Terms and Definitions: R
This page is under perpetual
construction! It was last updated March 2, 2015.
This list is meant to assist,
not intimidate. Use it as a touchstone for important concepts
and vocabulary that we will cover during the term. Vocabulary
terms are listed alphabetically.
INNOCENCE: The Romantics
valued innocence as something pure, wholesome, fulfilling, natural,
and individualistic. They saw it as antithetical to the corrupting
influence of civilized conformity and the heartless, mechanized,
industrialized, materialistic society of the Enlightenment.
As Emerson put it, "the simple genuine self against the
whole world" was the movement of the Romanticism, and radical
innocence was its essence. The state of innocence was thought
to be the ideal one for humanity. Radical innocence was the
ability of an adult to maintain a child-like sense of wonder,
faith, and goodness in spite of being aware of the cruelties,
injustices, and heartaches of the world. The term has become
something of a catchphrase in modernist
writings. See for instance, Yeats' quotation below:
that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will.
--William Butler Yeats, "A Prayer for My Daughter"
(French, "Reasoner"): A character in continental
literature whose purpose is similar to that of a chorus
in Greek drama, i.e., this choric figure remains at a distance
from the main action and provides a reasoned commentary about
what takes place. However, a raisonneur doesn't necessarily
sing like the chorus, and the character appears in other genres
of literature (short stories, novels, poems) rather than in
BOON: A motif
in folklore and in Celtic and Arthurian literature in which
an individual too hastily promises to fulfill another character's
request without hearing exactly what that request is. For instance,
in the first tale in The Mabinogion, "Pwyll,
Prince of Dyfed," Pwyll promises to give Gwawl son of
Clud whatever he requests. Gwawl demands that Pwyll give
him his wife, Rhiannon,
much to Pwyll's dismay! In the French Erec et Enide,
we see the knight Erec involved in such a motif. In The
Wife of Bath's Tale,
the rapist knight makes a rash boon to the aged hag--and the
hag later claims that boon before Gwenevere's court, demanding
that the knight marry her.
(German, "Robber-novel"): The German term for
An elastic and ambiguous term with two meanings. (1) First,
it refers generally to any artistic or literary portrayal of
life in a faithful, accurate manner, unclouded by false ideals,
literary conventions, or misplaced aesthetic glorification and
beautification of the world. It is a theory or tendency in writing
to depict events in human life in a matter-of-fact, straightforward
manner. It is an attempt to reflect life "as it actually
is"--a concept in some ways similar to what the Greeks
would call mimesis.
Typically, "realism" involves careful description
of everyday life, "warts and all," often the lives
of middle and lower class characters in the case of socialist
realism. In general, realism seeks to avoid supernatural,
transcendental, or surreal events. It tends to focus as much
on the everyday, the mundane, and the normal as events that
are extraordinary, exceptional, or extreme. As J. A. Cuddon
notes, realism "more crudely [. . .] suggests
jackets off, sleeves rolled up, 'no nonsense'" attitudes
toward literary art (773).
(2) Secondly and more specifically,
realism refers to a literary movement in America, Europe, and
England that developed out of naturalism
in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although realism
and the concern for aspects of verisimilitude
have been components of literary art to one degree or another
in nearly all centuries, the term realism also applies
more specifically to the tendency to create detailed, probing
analyses of the way "things really are," usually involving
an emphasis on nearly photographic details, the author's inclusion
of in-depth psychological traits for his or her characters,
and an attempt to create a literary facsimile of human existence
unclouded by convention,
formulaic traits of genre,
sentiment, or the earlier extremes of naturalism. This tendency
reveals itself in the growing mania for photography (invented
1839), the tendency toward hyper-realistic paintings and sculpture,
the continuing rise of the popular prose novel, the growth of
"realism" in philosophical movements, and in the increasingly
realistic stage productions during the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. The movement contrasts with (and is often
used as an antonym for) literary forms such as the romance,
science-fiction, fantasy, magic realism, mythology,
surrealistic art, modernism
Note that the earlier literary
movement known as naturalism
is often used as a precursor and antonym for realism,
even though both literary movements share many similarities.
It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between naturalism
and realism. Some writers are classified as part of both movements.
Personally, I distinguish between them by noting how naturalism
goes out of its way to obsessively and grimly point out the
limitations of human potential. Realism shares this concern,
but seems less obsessed with this point. My distinction, however,
is one not generally accepted by literary critics. Often, writers
like Thomas Hardy are said to be both naturalistic and realistic,
Examining the wide variety
of writers called "realists" at one time or another
shows how flexible the term is. These writers include such diverse
artists as Mark Twain, Flaubert, Balzac, Zola, Guy de Maupassant,
Tolstoy, Gogol, Gorki, William Howells, William Burroughs, Thomas
Hardy, and Norman Mailer. Dramatists normally considered realists
include Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, and Strindberg.
The section of the stage farthest away from the viewing audience,
the back of the visible stage as opposed to "backstage"
and out of sight.
