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english literature proseanddrama

Understanding Prose
Chapter-1: Introduction To Prose
Chapter-2: Prose Fiction
Chapter-3: The Purpose Of Fiction
Chapter-4: English Literature
Chapter-5:19th-Centuary Literature
Chapter-6 : Postmodren Literature
Chapter-7 : Non Fictional Prose
Chapter-8 : Heroic Prose
Chapter-9 : Polyphoric Prose
Chapter10 : Village Prose
Chapter-11: Fiction Writing
Chapter-12 : Prose Poem
Introduction To Prose
Our desire to know ourselves and others, to explore the unknown mysteries of existence, to make
sense out of chaos, and to connect with our own kind are all primary reasons for engaging in the
process of literary analysis.
The benefits to self and society that result from this interaction include a sense of wonder at the
glory of humanity’s imagination, a sense of excitement at the prospect of intellectual challenge,
and a sense of connection with the universe.
You have already engaged in these lofty experiences. This handout will provide a brief review
of terms and processes associated with the study of literature.
What is Prose?
Prose is the written equivalent of the spoken language. It is written in words, phrases, sentences,
paragraphs and chapters. It utilizes punctuation, grammar and vocabulary to develop its
message. Prose is made up of fiction and nonfiction. Prose is the way you speak everyday. If
someone followed you around and reported on your actions and conversations, the result would
be prose.
Fiction includes:
Short stories
Historical fiction
Nonfiction writing includes:
There is a certain degree of universality regarding definitions of terms when analyzing literature.
For clarity and understanding, you should be aware of the following terms.
1. Plot
The plot is a series of episodes in a narrative carried out by the characters. Here are the primary
terms related to plot. You should be familiar with all of them. Obviously each work manipulates
these concepts in its own unique way.
Initial incident: the event that puts the story in gear
Rising action: the series of complications in the narrative
Climax: the highest point of interest, action or tension. More subtly, it is a turning point
in the protagonist’s behavior or thoughts.
Falling action: the series of events occurring after the climax
Denouement: the resolution that ties up the loose ends of the plot
These form the skeleton of a discussion about plot. But there are also other elements that add to
your comprehension.
Foreshadowing: hints at future events
Flashbacks: cut or piece a prior scene into the present situation
In medias res: literally, to be in the middle. This is a device that places the reader
immediately into the action.
Subplot: secondary plot that explores ideas that are different from the main storyline
Parallel plot: a secondary story line that mimics the main plot
2. Setting
Traditionally, setting is the time and place of a work, but it is also so much more. Setting is not
accidental. It is a vital part of the narrative and it can serve many functions. You should
consider setting in light of the following:
General: to underscore the universality of the work (―The Open Boat‖)
Specific: to create a definitive ambiance that impacts on the work’s possibilities (Gone
with the Wind)
Character or foil: in relation to the protagonist (The Perfect Storm)
Limiting factor: to allow the plot, character and theme to develop (The Lord of the Flies)
To reveal style (The Secret Sharer)
To reveal character (Hedda Gabler)
To reveal theme (Heart of Darkness)
3. Character
Character development can be both simple and complex. The author has a variety of methods
from which to choose. Here’s a mnemonic device that may help you analyze character: Use the
word STAR. S – what the character says; T – what the character thinks; A – how the character
acts and interacts; R – how the characterreacts.
Traditionally, characters carry out the plot and it is around the characters that the plot revolves
and the theme is developed. There can be many types of characters in a given work:
Protagonist: the main character who is the central focus of the story. For example,
Hamlet is the eponymous protagonist.
Antagonist: the opposing force. It does not always have to be a person. For example, the
sea or the fish in The Old Man in the Sea.
Major: the character or characters who play a significant role in the work
Minor: the characters who are utilized for a specific purpose, such as moving the plot
along or contrasting with a major character
Dynamic: refers to characters who undergo major changes, such as Jane Eyre
Static: generally refers to characters who remain the same throughout the story. For
instance, Brutus in Julius Caesar always considers himself to be an ―honorable man.‖
Stereotype: a character who is used to represent a class or a group
Foil: a character who provides the opportunity for comparison and contrast. For example,
in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus and Cassius are foils for each other.
Character as Hero
Once again, you may encounter many variations on the concept of hero:
Aristotelian tragic hero:
Of noble birth; larger than life
Basically good
Exhibits a fatal flaw
Makes error in judgment
Possesses hubris (excessive pride or arrogance), which causes the error in judgment
Brings about his own downfall
Has a moment realization, an epiphany
Lives and suffers
Examples: Creon in Antigone, Oedipus in Oedipus, Jason in Medea
Classical hero: a variation on the tragic hero:
Examples: Macbeth in Macbeth, Lear in King Lear, Hamlet in Hamlet
Romantic hero:
Larger than life
Possesses an air of mystery
―Saves the day‖ or the heroine
Embodies freedom, adventure and idealism
Often outside the law
Examples: Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, James Bond, Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre
Modern hero:
May be everyman
Has human weaknesses
Caught in the ironies of the human condition
Struggles for insight
Examples: Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Tom Joad in Grapes of Wrath
Hemingway hero:
Maintains a sense of humor
Exhibits grace under pressure
Examples: Santiago in The Old Man in the Sea, Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, Butch
and Sundance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Antihero: protagonist is notably lacking heroic qualities
Examples: Meursault in The Stranger, Randall McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s
Nest, Home Simpson of cartoon fame
4. Theme
Theme is the main idea, the moving force, what it’s all about, the ―why‖ behind the ―what,‖ the
universal concept or comment, the big picture, the major insight, the raison d’etre. But theme is
much more than a simple checklist. The enlightened, complex mind questions, ponders,
responds. A literary work evolves and can be validly interpreted in so many ways that it would
be a disservice to limit it to any single, exclusive theme.
Keeping an open mind, understand that the following is an overview of ways of assessing
themes. All elements of a literary work point toward the development of the theme.
In its most general sense, motif is the repetition of an image. It may be closely connected to
symbol, or it may be a thematic restatement. The following is a preparation process for
discovering and analyzing the function of motif. You can try this with any work.
Isolate some general motifs you’ve noticed in a work.
Provide specific examples to illustrate motif.
Draw inferences from your observations.
These rough inferences may lead you to a better understanding of character and theme. The
following is a sample worksheet that uses the above process to analyze motif in Tennessee
William’s A Streetcar Named Desire.
Motif Example
Thematic Implications
Color White woods (Blanche DuBois)
Blue piano
Red pajamas (Stanley)
Allan Grey
Red/white/blue = American theme
Blue/grey = Civil War?
Rape of Old South?
Destruction of a way of life
Music The blues
―Only a Paper Moon‖ (if you believed in me)
Captive maiden
Lack of reality – insanity
Fine feathered/wild cat
Trapped bird/tiger
Moth to light
Survival of the fittest
Dionysian - rape
Here’s another way to work through an idea about theme. Sometimes it’s easier to input a theme
and then prove it with support from a work. If you can defend an idea with several specifics, you
probably have identified a theme. Let’s look at Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Possible Theme
What is, is not
Appearance vs. reality1.
Hamlet is not mad, only north-northwest.
Polonius is not Claudius in Gertrude’s chamber.
Ophelia is not disinterested in Hamlet’s overtures.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not Hamlet’s ―friends.‖
Old Hamlet’s charge to Hamlet to redress his murder.
Laertes’ vow to avenge his father’s death.
Fortinbra’s victory to avenge his father.
5. Point of View
Point of view is the method the author utilizes to tell the story. It is the vantage point from
which the narrative is told.
First person: the narrator is the story’s protagonist. (I went to the store.) It is easy to
recognize because it uses the pronoun ―I‖ in the narrative (not dialogue). The first person makes
for an intensely personal narrative, revealing much about the person.
Second person: the narrator speaks using the pronoun ―you.‖ It is the least common of
voices. Some recent modern novels have been quite successful with it. The second person is
often used to create a special relationship between the reader and the work. By using ―you,‖ the
author, in effect, makes the reader a character in the book, rather than just an observer.
Third-person objective: the narrator is an onlooker reporting the story. (She went to the
store.) Here the narrator speaks using the third person pronouns ―him,‖ ―her,‖ ―he,‖ ―she,‖
―them‖ and ―they.‖ Third person narration allows the writer to maintain a distance from the
characters. Sometimes this allows the writer to judge, or cast a critical eye on the proceedings.
Sometimes the writer remains objective. In prose analysis, you may be asked to identify what
the effect of a certain word or description has on the character. You may need to identify what
the author’s intent is, if he or she is objective or subjective in tone.8
Third-person omniscient: the narrator reports the story and provides information unknown
to the character(s). (She went to the store unaware that in 3 minutes she would meet her long-lost
mother selling apples on the corner.)
Stream of consciousness: this is a narrative technique that places the reader in the mind
and thought processes of the narrator, no matter how random and spontaneous that may be (e.g.,
James Joyce’s Ulysses).
Chorus: ancient Greek plays employed a chorus as a narrative device. The chorus, as
needed, could be a character, an assembly, the playwright’s voice, the audience, an omniscient
Stage manager: this technique utilizes a character who comments omnisciently (e.g., Our
Town, The Glass Menagerie).
Interior monologue: this technique reflects the inner thoughts of the character
Note: In modern literature, authors often use multiple forms of narration. For example, in As I
Lay Dying by William Faulkner, every chapter has a different narrator.
There are many types of novels you will encounter during your study of English literature. Some
novels exhibit several qualities. A few of the most common genres are:
Epistolary: these novels utilize the convention of letter writing and are among the earliest
novel forms (e.g., Pamela, Dracula, The Color Purple)
Picaresque: this early, episodic novel form concentrates on the misadventures of a young
rogue (e.g., Huckleberry Finn, Don Quixote, Tom Jones, Candide)
Autobiographical: this readily identifiable type is always told in the first person and
allows the reader to directly interact with the protagonist (e.g., David Copperfield, The Catcher
in the Rye)
Gothic: this type of novel is concerned with the macabre, supernatural and exotic (e.g.,
Frankenstein, Interview with a Vampire, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
Historical: this form is grounded in a real context and relies heavily on setting and factual
detail (e.g., A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace)
Romantic: this novel form is idealistic, imaginative and adventuresome. The romantic
hero is the cornerstone of the novel, which often includes exotic locales (e.g.,Wuthering Heights,
Madame Bovery)
Allegorical: this type of novel is representative and symbolic. It operates on at least two
levels. Its specifics correspond to another concept (e.g., Animal Farm,Lord of the Flies)
Literary meaning is developed and revealed through various devices and techniques. What
follows is a brief listing of those terms and devices most often used in prose, poetry and drama.
Allusion: An allusion is a reference to another work, concept or situation that generally
enhances the meaning of the work that is citing it. There are many types of allusions and they
may be implicit or explicit, highly limited or broadly developed. Often, modern readers may
miss the context of a particular reference because they have a limited frame of reference. A few
common categories of allusion follow:
Mythological allusions: These often cite specific characters. Common allusions might
refer to the beauty of Aphrodite or the power of Zeus. ―She followed like Niobe, all tears‖
(Hamlet). Sometimes the entire work may refer to a mythological event. The play, Desire Under
the Elms, is a sustained allusion to the Phaedra legend.
Biblical allusions: These references may deal with circumstances as familiar as ―the mark
of Cain,‖ ―the fall from paradise,‖ ―the tribulations of Job‖ or ―destruction by flood or fire.‖ A
character may have the ―strength of Solomon‖ or the ―loyalty of Ruth.‖
Historical allusions: These kinds of allusions might refer to major historical events, such
as Napoleon meeting his Waterloo or Nixon dealing with Watergate.
Literary allusions: Often works will refer to other well-known pieces. For example,
West Side Story expects you to think of Romeo and Juliet. To describe a character as ―quixotic‖
refers to Cervantes’ great novel, Don Quixote.
Political allusions: These references would be sustained in works like Gulliver’s Travels
or Alice in Wonderland. They might also be used briefly. If a character were called the next
Julius Caesar, we might sense that he would be betrayed in some manner. The Crucible is a
historical allusion to the Salem witch trials and is also a statement about McCarthyism in the
Contemporary allusions: These are often lost when the current context is no longer in the
public eye. For example, ―valley girls‖ or ―Beavis and Butthead‖ may not remain in vogue and,
therefore, references to them would lose their effectiveness.
Ambiguity: This is the seemingly incongruous and contradictory interpretations of
meaning in a work. James Joyce and William Faulkner utilize ambiguity often in their writing.
Allegory: A work that operates on another level. The characters and events may be
interpreted for both literal and symbolic meaning. For example, Of Mice and Men by John
Steinbeck is an indictment of the exploitation of the masses and a call to unionism, as well as a
story of doomed friendship. Other allegorical works include The Old Man and the Sea by
Hemingway, ―Shooting an Elephant‖ by Orwell, Candide by Voltaire and Pilgrim’s Progress by
John Bunyan.
Parable: A parable is an allegorical story that is intended to teach. It generally provides a
moral lesson or illustrates a guiding principle.―The Nun’s Tale‖ in The Canterbury Tales by
Chaucer is a parable about vanity and pride.
Symbol: This is an image that also represents something else. Some symbols appear to
be extremely specific. In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the scarlet letter is a symbol of
Hester’s impropriety. It can also represent Hester’s pride, talent, responsibility and shame. The
reader should always be open to the broadest interpretation of the concept of symbol, whether
about character, setting, situation, detail or whatever. Another example of symbol is the splitting
of the chestnut tree in Jane Eyre. Here Bronte symbolizes the breach in the relationship between
Jane and Rochester. The white hat is The Secret Sharer by Conrad is a symbol of man’s
compassion and pity for his own kind.
Connotation: This is the implication that is suggested by a word or phrase rather than the
word or phrase’s actual, literal meaning. For example, the use of ―antique land‖ instead of
―ancient land‖ brings a richer connotation to Shelley’s ―Ozymandias.‖ The reader must be
especially open to the varied levels of meaning in poetry.
Denotation: The literal meaning of a word or phrase. If a reader is attempting to present a
valid interpretation of a literary work, he or she must pay attention to both denotation and the
connotation of the language.
