attention. See character.
The reconstructed ancestor of all Indo-European languages.
Many scholars use this term interchangeably with Indo-European.
Click here for more information.
See discussion under zeugma.
The theological doctrine stating God's sovereignty--especially
his omniscience--allows complete divine control over the
universe in the past, present,
and future. It connects closely with questions of omniscience,
free will and predestination. In John Milton's Paradise
Milton emphasises providence as one of his themes, depicting
a universe in which God allows complete free will, but
one in which God will ultimately use providence to turn
even evil choices and decisions to a greater good in the
long run through his own mysterious means. Cf. Augustinian time.
See discussion under zeugma.
(also spelled pris): The French noun prys,
meaning "worthiness," is a cognate with the English
word "price." Prys was rich in connotations,
appearing frequently in French chansons
de geste and medieval
romances. It embodies knightly worthiness on
a number of levels. A knight who has prys is loyal,
brave, polite, courtly, proud, refined in taste, and perhaps
a bit foolhardy and arrogant, quick to take anger at an insult
and fast to accept a challenge or dual. Chaucer uses this
term to describe the Knight in the General Prologue of The
everemoore he hadde a sovereyn prys.
Another term for a pen
REALISM: The sense that characters in fictional narratives
have realistic "interiority" or complex emotional
and intellectual depth, including perhaps subconscious urges
and fears they are not aware of. On an outward level, this
realism typically involves reacting to external characters
and situations in a manner consistent with the expectations
of readers (verisimilitude).
On an internal level, it may involve the revelation of characters'
thoughts and internal meditations about themselves and others.
Such internal machinations are a standard part of Elizabethan
drama in the form of the soliloquy.
However, psychological realism is associated most closely
with the movement toward "realism"
in the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries. After psychoanalysis
appeared, Freudian ideas influenced many writers who sought
to incorporate his theories into their own depictions of characters.
Whether or not we can
speak of psychological realism in literary works before the
Renaissance is a thorny issue. Medieval saint's
lives (vitae), chivalric
and most other pre-Renaissance literary texts pay little attention
to psychology, rarely describing a character's internal thoughts
beyond a sparse assertion that a character was angry, sad,
or lonely (and that assertion often made as part of a stock
formula, such as "Then King Arthur fared wondrously woode.")
Often ancient works are so focused on allegory to the exclusion
of psychology that some critics assert pre-Renaissance writers
and readers had very little sense of interiority or any unique
"self" apart from tribe, family, religious caste,
occupation, or social standing. The difference is so marked
that some scholars like Harold Bloom speak of "the invention
of the human" in the Renaissance. On the other hand,
it is difficult to read something like The Confessions
of Saint Augustine without getting a sense of a real
human being intensely aware of his own psychology. Possibly,
the difference is rooted in conventions of literature rather
than any actual historical change in human self-awareness,
but the debate continues.
(Greek, "soul procession" or
"soul carrier"): A spirit-guide who leads or escorts
a soul into the realm
of the dead. Such a character often appears in the motif of
into the underworld. Examples of a psychopompos would be deities like Hermes and Charon in Greek mythology,
or the characters of Virgil
and Beatrice in Dante's Inferno.
FICTION: Mass market novels printed cheaply
and intended for a general audience. The content was
titillating, or thrilling. The earliest samples are the "penny
dreadfuls" or "bloods"
of the eighteenth century, which were followed in the nineteenth
century by so-called "dime novels"
(which were sold for ten cents). Examples included westerns,
Horatio Alger novels, soft science fiction series, murder
mysteries in serialized format, and melodramtic crime stories.
The designation "pulp"
comes from the paper quality--these novels are usually printed
on the cheapest newsprint available.
(also called paronomasia): A play on two words similar
in sound but different in meaning. For example, in Matthew
16:18, Christ puns in Koine Greek: "Thou art
Peter [Petros] and upon this rock [petra] I
will build my church." Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet,
puns upon Romeo's vile death (vile=vial,
the vial of poison Romeo consumed). Shakespeare's poetic speaker
also puns upon his first name (Will) and his lover's
desire (her will) in the sonnets, and John Donne puns
upon his last name in "Hymn to God the Father."
Originally, puns were a common literary trope in serious literature,
but after the eighteenth century, puns have been primarily
considered a low form of humor. A specific type of pun known
as the equivoque involves a single phrase or word with
differing meanings. For instance, one epitaph
for a bank teller reads "He checked his cash, cashed
in his checks, / And left his window. / Who's next?"