A visual pun in which a written sign stands for a different
meaning than its normal one--usually because the two words sound
alike. For instance, the letters C
sound like the words see
and you in the instant
messenger version of "C U later!" The rebus is a common
feature in Egyptian hieroglyphic writings and Babylonian cuneiform.
PRONUNCIATION: The accent used by upper class British
citizens--usually considered a prestigious or "classy"
pronunciation. Linguists refer to this accent by the abbreviation
RP. [One personal aside--for any
computer users reading this who are working with speech recognition
software, my wife has found that artificially imitating an "RP"
accent almost doubles her computer's consistency in speech recognition
for voice commands--at least when working with Macintosh software!]
A hypothetical earlier form of a word that probably existed,
but for which no direct evidence is available. Linguists normally
mark reconstructions by placing an asterisk in front of them.
This marks them as a hypothetical word. For instance, the Indo-European
word *ekwos--which developed
into equus in Latin, ech
in Old Irish, and eoh
in Old English, is a reconstruction.
See discussion under quarto
or examine this chart.
CONSTRUCTION: A verb combined with a reflexive pronoun
functioning as the direct object. For instance, in Spanish,
Yo me llavo ("I wash myself"). In English,
this often creates a redundant phrase, such as "I repent
me of my promise."
A line or set of lines at the end of a stanza or section of
a longer poem or song--these lines repeat at regular intervals
in other stanzas or sections of the same work. Sometimes the
repetition involves minor changes in wording. A refrain might
consist of a nonsense word (such as Shakespeare's "With
a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino" in the song from As
You Like It), a single word (such as "Nevermore"
in Poe's "The Raven"), or even an entire separate
stanza that is repeated alternating with each stanza in the
poem. If the refrain is meant to be sung by all the auditors
listening, such as in Burns' "Auld Lang Syne," the
refrain is often called a chorus.
The device is ancient. Examples are found in the Egyptian Book
of the Dead, the Bible, Greek, Latin, and Provençal
verse, and in many, many ballads.
DIALECT: Another term for geographic
LITERATURE: Literature that accurately seeks to portray
or is associated with a particular geographic region or people.
Often regional literature is set within a particular area, and
the writer or poet tries to capture the customs, dialect, behavior,
and historical background of that region. Harper Lee's To
Kill a Mockingbird and Thomas Hardy's Return of the
Native are two examples of regional novels. Eudora Welty
and William Faulkner are often held up as examples of Southern
regional writers generally. More specifically, Appalachian poets
include Ron Rash, Danny Marion, Lynn Powell, and Rita Sims Quillen.
DIALECT: A dialectal variation
used only for a particular circumstance or for a specific purpose.
For instance, the ceremonial language of sermons, weddings,
and funerals often uses words like brethren or beloved.
These words are rarely used outside of that specialized register.
RELATIVE CLAUSE: TBA under
The physical remains of a saint or biblical figure, or an object
closely associated with a saint, biblical figure, or a miracle.
Sample relics might be Saint Veronica's veil, a sandal of the
Virgin Mary, the skull of John the Baptist, a hair or fingernail
of the disciple Mark, a bone from Saint John the Divine, a splinter
or fragment from Christ's cross, or the lance that was embedded
in Christ's side. In medieval Christianity, such relics were
thought to be powerful, holy items imbued with divine potency.
In Christian belief, the spirits of the saints continued to
exist after their deaths, and these spirits would eventually
return to their bodies after God resurrects their physical forms
on the judgment day. Since the spirits still existed, however,
they could theoretically interact with the physical world. It
was thought that the spirits of these saints continued to be
connected to their physical remains. Thus, possessing a part
of Saint Julian's body would ensure that the spirit of Saint
Julian would linger near that body-part, and be close at hand
to aid the possessor. When a medieval Christian wanted divine
intervention, he might pray near the relic and ask that saint
to intercede on his behalf. [An important note for confused
modern Protestants--in medieval Catholic doctrine, "intercession"
does not mean worshipping the saints per se, but rather
asking the deceased saint to pray to God on the living
individual's behalf, much like a modern Protestant might ask
his or her neighbor to pray for him. Many non-Catholics do not
understand the distinction, and they accordingly accuse medieval
Christians of idolatry.]
Medieval churches usually
included one or more relics under, on, or within the altar,
and shrines might be built around immobile relics. These relics
were considered especially valuable, and they were often sealed
in gold or silver containers, encrusted with gems, or placed
inside silken reliquary purses. Often special objects such as
a bishop's staff or a king's crown might be constructed with
a minor relic inside it. For instance, King Charlemagne's sword
(c. 800 CE) was supposedly designed so that its hilt contained
two splinters of the true cross.