Tone: Tone is difficult to define but is relatively easy to assess. It is a subtle feeling that
the author creates through diction. The following words are often used to describe tone. Notice
that they are adjectives.
Bitter Objective
Naïve Compassionate
Joyous Reverent
Ironic Spiritual
Satiric Humorous
Mock-serious Reflective
Factual Inspiring
Transition: Besides being logically organized, a coherent essay moves smoothly from
one thought to the next because its ideas are connected by transitions, repetitions of key words,
synonyms, and pronouns. Transitions indicate how one idea relates to another while repetition of
words ties ideas together. Note that there is good repetition and bad repetition. Good repetition
reinforces key concepts. Do not be fooled into thinking that ―transition‖ is an unimportant term.
An author will give you a road map through his or her story’s journey, and one of the best
indicators of direction is the transition word or phrase. Transitions help to move the reader
smoothly from one part of the text to another. Below is a list of the most effective commonly
used transitions:
Time Relationship
After Finally Later
Before First
During Second Next
Earlier Third Then
Spatial Relationship
Above Beneath
Ahead Beyond
Before Here
Over there
Comparison or Contrast
Instead Otherwise
In the same way
In contrast
Indeed On the contrary
Unlike the former
In like manner On the other hand
Cause and Effect
Accordingly Inevitably
As a result
On account of Therefore
Because of
Since Thus
Not only
As well
In addition
Indeed Most of all
In fact Most significantly
In other words
For example Specifically
As an illustration
For instance
In particular
That is
There are many processes that will help you to understand prose, poetry and drama. These
approaches may not all be suitable for every work, but they certainly are worth considering as
methods for responding to subtleties that are in the work.
Name Analysis
Consider your name. Did your folks have a specific reason for choosing it? Does it have a
family significance or a special cultural meaning? What would you choose for your name and
why? Remember, names and identity are closely linked.
Authors often choose names that bring another dimension to a character or place. A good reader
is sensitive to the implications of names. Here are a few interesting names and observations
about each:
Oedipus – swollen food, seeker of truth
Billy Budd – simple, melodic, young growth, ready to bloom
Jane Eyre – Janus/beginning, air, err, heir, ere, eerie, ire
Helen Burns – fever, fervor, mythological inspiration
Mr. Mason – the Masons are a secret fraternity; he holds the secret
Stella – star, light
Kurtz – short, curt
Willy Loman – low man
It’s an Open and Closed Case
The first thing that catches your attention should be the title. By all means, consider it carefully.
David Copperfield lets you know it will be a novel about a character. As I Lay Dying involves
plot and theme. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next involves you immediately in symbol,
character and theme.
Authors place special emphasis on the first and last impressions they make on a reader. Their
opening and closing lines of chapters or scenes are, therefore, usually very significant and should
be closely examined. (This is much like an establishing shot in a movie that sets up the audience
for future developments.)
Here’s the opening line for Chapter 1 of Jane Eyre:
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
Here are some implications of this one line: no independence, locked in, no sense of curiosity,
outside force preventing a journey, not ready to leave. Obviously, the character is not ready to
experience the outside world or to embark on her journey.
Contrast that with the last line of Chapter 1:
Four hands were laid upon me and I was borne upstairs.
This line introduces a spiritual level to the novel. It also implies that a new Jane will emerge,
and indeed she does.
Take a look at the last line of the novel:
We wended our way into the wood.
This lovely, alliterative line completes the journey. Jane and Edward have come full circle as
they stroll their way together.
In a Shakespeare play, often a couplet at the end of a scene of an act will neatly summarize or
foreshadow events. For example:
And after this, let Caesar seat him sure
For we will shake him, or worse days endure. (Julius Caesar)
Levels of Interpretation
Complex works of literature afford many avenues of interpretation. After you read a work,
consider the following areas of exploration. We use Isben’s Hedda Gableras a model:
Literal level: A young woman is frustrated in her life and eventually commits suicide.
Social level: Ibsen explores the role of women in society and presents the despair
connected with a male-dominated existence.
Psychological level: The play traces a descent into madness and the motivations for
aberrant human behavior.
Religious level: The loss of a soul to temptation, the encounter with the devil and the
inspiration of godliness are all in the play.
Sexual level: Gender issues, the Electra complex, phallic symbols, abortion and
homosexuality are all developed and explored through numerous love triangles.
Political level: The play could be read as a treatise on socialism. It denigrates capitalism
and pays homage to the ideas of Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Obviously, you need to supply
the evidence from the works to develop your interpretations in a concrete manner.
Prose Fiction
WHEN the literary historian seeks to assign to each age its favorite form of literature, he finds no
difficulty in dealing with our own time. As the Middle Ages delighted in long romantic narrative
poems, the Elizabethans in drama, the Englishman of the reigns of Anne and the early Georges in
didactic and satirical verse, so the public of our day is enamored of the novel. Almost all types of
literary production continue to appear, but whether we judge from the lists of publishers, the
statistics of public libraries, or general conversation, we find abundant evidence of the enormous
preponderance of this kind of literary entertainment in popular favor.
Though the instinct for a good story, on which the interest in fiction is based, is of immemorial
antiquity, and may well be as old as human speech, the novel, as we understand it, is
comparatively modern. The unsophisticated folk tale, represented by the contents of such
collections as that of the brothers Grimm, lacks the element of lifelikeness both in incident and
character, and is too limited in scale to be regarded as anything but a very remote ancestor. The
―Fables‖ ascribed to Æsop are mere anecdotes with a moral. The myths 3 of both the
Mediterranean and the Northern nations are not primarily concerned with human life at all. Epic
poetry, besides deriving from its verse a sustained emotional elevation usually impossible in
prose, finds its central interest, not in individual personality or the passion of love, but in some
great national or racial issue. The romances of the Middle Ages, though usually centering in the
fortunes of individuals and often dealing with love, and superficial in treatment, loose in
construction, and primarily interesting as marvelous adventure. The fabliaux of the same period,
which, with the novella of the Renaissance, belong to the ancestry of the short story of the
modern magazine, are concerned with single situations, and do not attempt to display a whole
phase of life in its subtlety and complexity. All these forms contain, in the imaginative nature of
their material, an element common to them and the novel; but the negative statements which
have been made regarding each show how much they fall short or go beyond our modern
conception of prose fiction.
Yet, though differing in these important and often fundamental respects from the modern novel,
these earlier varieties of imaginative narratives contributed in a number of ways to the making of
the type dominant to-day. In the sixteenth century, for instance, we find appearing, first in Spain
and then in England, the so-called picaresque novel, a story told in the first person by a roguish
servant, who passes from master to master and exposes both his own rascality and the seamy side
of the more fashionable life of his time. Many of the episodes are of the kind narrated in the
fabliaux and novelle, but they are strung together by the history of the rogue hero. This type has
persisted with variations, especially the loss of the servant element, down to our own time, and
reached its highest pitch of art in English in Thackeray’s ―Barry Lyndon.‖
The Elizabethan romance, represented by such a work as Sir Philip Sidney’s ―Arcadia,‖ is in
respect of realism much farther from our novel than the picaresque tale. But in its abundance of
sentiment and frequency of moral purpose, it has elements which the novel of roguery lacked.
Characterization, which so far had rarely been a prominent feature in any form of fiction except
the drama, was developed in the seventeenth century in a peculiar species of writing known as
the Character, outside of fiction altogether. The character was a short sketch of a typical figure of
the time, used largely for purposes of social satire, apparently general in its application, but not
infrequently written with an individual in view.
We find this form elaborated in a slight setting of situation and narrative in the De Coverley
papers contributed by Addison and Steele to the ―Spectator‖; and when the novel in the modern
sense arose about a generation later, the practice in the analysis and presentation of typical
human beings which the character had afforded proved of considerable service.
Perhaps more contributive than either the older story of romantic adventure or the character
sketch, was the drama. The seventeenth century had seen, especially in comedy, the drama
descending from heroic themes of kings and princes to pictures of contemporary life in ordinary
society, not highly realistic as we understand the term, yet reproducing many of the types and
much of the atmosphere existing around the author. It had cultivated the sense of a well-knit plot,
of effective situation, and of the interplay of character and action—all elements transferable to
prose narrative. And when, in the middle of the eighteenth century, we find the novel beginning
to take the place of the stage as the dominant kind of imaginative entertainment, it is easy to see
how much the younger form owed to the elder. There had long been an interchange of material
between the two species. In the time of Shakespeare, to go no farther back, the playwrights
frankly dramatized familiar stories from history, romance, and novella,and occasionally the story
of a popular play was retold in prose narrative. Both processes are familiar to-day. Many
successful novels appear later on the stage, and not a few successful plays are ―novelized.‖ There
are, of course, marked differences in the kind of thing that can be best told by narrative or action
respectively, and the failure to recognize these differences accounts for the frequent ill success of
this kind of translation. But, after all allowance for this has been made, many of the elements of
effective story-telling remain common to both novel and play.
The two chief claimants for the credit of founding the modern English novel are Daniel Defoe
and Samuel Richardson. Defoe’s stories depend for their unity chiefly upon the personality of the
leading character. They are usually series of episodes strung along the thread of the hero’s or
heroine’s life. Many of them, from their pre-occupation with the criminal classes, approach the
picaresque; and even ―Robinson Crusoe,‖ justly the most popular, is more an adventure tale than
a novel. His most notable characteristic is a singular realism, achieved by a skillful selection of
matter-of-fact details, which produces a circumstantial effect like that of a modern newspaper
report. But the realism, clever though it is, is mainly external; and comparatively little in the way
of insight into character or motive is to be found in most of his stories.
The great works of Richardson, ―Pamela,‖ ―Clarissa Harlowe,‖ and ―Sir Charles Grandison,‖
are novels without question. Not only does he achieve a large unity of action, building into a
shapely structure round his central figure a complex of persons, motives, and social conditions,
but he deals in detail with the inner life of his characters, and he gives to passion and sentiment
the pervading importance that has now become traditional in this form of literature. Sentiment,
indeed, with him often enough degenerated into sentimentality, and he dwelt on the emotional
and pathetic elements in his narrative with a deliberation and an emphasis successfully calculated
to draw from his readers the greatest possible lachrymose response.
It was largely this exaggeration of the pathetic, and the idealizing of the chief character in order
to gain an opportunity for the pathetic, that led Fielding to begin his first novel, ―Joseph
Andrews,‖ as a parody of Richardson’s ―Pamela.‖ Pamela had been pictured as a virtuous maidservant, chastely resisting the approaches of her young master, and Fielding planned the story of
Pamela’s brother Joseph, placed in a corresponding position toward his mistress, to ridicule the
absurdities of his predecessor’s method. But he soon became interested in his hero for his own
sake, and in this novel, and still more in his masterpiece, ―Tom Jones,‖ he treated human nature
with a robust frankness that earned for him the famous compliment of his disciple, Thackeray,
that he was the last English novelist who dared to draw a man.
Some of Fielding and perhaps more of Defoe is to be found in the sordid tales of Tobias
Smollett; and in Laurence Sterne we have the sentimental tendencies of Richardson carried to the
last extreme, but mingled in extraordinary fashion with a conscious humor that doubles back on
the sentiment, the whole related in a style of remarkable individuality and brilliant wit. In the
same period, Oliver Goldsmith produced his one novel, ―The Vicar of Wakefield,‖ a delicately
drawn picture of a phase of contemporary society enriched with a group of characters, broadly
typical, but delineated with an abundance of tender sympathy and gentle humor.
Meantime, there had begun in England, as elsewhere, that complex reaction against the
intellectualism of the eighteenth century known as the Romantic Movement. Among its more
obvious phases was the revival of interest in remote places and periods, and especially in the
Middle Ages. The extent to which this interest was ill-informed and merely sentimental is
nowhere better illustrated than in the rise of the so-called ―Gothic Romance.‖ This variety of
fiction is usually regarded as beginning with ―The Castle of Otranto‖ of Horace Walpole, the son
of the great Whig minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and the type of the fashionable dilettante of the
London of his day. Walpole had no real understanding or sympathy for the spirit of the Middle
Ages, but one of his fads was mediæval armor, furniture, and architecture, and out of this arose
his curious half-sincere experiment in fiction. The real leader in the production of this sort of
―thriller,‖ however, was Mrs. Radcliffe, who was followed by Clara Reeves and scores of minor
imitators. The novels of these ladies were set in a vaguely remote period of chivalry, their scenes
were ancient castles, with concealed panels, subterranean passages, and family ghosts; their plots
turned upon the usurpation of family estates by wicked uncles or villainous neighbors, and on the
reparations and sufferings of missing heirs and heroines of ―sensibility‖; and their characters
were the stereotyped figures of ordinary melodrama. A special development of this type
appeared in the ―School of Terror‖ headed by M. G. Lewis, whose nickname of ―Monk‖ Lewis
was derived from his novel of ―Ambrosio, or the Monk,‖ in which the terrifying and, it must be
said, the licentious possibilities of the Gothic romance were carried to a high pitch.
This, on the whole, rather worthless species, which had been accompanied by many feeble
attempts at a more definitely historical type of novel, culminated surprisingly in the romances of
Sir Walter Scott. Scott, however, had in his training and in his vast reading a basis for historical
and romantic fiction all his own. He stripped the Gothic type of romance of its sentimentality and
absurdity, strengthened it with his great fund of historical and legendary information, gave it
stability with his sanity and humor, and interest by his creation of a great series of vigorous and
picturesque creations. The art of fiction has gained in technical dexterity since Scott’s day,
stories now begin sooner and move more rapidly, conversation is reported with a greater lifelikeness, the tragedy in human life is more often given its due place; but the entrancing narratives
of Scott, with all their deliberation, are likely to retain their charm, and his men and women still
have blood in their veins. He created the historical novel, not only for Britain but for Europe, and
all its writers since have been proud to sit at his feet.
