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54 Cards in this Set

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Accent
emphasis, or stress, given a syllable in pronunciation. We say "syllable" not "syllable," "emphasis" not "emphasis." Accents can also be used to emphasize a particular word in a sentence: Is she content with the contents of the yellow package? See also meter
Act
A major division in the action of a play. The ends of acts are typically indicated by lowering the curtain or turning up the houselights. Playwrights frequently employ acts to accommodate changes in time, setting, characters onstage, or mood. In many full-length plays, acts are further divided into scenes, which often mark a point in the action when the location changes or when a new character enters. See also scene.
Alliteration
The repetition of the same consonant sounds in a sequence of words, usually at the beginning of a word or stressed syllable: "descending dew drops"; "luscious lemons." Alliteration is based on the sounds of letters, rather than the spelling of words; for example, "keen" and "car" alliterate, but "car" and "cite" do not. Used sparingly, alliteration can intensify ideas by emphasizing key words, but when used too self-consciously, it can be distracting, even ridiculous, rather than effective. See also assonance, consonance
Allusion
A brief reference to a person, place, thing, event, or idea in history or literature. Allusions conjure up biblical authority, scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, historic figures, wars, great love stories, and anything else that might enrich an author’s work. Allusions imply reading and cultural experiences shared by the writer and reader, functioning as a kind of shorthand whereby the recalling of something outside the work supplies an emotional or intellectual context, such as a poem about current racial struggles calling up the memory of Abraham Lincoln
Ambiguity
Allows for two or more simultaneous interpretations of a word, phrase, action, or situation, all of which can be supported by the context of a work. Deliberate ambiguity can contribute to the effectiveness and richness of a work, for example, in the open-ended conclusion to Hawthorne’s "Young Goodman Brown." However, unintentional ambiguity obscures meaning and can confuse readers
Anagram
A word or phrase made from the letters of another word or phrase, as "heart" is an anagram of "earth." Anagrams have often been considered merely an exercise of one’s ingenuity, but sometimes writers use anagrams to conceal proper names or veiled messages, or to suggest important connections between words, as in "hated" and "death
Antagonist
The character, force, or collection of forces in fiction or drama that opposes the protagonist and gives rise to the conflict of the story; an opponent of the protagonist, such as Claudius in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. See also character, conflict.
Antihero
A protagonist who has the opposite of most of the traditional attributes of a hero. He or she may be bewildered, ineffectual, deluded, or merely pathetic. Often what antiheroes learn, if they learn anything at all, is that the world isolates them in an existence devoid of God and absolute values. Yossarian from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is an example of an antihero. See also character.
Apostrophe
An address, either to someone who is absent and therefore cannot hear the speaker or to something nonhuman that cannot comprehend. Apostrophe often provides a speaker the opportunity to think aloud.
Archetype
A term used to describe universal symbols that evoke deep and sometimes unconscious responses in a reader. In literature, characters, images, and themes that symbolically embody universal meanings and basic human experiences, regardless of when or where they live, are considered archetypes. Common literary archetypes include stories of quests, initiations, scapegoats, descents to the underworld, and ascents to heaven. See also mythological criticism
Aside
In drama, a speech directed to the audience that supposedly is not audible to the other characters onstage at the time. When Hamlet first appears onstage, for example, his aside "A little more than kin, and less than kind!" gives the audience a strong sense of his alienation from King Claudius. See also soliloquy
Assonance
The repetition of internal vowel sounds in nearby words that do not end the same, for example, "asleep under a tree," or "each evening." Similar endings result in rhyme, as in "asleep in the deep." Assonance is a strong means of emphasizing important words in a line. See also alliteration, consonance
Ballad
Traditionally, a ballad is a song, transmitted orally from generation to generation, that tells a story and that eventually is written down. As such, ballads usually cannot be traced to a particular author or group of authors. Typically, ballads are dramatic, condensed, and impersonal narratives, such as "Bonny Barbara Allan." A literary ballad is a narrative poem that is written in deliberate imitation of the language, form, and spirit of the traditional ballad, such as Keats’s "La Belle Dame sans Merci." See also ballad stanza, quatrain
Ballad
stanza A four-line stanza, known as a quatrain, consisting of alternating eight- and six-syllable lines. Usually only the second and fourth lines rhyme (an abcb pattern). Coleridge adopted the ballad stanza in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

All in a hot and copper sky
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
See also ballad, quatrain.