With poor communication
between regions, certain confusions were bound to occur. Three
different medieval churches were built to house three different
"true skulls of John the Baptist." In the fourteenth
century, it became increasingly common for con-artists to sell
fake relics to unsuspecting victims. Chaucer writes of this
practice in his depiction of the Pardoner in his Canterbury
Tales. There, the Pardoner merrily sells pig-bones, which
he claims are the bones of saints, to other travelers. Probably
the most famous relic in Arthurian
legends is the Holy Grail, variously described in Christian
iconography as being (1) the cup from which Christ drank at
the Last Supper, (2) the cup used to catch the blood that spurted
from Christ's side after the Centurion Longus stabbed him, (3)
the actual spear Longus used to stab Christ, or alternatively
in German legends (4), a mystical stone providing endless food.
There are two common uses of the word.
(1) The term originally described
a period of cultural, technological, and artistic vitality
during the economic expansion in Britain in the late 1500s
and early 1600s. Thinkers at this time and later saw themselves
as rediscovering and redistributing the legacy of classical
Greco-Roman culture by renewing forgotten studies and artistic
practices, hence the name "renaissance" or "rebirth." They
believed they were breaking with the days of "ignorance" and
"superstition" represented by recent medieval thinking, and
returning to a golden age akin to that of the ancient Greeks
and Romans from centuries earlier--a cultural idea that will
eventually culminate in the Enlightenment
of the late 1600s up until about 1799 or so. The Renaissance
saw the rise of new poetic forms in the sonnet and a flowering
of drama in the plays of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Marlowe.
The English Renaissance is often divided into the Elizabethan
period--the years that "Good Queen Bess" (Queen Elizabeth
I) ruled--and the Jacobean
period, in which King James I ruled. (The Latin form of James
is Jacobus, hence the name Jacobean). Typically,
we refer to this period as the Renaissance, often with a definite
article and a capital R. You can click here to download
a PDF handout placing this period in chronological order
with other periods of literary history.
(2) In a looser sense,
a renaissance (usually with an uncapitalized r) is
any period in which a people or nation experiences a period
of vitality and explosive growth in its art, poetry, education,
economy, linguistic development, or scientific knowledge.
The term is positive in connotation. Historians refer to a
Carolingian renaissance after Charlemagne was crowned Emperor
of the Holy Roman Empire in 800 AD. Medievalists refer to
an "Ottonian renaissance" to describe the growth of learning
under the descendents of Emperor Otto I. Haskins speaks of
a "little renaissance" or a "Twelfth-Century renaissance"
to describe the architecture, art, and philosophy emerging
in France and Italy in the late 1100s. Even in the twentieth
century, American scholars often refer to a "Harlem
Renaissance" among African-American jazz musicians
and literary artists of the 1930s and an "Irish
Literary Renaissance" among Irish writers,
to name but a few examples. The capitalization in these specific
cases varies from writer to writer.
Japanese linked verse--a poetic dialogue formed by a succession
in which poets take turns composing the poem as a party-game.
The rules for the games were supposedly laid down in 1186 CE
by Fujiwara Sadaie (1162-1241) and Fujiwara Sadatake (c. 1139-1202).
The first three lines have a set pattern of 5/7/5 syllables.
One poet writes these three lines, then passes his poem to another
person. That person then writes two lines of 7/7 syllables.
The next three lines of 5/7/5 are written by a third person,
and so on, until a lengthy poem of a hundred lines or so results.
Of these long composite poems, the first three--called the hokku,
are always the most important. The renga eventually develops
into the renku
(see below), and the hokku of these two poetic forms
ultimately evolves into the haiku in the19th century.
(also called haikai renga): An earthier, humorous variant
on the courtly renga introduced by Iio Sogi, Yamazzaki Sokan,
and Nishiyama Soin. While the form of the renku are identical
to the renga, the subject-matter, tone, and vocabulary
are quite different. Ultimately, the hokku section of
the renku or haikai renga develop into the modern
haiku after Matsuo Bashó took the poetic form
and elevated it to a meaningful zen reaction to nature. See
A number of plays an acting company had prepared for performance
at any given time. Unlike modern drama, in which a particular
popular performance may continue for weeks on end such as Les
Miserables or Cats, Renaissance acting companies
usually performed a different play each day, perhaps performing
a dozen plays in a month and more than thirty in the
course of the season, as Greenblatt notes (1140).
Oxford Companion to the Bible goes
into some detail on this term, and I summarize the material
from Ackerman's article in this vocabulary entry. Several
biblical texts, including Isaiah 26:14
to rephaim--dead "shades" (NRSV) or "ghosts." These
passages suggest the rephaim inhabit the underworld.
texts like Deuteronomy
2:20, Deuteronomy 3:11-13, and Joshua 12:4 and Joshua 13:12,
these beings are described as a race of terrible giants
who once lived in parts
and the Transjordan region and were somehow related to the
In outdated scholarship from the 19th century, Hebrew linguists
meanings--ghost and giant--were distinct from each other.
However, the discovery of Ugaritic texts in
1928 strongly suggests
closely related and probably synonymous. At Ugarit (modern
Syria), the word Rephaim
signified members of the once-living aristocracy
of semi-divine or superhuman powers after death in Ugaritic
belief. In the underworld, these beings were thought to have
the power to
aid the living.
most Biblical scholars think the term Rephaim probably
referred to those among the deceased, especially the spirits
deceased giant Nephilim,
who continued to exercise their powers after death in most
Semitic beliefs of the region. The conjunction can best be
seen in Isaiah 14:9, where the
Rephaim of the
underworld are explicitly described as those "who were
leaders of the earth" and those "who were kings
of the nations."