In the time of Doctor Johnson, Fanny Burney, the daughter of a noted musician, and lady-inwaiting to the Queen, gathered out of her experience of London society materials for her
―Evelina,‖ a novel of manners shrewdly observed and acutely chronicled. She is the chief
predecessor of Scott’s contemporary and rival, Jane Austen, the daughter of a provincial
clergyman, whose knowledge of the world was practically confined to the county in which she
lived and the watering places, like Bath, where she spent an occasional vacation. But she had tact
enough to confine her books to the life she knew; and this life, with its squires, its curates, its old
ladies, its managing mothers and eligible daughters, is pictured with a minuteness and fidelity
that has scarcely been surpassed. She writes smoothly, with an evasiveness in her characteristic
irony that makes her personality hard to grasp, while it prevents that personality from coming
between the picture and the spectator. Limited in scope, commonplace in incident, and
deliberately ordinary in type of characters, her novels have the exquisite finish and perfection of
a miniature.
Parallel in some respects to Miss Austen’s novels of English provincial life are Miss
Edgeworth’s, 16 dealing with the Irish, and Miss Ferrier’s with the Scottish field. Together these
ladies stand at the head of that still vigorous branch of fiction which in America is mapping the
life of the whole country with sectional novels, like those of New England by Miss Jewett, Miss
Wilkins, and Mrs. Riggs, of the South by James Lane Allen, George W. Cable, and Thomas
Nelson Page, of the Middle West by Meredith Nicholson and Booth Tarkington.
Fifty years ago the world of readers was divisible into the partisans of two great novelists, who,
despite their limitations, made more obvious by the development of fiction on the Continent, still
rank among the highest. William Makepeace Thackeray, who went back, as has been said, to the
work of Fielding for his models, devoted himself chiefly to the picturing of English society, in
the more restricted sense of the word, from Queen Anne to Queen Victoria. Definitely and
perhaps restrictedly English in his outlook on life, his view of the human scene is somewhat
insular. His natural sentiment was tempered by an acute perception of the meaner elements in
human nature to such a degree that his work has a strong satirical element, and some have even
been misled into thinking him characteristically a cynic. Gifted with a superb style, with
profound sympathy and insight into human emotion, and with a power of rendering the
picturesque aspects of a society, Thackeray remains a great master.
The work of his contemporary, Charles Dickens, has had an even greater popular success.
Dickens’s early career gave him a knowledge of a much humbler grade of society than
Thackeray pictures, and at the same time left him with a vivid sense of the wrongs under which
the more unfortunate members of that society suffered. This led him to devote many of his works
to the redress of social grievances, and connects him with the general humanitarian movements
of modern times. Powerful as was Dickens’s influence for reform in his own time, it seems clear
that the very specific nature of the evils he attacked is bound to impair the permanence of his
work, as it always impaired the artistic value. But we relish still his buoyant humor and geniality,
the binding interest of his complex though sometimes confusing plots, and the charm of his
immense throng of creations, typical to the point of caricature, but in their setting vital,
appealing, and eminently memorable.
In spite of the abundant humor in both Thackeray and Dickens, the novel with them had
become a very serious form, the vehicle of important moral and social truths. In the hands of its
more notable masters, serious it has remained. The prevalence of the scientific point of view, so
marked since the promulgation of the theories of Charles Darwin, has left distinct traces on the
history of fiction. The philosophical and scientific learning of George Eliot appears in her work
in the emphasis on the reign of law in the character of the individual, and, although she too
possesses a rich vein of humor, the charming playfulness in which her immediate predecessors
permitted themselves to indulge is replaced by an almost portentous realization of the
responsibilities of art and life. In Thomas Hardy, too, the scientific influence is plainly felt, the
overwhelming power of environment and circumstance being presented with a force so crushing
as to leave the reader depressed with a sense of the helplessness of the individual, without any
compensating faith in a benevolence controlling the external forces which overwhelm him. Yet
these writers display profound psychological insight, and make distinguished contributions to the
progress of the art of fiction in its advance toward a more and more complete and penetrating
portrayal of the whole of human life.
Less somber in tone, but no less brilliant in workmanship, are the novels of George Meredith.
Hampered in regard to the greater public by a style at once dazzling and obscure, Meredith has
been acclaimed by his fellow craftsmen as a great master. Beginning partly under the influence
of Dickens, Meredith gained for himself at length a peculiar and distinguished position as
perhaps the most intellectual of the English novelists, or, at least, the novelist who concerns
himself most with the intellectual processes of his character. Yet he is far from impoverished on
the emotional side, and there are few scenes in fiction more poignant in their tragedy than that
which closes ―The Ordeal of Richard Feverel.‖
Besides the influence of modern science, English fiction has latterly been much affected by
foreign models, especially French and Russian. The tracing of these streams, however, would
bring us to the consideration of men still writing, and involve us in a mass of production which
cannot be characterized here, and on which we cannot hope to have as yet a proper perspective.
The great amount of distinguished writing in the field of the English novel which has been
revealed even in this rapid survey of its history will have suggested to the reader why it was
found hopeless to try to represent it in The Harvard Classics. But these writers are easy of access,
and this is the side of literature which the modern reader is least apt to ignore. Yet it is also the
side which is most likely to be read carelessly, without consideration of purpose or method; so
that it may now be worth while to try to come to some understanding as to its aim and the
conditions of its excellence.
English literature
The focus of this article is literature written in English from anywhere, not just the literature of
England, so that it includes writers from Scotland, the whole of Ireland, Wales, as well as
literature in English from former British colonies, including the US. But until the early 19th
century, it just deals with literature from Britain and Ireland written in English; then America
starts to produce major writers. In the 20th century America and Ireland produced many of the
most significant works of literature in English, and after World War II writers from the former
British Empire also began to produce major works of literature.
Further discussion of literature in English from countries other than the UK and Ireland can be
found in see also below.
Old English literature: 450–1100
Anglo-Saxon literature, encompasses literature written in Old English in Anglo-Saxon England,
in the period after the settlement of the Saxons and other Germanic tribes in England as the Jutes
and the Angles after the withdrawal of the Romans and "ending soon after the Norman
Conquest" in 1066; that is, c. 1100–50.These works include genres such as epic poetry,
hagiography, sermons, Bible translations, legal works, chronicles, riddles, and others .In all there
are about 400 surviving manuscripts from the period.
Oral tradition was very strong in early English culture and most literary works were written to be
performed. Epic poems were thus very popular, and some, including Beowulf, have survived to
the present day. Much Old English verse in the extant manuscripts is probably adapted from the
earlier Germanic war poems from the continent. When such poetry was brought to England it
was still being handed down orally from one generation to another.
Old English poetry falls broadly into two styles or fields of reference, the heroic Germanic and
the Christian. The Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity after their arrival in England.
The most popular and well-known of Old English poetry is alliterative verse, which uses accent,
alliteration, the quantity of vowels, and patterns of syllabic accentuation. It consists of five
permutations on a base verse scheme; any one of the five types can be used in any verse. The
system was inherited from and exists in one form or another in all of the older Germanic
The epic poem Beowulf, of 3182 alliterative lines, is the most famous work in Old English and
has achieved national epic status in England, despite being set in Scandinavia. The only
surviving manuscript is the Nowell Codex, the precise date of which is debated, but most
estimates place it close to the year 1000. Beowulf is the conventional title,and its composition by
an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet, who is commonly referred to as the "Beowulf poet", is dated
between the 8th and the early 11th century.In the poem, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats in
Scandinavia, comes to the help of Hroðgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall (in Heorot)
has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel's
mother attacks the hall and is then also defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland in
Sweden and later becomes king of the Geats. After a period of fifty years has passed, Beowulf
defeats a dragon, but is fatally wounded in the battle. After his death, his attendants bury him in a
tumulus, a burial mound, in Geatland.
Found in the same manuscript as the heroic poem Beowulf, the Nowell Codex, is
Judith, a retelling of the story found in the Latin Vulgate Bible's Book of Judith
beheader of the Assyrian general Holofernes . The Old English Martyrology is
collection of hagiographies. Ælfric of Eynsham was a prolific 10th-century
hagiographies and homilies.
the poem
about the
writer of
Nearly all Anglo-Saxon authors are anonymous: twelve are known by name from Medieval
sources, but only four of those are known by their vernacular works with any certainty:
Caedmon, Bede, Alfred the Great, and Cynewulf. Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose
name is known .Cædmon's only known surviving work is Cædmon's Hymn, which probably
dates from the late 7th century. The Hymn itself was composed between 658 and 680, recorded
in the earlier part of the 8th century, and survives today in at least 14 verified manuscript copies.
The poem is one of the earliest attested examples of Old English and is, with the runic Ruthwell
Cross and Franks Casket inscriptions, one of three candidates for the earliest attested example of
Old English poetry. It is also one of the earliest recorded examples of sustained poetry in a
Germanic language. The poem, The Dream of the Rood, was inscribed upon the Ruthwell Cross.
Chronicles contained a range of historical and literary accounts, and a notable example is the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of
the Anglo-Saxons. Nine manuscripts survive in whole or in part, though not all are of equal
historical value and none of them is the original version. The oldest seems to have been started
towards the end of King Alfred's reign in the 9th century, and the most recent was written at
Peterborough Abbey in 1116. Almost all of the material in the Chronicle is in the form of annals
by year, the earliest being dated at 60 BC (the annals' date for Caesar's invasions of Britain), and
historical material follows up to the year in which the chronicle was written, at which point
contemporary records begin.
The poem Battle of Maldon also deals with history. This is the name given to a work, of
uncertain date, celebrating the real Battle of Maldon of 991, at which the Anglo-Saxons failed to
prevent a Viking invasion. Only 325 lines of the poem are extant; both the beginning and the
ending are lost.
The Wanderer is an Old English poem preserved only in an anthology known as the Exeter
Book, a manuscript dating from the late 10th century. It counts 115 lines of alliterative verse. As
often the case in Anglo-Saxon verse, the composer and compiler are anonymous, and within the
manuscript the poem is untitled. The Wanderer conveys the meditations of a solitary exile on his
past glories as a warrior in his lord's band of retainers, his present hardships and the values of
forbearance and faith in the heavenly Lord. Another poem with a religious theme, The Seafarer
is also recorded in the Exeter Book, one of the four surviving manuscripts, and consists of 124
lines, followed by the single word "Amen". In the past it has been frequently referred to as an
elegy, a poem that mourns a loss, or has the more general meaning of a simply sorrowful piece of
writing. Some scholars, however, have argued that the content of the poem also links it with
Sapiential Books, or Wisdom Literature. In his account of the poem in the Cambridge Old
English Reader, published in 2004, Richard Marsden writes, ―It is an exhortatory and didactic
poem, in which the miseries of winter seafaring are used as a metaphor for the challenge faced
by the committed Christian .
Classical antiquity was not forgotten in Anglo-Saxon England and several Old English poems
are adaptations of late classical philosophical texts. The longest is King Alfred's (849–899) 9thcentury translation of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. The Metres of Boethius are a series
of Old English alliterative poems adapted from the Latin metra of the Consolation of Philosophy
soon after Alfred's prose translation.
Middle English literature: 1100–1500
After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the written form of the Anglo-Saxon language
became less common, and under the influence of the new aristocracy, Law French became the
standard language of courts, parliament, and polite society. As the invaders integrated, their
language and literature mingled with that of the natives and the Norman dialects of the ruling
classes became Anglo-Norman. At the same time Anglo-Saxon underwent a gradual transition
into Middle English. Political power was no longer in English hands, so that the West Saxon
literary language had no more influence than any other dialect and Middle English literature was
written in the many dialects that correspond to the region, history, culture, and background of
individual writers.
In this period religious literature continued to enjoy popularity and Hagiographies were written,
adapted and translated, for example, The Life of Saint Audrey, Eadmer's contemporary
biography of Anselm of Canterbury, and the South English Legendary. At the end of the 12th
century, Layamon's Brut adapted Wace to make the first English-language work to discuss the
legends of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.It was also the first historiography written
in English since the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In this century a new form of English now known
as Middle English evolved. This is the earliest form of English which is comprehensible to
modern readers and listeners, albeit not easily.
Middle English Bible translations, notably Wyclif's Bible, helped to establish English as a
literary language. Wycliffe's Bible is the name now given to a group of Bible translations into
Middle English, that were made under the direction of, or at the instigation of John Wycliffe.
They appeared between approximately 1382 and 1395. These Bible translations were the chief
inspiration and chief cause of the Lollard movement, a pre-Reformation movement that rejected
many of the distinctive teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The term "Lollard" refers to the
followers of John Wycliffe, a prominent theologian who was dismissed from the University of
Oxford in 1381 for criticism of the Church. In the Middle Ages most Western Christian people
encountered the Bible only in the form of oral versions of scriptures, verses and homilies in Latin
(other sources were mystery plays, usually conducted in the vernacular, and popular
iconography). Though relatively few people could read at this time, Wycliffe’s idea was to
translate the Bible into the vernacular, saying "it helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in
that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence". Although unauthorized, the work was
popular and Wycliffite Bible texts are the most common manuscript literature in Middle English
and almost 200 manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible survive.
Another literary genre, that of Romances, appear in English from the 13th century, with King
Horn and Havelock the Dane, based on Anglo-Norman originals such as the Romance of Horn
(ca.1170),but it was in the 14th century that major writers in English first appeared. These are
William Langland, Geoffrey Chaucer and the so-called 'Pearl Poet', whose most famous work is
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Langland's Piers Plowman (written ca. 1360–1387) or Visio Willelmi de Petro Plowman
(William's Vision of Piers Plowman) is a Middle English allegorical narrative poem, written in
unrhymed alliterative verse.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late-14th-century Middle English alliterative romance. It is
one of the better-known Arthurian stories of an established type known as the "beheading game".
Developing from Welsh, Irish and English tradition, Sir Gawain highlights the importance of
honour and chivalry. It is an important poem in the romance genre, which typically involves a
hero who goes on a quest that tests his prowess. "Preserved in the same manuscript with Sir
Gawayne were three other poems, now generally accepted as the work of its author. These are
two alliterative poems of moral teaching, "Patience" and "Purity", and an intricate elegiac poem,
Pearl. The author of Sir Gawayne and the other poems is frequently referred to as 'the Pearl Poet'.
" The English dialect of these poems from the Midlands is markedly different from that of the
London-based Chaucer and, though influenced by French in the scenes at court in Sir Gawain,
there are in the poems also many dialect words, often of Scandinavian origin, that belonged to
northwest England.