Biographical criticism
An approach to literature which suggests that knowledge of the author’s life experiences can aid in the understanding of his or her work. While biographical information can sometimes complicate one’s interpretation of a work, and some formalist critics (such as the New Critics) disparage the use of the author’s biography as a tool for textual interpretation, learning about the life of the author can often enrich a reader’s appreciation for that author’s work. See also cultural criticism, formalist criticism, new criticism
Blank verse
Unrhymed iambic pentameter. Blank verse is the English verse form closest to the natural rhythms of English speech and therefore is the most common pattern found in traditional English narrative and dramatic poetry from Shakespeare to the early twentieth century. Shakespeare’s plays use blank verse extensively. See also iambic pentameter
Cacophony
Language that is discordant and difficult to pronounce, such as this line from John Updike’s "Player Piano": "never my numb plunker fumbles." Cacophony ("bad sound") may be unintentional in the writer’s sense of music, or it may be used consciously for deliberate dramatic effect. See also euphony.
Caesura
A pause within a line of poetry that contributes to the rhythm of the line. A caesura can occur anywhere within a line and need not be indicated by punctuation. In scanning a line, caesuras are indicated by a double vertical line (||). See also meter, rhythm, scansi
Canon
Those works generally considered by scholars, critics, and teachers to be the most important to read and study, which collectively constitute the "masterpieces" of literature. Since the 1960s, the traditional English and American literary canon, consisting mostly of works by white male writers, has been rapidly expanding to include many female writers and writers of varying ethnic backgrounds
Carpe diem
The Latin phrase meaning "seize the day." This is a very common literary theme, especially in lyric poetry, which emphasizes that life is short, time is fleeting, and that one should make the most of present pleasures. Robert Herrick’s poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" employs the carpe diem theme
Catharsis
Meaning "purgation," catharsis describes the release of the emotions of pity and fear by the audience at the end of a tragedy. In his Poetics, Aristotle discusses the importance of catharsis. The audience faces the misfortunes of the protagonist, which elicit pity and compassion. Simultaneously, the audience also confronts the failure of the protagonist, thus receiving a frightening reminder of human limitations and frailties. Ultimately, however, both these negative emotions are purged, because the tragic protagonist’s suffering is an affirmation of human values rather than a despairing denial of them. See also tragedy.
Character
A character is a person presented in a dramatic or narrative work, and characterization is the process by which a writer makes that character seem real to the reader.
Chorus
In Greek tragedies (especially those of Aeschylus and Sophocles), a group of people who serve mainly as commentators on the characters and events. They add to the audience’s understanding of the play by expressing traditional moral, religious, and social attitudes. The role of the chorus in dramatic works evolved through the sixteenth century, and the chorus occasionally is still used by modern playwrights such as T. S. Eliot in Murder in the Cathedral. See also drama
Cliché
An idea or expression that has become tired and trite from overuse, its freshness and clarity having worn off. Clichés often anesthetize readers, and are usually a sign of weak writing. See also sentimentality, stock responses.
Closet drama
A play that is written to be read rather than performed onstage. In this kind of drama, literary art outweighs all other considerations. See also drama.
Colloquial
Refers to a type of informal diction that reflects casual, conversational language and often includes slang expressions. See also diction
Comedy
A work intended to interest, involve, and amuse the reader or audience, in which no terrible disaster occurs and that ends happily for the main characters. High comedy refers to verbal wit, such as puns, whereas low comedy is generally associated with physical action and is less intellectual. Romantic comedy involves a love affair that meets with various obstacles (like disapproving parents, mistaken identities, deceptions, or other sorts of misunderstandings) but overcomes them to end in a blissful union. Shakespeare’s comedies, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are considered romantic comedies
Comic relief
A humorous scene or incident that alleviates tension in an otherwise serious work. In many instances these moments enhance the thematic significance of the story in addition to providing laughter. When Hamlet jokes with the gravediggers we laugh, but something hauntingly serious about the humor also intensifies our more serious emotions.
Conflict
The struggle within the plot between opposing forces. The protagonist engages in the conflict with the antagonist, which may take the form of a character, society, nature, or an aspect of the protagonist’s personality. See also character, plot.
Connotation
Associations and implications that go beyond the literal meaning of a word, which derive from how the word has been commonly used and the associations people make with it. For example, the word eagle connotes ideas of liberty and freedom that have little to do with the word’s literal meaning. See also denotation
Consonance
A common type of near rhyme that consists of identical consonant sounds preceded by different vowel sounds: home, same; worth, breath. See also rhyme.
Convention
A characteristic of a literary genre (often unrealistic) that is understood and accepted by audiences because it has come, through usage and time, to be recognized as a familiar technique. For example, the division of a play into acts and scenes is a dramatic convention, as are soliloquies and asides. flashbacks and foreshadowing are examples of literary conventions.
Couplet
Two consecutive lines of poetry that usually rhyme and have the same meter. A heroic couplet is a couplet written in rhymed iambic pentameter
Crisis
A turning point in the action of a story that has a powerful effect on the protagonist. Opposing forces come together decisively to lead to the climax of the plot. See also plot
Cultural criticism
An approach to literature that focuses on the historical as well as social, political, and economic contexts of a work. Popular culture—mass produced and consumed cultural artifacts ranging from advertising to popular fiction to television to rock music—is given equal emphasis as "high culture." Cultural critics use widely eclectic strategies such as new historicism, psychology, gender studies, and deconstructionism to analyze not only literary texts but everything from radio talk shows, comic strips, calendar art, commercials, to travel guides and baseball cards. See also historical criticism, marxist criticism, postcolonial criticism.