See Ackerman's entry in Metzger and Coogan, page 647, for
CHARACTER: A flat character who embodies all of the other
members of a group (such as teachers, students, cowboys, detectives,
and so on). Representative characters are often stereotypes.
They need not be derogatory, but they are almost always simplified.
The restoration, also called the Restoration Period, is the
time from 1660, when the Stuart monarch Charles II was re-established
as ruler of England, to about 1700. Earlier, between 1649-1658,
the Stuart line had lost its control over the nation after the
general Oliver Cromwell had created a Puritan dictatorship under
"parliament's" control. During this earlier Puritan
Interregnum, literature was heavily censored and drama was outlawed
as immoral. After Cromwell's death in 1658 and Charles II's
restoration to power, restoration drama (particularly comedies)
and poetry flowered anew. The restoration is the early stage
of the Enlightenment
philosophy in England, signaling a movement rejecting dogmatic
Puritanism and embracing logic and rational skepticism.
RESULT CLAUSE: TBA under
PRONUNCIATION: An old-fashioned way of pronunciation
that lingers in one dialect even after a newer pronunciation
has been accepted by other dialects in the same language. Contrast
(From Latin re- + tractare, "to pull back"):
A writing in prose or verse in which the author "takes
back" an earlier statement or piece of writing, often with
an accompanying apology or explanation concerning her earlier
errors. When this retraction appears in a conventionalized form
of verse, it is often called a palinode.
One of the most famous retractions is Chaucer's conclusion of
the Canterbury Tales, in which the author (or perhaps
only Chaucer's persona)
renounces most of his earlier writings. See also palinode.
In linguistics, any sound produced with the tongue-tip bent
or curled backward--such as the sound of the liquid <r>.
Retroflex <r>s over time
often change into the liquid <l>
and vice-versa. For instance, Algeo points to the the <r>
in Sarah, Katherine, and steorra (Old English "star")
is respectively a cognate with the <l>
in Sally, Kathleeen, and stella (Latin "star").
See page twenty-six of The Origins and Development of the
English Language for further information.
PLAY (also called a revenge tragedy): A Renaissance
genre of drama in which the plot revolves around the
hero's attempt to avenge a previous wrong by killing the perpetrator
of the deed, commonly with a great deal of bloodshed and incidental
violence. A famous example is Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy.
Conventional features involve a reluctant protagonist who is
called upon to avenge the murder of a loved one. Shakespeare's
Hamlet has also been called a revenge play by some scholars.
Another term for a revenge
REVERDIE (French, "re-greening): A Old French genre of poetry popular in the 1300s, in which the poetic speaker meets a conventional woman of great beauty--and often with supernatural power--who personifies the spring season, sexual fecundity, and verdant nature. In later troubadour ballads, a conventional encounter with the god of Love became another component of the genre. The lyrics of the reverdie were often set to music, and they may have functioned as dance-songs (Shipley 478). Typically, the poem or song would consist of five or six stanzas without a refrain, with a structure similar to a chanson (Cuddon 792).
Wandering poet-singers in the Homeric age of Greece--the
equivalent of a bard in
the Celtic tradition. These rhapsodoi usually sang or chanted
while accompanying themselves on
the lyre. Homer is traditionally said to be such a figure.
The rhapsodoi probably engaged in oral-formulaic poetry rather
than writing their works down.
The art of persuasive argument through writing or speech--the
art of eloquence and charismatic language. A lengthier discussion
can be found under the rhetoric
FIGURES: Figures of speech
such as schemes and tropes.
RHETORICAL QUESTION: See
discussion under erotema.
(from Greek, rho or "r"): A shift linguistically
from [z] to an [r].
(from Old French, rime meaning "series," in
turn adopted from Latin rithmus and Greek rhythmos):
Also spelled rime, rhyme is a matching similarity of
sounds in two or more words, especially when their accented
vowels and all succeeding consonants are identical. For instance,
the word-pairs listed here are all rhymes: skating/dating,
and plain/stain. Rhyming is frequently
more than mere decoration in poetry. It helps to establish stanzaic
form by marking the ends of lines, it is an aid in memorization
when performing oral
formulaic literature, and it contributes to the
sense of unity in a poem. The best rhymes delight because
of the human fascination with varying patterned repetition,
but a successful and unexpected rhyme can also surprise the
reader (which is especially important in comic verse). They
may also serve as a rhythmical device for intensifying meaning.
Several different types of rhyme and rhyme
schemes exist: see also cliché
rhyme, eye rhyme,
ROYAL (Often spelled as "rime
royal"): A seven-line stanzaic form invented by
Chaucer in the fourteenth century and later modified by Spenser
and other Renaissance poets. In rhyme royal, the stanzas are
writen in iambic pentameter in a fixed rhyme scheme (ABABBCC).