Middle English lasts up until the 1470s, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London-based
English, became widespread and the printing press regularized the language. The prolific
Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 – 1400), whose works were written in Chancery Standard, was the
first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. Among his many works,
which include The Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Legend of Good Women and
Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer is best known today for The Canterbury Tales. This is a collection
of stories written in Middle English (mostly written in verseal though some are in prose), that are
presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a
journey from South wark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The
prize for this contest is a free meal at theTabard Inn at South wark on their return. Chaucer is a
significant figure in developing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English, at a time when
the dominant literary languages in England were still French and Latin. The first recorded
association of Valentine's Day with romantic love is in Chaucer's Parlement of Foules of 1382.
At this time literature was being written in various languages in England, including Latin,
Norman-French, English, and the multilingual nature of the audience for literature in the 14th
century can be illustrated by the example of John Gower (c. 1330 – October 1408). A
contemporary of William Langland and a personal friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, Gower is
remembered primarily for three major works, the Mirroir de l'Omme, Vox Clamantis, and
Confessio Amantis, three long poems written in Anglo-Norman, Latin and, Middle English
respectively, which are united by common moral and political themes.
Significant religious works were also created in the 14th century, including works by an
anonymous author in the manuscript called theKatherine Group, and by Julian of Norwich
(ca.1342 – ca. 1416), and Richard Rolle. Julian's Revelations of Divine Love (circa 1393) is
believed to be the first published book written by a woman in the English language; it chronicles,
to some extent, her extensivepilgrimages to various holy sites in Europe and Asia.
A major work from the 15th century is Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, which was
printed by Caxton in 1485. This is compilation of some French and English Arthurian romances,
and was among the earliest books printed in England. it was popular and influential in the later
revival of interest in the Arthurian legends.
19th-century literature
Romanticism (1798–1837)was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in
Europe toward the end of the 18th century. Various dates are given for the Romantic period in
British literature, but here the publishing of Lyrical Ballads in 1798 is taken as the beginning,
and the crowning of Queen Victoria in 1837 as its end, even though, for example, William
Wordsworth lived until 1850 and both Robert Burns and William Blake published before 1798.
The writers of this period, however, "did not think of themselves as 'Romantics' ", and the term
was first used by critics of the Victorian period .Romanticism arrived later in other parts of the
English-speaking world.
The Romantic period was one of major social change in England, because of the depopulation of
the countryside and the rapid development of overcrowded industrial cities, that took place in the
period roughly between 1750 and 1850. The movement of so many people in England was the
result of two forces: the Agricultural Revolution, that involved the Enclosure of the land, drove
workers off the land, and the Industrial Revolution which provided them employment, "in the
factories and mills, operated by machines driven by steam-power". Indeed Romanticism may be
seen in part as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution ,though it was also a revolt against
aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, as well a reaction against the
scientific rationalization of nature .The French Revolution was an especially important influence
on the political thinking of many of the Romantic poets.
The landscape is often prominent in the poetry of this period, so that it the Romantics, especially
perhaps Wordsworth, are often described as 'nature poets'. However, the longer Romantic 'nature
poems' have a wider concern because they are usually meditations on "an emotional problem or
personal crisis".
Robert Burns (1759–1796) was a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he
became a cultural icon in Scotland. As well as writing poems, Burns also collected folk songs
from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect
was published in 1786. Among poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the
world are, "Auld Lang Syne", "A Red, Red Rose", "A Man's A Man for A' That", "To a Louse",
"To a Mouse", "The Battle of Sherramuir", "Tam o' Shanter" and "Ae Fond Kiss".
The poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake (1757–1827) was another the early Romantic
poets. Largely disconnected from the major streams of the literature of the time, Blake was
generally unrecognised during his lifetime, but is now considered a seminal figure in the history
of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. Considered mad by contemporaries for
his idiosyncratic views, Blake is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and
creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. Among his most
important works are Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794) "and profound
and difficult 'prophecies' " such as Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), The First Book of
Urizen (1794), Milton (1804–?11), and "Jerusalem: the Emanation of the Giant Albion" (1804–
After Blake, among the earliest Romantics were the Lake Poets, a small group of friends,
including William Wordsworth (1770–1850),Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), Robert
Southey (1774–1843) and journalist Thomas de Quincey (1785–1859). However, at the time
Walter Scott (1771–1832) was the most famous poet. Scott achieved immediate success with his
long narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1805, followed by the full epic poem
Marmion in 1808. Both were set in the distant Scottish past.
The early Romantic Poets brought a new emotionalism and introspection, and their emergence is
marked by the first romantic manifesto in English literature, the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads
(1798). In it Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the elements of a new type of poetry, one
based on the "real language of men", and which avoids the poetic diction of much 18th-century
poetry. Here, Wordsworth gives his famous definition of poetry, as "the spontaneous overflow of
powerful feelings" which "takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." The poems in
Lyrical Ballads were mostly by Wordsworth, though Coleridge contributed, one of the great
poems of English literature ,the long "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", a tragic ballad about the
survival of one sailor through a series of supernatural events on his voyage through the South
Seas, and which involves the symbolically significant slaying of an albatross. Coleridge is also
especially remembered for "Kubla Khan", "Frost at Midnight", "Dejection: an Ode", "Chistabel",
as well as the major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on
Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to
English-speaking culture .Coleridge and Wordsworth, along with Carlyle, were a major
influence, through Emerson, on American transcendentalism. Among Wordsworth's most
important poems, are "Michael", "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey",
"Resolution and Independence", "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early
Childhood" and the long, autobiographical, epic The Prelude. The Prelude was begun in 1799 but
published posthumously in 1850. Wordsworth's poetry is noteworthy for how he "inverted the
traditional hierarchy of poetic genres, subjects, and style by elevating humble and rustic life and
the plain into the main subject and medium of poetry in general", and how, in Coleridge's words,
he awakens in the reader "freshness of sensation" in his depiction of familiar, commonplace
Robert Southey (1774–1843) was another of the so-called "Lake Poets", and Poet Laureate for 30
years from 1813 to his death in 1843. Although his fame has been long eclipsed by that of his
contemporaries and friends William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Thomas De
Quincey (1785–1859) was an English essayist, best known for his Confessions of an English
Opium-Eater(1821), an autobiographical account of his laudanum use and its effect on his life.
William Hazlitt (1778–1830), friend of both Coleridge and Wordsworth, is another important
essayist at this time, though today he is best known for his literary criticism, especially
Characters of Shakespeare's Plays (1817–18).
The second generation of Romantic poets includes Lord Byron (1788–1824), Percy Bysshe
Shelley(1792–1822) and John Keats (1795–1821). Byron, however, was still influenced by 18thcentury satirists and was, perhaps the least 'romantic' of the three, preferring "the brilliant wit of
Pope to what he called the 'wrong poetical system' of his Romantic contemporaries". Byron
achieved enormous fame and influence throughout Europe with works exploiting the violence
and drama of their exotic and historical settings. Goethe called Byron "undoubtedly the greatest
genius of our century".A trip to Europe resulted in the first two cantos of Childe Harold's
Pilgrimage (1812), a mock-heroic epic of a young man's adventures in Europe, but also a sharp
satire against London society. The poem contains elements thought to be autobiographical, as
Byron generated some of the storyline from experience gained during his travels between 1809
and 1811. However, despite the success of Childe Harold and other works, Byron was forced to
leave England for good in 1816 and seek asylum on the Continent, because, among other things,
of his alleged incestuous affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh.Here he joined Percy Bysshe
and Mary Shelley, with his secretary John William Polidori on the shores of Lake Geneva,
during the 'year without a summer'. Polidori's The Vampyre was published in 1819, creating the
literary vampire genre. This short story was inspired by the life of Lord Byron and his poem The
Giaour (1813).between 1819 and 1824 Byron published his unfinished epic satire Don Juan,
which, though initially condemned by the critics, "was much admired by Goethe who translated
part of it".
Shelley is perhaps best known for poems such as Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind, To a
Skylark, Music, When Soft Voices Die,The Cloud, The Masque of Anarchy and Adonaïs, an
elegy written on the death of Keats. Shelley's early profession of atheism, in the tract "The
Necessity of Atheism", led to his expulsion from Oxford, and branded him as a radical agitator
and thinker, setting an early pattern of marginalization and ostracism from the intellectual and
political circles of his time. His close circle of admirers, however, included the most progressive
thinkers of the day, including his future father-in-law, philosopher William Godwin. A work like
Queen Mab (1813) reveal Shelley, "as the direct heir to the French and British revolutionary
intellectuals of the 1790s.Shelley became an idol of the next three or four generations of poets,
including important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets such as Robert Browning, and Dante
Gabriel Rossetti, as well as later W. B. Yeats. Shelley's influential poem The Masque of Anarchy
(1819) calls for nonviolence in protest and political action. It is perhaps the first modern
statement of the principle of nonviolent protest .Mahatma Gandhi's passive resistance was
influenced and inspired by Shelley's verse, and Gandhi would often quote the poem to vast
Mary Shelley (1797–1851) is remembered as the author of Frankenstein (1818). The plot of this
is said to have come from a waking dream she had, in the company of Percy Shelley, Lord
Byron, and John Polidori, following a conversation about galvanism and the feasibility of
returning a corpse or assembled body parts to life, and on the experiments of the 18th-century
natural philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin, who was said to have animated dead matter.
Sitting around a log fire at Byron's villa, the company also amused themselves by reading
German ghost stories, prompting Byron to suggest they each write their own supernatural tale.
Though John Keats shared Byron and Shelley's radical politics, "his best poetry is not political",
but is especially noted for its sensuous music and imagery, along with a concern with material
beauty and the transience of life .Among his most famous works are: "The Eve of St Agnes",
"Ode to Psyche", "La Belle Dame sans Merci", "Ode to a Nightingale", "Ode on a Grecian Urn",
"Ode on Melancholy", "To Autumn" and the incomplete Hyperion, a 'philosophical' poem in
blank verse, which was "conceived on the model of Milton's Paradise Lost ". Keats' letters "are
among the finest in English" and important "for their discussion of his asthetic ideas", including
'negative capability' ". Keats has always been regarded as a major Romantic, "and his stature as a
poet has grown steadily through all changes of fashion".
Another important poet in this period was John Clare (1793–1864), Clare was the son of a farm
labourer , who came to be known for his celebratory representations of the English countryside
and his lamentation for the changes taking place in rural England. His poetry underwent a major
re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is often now considered to be among the most
important 19th-century poets. His biographer Jonathan Bate states that Clare was "the greatest
labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully
of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self".
George Crabbe (1754–1832) was an English poet who, during the Romantic period, wrote
"closely observed, realistic portraits of rural life in the heroic couplets of the Augustan age".
Lord Byron who was an admirer of Crabbe's poetry, described him as "nature's sternest painter,
yet the best". Modern critic Frank Whitehead has said that "Crabbe, in his verse tales in
particular, is an important–indeed, a major–poet whose work has been and still is seriously
undervalued."Crabbe's works include The Village(1783), Poems (1807), The Borough (1810),
and his poetry collections Tales (1812) and Tales of the Hall (1819).
One of the most popular novelist of the era was Sir Walter Scott, whose historical romances
inspired a generation of painters, composers, and writers throughout Europe, including Franz
Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn and J. M. W. Turner. His novels also inspired many operas, of
which the most famous are Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) by Donizetti and Bizet’s, La jolie fille
de Perth, The Fair Maid of Perth (1867). Scott's novel-writing career was launched in 1814 with
Waverley, often called the first historical novel, and was followed by Ivanhoe. His popularity in
England and further abroad did much to form the modern stereotype of Scottish culture.
TheWaverley Novels, including The Antiquary, Old Mortality, The Heart of Midlothian, are now
generally regarded as Scott's masterpieces.
Jane Austen's works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and
are part of the transition to 19th-century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic,
highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security
.Austen brings to light the hardships women faced, who usually did not inherit money, could not
work and where their only chance in life depended on the man they married. She reveals not only
the difficulties women faced in her day, but also what was expected of men and of the careers
they had to follow. This she does with wit and humour and with endings where all characters,
good or bad, receive exactly what they deserve. Her work brought her little personal fame and
only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew's A
Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become
accepted as a major writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen
scholarship and the emergence of a Janeite fan culture. Austen's works include Pride and
Prejudice (1813) Sense and Sensibility (1811), Mansfield Park ,Persuasion and Emma
Romanticism in America
The European Romantic movement reached America in the early 19th century. American
Romanticism was just as multifaceted and individualistic as it was in Europe. Like the
Europeans, the American Romantics demonstrated a high level of moral enthusiasm,
commitment to individualism and the unfolding of the self, an emphasis on intuitive perception,
and the assumption that the natural world was inherently good, while human society was filled
with corruption. Romanticism became popular in American politics, philosophy and art. The
movement appealed to the revolutionary spirit of America as well as to those longing to break
free of the strict religious traditions of early settlement. The Romantics rejected rationalism and
religious intellect. It appealed to those in opposition of Calvinism, which includes the belief that
the destiny of each individual is preordained.
Romantic Gothic literature made an early appearance with Washington Irving's The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow (1820) and Rip Van Winkle (1819), There are picturesque "local color" elements
in Washington Irving's essays and especially his travel books. From 1823 the prolific and
popular novelist James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) began publishing his historical romances
of frontier and Indian life, to create a unique form of American literature. Cooper is best
remembered for his numerous sea-stories and the historical novels known as the Leatherstocking
Tales, with their emphasis on heroic simplicity and their fervent landscape descriptions of an
already-exotic mythicized frontier peopled by "noble savages", exemplified by Uncas, from The
Last of the Mohicans (1826) show the influence of Rousseau's (1712–78) philosophy. Edgar
Allan Poe's tales of the macabre that first appeared in the early 1830s, and his balladic poetry
were more influential in France than at home.
The Romantic movement in America continued well into the 19th-century and writers like
Hawthorne and Melville are discussed in the next section.
Victorian literature (1837–1901)
The Victorian novel
It was in the Victorian era (1837–1901) that the novel became the leading literary genre in
English. Women played an important part in this rising popularity both as authors and as readers.
Monthly serializing of fiction encouraged this surge in popularity, due to a combination of the
rise of literacy, technological advances in printing, and improved economics of distribution.
Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers, was published in twenty parts between April 1836 and
November 1837. Both Dickens and Thackeray frequently published this way. However, the
standard practice of publishing three volume editions continued until the end of the 19th century.
Circulating libraries, that allowed books to be borrowed for an annual subscription, were a
further factor in the rising popularity of the novel.
The 1830s and 1840s saw the rise of social novel, that "arose out of the social and political
upheavals which followed the Reform Act of 1832".This was in many ways a reaction to rapid
industrialization, and the social, political and economic issues associated with it, and was a
means of commenting on abuses of government and industry and the suffering of the poor, who
were not profiting from England's economic prosperity. Stories of the working class poor were
directed toward middle class to help create sympathy and promote change. An early example is
Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist (1837–38). Other significant early example of this genre are Sybil,
or The Two Nations, a novel by Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81) and Charles Kingsley's (1819–
75)Alton Locke (1849).
Charles Dickens (1812–70) emerged on the literary scene in the late 1830s and soon became
probably the most famous novelist in the history of English literature. One of his most popular
works to this day is A Christmas Carol (1843). Dickens fiercely satirized various aspects of
society, including the workhouse in Oliver Twist, the failures of the legal system in Bleak House,
the dehumanizing effect of money in Dombey and Son and the influence of the philosophy of
utilitarianism in factories, education etc., in Hard Times. However some critics have suggested
that Dickens' sentimentality blunts the impact of his satire .In more recent years Dickens has
been most admired for his later novels, such as Dombey and Son (1846–48), Bleak House
(1852–53) and Little Dorrit (1855–57), Great Expectations (1860–61), and Our Mutual Friend
(1864–65.An early rival to Dickens was William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–63), who during
the Victorian period ranked second only to him, but he is now much less read and is known
almost exclusively for Vanity Fair (1847). In that novel he satirizes whole swaths of humanity
while retaining a light touch. It features his most memorable character, the engagingly roguish
Becky Sharp.
The Brontë sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne, were other significant novelists in the 1840s and
1850s. Their novels caused a sensation when they were first published but were subsequently
accepted as classics. They had written compulsively from early childhood and were first
published, at their own expense, in 1846 as poets under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton
Bell. The following year the three sisters each published a novel. Charlotte Brontë's (1816–55)
work was Jane Eyre, which is written in an innovative style that combines naturalism with gothic
melodrama, and broke new ground in being written from an intensely first-person female
perspective .Emily Brontë's (1818–48) novel was Wuthering Heights and, according to Juliet
Gardiner, "the vivid sexual passion and power of its language and imagery impressed,
bewildered and appalled reviewers," and led the Victorian public and many early reviewers to
think that it had been written by a man. Even though it received mixed reviews when it first
came out, and was often condemned for its portrayal of amoral passion, the book subsequently
became an English literary classic .The third Brontë novel of 1847 was Anne Brontë's (1820–49)
Agnes Grey, which deals with the lonely life of a governess. Anne Brontë's second novel, The
Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), is perhaps the most shocking of the Brontës' novels. In seeking
to present the truth in literature, Anne's depiction of alcoholism and debauchery was profoundly
disturbing to 19th-century sensibilities. Charlotte Brontë'sShirley was published in 1849, Villette
in 1853, and The Professor in 1857.
Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–65) was also a successful writer and her first novel, Mary Barton, was
published anonymously in 1848. Gaskell's North and South contrasts the lifestyle in the
industrial north of England with the wealthier south. Even though her writing conforms to
Victorian conventions, Gaskell usually frames her stories as critiques of contemporary attitudes,
and her early works focused on factory work in the Midlands. She always emphasised the role of
women, with complex narratives and dynamic female characters.
Anthony Trollope's (1815–82) was one of the most successful, prolific and respected English
novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-loved works are set in the imaginary west
country county of Barsetshire, including The Warden (1855) and Barchester Towers(1857).
Trollope's novels portray the lives of the landowning and professional classes of early Victorian
England. Henry James suggested that Trollope's greatest achievement was "great apprehension
of the real", and that "what made him so interesting, came through his desire to satisfy us on this
George Eliot's (Mary Ann Evans (1819–80) first novel Adam Bede was published in 1859, and
she was a major novelist of the mid-Victorian period. Her works, especially Middlemarch
(1871–72), are important examples of literary realism, and are admired for their combination of
high Victorian literary detail, with an intellectual breadth that removes them from the narrow
geographic confines they often depict, that has led to comparisons with Tolstoy. While her
reputation declined somewhat after her death, in the 20th century she was championed by a new
breed of critics, most notably by Virginia Woolf, who called Middlemarch "one of the few
English novels written for grown-up people".Various film and television adaptations of Eliot's
books have also introduced her to a wider readership.
George Meredith (1828-1909) is best remembered for his novels The Ordeal of Richard Fevered
(1859) and The Egotist (1879). "His reputation stood very high well into" the 20th-century but
then seriously declined.
An interest in rural matters and the changing social and economic situation of the countryside is
seen in the novels of Thomas Hardy (1840–1928). A Victorian realist, in the tradition of George
Eliot, he was also influenced both in his novels and poetry by Romanticism, especially by
William Wordsworth. Charles Darwin is another important influence on Thomas Hardy. Like
Charles Dickens he was also highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focussed
more on a declining rural society. While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life, and regarded
himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898, so that initially he
gained fame as the author of such novels as, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of
Caster bridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). He ceased
writing novels following adverse criticism of this last novel. In novels such as The Mayor of
Caster bridge and Tess of the d'Urbervilles Hardy attempts to create modern works in the genre
of tragedy, that are modelled on the Greek drama, especially Aeschylus and Sophocles, though in
prose, not poetry, fiction, not a play, and with characters of low social standing, not nobility.
Another significant late-19th-century novelist is George Robert Gissing (1857–1903), who
published 23 novels between 1880 and 1903. His best known novel is New Grub Street (1891).
Important developments occurred in genre fiction in this era.
Although pre-dated by John Ruskin's The King of the Golden River in 1841, the history of the
modern fantasy genre is generally said to begin with George MacDonald, the influential author
of The Princess and the Goblin and Phantastes (1858). William Morris was a popular English
poet who also wrote several fantasy novels during the latter part of the 19th century. Wilkie
Collins' epistolary novel The Moonstone (1868), is generally considered the first detective novel
in the English language, while The Woman in White is regarded as one of the finest sensation
novels. H. G. Wells's (1866–1946) writing career began in the 1890s with science fiction novels
like The Time Machine (1895), and The War of the Worlds (1898) which describes an invasion
of late Victorian England by Martians, and Wells is seen, along with Frenchman Jules Verne
(1828–1905), as a major figure in the development of the science fiction genre. He also wrote
realistic fiction about the lower middle class in novels like Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr
Polly (1910).
American novel (From Romanticism to realism)
(See also the discussion of American literature under Romanticism above).
By the mid-19th century, the pre-eminence of literature from the British Isles began to be
challenged by writers from the former American colonies. This included one of the creators of
the new genre of the short story, and inventor of the detective story Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49).
A major influence on American writers at this time was Romanticism. The Romantic movement
gave rise to New England Transcendentalism which portrayed a less restrictive relationship
between God and Universe. The publication of Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1836 essay Nature is
usually considered the watershed moment at which transcendentalism became a major cultural
movement. The new philosophy presented the individual with a more personal relationship with
God. Transcendentalism and Romanticism appealed to Americans in a similar fashion, for both
privileged feeling over reason, individual freedom of expression over the restraints of tradition
and custom. It often involved a rapturous response to nature. It encouraged the rejection of harsh,
rigid Calvinism, and promised a new blossoming of American culture. Other significant
transcendentalists were Henry David Thoreau(1817–62), the naturalist John Muir, (1838-1914),
and Louisa May Alcott (1832–88) author of Little Women.
In 1837, the young Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) collected some of his stories as TwiceTold Tales, a volume rich in symbolism and occult incidents. Hawthorne went on to write fulllength "romances", quasi-allegorical novels that explore such themes as guilt, pride, and
emotional repression in his native New England. The romantic American novel developed fully
with Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850), a stark drama of a woman cast out of her
community for committing adultery. Hawthorne's fiction had a profound impact on his friend
Herman Melville (1819–1891). Melville first made a name for himself by turning material from
his seafaring days into exotic and sensational sea narrative novels. Inspired by Hawthorne's focus
on allegories and dark psychology, Melville went on to write romances replete with
philosophical speculation. In Moby-Dick (1851), an adventurous whaling voyage becomes the
vehicle for examining such themes as obsession, the nature of evil, and human struggle against
the elements. In another important work, the short novel Billy Budd, Melville dramatizes the
conflicting claims of duty and compassion on board a ship in time of war. His books sold poorly,
and he had been long forgotten by the time of his death, but Melville was rediscovered in the
early decades of the 20th century. Later Transcen dentalist writers are Henry David Thoreau
Walden, (1854) and poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. By the 1880s, however,
psychological and social realism were competing with Romanticism in the novel.
American realist fiction has its beginnings in the 1870s with the works of Twain, Howell and
Mark Twain (the pen name used by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910) was the first major
American writer to be born away from the East Coast – in the border state of Missouri. His
regional masterpieces were the memoir Life on the Mississippi and the novels Adventures of
Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Twain's style – influenced by
journalism, wedded to the vernacular, direct and unadorned but also highly evocative and
irreverently humorous – changed the way Americans write their language. His characters speak
like real people and sound distinctively American, using local dialects, newly invented words,
and regional accents. William Dean Howells also represented the realist tradition through his
novels, including The Rise of Silas Lapham(1885). Realism also influenced American drama of
the period, in part through the works of Howells but also through the works of such Europeans as
Ibsen and Zola.
The most significant American novelist of the late 19th-century was Henry James (1843–1916).
Although born in New York City, he spent most of his adult years in England. Many of his
novels centre on Americans who live in or travel to Europe. James confronted the Old WorldNew World dilemma by writing directly about it. The first period of James's fiction, usually
considered to have culminated in The Portrait of a Lady, concentrated on the contrast between
Europe and America. The style of these novels is generally straightforward and, though
personally characteristic, well within the norms of 19th century fiction. Roderick Hudson (1875)
is a Künstler roman that traces the development of the title character, an extremely talented
sculptor. Although Roderick Hudson featured mostly American characters in a European setting,
James made the Europe–America contrast even more explicit in his next novel. In fact, the
contrast could be considered the leading theme of The American (1877). Other works of James
first period include Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), and James
concluded the first phase of his career with a novel that remains his most popular piece of long
fiction. Later works of James second period, that have a more involved, psychological approach,
include The Bostonians (1886), The Princess Casamassima (1886), and What Maisie Knew
Genre fiction
The premier ghost story writer of the 19th century was Sheridan Le Fanu. His works include the
macabre mystery novel Uncle Silas(1865), and his Gothic novella Carmilla (1872), tells the story
of a young woman's susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire.Bram Stoker's horror
story Dracula (1897), belongs to a number of literary genres, including vampire literature, horror
fiction, gothic novel and invasion literature.
Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant London-based "consulting detective",
famous for his intellectual prowess. Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories
featuring Holmes, from 1880 up to 1907, with a final case in 1914. All but four Conan Doyle
stories are narrated by Holmes' friend, assistant, and biographer, Dr. Watson. The Lost World
literary genre was inspired by real stories of archaeological discoveries by imperial adventurers.
H. Rider Haggard wrote one of the earliest examples, King Solomon's Mines, in 1885.
Contemporary European politics and diplomatic manoeuvrings informed Anthony Hope's
swashbuckling Ruritanian adventure novel The Prisoner of Zenda (1894).
Literature for children developed as a separate genre. Some works become internationally
known, such as those of Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel
Through the Looking-Glass. Adventure novels, such as those of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–
94), are generally classified as for children. Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
(1886), depicts the dual personality of a kind and intelligent physician who turns into a
psychopathic monster after imbibing a drug intended to separate good from evil in a personality.
His Kidnapped (1886) is a fast-pacedhistorical novel set in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of
1745, and Treasure Island 1883, is the classic pirate adventure. At the end of the Victorian era
and leading into the Edwardian era, Beatrix Potter was an author and illustrator, best known for
her children’s books, which featured animal characters. In her thirties, Potter published the
highly successful children's book The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. Potter eventually went on to
published 23 children's books and become a wealthly woman.
Victorian poetry
The leading poets during the Victorian period were Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892), Robert
Browning (1812–89), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–61), and Matthew Arnold (1822–88).
The poetry of this period was heavily influenced by the Romantics, but also went off in its own
directions.Particularly notable was the development of the dramatic monologue, a form used by
many poets in this period, but perfected by Browning. Literary criticism in the 20th century
gradually drew attention to the links between Victorian poetry and modernism.
Tennyson was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign. He
was described by T. S. Eliot, as "the greatest master of metrics as well as melancholia", and as
having "the finest ear of any English poet since Milton". Browning main achievement was in
dramatic monologues such as "My Last Duchess", "Andrea del Sarto" and "The Bishop Orders
his Tomb", which were published in his two-volume Men and Women in 1855. In his
introduction to the Oxford University Press edition of Browning's Poems 1833–1864, Ian Jack
comments, that Thomas Hardy ,Rudyard Kipling, Ezra Pound and T S Eliot "all learned from
Browning's exploration of the possibilities of dramatic poetry and of colloquial idiom".
Tennyson was also a pioneer in the use of the dramatic monologue, in "The Lotus-Eaters"
(1833), "Ulysses" (1842), and '"Tithonus" (1860). While Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the
wife of Robert Browning she had established her reputation as a major poet before she met him.
Her most famous work is the sequence of 44 sonnets "Sonnets from the Portuguese" published in
Poems (1850). Matthew Arnold's reputation as a poet has "within the past few decades plunged
drastically,"and he is best remembered now for his critical works, like Culture and Anarchy
(1869), and his 1867 poem "Dover Beach". This poem depicts a nightmarish world from which
the old religious verities have receded. It is sometimes held up as an early, if not the first,
example of the modern sensibility. Arnold was both an admirer and a critic of Romantic poetry,
and has been seen as another a bridge between Romanticism and Modernism. In many of his
poems can be seen the psychological and emotional conflicts, the uncertainty of purpose, above
all the feeling of disunity within oneself or of the individual's estrangement from society which is
today called alienation and is thought of as a modern phenomenon. As Kenneth Allott said in
1954: "If a poet can ever teach us to understand what we feel, and how to live with our feelings,
then Arnold is a contemporary."