The nineteenth-century poet, Anita Owen, uses a pun to side-splitting
effect in her verse:
They tell sweet lies of Paradise;
And in those eyes the lovelight lies
And lies--and lies--and lies!
Another type of pun is the
in which one speaker uses a word one way, but a second speaker
responds using the word in a different sense. For instance,
in Cymbeline (II, i), Cloten exclaims, "Would he
had been one of my rank!" A lord retorts, "To have
smell'd like a fool," twisting the meaning of rank
from a noun referring to "noble status" to an adjective
connoting "a foul smell." Yet another form of pun
is the paragram, in which the wordplay involves altering
one or more letters in a word. It is often considered a low
form of humor, as in various knock-knock jokes or puns such
as, "What's homicidal and lives in the sea? Answer: Jack
the Kipper," or in Chapter Four of C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair, which is titled "A Parliament of Owls" (a pun on Chaucer's Parliament of Fowles). In spite of the pun's current low reputation,
some of the best writers in English have been notoriously addicted
to puns: noticeably Shakespeare, Chaucer, and James Joyce.
See discussion under catharsis.
(Latin, purgare, "to purge"): Donald Logan
would be nearly impossible to exaggerate the significance
of purgatory in the life of the medieval church, especially
in the way that life was lived by individual Christians. The
antechamber of heaven where the good but not perfect souls
suffer their temporary punishment had a fixed place in the
beliefs of virtually all Christians in the Western Church
and deeply affected their religious practices. Apart from
heretics like the Waldensians and the Cathars and, later,
John Wyclif, purgatory was believed in as firmly as the Eucharist,
the divinity of Christ, the Trinity and other central beliefs
of the church and played a role almost as large as the Eucharist
and the Virgin in the daily devotional lives of people. The
one could assist one's deceased father and mother and other
loved ones and shorten their stay in purgatory led to the
development of a rich variety of religious devotions and practices,
from which, it is safe to say, no parish in Christendom was
exempt. -- F. Donald Logan, A History of the Church
in the Middle Ages. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.
The medieval and Catholic doctrine
of purgatory stated that Christian souls who had accepted
rites of baptism and been accepted into the body of the faithful
church, but who died unexpectedly with unconfessed sins or
minor venial faults, would not be sent to hell, but would
rather spend an indeterminate period in a spiritual place
of temporal punishment. The same temporary suffering was believed
to be the fate of baptised infants who had not yet reached
the age of reason where they could choose to accept Christian
doctrine and make first confession. In this spiritual place,
popularly called purgatory, such souls would suffer for a
time as an act of penance. This would purify them so they could
enter heaven. The Council of Florence (1431 AD) was the first
time the church officially embraced purgatory as a doctrine,
but the belief in purgatory had long been a part of church
practice going back to the patristic period of the fourth
century, when Epiphanius mentions the practice of praying
for deceased souls in order to lessen their time in purgatory.
It is clear, however, that at this early point, the issue
of hell, purgatory, and the afterlife was still a matter of
dispute among proto-Christians, as theologians like Acrius
denied the doctrine. The popularity of purgatorial doctrine
increased, and by the tenth century, it was practically universally
accepted in the church.
In the Middle Ages, some heretical
groups like the Albigensians, the Waldensians, and the Hussites
challenged the belief, but the first serious breach with the
doctrine appears in the sixteenth-century during the Protestant
Reformation. At that time, Martin Luther initially considered
retaining the doctrine of Purgatory in the Lutheran Church,
as witnessed in the Leipzig Disputation, but as the breach
between Catholics and Protestants increased, political pressure
to make a clean break with "popishness" decided
the issue. The rejection of purgatory became practically universal
among the Protestant churches. John Calvin's doctrine was
especially sharp in its break, and Calvinist teaching included
the doctrine of infant damnation, in which all children who
die in the womb, in childbirth, or during infancy were damned
for eternity in hell. Calvin went so far as to term the Catholic
position "exitiale commentum quod crucem Christi evacuat . . .
quod fidem nostram labefacit et evertit" (Institutiones,
lib. III, cap. v, 6, quoted in The Catholic Encyclopedia).
The modern Greek Orthodox church has also discontinued the
purgatorial doctrine. Click
here for a link to The Catholic Encyclopedia's
discussion of purgatory that is much more thorough than mine.
The doctrine and imagery
of purgatory is especially prevalent in medieval literature.
It is the focus of Marie de France's Saint Patrick's Purgatory.