An example follows below from Wordsworth's Resolution and
was roaring in the wind all night;
The rain came heavily and down in floods;
But now the sun is rising calm and bright.
The birds are singing in the distant woods;
Over his own sweet voice the stockdove broods;
The jay makes answer as the magpie chatters;
And the air is filled with pleasant noise of waters.
SCHEME: The pattern of rhyme.
The traditional way to mark these patterns of rhyme is to assign
a letter of the alphabet to each rhyming sound at the end of
each line. For instance, here is the first stanza of James Shirley's
poem "Of Death," from 1659. I have marked each line
from the first stanza with an alphabetical letter at
the end of each line to indicate rhyme:
glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armor against fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Scepter and crown -------------------------------C
Must tumble down, --------------------------------C
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.
Thus, the rhyme scheme for
each stanza in the poem above is ABABCCDD.
It is conventional in most poetic genres that every
stanza follow the same rhyme scheme, though it is possible to
have interlocking rhyme scheme such as terza
rima. It is also common for poets to deliberately vary
their rhyme scheme for artistic purposes--such as Philip Larkin's
"Toads," in which the poetic speaker complains about
his desire to stop working so hard, and his rhymes degenerate
into half-rhymes or slant
rhymes as an indication that he doesn't want to
go to the effort of perfection. Among the most common rhyme
schemes in English, we find heroic couplets (AA,
etc.) and quatrains (ABAB,
etc.), but the possible permutations are theoretically infinite.
(from Greek, "flowing"): The varying speed, loudness,
pitch, elevation, intensity, and expressiveness of speech, especially
poetry. In verse the rhythm is normally regular; in prose it
may or may not be regular. See sprung
rhythm for an exception to this general rule. Also see
(from Old English roedel, from roedan meaning
"to give council" or "to read"): A universal
form of literature in which a puzzling question or a conundrum
is presented to the reader. The reader is often challenged to
solve this enigma, which requires ingenuity in discovering the
hidden meaning. A riddle may involve puns,
or unusual imagery.
For instance, a Norse riddle
me what I am. Thirty white horses round a red hill.
First they champ. Then they stamp. Now they stand still."
The answer is the speaker's teeth;
these thirty white horses circle the "red hill" of
the tongue; they champ and stamp while the riddler speaks, but
stand still at the end of his riddle. Another famous example
is the riddle of the sphinx from Sophocles' Oedipus Trilogy.
The sphinx asks Oedipus, "What
goes on four feet, on two feet, and then three. But the more
feet it goes on, the weaker is he?" The answer is
a human being, which crawls as an infant, walks erect on two
feet as an adult, and totters on a staff (the third leg) in
The earliest known English
riddles are recorded in the Exeter Book, and they probably
date back to the 8th century. Examples, however, can be found
in Greek, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, and Chinese, and
many other languages. Authors of Anglo-Latin riddles include
Aldhelm of Sherborne, Archbishop Tatwine of Canterbury, and
Abbot Eusebius of Wearmouth. A large Renaissance collection
can also be found in Nicolas Reusner's Aenigmatographia
Words designed to arouse laughter and contempt for a person,
idea, or institution. The rhetorical goal is to condemn or criticize
the object by ridicule by making it seem suitable only for mockery
(i.e., "ridiculous"). Satirists and some rhetoricians
use ridicule as the basis of criticism or argument because they
know jokes cannot be satisfactorily addressed in a logical argument.
As Robert Harris suggests in his literary terms at virtualsalt.com,
"who can refute a sneer?"
COUÉE: The French term for tail-rhyme. See discussion
RICHE: The French term for identical rhyme. See identical
ROYAL: An alternative spelling for rhyme
ACTION: The action in a play
before the climax
RHYME: Another term for masculine rhyme in which the final
foot ends in a stressed syllable. See meter.
SPEECH: Any dialect in which [r]
is pronounced only before a vowel. Examples include Bostonian
accents in America and "RP" (Received Pronunciation)
among upper class British speakers.
Following or adhering to the exegeticial readings of medieval
literature espoused by American scholar D. W. Robertson. See
discussion under fourfold
Another term for an actor's part
in a play.
À CLEF (French,
"novel with a key"; also called livre
à clef, "book with a key," pronounced
roh MAHN ah CLAY): A narrative that represents actual
historical characters and events in the form of fiction. Usually
in this fictional setting, the author presents descriptions
of real contemporary figures but uses fictitious names for them.
However, the character's common traits and mannerisms would
be so well-known that readers "in the know" would
recognize them. Typically the "keys" would be published
later if readers had trouble figuring out who was who.
Most literary historians
think of the genre as a type of novel originating in
seventeenth-century France in works like Madame de Scudéry's
Le Grand Cyrus (1649-53) and Clélie
(1656-60). However, examples actually exist from much earlier
medieval poetry. For instance, in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury
Tales, the character Harry Bailly appears to have been
an actual innkeeper who lived in Southwark. Many of the other
pilgrims also appear to have real-life correspondences; J. M.