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) was a poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He founded
the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais,
and was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced
by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Rossetti's art was
characterised by its sensuality and its medieval revivalism. Poetry and image are closely
entwined in Rossetti's work and he frequently wrote sonnets to accompany his pictures. He also
illustrated poems by his sister Christina Rossetti such as Goblin Market.
While Arthur Clough (1819–61) was a more minor figure of this era, he has been described as "a
fine poet whose experiments in extending the range of literary language and subject were ahead
of his time". Clough has been as one of the most forward-looking English poets of the 19th
century, in part due to a sexual frankness that shocked his contemporaries. He often went against
the popular religious and social ideals of his day, and his verse is said to have the melancholy
and the perplexity of an age of transition, although Through a Glass Darkly suggests that he did
not lack certain religious beliefs of his own.
George Meredith (1828-1909) was an English novelist and poet, who is remembered for his
innovative collection of poems Modern Love(1862).
Towards the end of the 19th century, English poets began to take an interest in French
Symbolism and Victorian poetry entered a decadent fin-de-siècle phase.Two groups of poets
emerged in the 1890s, the Yellow Book poets who adhered to the tenets ofAestheticism,
including Algernon Charles Swinburne, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Symons and the Rhymers' Club
group, that included Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson and Irishman William Butler Yeats. Yeats
went on to become an important modernist in the 20th century. Also in the 1890s A. E. Housman
published at his own expense A Shropshire Lad, a cycle of 63 poems, because he could not find a
publisher .At first selling slowly, it rapidly became a lasting success, and its appeal to English
musicians had helped to make it widely known before World War I, when its themes struck a
powerful chord with English readers. A Shropshire Ladhas been in print continuously since May
1896. The poems are pervaded by deep pessimism and preoccupation with death, without
religious consolation. Housman wrote most of them while living in Highgate, London, before
ever visiting that part of Shropshire (about thirty miles from his birthplace), which he presented
in an idealised pastoral light, as his 'land of lost content'.
The nonsense verse of Edward Lear, along with the novels and poems of Lewis Carroll, is
regarded as a precursor of surrealism. In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of
limericks that went through three editions and helped popularise the form. In 1865 The History
of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipple-Popple was published, and in 1867 his most famous
piece of nonsense,The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of his patron
Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby. Many other works followed. Lewis Carroll's most famous
writings are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel Through the LookingGlass, as well as the poems "The Hunting of the Snark" and "Jabberwocky".
Writers of comic verse included the dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator W. S. Gilbert (1836–
1911), who is best known for his fourteen comic operas produced in collaboration with the
composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, of which the most famous include H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of
Penzance and one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre, The
In the 21st century two Victorian poets who published little in the 19th century, Thomas Hardy
(1840–1928) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), are now regarded as major poets. While
Hardy first established his reputation the late 19th century with novels, he also wrote poetry
throughout his career. However he did not publish his first collection until 1898, so that he tends
to be treated as a 20th-century poet. Hopkins Poems were published posthumously by Robert
Bridges in 1918. Hopkins' poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland", written in 1875, first
introduced what Hopkins called "sprung rhythm." As well as developing new rhythmic effects,
Hopkins "was also very interested in ways of rejuvenating poetic language" and frequently
"employed compound and unusual word combinations". Several 20th-century poets, including
W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and American Charles Wright, "turned to his work for its
inventiveness and rich aural patterning".
American poets
America also produced major poets in the 19th century, such as Emily Dickinson (1830–86) and
Walt Whitman (1819–92). America's two greatest 19th-century poets could hardly have been
more different in temperament and style. Walt Whitman (1819–1892) was a working man, a
traveler, a self-appointed nurse during the American Civil War (1861–1865), and a poetic
innovator. His major work was Leaves of Grass, in which he uses a free-flowing verse and lines
of irregular length to depict the all-inclusiveness of American democracy. Whitman was also a
poet of the body, or "the body electric," as he called it. In Studies in Classic American Literature,
the English novelist D. H. Lawrence wrote that Whitman "was the first to smash the old moral
conception that the soul of man is something 'superior' and 'above' the flesh". Emily Dickinson
(1830–1886), on the other hand, lived the sheltered life of a genteel, unmarried woman in smalltown Amherst, Massachusetts. Within its formal structure, her poetry is ingenious, witty,
exquisitely wrought, and psychologically penetrating. Her work was unconventional for its day,
and little of it was published during her lifetime. Many of her poems dwell on death, often with a
mischievous twist. One, "Because I could not stop for Death", begins, "He kindly stopped for
me." The opening of another Dickinson poem toys with her position as a woman in a maledominated society and an unrecognized poet: "I'm nobody! Who are you? / Are you nobody
Postmodern literature
Postmodern literature is literature characterized by heavy reliance on techniques like
fragmentation, paradox, and questionable narrators, and is often (though not exclusively) defined
as a style or trend which emerged in the post–World War II era. Postmodern works are seen as a
reaction against Enlightenment thinking and Modernist approaches to literature.
Postmodern literature, like postmodernism as a whole, tends to resist definition or classification
as a "movement". Indeed, the convergence of postmodern literature with various modes of
critical theory, particularly reader-response and deconstructionist approaches, and the
subversions of the implicit contract between author, text and reader by which its works are often
characterised, have led to pre-modern fictions such as Cervantes' Don Quixote (1605,1615) and
Laurence Sterne's eighteenth-century satire Tristram Shandy being retrospectively inducted into
the fold.
While there is little consensus on the precise characteristics, scope, and importance of
postmodern literature, as is often the case with artistic movements, postmodern literature is
commonly defined in relation to a precursor. For example, a postmodern literary work tends not
to conclude with the neatly tied-up ending as is often found in modernist literature, but often
parodies it. Postmodern authors tend to celebrate chance over craft, and further employ
metafiction to undermine the writer's authority. Another characteristic of postmodern literature is
the questioning of distinctions between high and low culture through the use of pastiche, the
combination of subjects and genres not previously deemed fit for literature.
Notable influences
Playwrights who worked in the late 19th and early 20th century whose thought and work would
serve as an influence on the aesthetic of postmodernism include Swedish dramatist August
Strindberg, the Italian author Luigi Pirandello, and the German playwright and theorist Bertolt
Brecht. In the 1910s, artists associated with Dadaism celebrated chance, parody, playfulness, and
challenged the authority of the artist.[clarification needed] Tristan Tzara claimed in "How to
Make a Dadaist Poem" that to create a Dadaist poem one had only to put random words in a hat
and pull them out one by one. Another way Dadaism influenced postmodern literature was in the
development of collage, specifically collages using elements from advertisement or illustrations
from popular novels (the collages ofMax Ernst, for example). Artists associated with Surrealism,
which developed from Dadaism, continued experimentations with chance and parody while
celebrating the flow of the subconscious mind. André Breton, the founder of Surrealism,
suggested that automatism and the description of dreams should play a greater role in the
creation of literature. He used automatism to create his novel Nadja and used photographs to
replace description as a parody of the overly-descriptive novelists he often criticized.Surrealist
René Magritte's experiments with signification are used as examples by Jacques Derrida and
Michel Foucault. Foucault also uses examples from Jorge Luis Borges, an important direct
influence on many postmodernist fiction writers .He is occasionally listed as a postmodernist,
although he started writing in the 1920s. The influence of his experiments with metafiction and
magic realism was not fully realized in the Anglo-American world until the postmodern period.
Ultimately, this is seen as the highest stratification of criticism among scholars.
Other early twentieth century novels such as Raymond Roussel's Impressions d'Afrique (1910)
and Locus Solus (1914), and Giorgio de Chirico's Hebdomeros (1929) have also been identified
as important "postmodern precursor
Comparisons with modernist literature
Both modern and postmodern literature represent a break from 19th century realism. In character
development, both modern and postmodern literature explore subjectivism, turning from external
reality to examine inner states of consciousness, in many cases drawing on modernist examples
in the "stream of consciousness" styles of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, or explorative poems
likeThe Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. In addition, both modern and postmodern literature explore
fragmentariness in narrative- and character-construction. The Waste Land is often cited as a
means of distinguishing modern and postmodern literature .The poem is fragmentary and
employs pastiche like much postmodern literature, but the speaker in The Waste Land says,
"these fragments I have shored against my ruins". Modernist literature sees fragmentation and
extreme subjectivity as an existential crisis, or Freudian internal conflict, a problem that must be
solved, and the artist is often cited as the one to solve it. Postmodernists, however, often
demonstrate that this chaos is insurmountable; the artist is impotent, and the only recourse
against "ruin" is to play within the chaos. Playfulness is present in many modernist works
(Joyce's Finnegans Wake or Virginia Woolf's Orlando, for example) and they may seem very
similar to postmodern works, but with postmodernism playfulness becomes central and the
actual achievement of order and meaning becomes unlikely.
Shift to postmodernism
As with all stylistic eras, no definite dates exist for the rise and fall of postmodernism's
popularity. 1941, the year in which Irish novelist James Joyce and English novelist Virginia
Woolf both died, is sometimes used as a rough boundary for postmodernism's start. Irish novelist
Flann O'Brien completed The Third Policeman in 1939. It was rejected for publication and
remained supposedly 'lost' until published posthumously in 1967. A revised version called The
Dalkey Archive was published before the original in 1964, two years before O'Brien died.
Notwithstanding its dilatory appearance, the literary theorist Keith Hopper regards The Third
Policeman as one of the first of that genre they call the postmodern novel.
The prefix "post", however, does not necessarily imply a new era. Rather, it could also indicate a
reaction against modernism in the wake of the Second World War (with its disrespect for human
rights, just confirmed in the Geneva Convention, through the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, the Holocaust, the bombing of Dresden, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, and Japanese
American internment). It could also imply a reaction to significant post-war events: the
beginning of the Cold War, the civil rights movement in the United States, post colonialism
(Postcolonial literature), and the rise of the personal computer (Cyberpunk fiction and Hypertext
Some further argue that the beginning of postmodern literature could be marked by significant
publications or literary events. For example, some mark the beginning of postmodernism with
the first publication of John Hawkes' The Cannibal in 1949, the first performance of En attendant
Godot in 1953 (Waiting for Godot, 1955), the first publication of Howl in 1956 or of Naked
Lunch in 1959.For others the beginning is marked by moments in critical theory: Jacques
Derrida's "Structure, Sign, and Play" lecture in 1966 or as late as Ihab Hassan's usage in The
Dismemberment of Orpheus in 1971. Brian McHale details his main thesis on this shift, although
many postmodern works have developed out of modernism, modernism is characterised by an
epistemological dominant while postmodernism works are primarily concerned with questions of
Post-war developments and transition figures
Though postmodernist literature does not include everything written in the postmodern period,
several post-war developments in literature (such as the Theatre of the Absurd, the Beat
Generation, and Magic Realism) have significant similarities. These developments are
occasionally collectively labeled "postmodern"; more commonly, some key figures (Samuel
Beckett, William S. Burroughs, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar and Gabriel García Márquez)
are cited as significant contributors to the postmodern aesthetic.
The work of Jarry, the Surrealists, Antonin Artaud, Luigi Pirandello and so on also influenced
the work of playwrights from the Theatre of the Absurd. The term "Theatre of the Absurd" was
coined by Martin Esslin to describe a tendency in theatre in the 1950s; he related it to Albert
Camus's concept of the absurd. The plays of the Theatre of the Absurd parallel postmodern
fiction in many ways. For example, The Bald Soprano by Eugène Ionesco is essentially a series
of clichés taken from a language textbook. One of the most important figures to be categorized
as both Absurdist and Postmodern is Samuel Beckett.The work of Samuel Beckettis often seen
as marking the shift from modernism to postmodernism in literature. He had close ties with
modernism because of his friendship with James Joyce; however, his work helped shape the
development of literature away from modernism. Joyce, one of the exemplars of modernism,
celebrated the possibility of language; Beckett had a revelation in 1945 that, in order to escape
the shadow of Joyce, he must focus on the poverty of language and man as a failure. His later
work, likewise, featured characters stuck in inescapable situations attempting impotently to
communicate whose only recourse is to play, to make the best of what they have. As Hans-Peter
Wagner says, "Mostly concerned with what he saw as impossibilities in fiction (identity of
characters; reliable consciousness; the reliability of language itself; and the rubrication of
literature in genres) Beckett's experiments with narrative form and with the disintegration of
narration and character in fiction and drama won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. His
works published after 1969 are mostly meta-literary attempts that must be read in light of his
own theories and previous works and the attempt to deconstruct literary forms and genres.
Beckett's last text published during his lifetime, Stirrings Still (1988), breaks down the barriers
between drama, fiction, and poetry, with texts of the collection being almost entirely composed
of echoes and reiterations of his previous work He was definitely one of the fathers of the
postmodern movement in fiction which has continued undermining the ideas of logical
coherence in narration, formal plot, regular time sequence, and psychologically explained
The "The Beat Generation" was the youth of America during the materialistic 1950s; Jack
Kerouac, who coined the term, developed ideas of automatism into what he called "spontaneous
prose" to create a maximalistic, multi-novel epic called the Duluoz Legend in the mold of Marcel
Proust's In Search of Lost Time. More broadly, "Beat Generation" often includes several groups
of post-war American writers from the Black Mountain poets, the New York School, the San
Francisco Renaissance, and so on. These writers have occasionally also been referred to as the
"Postmoderns" (see especially references by Charles Olson and the Grove anthologies edited by
Donald Allen). Though this is now a less common usage of "postmodern", references to these
writers as "postmodernists" still appear and many writers associated with this group (John
Ashbery, Richard Brautigan, Gilbert Sorrentino, and so on) appear often on lists of postmodern
writers. One writer associated with the Beat Generation who appears most often on lists of
postmodern writers is William S. Burroughs. Burroughs published Naked Lunch in Paris in 1959
and in America in 1961; this is considered by some the first truly postmodern novel because it is
fragmentary, with no central narrative arc; it employs pastiche to fold in elements from popular
genres such as detective fiction and science fiction; it's full of parody, paradox, and playfulness;
and, according to some accounts, friends Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg edited the book guided by
chance. He is also noted, along with Brion Gysin, for the creation of the "cut-up" technique, a
technique (similar to Tzara's "Dadaist Poem") in which words and phrases are cut from a
newspaper or other publication and rearranged to form a new message. This is the technique he
used to create novels such as Nova Express and The Ticket That Exploded.