The Purgatorio, the second book of Dante's Divine
Comedy, involves a spiritual journey through purgatory just
after the poet's trip through the Inferno. C. S. Lewis explores the question of purgatory in The Great Divorce, where he attempts to have his cake and eat it too by suggesting purgatory does and does not exist simultaneously, arguing that we experience purgatory temporally and perceive it as a real thing, but in Augustinian time, we are able to see that purgatory (and material life on earth) on some level always have been heaven or hell, when we examine the afterlife sub specie aeternitatis.
GRAMMAR (also called Grammatical Purism):
The belief in an absolute or unchanging standard of correct
Most familiar to modern Americans as the religious denomination
of the Mayflower colonists, the Puritans were
a Protestant sect particularly active during the sixteenth
centuries. In a positive sense, Americans associate Puritanism
with the struggle for religious freedom since the Puritans
America to escape religious persecution; however, the idea
is something of a misconception since the Puritans' hope
create an all-encompassing Puritan culture in the new colony,
not to create a cosmopolitan, tolerant society open to other
branches of Protestant Christianity, much less Catholicism,
Judaism, or other religions. (That sort of religious tolerance
comes about in American culture largely as a result of the Deism
fashionable among intellectuals in the eighteenth century during
the writing of the Constitution.) In its negative sense, the
word Puritan often evokes the idea of dour, grim,
religious conformity, since Puritans stereotypically wore
only black and
white; they frowned upon drinking, dancing, and displays of
sexuality; burned aging misfits as witches; censored literature,
and closed Shakespeare's playhouses in England because of acting's
"immorality." These tendencies have led to H. L.
Mencken's jest defining Puritanism as "the
haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."
Puritanism forms the backdrop
of The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible
in American literature. Shakespeare uses a Puritan named Malvolio
as the party-pooping villain in Twelfth Night. See
INTERREGNUM (Latin, inter+regnum,
"between reigns"): The term refers to both the Puritan
government established under Oliver Cromwell after a civil war
against the British monarch and those years in which that government
lasted (1649-1658). This interregnum marks the end of the English
Renaissance. It came into being after a long civil war between
two political factions, the Roundheads,
non-aristocrats who supported Puritan reforms, and the Cavaliers,
the aristocratic courtiers loyal to the monarchy. Ultimately,
the Stuart monarch was captured and executed, and his supporters
fled to the continent with the heir to the throne, leaving the
Puritans in power. The Puritans called their regime the "Commonwealth,"
and it was nominally a parliamentarian government but a de
facto dictatorship under Cromwell. This government fell
apart upon Cromwell's death. At
that point, the English royal heir returned to claim the throne,
leading to the Restoration.
See also Puritan,
section of purple
prose or writing that is too ornate or florid
for the surrounding plain material, which in turn looks too
tranquil or dull by the incongruity of the startling purple
patch. The colorful image for this term comes from Horace's
Ars Poetica 2.3.14-19, where he refers to the purpureus
pannus, the purple piece of royal or princely cloth that
is a colorful but irrelevant insertion into a plain-speaking
PROSE: Writing that seems overdone or which makes
excessive use of imagery, figures of speech, poetic diction,
and polysyllabication. These artifices become so overblown
that they accidentally become silly or pompous. See also purple
PUSHKIN PLEIAD: A group of young Russian poets, friends and contemporaries of Pushkin, who shared his general poetic outlook--including Vyazemski, Dadydov, Delvig, Yzykov, Venevitinov, and Baratynski (Harkins 323).
In classical Greek or Latin poetry, this foot
consists of two unaccented syllables--the opposite of a spondee.
At best, a pyrrhic foot is an unusual aberration in English
verse, and most prosodists (including me!) do not accept it
as a foot at all because it contains no accented syllable.
Normally, the context or prevailing iambs, trochees, or spondees
in surrounding lines overwhelms any potential pyrrhic foot,
and a speaker reading the foot aloud will tend artificially
to stress either the first or last syllable. See meter
for more information.
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:
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Algeo, John and Thomas Pyles.
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Thomas Cable. A History of
the English Language. 6th edition. Boston: Pearson Publishing, 2013.
Brown, Michelle P. Understanding
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Library and the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994.
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[Originally published 1977 as Griechische Religion der archaischen
und klassischen Epoche.] Trans. John Raffan. Cambridge: Harvard UP,
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Catholic University of America
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Corbett, Edward P. J. Classical
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Virginia E. Leland. "A Chronology
of Chaucer's Life and Times." As condensed and reproduced
in Larry Benson's The Canterbury Tales, Complete. Boston: Houghton
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Cuddon, J. A. The
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