Manly long ago summarized the evidence in Some New Light
on Chaucer (NY, Henry Holt and Company, 1926).
More recent examples of
this genre include The New Atlantis (1709),
published with a key to its characters; Peacock's Nightmare
Abbey (1818), which contained hidden versions of Coleridge,
Byron, and Shelley; Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point
(1928); Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises; Somerset
Maugham's Cakes and Ale; Aphra Behn's Love Letters
Between a Nobleman and His Sister; and Robert Penn Warren's
All the King's Men. In English, a roman à
clef is often called a key-novel. In German,
it is a Schlüsselroman.
After long centuries of representative democracy, within
only a few generations, power in Roman government first collapsed
and ultimately into dictatorships. Although Julius
Caesar was a monarch in all but name, historians consider
his nephew Octavian (alias Caesar Augustus) the
first official Emperor, and his rise to
power in 27
the end of
the Roman Republican Period and the beginning of the Roman
Imperial Period. Writers living during this enormous power
shift include Cicero,
Julius Caesar, Lucretius, Catullus, Livy, and Tibullus. Imperial
writers who wrote primarily after the Republic
collapsed include Horace, Ovid, Seneca, Longinus, Pliny the
Elder, Jospehus, Lucan, Martial, Plutarch, Statius, Tacitus,
Juvenal, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Marcus Aurelius, and
Apuleius. The Roman Empire itself collapsed in the fifth
century CE. Vandals sacked the city of Rome in 455
CE, and in 476, another wave of barbarians dethroned the
last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustulus.
The period of Roman history between 514 BCE up until 27 CE,
when Rome was primarily and (at least officially) a Republic
with elected senators. After Rome's traditional founding
in 753 BCE, it fell under the power of Etruscan rulers who
were viewed as tyrants. The Romans rebelled, and rose from
a primitive monarchy to a complex system of indirect representation
under Patrician families, where the richest individuals in
select families were eligible for public office; they
would represent either particular
districts or a number of "clients" (the forerunners
of modern special interest groups). By the first century
Caesar, Sulla, the Gracchi brothers, and other men increasingly
upset this system--sometimes as part of oligarchic coalitions,
sometimes as dictators (Latin imperatores). Although
Julius Caesar was a monarch in all but name, historians consider
his nephew Octavian (alias Caesar Augustus) the
first official Emperor, and his rise to power in 27 CE
marks the end of
the Republican Period and the beginning of the Imperial Period.
Examples of early Roman and Republican literature include
Plautus, Ennius, and Terence. Writers that bridge the gap
between the two periods include Cicero, Julius Caesar, Lucretius,
Catullus, Livy, and Tibullus.
STOICISM: The philosophy espoused by Marcus Aurelius's Meditations,
"Roman Stoicism" actually originates with a band of earlier
Greek thinkers, a specific school of philosophers that met
at the stoa in Athens. Stoicism asserts that the natural world
of suffering, and that the appropriate response of a human
being is to face this suffering with dignity and a lack of
doing one's duty, acknowledging that life and pleasure are
transitory. The philosophy is often contrasted with Epicurean philosophy,
which asserted that wisdom lay in a "carpe
diem" existence in which humanity, faced
with the transience of life, should strive to enjoy itself
as possible by using reason and moderation to find pleasure.
Both Epicureanism and Stoicism dealt with the same problem:
the brevity of life. However, they reached opposite conclusions
concerning the appropriate response to that problem. Roman
characters like Aeneas in Virgil's Aeneid are often
analyzed in terms
of how they embody (or fail to embody) the virtues of Stoicism.
narrative that takes a small episode or group of episodes from
some ancient or famous chronicle and then independently develops
those events in much greater detail. Greek writers, for instance,
often took small segments from Homeric epics and developed their
own independent stories focusing on side-events or sub-plots
that take place "in the background"--mostly concerning
minor background characters with only occasional cameos by the
major Homeric characters like Odysseus, Penelope, Agamemnon,
or Ajax. Many medieval
romances--such as Benoit de Sainte-Maure's Roman
de Troie, Boccaccio's Il Filostrato, Chaucer's
Troilus and Criseyde, and John Lydgate's Fall of
the Princes of Troy--similarly take material from Homeric
legend and turn them into chivalric versions of the historical
romance--complete with anachronistic knights and courtly love
In the words of Stephen
Barney's introduction to Troilus and Criseyde in the
third edition of the Riverside Chaucer, "We
now name this genre historical romance, a genre frequently and
skillfully used by Shakespeare, Stendhal, Dickens, Tolstoy,
and Faulkner" (471). While not necessarily always
writing medieval romances in poetic form, these later artists
certainly have created works in the spirit of the historical
romance. Constrast with the historical
MEDIEVAL (also called a chivalric romance):
In medieval use, romance referred to episodic
French and German poetry dealing with chivalry
and the adventures of knights in warfare as they rescue fair
maidens and confront supernatural challenges. The medieval
romances resembled the earlier chansons
de gestes and epics.