Magic Realism is a technique popular among Latin American writers (and can also be considered
its own genre) in which supernatural elements are treated as mundane (a famous example being
the practical-minded and ultimately dismissive treatment of an apparently angelic figure in
Gabriel García Márquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"). Though the technique has
its roots in traditional storytelling, it was a center piece of the Latin American "boom", a
movement coterminous with postmodernism. Some of the major figures of the "Boom" and
practitioners of Magic Realism (Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar etc.) are sometimes
listed as postmodernists. This labeling, however, is not without its problems. In Spanishspeaking Latin America, modernismo andposmodernismo refer to early 20th-century literary
movements that have no direct relationship to modernism and postmodernism in English.
Finding it anachronistic, Octavio Paz has argued that postmodernism is an imported grand récit
that is incompatible with the cultural production of Latin America.
Postmodernism in literature is not an organized movement with leaders or central figures;
therefore, it is more difficult to say if it has ended or when it will end (compared to, say,
declaring the end of modernism with the death of Joyce or Woolf). Arguably postmodernism
peaked in the 60s and 70s with the publication of Catch-22 in 1961, Lost in the Funhouse in
1968, Slaughterhouse-Five in 1969, and many others. Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel Gravity's
Rainbow is "often considered as the postmodern novel, redefining both post modernism and the
novel in general."
Some declared the death of postmodernism in the 1980s with a new surge of realism represented
and inspired by Raymond Carver. Tom Wolfe in his 1989 article "Stalking the Billion-Footed
Beast" called for a new emphasis on realism in fiction to replace postmodernism. With this new
emphasis on realism in mind, some declared White Noisein 1985 or The Satanic Verses in 1988
to be the last great novels of the postmodern era.
Different perspectives
the postmodernist novelist who talks often about the label "postmodern", wrote an influential
essay in 1967 called "The Literature of Exhaustion" and in 1979 wrote "Literature of
Replenishment" in order to clarify the earlier essay. "Literature of Exhaustion" was about the
need for a new era in literature after modernism had exhausted itself. In "Literature of
Replenishment" Barth says,
My ideal Postmodernist author neither merely repudiates nor merely imitates either his 20thcentury Modernist parents or his 19th-century pre modernist grandparents. He has the first half
of our century under his belt, but not on his back. Without lapsing into moral or artistic simplism,
shoddy craftsmanship, Madison Avenue venality, or either false or real naiveté, he nevertheless
aspires to a fiction more democratic in its appeal than such late-Modernist marvels as Beckett's
Texts for Nothing... The ideal Postmodernist novel will somehow rise above the quarrel between
realism and irrealism, formalism and "contentism," pure and committed literature, coterie fiction
and junk fiction...
Many of the well-known postmodern novels deal with World War II, one of the most famous of
which being Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Heller claimed his novel and many of the other American
novels of the time had more to do with the state of the country after the war:
The antiwar and anti government feelings in the book belong to the period following World War
II: the Korean War, the cold war of the Fifties. A general disintegration of belief took place then,
and it affected Catch-22 in that the form of the novel became almost disintegrated. Catch-22 was
a collage; if not in structure, then in the ideology of the novel itself ... Without being aware of it,
I was part of a near-movement in fiction. While I was writing Catch-22, J. P. Donleavy was
writing The Ginger Man, Jack Kerouac was writing On the Road, Ken Kesey was writing One
Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Thomas Pynchon was writing V., and Kurt Vonnegut was writing
Cat's Cradle. I don't think any one of us even knew any of the others. Certainly I didn't know
them. Whatever forces were at work shaping a trend in art were affecting not just me, but all of
us. The feelings of helplessness and persecution in Catch-22 are very strong in Cat's Cradle.
In his Reflections on 'The Name of the Rose', the novelist and theorist Umberto Eco explains his
idea of postmodernism as a kind of double-coding, and as a trans historical phenomenon:
Postmodernism ... is not a trend to be chronologically defined, but, rather, an ideal category - or
better still a Kunstwollen, a way of operating. ... I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a
man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her "I love you madly",
because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already
been written by Barbara Cartland. Still there is a solution. He can say "As Barbara Cartland
would put it, I love you madly". At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said
clearly it is no longer possible to talk innocently, he will nevertheless say what he wanted to say
to the woman: that he loves her in an age of lost innocence.
Non Fictional Prose
nonfictional prose, any literary work that is based mainly on fact, even though it may contain
fictional elements. Examples are the essay and biography.
Defining nonfictional prose literature is an immensely challenging task. This type of literature
differs from bald statements of fact, such as those recorded in an old chronicle or inserted in a
business letter or in an impersonal message of mere information. As used in a broad sense, the
term nonfictional prose literature here designates writing intended to instruct (but does not
include highly scientific and erudite writings in which no aesthetic concern is evinced), to
persuade, to convert, or to convey experience or reality through ―factual‖ or spiritual revelation.
Separate articles cover biography and literary criticism.
Nonfictional prose genres cover an almost infinite variety of themes, and they assume many
shapes. In quantitative terms, if such could ever be valid in such non measurable matters, they
probably include more than half of all that has been written in countries having a literature of
their own. Nonfictional prose genres have flourished in nearly all countries with advanced
literatures. The genres include political and polemical writings, biographical and
autobiographical literature, religious writings, and philosophical, and moral or religious writings.
After the Renaissance, from the 16th century onward in Europe, a personal manner of writing
grew in importance. The author strove for more or less disguised self-revelation and
introspective analysis, often in the form of letters, private diaries, and confessions. Also of
increasing importance were aphorisms after the style of the ancient Roman philosophers Seneca
and Epictetus, imaginary dialogues, and historical narratives, and later, journalistic articles and
extremely diverse essays. From the 19th century, writers in Romance and Slavic languages
especially, and to a far lesser extent British and American writers, developed the attitude that a
literature is most truly modern when it acquires a marked degree of self-awareness and
obstinately reflects on its purpose and technique. Such writers were not content with imaginative
creation alone: they also explained their work and defined their method in prefaces, reflections,
essays, self-portraits, and critical articles. The 19th-centuryFrench poet Charles Baudelaire
asserted that no great poet could ever quite resist the temptation to become also a critic: a critic
of others and of himself. Indeed, most modern writers, in lands other than the United States,
whether they be poets, novelists, or dramatists, have composed more nonfictional prose than
poetry, fiction, or drama. In the instances of such monumental figures of 20th-century literature
as the poets Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and William Butler Yeats, or the novelists Thomas Mann
and André Gide, that part of their output may well be considered by posterity to be equal in
importance to their more imaginative writing.
It is virtually impossible to attempt a unitary characterization of nonfictional prose. The concern
that any definition is a limitation, and perhaps an exclusion of the essential, is nowhere more
apposite than to this inordinately vast and variegated literature. Ever since the ancient Greek and
Roman philosophers devised literary genres, some critics have found it convenient to arrange
literary production into kinds or to refer it to modes.
Obviously, a realm as boundless and diverse as nonfictional prose literature cannot be
characterized as having any unity of intent, of technique, or of style. It can be defined, very
loosely, only by what it is not. Many exceptions, in such a mass of writings, can always be
brought up to contradict any rule or generalization. No prescriptive treatment is acceptable for
the writing of essays, of aphorisms, of literary journalism, of polemical controversy, of travel
literature, of memoirs and intimate diaries. No norms are recognized to determine whether a
dialogue, a confession, a piece of religious or of scientific writing, is excellent, mediocre, or
outright bad, and each author has to be relished, and appraised, chiefly in his own right. ―The
only technique,‖ the English critic F.R. Leavis wrote in 1957, ―is that which compels words to
express an intensively personal way of feeling.‖ Intensity is probably useful as a standard; yet it
is a variable, and often elusive, quality, possessed by polemicists and by ardent essayists to a
greater extent than by others who are equally great. ―Loving, and taking the liberties of a lover‖
was Virginia Woolf’s characterization of the 19th-century critic William Hazlitt’s style: it
instilled passion into his critical essays. But other equally significant English essayists of the
same century, such as Charles Lamb or Walter Pater, or the French critic Hippolyte Taine, under
an impassive mask, loved too, but differently. Still other nonfictional writers have been detached,
seemingly aloof, or, like the 17th-century French epigrammatist La Rochefoucauld, sarcastic.
Their intensity is of another sort.
Prose that is nonfictional is generally supposed to cling to reality more closely than that which
invents stories, or frames imaginary plots. Calling it ―realistic,‖ however, would be a gross
distortion. Since nonfictional prose does not stress inventiveness of themes and of characters
independent of the author’s self, it appears in the eyes of some moderns to be inferior to works of
imagination. In the middle of the 20th century an immensely high evaluation was placed on the
imagination, and the adjective ―imaginative‖ became a grossly abused cliché. Many modern
novels and plays, however, were woefully deficient in imaginative force, and the word may have
been bandied about so much out of a desire for what was least possessed. Many readers are
engrossed by travel books, by descriptions of exotic animal life, by essays on the psychology of
other nations, by Rilke’s notebooks or by Samuel Pepys’s diary far more than by poetry or by
novels that fail to impose any suspension of disbelief. There is much truth in Oscar Wilde’s
remark that ―the highest criticism is more creative than creation and the primary aim of the critic
is to see the object as in itself it really is not.‖ A good deal of imagination has gone not only into
criticism but also into the writing of history, of essays, of travel books, and even of the
biographies or the confessions that purport to be true to life as it really happened, as it was really
The imagination at work in nonfictional prose, however, would hardly deserve the august name
of ―primary imagination‖ reserved by the 19th-century English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge to
creators who come close to possessing semi divine powers. Rather, imagination is displayed in
nonfictional prose in the fanciful invention of decorative details, in digressions practiced as an
art and assuming a character of pleasant nonchalance, in establishing a familiar contact with the
reader through wit and humour. The variety of themes that may be touched upon in that prose is
almost infinite. The treatment of issues may be ponderouslydidactic and still belong within the
literary domain. For centuries, in many nations, in Asiatic languages, in medieval Latin, in the
writings of the humanists of the Renaissance, and in those of the Enlightenment, a considerable
part of literature has been didactic. The concept of art for art’s sake is a late and rather artificial
development in the history of culture, and it did not reign supreme even in the few countries in
which it was expounded in the 19th century. The ease with which digressions may be inserted in
that type of prose affords nonfictional literature a freedom denied to writing falling within other
genres. The drawback of such a nondescript literature lies in judging it against any standard of
perfection, since perfection implies some conformity with implicit rules and the presence,
however vague, of standards such as have been formulated for comedy, tragedy, the ode, the
short story and even (in this case, more honoured in the breach than the observance) the novel.
The compensating grace is that in much nonfictional literature that repudiates or ignores
structure the reader is often delighted with an air of ease and of nonchalance and with that rarest
of all virtues in the art of writing: naturalness.
The writing of nonfictional prose should not entail the tension, the monotony, and the selfconscious craft of fiction writing. The search for le mot juste (―the precise word‖) so fanatically
pursued by admirers of Flaubert and Maupassant is far less important in nonfictional prose than
in the novel and the short story. The English author G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936), who was
himself more successful in his rambling volumes of reflections and of religious apologetics than
in his novels, defined literature as that rare, almost miraculous use of language ―by which a man
really says what he means.‖ In essays, letters, reporting, and narratives of travels, the author’s
aim is often not to overpower his readers by giving them the impression that he knows exactly
where he is leading them, as a dramatist or a detective-story writer does. Some rambling
casualness, apparently irrelevant anecdotes, and suggestions of the conclusions that the author
wishes his readers to infer are often more effective than extreme terseness.
There is also another manner of writing that is more attentive to the periodic cadences and
elegance of prose, in the style of the ancient Roman orator Cicero. The 19th-century English
essayist William Hazlitt praised the felicities of style and the refinements of the prose of the
British statesman Edmund Burke (1729–97) as ―that which went the nearest to the verge of
poetry and yet never fell over.‖ A number of English writers have been fond of that harmonious,
and rhetorical prose, the taste for which may well have been fostered not only by the familiarity
with Cicero but also by the profound influence of the authorized version of the Bible (1611).
Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament (1522) and of the Old Testament (1534)
likewise molded much of German prose and German sensibility for centuries.
In the 20th century that type of prose lost favour with American and British readers, who ceased
to cherish Latin orators and Biblical prose as their models. In German literature, however, in
which harmonious balance and eloquence were more likely to be admired, and in other
languages more directly derived from Latin, a musical style, akin to a prolonged poem in prose,
was cultivated more assiduously, as exemplified in Italian in the writings of Gabriele
D’Annunzio, in French in those by André Gide, and in German in Die Aufzeichnungen des
Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge) by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
Such an elaborate style appears to be more easily tolerated by the readers in nonfictional writing,
with its lack of cumulative continuity and, generally speaking, its more restricted size, than in
novels such as Pater’s Marius the Epicurean (1885) and occasionally in Thomas Mann’s fiction,
in which such a style tends to pall on the reader. Similarly, it is easier for the nonfictional prose
writer to weave into his style faint suggestions of irony, archaisms, alliterations, and even
interventions of the author that might prove catastrophic to credibility in fiction. Critics have
argued that too close attention to style was harmful to the sweep necessary to fiction: they have
contended that many of the greatest novelists, such as Dickens, Balzac, Dostoyevsky, and Zola at
times ―wrote‖ badly; assuredly, they treated language carelessly more than once. Essayists,
historians, orators, and divines often affect a happy-go-lucky ease so as to put them on the same
footing with the common reader, but they realize that language and style are vital. They must
know what resources they can draw from vivid sensations, brilliant similes, balanced sentences,
or sudden, epigrammatic, effects of surprise.
Author presence
The one feature common to most authors of nonfictional prose (a few staid historians and even
fewer philosophers excepted) is the marked degree of the author’s presence in all they write.