Deconstructionism
An approach to literature which suggests that literary works do not yield fixed, single meanings, because language can never say exactly what we intend it to mean. Deconstructionism seeks to destabilize meaning by examining the gaps and ambiguities of the language of a text. Deconstructionists pay close attention to language in order to discover and describe how a variety of possible readings are generated by the elements of a text. See also new criticism
Denotation
The dictionary meaning of a word. See also connotation
Dénouement
A French term meaning "unraveling" or "unknotting," used to describe the resolution of the plot following the climax. See also plot, resolution
Dialect
A type of informational diction. Dialects are spoken by definable groups of people from a particular geographic region, economic group, or social class. Writers use dialect to contrast and express differences in educational, class, social, and regional backgrounds of their characters. See also diction
Dialogue
The verbal exchanges between characters. Dialogue makes the characters seem real to the reader or audience by revealing firsthand their thoughts, responses, and emotional states. See also diction
Diction
A writer’s choice of words, phrases, sentence structures, and figurative language, which combine to help create meaning. Formal diction consists of a dignified, impersonal, and elevated use of language; it follows the rules of syntax exactly and is often characterized by complex words and lofty tone. Middle diction maintains correct language usage, but is less elevated than formal diction; it reflects the way most educated people speak. Informal diction represents the plain language of everyday use, and often includes idiomatic expressions, slang, contractions, and many simple, common words. Poetic diction refers to the way poets sometimes employ an elevated diction that deviates significantly from the common speech and writing of their time, choosing words for their supposedly inherent poetic qualities. Since the eighteenth century, however, poets have been incorporating all kinds of diction in their work and so there is no longer an automatic distinction between the language of a poet and the language of everyday speech. See also dialect.
Didactic poetry
Poetry designed to teach an ethical, moral, or religious lesson. Michael Wigglesworth’s Puritan poem Day of Doom is an example of didactic poetry.
Doggerel
A derogatory term used to describe poetry whose subject is trite and whose rhythm and sounds are monotonously heavy-handed.
Drama
Derived from the Greek word dram, meaning "to do" or "to perform," the term drama may refer to a single play, a group of plays ("Jacobean drama"), or to all plays ("world drama"). Drama is designed for performance in a theater; actors take on the roles of characters, perform indicated actions, and speak the dialogue written in the script. Play is a general term for a work of dramatic literature, and a playwright is a writer who makes plays.
Dramatic monologue
A type of lyric poem in which a character (the speaker) addresses a distinct but silent audience imagined to be present in the poem in such a way as to reveal a dramatic situation and, often unintentionally, some aspect of his or her temperament or personality. See also lyric.
Electra complex
The female version of the Oedipus complex. Electra complex is a term used to describe the psychological conflict of a daughter’s unconscious rivalry with her mother for her father’s attention. The name comes from the Greek legend of Electra, who avenged the death of her father, Agamemnon, by plotting the death of her mother. See also oedipus complex, psychological criticism.
Elegy
A mournful, contemplative lyric poem written to commemorate someone who is dead, often ending in a consolation. Tennyson’s In Memoriam, written on the death of Arthur Hallam, is an elegy. Elegy may also refer to a serious meditative poem produced to express the speaker’s melancholy thoughts. See also lyric.
End-stopped line
A poetic line that has a pause at the end. End-stopped lines reflect normal speech patterns and are often marked by punctuation. The first line of Keats’s "Endymion" is an example of an end-stopped line; the natural pause coincides with the end of the line, and is marked by a period:
Enjambment
In poetry, when one line ends without a pause and continues into the next line for its meaning. This is also called a run-on line. The transition between the first two lines of Wordsworth’s poem "My Heart Leaps Up" demonstrates enjambment:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
Envoy See sestina
Epic
A long narrative poem, told in a formal, elevated style, that focuses on a serious subject and chronicles heroic deeds and events important to a culture or nation. Milton’s Paradise Lost, which attempts to "justify the ways of God to man," is an epic. See also narrative poem
Epigram
A brief, pointed, and witty poem that usually makes a satiric or humorous point. Epigrams are most often written in couplets, but take no prescribed form.
Epiphany
In fiction, when a character suddenly experiences a deep realization about himself or herself; a truth which is grasped in an ordinary rather than a melodramatic moment.
Euphony
Euphony ("good sound") refers to language that is smooth and musically pleasant to the ear. See also cacophony.
Exposition
A narrative device, often used at the beginning of a work, that provides necessary background information about the characters and their circumstances. Exposition explains what has gone on before, the relationships between characters, the development of a theme, and the introduction of a conflict. See also flashback