However, unlike the Greek and Roman epics, medieval romances
represent not a heroic age of tribal wars, but a courtly or
chivalric period of history involving highly developed manners
as M. H. Abrams notes. Their standard plot involves a single
knight seeking to win a scornful lady's favor by undertaking
a dangerous quest. Along the way, this knight encounters mysterious
hermits, confronts evil blackguards and brigands, slays monsters
and dragons, competes anonymously in tournaments, and suffers
from wounds, starvation, deprivation, and exposure in the
He may incidentally save a few extra villages and pretty maidens
along the way before finishing his primary task. (This is
scholars say romances are episodic--the
plot can be stretched or contracted so the author can insert
or remove any number of small, short adventures along the hero's
way to the larger quest.)
Medieval romances often
focus on the supernatural. In the classical epic, supernatural
events originate in the will and actions of the gods. However,
in secular medieval romance, the supernatural originates in
magic, spells, enchantments, and fairy trickery. Divine miracles
are less frequent, but are always Christian in origin when they
do occur, involving relics and angelic visitations. A secondary
concern is courtly love
and the proprieties of aristocratic courtship--especially the
consequences of arranged marriage and adultery.
Scholars usually divide
medieval romances into four loose categories based on subject-matter:
Matter of Rome": stories based on the history
and legends of Greco-Roman origin such as the Trojan war,
Thebes, mythological figures, and the exploits of Alexander
the Great. The medieval poet usually creates an anachronistic
work by turning these figures into knights as he knew them.
Matter of Britain": stories based on Celtic
subject-matter, especially Camelot, King
Arthur, and his knights of the round table, including
material derived from the Celto-French
Bretons and Breton lais.
Matter of England": stories based on heroes
like King Horn and Guy of Warwick.
Matter of France": stories based on Charlemagne,
Roland, and his knights.
A large number of such romances
survive due to their enormous popularity, including the works
of Chrétien de Troyes (c. 1190), Hartmann von Aue (c.
1203), Gottfried von Strassburg (c. 1210), and Wolfram von Eschenbach
(c. 1210). England produced its own romances in the fourteenth
century, including the Lay of Havelok the Dane and Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight. In 1485, Caxton printed the
lengthy romance Le Morte D'Arthur, a prose work that
constituted a grand synthesis of Arthurian legends. Gradually,
the poetic genre of medieval romance was superseded
by prose works of Renaissance romance. See romance,
METRICAL: Any medieval
romance written in verse
MODERN: In contrast with medieval and Renaissance romance,
the meaning of a modern romance has become more restricted in
the 20th century. Modern nonscholarly speakers refer to romances
when they mean formulaic stories recounting the growth of a
passionate sexual relationship. The conventional plotline involves
a third-person narrative or a first-person narrative told from
the viewpoint of a young woman between the ages of eighteen
and her late twenties. She encounters a potential paramour in
the form of a slightly older man. The two are prevented from
forming a relationship due to social, psychological, economic,
or interpersonal constraints. The primary plot involves the
two overcoming these constraints through melodramatic efforts.
The story conventionally ends happily with the two characters
professing their love for each other and building a life together.
medieval, and romance,
RENAISSANCE: The original medieval genre
of metrical romances gradually were replaced by prose works
in the 1500s. At that point, the meaning of a "romance"
expanded to include any lengthy French or Spanish story written
in the 1500s and 1600s involving episodic encounters with supernatural
or exciting events. The connotations were of wild adventures
rather than romantic longing as in the modern meaning of romance.
medieval and romance,
COMEDY: Sympathetic comedy that presents the adventures
of young lovers trying to overcome social, psychological, or
interpersonal constraints to achieve a successful union. Commedia
dell'arte is a general type of drama
that falls into this category. Several Shakespearean plays such
as The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night's
Dream also fall into this category.
POETS: See discussion
The term refers to the artistic philosophy prevalent during
the first third of the nineteenth century (about 1800-1830).
Romanticism rejected the earlier philosophy of the Enlightenment,
which stressed that logic and reason were the best response
humans had in the face of cruelty, stupidity, superstition,
and barbarism. Instead, the Romantics asserted that reliance
upon emotion and natural passions provided a valid and powerful
means of knowing and a reliable guide to ethics and living.
The Romantic movement typically asserts the unique nature of
the individual, the privileged status of imagination and fancy,
the value of spontaneity over "artifice" and "convention,"
the human need for emotional outlets, the rejection of civilized
corruption, and a desire to return to natural primitivism and
escape the spiritual destruction of urban life. Their writings
often are set in rural, pastoral
or Gothic settings and they show an obsessive concern with "innocent"
characters--children, young lovers, and animals. The major Romantic
poets included William Blake, William Wordsworth, John Keats,
Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Gordon Byron. Contrast with Enlightenment.
You can click here to download a
placing these periods of literary history in chronological order.
(French, "little circle"): A short poem consisting
of ten, thirteen, or fifteen lines using only two rhymes which
concludes each section with an abbreviated line that serves
as a refrain. We can see an example of the rondeau
in the following poem from Austin Dobson's With Pipe and
pipe and flute the rustic Pan
Of old made music sweet for man;
And wonder hushed the warbling bird,
And closer drew the calm-eyed herd,
The rolling river slowlier ran.
Ah! would,--ah! would, a little span,
Some air of Arcady could fan
This age of ours, too seldom stirred
With pipe and flute!
But now for gold we plot and plan;
And from Beersheba unto Dan
Apollo's self might pass unheard,
Or find the night-jar's note preferred--
Not so it fared when time began
With pipe and flute!
The rondeau is an
in English because of the need to repeat two rhymes so many
times. Languages with matching masculine and feminine endings
for nouns--such as French, Spanish, and Italian--serve as a
much better medium for the genre. Cf. rondel,
A short poem resembling the rondeau.
It usually totals fourteen lines containing only two rhyming
sounds. The first two lines are repeated at the middle of the
poem and again at the end. The rondel differs from the rondeau
only in the number of lines and the use of complete (not partial)
lines for the refrain. Cf. rondeau,
(1) a base
without affixes attached to it. (2) A word
in an older language that became the source for future words
in later languages. For instance, the Latin word unus
("one") is the root for Spanish uno and French
une, which also mean "one." The Latin root
word caballus (horse) gives us words such as words
as the Spanish caballo, Old French caval,
Modern English cavalry, and modern French cheval
(all meaning "horse" or associated with horses). Words in different
languages that ultimately descend from the same root--cousins
and siblings on the linguistic family tree--are said to be cognates
to each other if they are similar in sound and meaning. Etymology
is the study of how words can be traced back to an older root.
CREATION: Creating a new word by inventing its form
from scratch--without reference to any pre-existing word or
CHARACTER: A round character is depicted with such psychological
depth and detail that he or she seems like a "real"
person. The round character contrasts with the flat
character, a character who serves a specific or minor
literary function in a text, and who may be a stock
character or simplified stereotype. If the round character
changes or evolves over the course of a narrative or appears
to have the capacity for such change, the character is also
Typically, a short story has one round character and several
flat ones. However, in longer novels and plays, there may be
many round characters. The terms flat and round
were first coined by the novelist E. M. Forster in his study,
Aspects of the Novel. See also dynamic
VOWEL: A vowel made with the lips sticking out--i.e.,
all of the back vowels except [a].
A poem in the pattern of the rondeau, but only having
eleven lines. Like the rondeau and the rondel, the roundel
uses only two rhymes and a twice-repeated refrain. Cf. rondeau,
A term used as a generic label for fixed forms of poetry using
limited rhymes--such as the rondeau, rondel, and roundel.
The word roundelay can be used in reference to the
musical background (setting) for a poem in a fixed form and
also for a round dance that is to be performed while the music
plays and the poem is recited or sung. Cf. rondeau,
Not to be confused with round
character, (see above), a Roundhead
is a member or supporter of the parliamentarian or Puritan party
during the English Civil War, one of those who opposed King
Charles I (c. 1625-49) and his Cavalier
followers. The designation comes from the way the Puritans tended
to cut their hair ascetically short, which contrasted with the
long luxurious locks of the Cavaliers. Ultimately, Cromwell
led the Roundheads in a coup d'état and established
a Puritan dictatorship in England, leading to the end of the
To see where Charles' reign fits in English history, you can
download this PDF
handout listing the reigns of English monarchs chronologically.
The linguist's abbreviation for received
pronunciation, a prestigious British dialect used
by the upper social classes and in British public schooling.
An Arabic term meaning a quatrain,
or four-line stanza. The term is nearly always included in the
title of any Arabic poem that is built upon such quatrains.
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Edward Fitzgerald's loose
translation of the eleventh-century Persian poet and astronomer
Omar Khayyam's work) is probably the best known example for
English-speakers. Two of its most famous quatrains appear below:
book of verses underneath the bough,
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread--and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness--
Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow!
Moving Finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.
LINE: See discussion under enjambement.
Not to be confused with a run-on sentence, a grammatical error.
RUNE: In a writing system designed to be scratched or carved on a flat surface such as wood or stone, the individual letters are known as runes. Typically, these markings have few or no curves, circles, or dots, but instead, each mark consists of a number of straight cuts or strokes. (The strokes may, however, involve complex combinations of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines.) Runic writing systems tend to appear in areas where paper or parchment are scarce or unknown or where ink is commonly unavailable. Typical runic marks might indicate ownership of a house or object, they may be magic spells designed to be cut or scratched on a shield as a pagan protective charm, and they may mark boundary stones. It is accordinly rare to find lengthy literary writings done in runes--which naturally tend to force brevity upon the communicant given the effort involved in cutting or carving them. Runes were common among ancient and medieval inhabitants of Scandinavia, the continental Germanic tribes, and among the Anglo-Saxons who invaded Britain. By the High Middle Ages, parchment, pen, and ink had largely displaced the runic writing systems. Contrast with ogam markings among the Celts.
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
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