That is to be expected in epistolary literature, and, although less inevitably, in the essay, the
travel book, journalistic reporting, and polemical or hortatory prose. Although the 17th-century
French religious philosopher Pascalhinted that ―the ego is hateful,‖ the author’s presence is still
strongly felt. This presence endows their works with a personal and haunting force that
challenges, converts, or repels, but hardly ever leaves the reader indifferent. Saint Paul’s epistles
owe their impact—perhaps second to none in the history of the Western world—to the self that
vehemently expresses itself in them, showing no concern whatever for the niceties of Attic prose.
In the treatises, discourses, and philosophical argumentation of the great writers of the
Enlightenment, such as Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau, they frequently resort to the first person
singular, which results in a vivid concreteness in the treatment of ideas. To think the abstract
concretely, a precept reminiscent of the 18th-century philosophers, was also the aim of the 20th-
century philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty when they naturalized
Existentialist thought in France. The growth of personal literature in its myriad shapes is one of
the striking features of modern literary evolution.
In terms of approach, that is, the attitude of the writer as it can be inferred from the writing, the
distinguishing features of nonfictional prose writings are the degree of presence of the ego and of
the use of a subjective, familiar tone. Such devices are also used, of course, by authors of fiction,
but to a lesser extent. Similarly, the basic modes of writing—the descriptive, the narrative, the
expository, and the argumentative—are found in both nonfictional literature and in fiction, but in
different degrees.
The descriptive mode
In nonfictional prose, essayists, moralists, naturalists, and others regularly evoked nature scenes.
The most sumptuous masters of prose composed landscapes as elaborately as landscape painters.
The French writer and statesman Chateaubriand (1768–1848), for example, who was not
outstandingly successful in inventing plots or in creating characters independent from his own
self, was a master of description; his writings influenced the French Romantic poets, who set the
impassive splendour of outward nature in contrast to the inner anguish of mortals. The 19thcentury English art critic John Ruskin had a more precise gift of observation, as revealed in his
descriptions of Alpine mountains and of the humblest flowers or mosses, but his ornate and
sonorous prose was the climax of a high-flown manner of writing that later read like the majestic
relic of another era. American nonfictional writers of the same period such as Ralph Waldo
Emerson and Henry Thoreau scrupulously described the lessons of organization, of unity, and of
moral beauty to be deciphered from the vicissitudes of nature. Russian essayists vied with
novelists in their minute yet rapturous descriptions of the thaw releasing the torrents of spring or
the implacable force of the long Northern winters. Writers more inclined to the observation of
social life, in satirical sketches of the mechanically polite and artificial habitués of salons, helped
the novel of social life come into existence in several Western countries.
The narrative element is less conspicuous in writing that does not purport to relate a story than in
fictional works, but there is a role for narrative in letters, diaries, autobiographies, and historical
writing. Most often, an incident is graphically related by a witness, as in letters or memoirs; an
anecdote may serve to illustrate a moral advice in an essay; or an entertaining encounter may be
inserted into an essay or a travel sketch. Digression here represents the utmost in art; it provides
a relief from the persistent attention required when the author is pursuing his purpose more
seriously. Similarly, such writing provides a pleasant contrast to the rigid structure of the
majority of novels since the late 19th century. In historical writing, however, simplicity and
clarity of narrative are required, though it may be interspersed with speeches, with portraits, or
with moral and polemical allusions. In other forms of nonfictional prose, the meandering fancy
of the author may well produce an impression of freedom and of truth to life unattainable by the
more carefully wrought novel. Many writers have confessed to feeling relieved when they ceased
to create novels and shifted to impromptu sketches or desultory essays. The surrealist essayists of
the 20th century poured their scorn on detective fiction as the most fiercely logical form of
writing. In contrast, the author of essays or other nonfictional prose may blend dreams and facts,
ventures into the illogical, and delightful eccentricities.
Heroic Prose
heroic prose, narrative prose tales that are the counterpart of heroic poetry in subject, outlook,
and dramatic style. Whether composed orally or written down, the stories are meant to be recited,
and they employ many of the formulaic expressions of oral tradition. A remarkable body of this
prose is the early Irish Ulaid (Ulster) cycle of stories, recorded between the 8th and 11th
centuries, featuring the hero Cú Chulainn (Cuchulain) and his associates. The cycle’s events are
set in the 1st century BC and reflect the customs of a pre-Christian aristocracy who fight from
chariots, take heads as trophies, and are influenced by Druids. A 12th-century group of Irish
stories is the Fenian cycle, focusing on the hero Finn MacCumhaill (MacCool), his son, the poet
Oisín (Ossian), and his elite corps of warriors and hunters, the Fianna Éireann. Interspersed in
the narratives are passages of verse, usually speeches, that are often older than the prose.
Because of the verse sections, it is thought that these stories may derive from a lost body of
heroic poetry. Among the Irish tales only the Ulaid story ―The Cattle Raid of Cooley‖ has the
scope of an epic, but it survives in a much mutilated text. The formulaic and poetic language of
the Irish cycles is admirably preserved in Lady Gregory’s retelling of the stories Cuchulain of
Muirthemne (1902) and Gods and Fighting Men (1904).
Other examples of heroic prose are the 13th-century Icelandic sagas. The ―heroic sagas,‖ such as
the Vǫlsunga saga (c. 1270) and the Thidriks saga (c. 1250), are based on ancient Germanic oral
tradition of the 4th to 6th century and contain many lines from lost heroic lays. Of higher artistic
quality are the ―Icelander sagas,‖ such as Grettis saga (Grettir the Strong) and Njáls saga(both c.
1300), dealing with native Icelandic families, who live by the grim and complicated code of the
blood feud.
in poetry, a rhymed quatrain in heroic verse with rhyme scheme abab. The form was used by
William Shakespeare and John Dryden, among others, and was also called an elegiac stanza after
the publication in the mid-18th century of Thomas Gray (Gray, Thomas)'s poem ―An Elegy
Written in a Country Church Yard.‖
French composer
in full Louis-Joseph-Ferdinand Hérold
born Jan. 28, 1791, Paris
died Jan. 19, 1833, Paris
French composer of early romantic operas who stands midway between D.-F.-E. Auber and
Jacques Offenbach in the development of the opéra comique.
Hérold studied under C.-S. Catel and E.-N. Méhul and won the Prix de Rome in 1812. He
was court pianist in Naples, where he produced his first opera, La gioventù di Enrico V (1815;
The Youth of Henry V). On his return to Paris he collaborated with François Boieldieu in the
opera Charles de France(1816) and produced 12 light operas at the Opéra-Comique between
1817 and 1830. Among his other operas are Vendôme en Espagne (with Auber, 1823), Zampa
(1831), and Le Pré aux clercs (1832; The Field of Honour). His ballets include La Fille mal
gardée (1828; The Unguarded Maiden) and La Belle au bois dormant (1829; The Sleeping
Heroic literature is a genre of literature dedicated to the presentation of heroic legend. There are
other genres (like mythography or pseudohistory) and media (like theatre) that conserve heroic
legend, but this is the genre that really gave the word "heroic" its flavor: It tries to hold the
audience in awe with the larger-than-life deeds and adventures of those famous people of the old
time who were so much stronger and braver than folks today.
Heroic literature comes in different formats:
Heroic Lay a.k.a. Heroic Ballad: Narrative poem of short to moderate length that tells one
episode or adventure from the career of a hero. It is the oldest format and already existed inoral
form before writing. It is intended to be recited or sung to an audience and can be heard "at a
Heroic Verse Epic: Narrative poem that is (much) longer and tells a more complex
storythan a Heroic Lay. It may tell a sequence of legendary events with a lot of characters and
detail, or it may try to recount the life of a hero in its entirety. The earliest epics may have been
composed orally by welding several heroic lays together, but the format was greatly furthered by
the arrival of writing, which allowed poets and performers to keep track of much longer poems
without their heads exploding (speaking figuratively). It is too long to be heard at a piece and
therefore frequently divided into handy chapters or sections.
Heroic Tale and Heroic Prose Epic (a.k.a. Heroic Romance): Heroic legend as written
prose narratives. While heroic legends certainly have been told in oral prose since the dawn of
time, as a written genre this is actually the youngest type of heroic literature, as the format only
became popular at a time when reading and writing was sufficiently widespread so that tales of
ancient heroes were no longer exclusively intended for performance by professional singers or
Plotwise, heroic lays and epics revolve around one or several of three main conflicts:
Man vs. Monster: The simplest conflict that usually follows a Black and White
Moralitymodel: Good hero fights and vanquishes bad and ugly monster.
Man vs. Man: Much closer to common human reality, heroes in such conflicts often
come away much less lustrous, as the morality model tends towards Grey and Gray Morality.
Man vs. Fate: In settings where gods are held responsible for human fortunes, this will
often also mean Man vs. God(s). Differently from the other two conflicts, heroes can never
actually win this fight. Rather, heroism in such kinds of stories is demonstrated by enduring the
blows of fate with heroic determination.
Heroic Literature is one of the oldest genres of literature. In Europe, it eventually gave birth to
the daughter genre of Chivalric Romance, which eclipsed Heroic Literature as the most popular
genre in the High Middle Ages. It declined further and almost disappeared as a living genre
around the Renaissance, but experienced a short revival in the wake of 19th century
Romanticism, when there was a wave of collections, translations, remakes and emulations of
heroic lays and epics.
Heroic Literature is also one of the most important inspirations to the modern Fantasy genre.
Epic poems that tell historical events are another genre that is strongly influenced by heroic
poetry, but not part of it.
The Heroic Age
Shaping Anglo-Saxon Lordship in the Heroic Literature
of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries
Outside of Beowulf and a few fragments, the recording of Anglo-Saxon heroic story begins with
a ninth-century entry in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 755 (actually 757). To this we
can add a few of the annals devoted to the combats of King Alfred's son and grandsons in the
tenth century and stop at some point near the end of King Aethelred's reign in 1016. While not a
Chronicle poem, The Battle of Maldon has a place in this range, if only as an inspired response
to what otherwise the Chronicle (in the Canterbury and Peterborough manuscripts ) records for
991 as ealdorman Byrthnoth's death in battle at Maldon. Typically, guides, translations and
readers introducing students to Old English texts highlight three of the stories from this range of
years: the story of West Saxon feud we call "Cynewulf and Cyneheard" (chronicle entry 755),
The Battle of Brunanburh, (entry for 937), and The Battle of Maldon (sometime after 991).
Traditionally, and here all introductions in Old English readers follow suit, these narratives are
seen as enshrining, in some literary intensified way, heroic values reflecting their ancient,
Germanic roots.
The more sophisticated introductions will place the poem or prose piece in an Anglo-Saxon
context, as S. A. J. Bradley (1995) does for his edition of Anglo-Saxon poetry in translation. For
example, he thinks of The Battle of Maldon as part of the secular and religious response to
Danish incursions. Traditional heroic values in the poem combine with a sense of oneness with
God and king (principally through Byrthnoth's devotion to King Aethelred and his dying prayer
for the safe journey of his soul). Bradley also sees The Battle of Brunanburh as in part a
propagandistic claim by King Alfred's grandsons of sovereignty over much of England (p. 516).
While these notions are improvements over still current views -- such as the Fred C. Robinson
and Bruce Mitchell (1986: 225, 234, note for lines 255-9) idea that The Battle of Maldon is about
how men bear up when things go wrong, in this case by upholding the old code of honor
requiring warriors to avenge their slain lord or die trying -- there is no clear sense of just how or
even why a "propagandistic" strain joins with traditional heroic themes. We need to look to
recent scholarship for a sense of what might be happening in the course of the Chronicle stories
and poems. By doing so we will trace a line of development culminating outside the Chronicle in
that apotheosis of newretainership we can find in The Battle of Maldon, especially in its
regrouping of the loyal retainers.
John D. Niles (1993; 1994), Peter Richardson (1995), Martin Irvine (1991) and others have
newly approached Old English literature-whether heroic poems, prose annals, genealogies, law
codes, or religious poems and tracts -- by asking questions about the ideological "work" a poem
or a prose text does in its cultural time and place. While this approach does not directly explore
the individual or even vagrant insights present in given texts, it is a highly fruitful line of inquiry,
especially for Chronicle entries, law codes, or some of the heroic poems more than others. That
approach is less successful for Beowulf, if we keep to Beowulf's dramatic complexities. It also
does not greatly illuminate those fragments we call "Finnsburg" and "Waldere." In what follows
I will take a sketchy overview of some very general lines of development. Detailed support and
elaboration can be found in my new study: The Anglo-Saxon Warrior Ethic: Reconstructing
Lordship in Early English Literature (2000).
The major areas for political reform are kinship ties and obligations, especially regarding the
feud; the transferable nature of retainer loyalty (that one might leave the service of a particular
lord and seek service with another); the potentially autonomous nature of warriorhood; and the
nature and weight first of lordship then of kingship. Political reformation in these areas requires
greatly diminishing the pull of kinship. It also requires eliminating the possibility of a free
warrior life, as reflected in Beowulf both in the allusion to a roving, legendary Sigemund (along
with Fitela, his nephew) and in Beowulf's freedom to act independently of Hygelac's wishes.
And it requires a redefining of lordship in relation to both loyalty and kingship. Accordingly, the
places of honor and glory, as well as the focus of revenge, shift. Honor and glory become less the
concerns of the independent, kinship-obligated, provisionally affiliated individual -- this
regarding the warband -- and more those of a great lord's absolutely loyal retainer. In this shift,
the kinship of the hall (expressed as sibbegedriht,"kindship-like warband", in Beowulf) becomes
more than an appropriate metaphor; politically, as centered on all-important lordship, it becomes
everything. Such constructed kinship will come to demand utter sacrifice after the lord's death
from the retainer who would have glory and fame. This will become a kind of sacrifice we do not
see in Beowulf, a kind that in Anglo-Saxon contexts probably differs greatly from whatever
might have existed among the Germanic peoples we know of mainly through Tacitus.
In his unpublished essay, "Prescription and Description in Anglo-Saxon Literature," Peter
Richardson (1995) takes up Niles's suggestion that Anglo-Saxon literature did important
ideological work. He considers the various ways in which genealogies, annals, poems, and
stories might be seen as caught up in the issues of Anglo-Saxon state formation. He agues that
traditional loyalties are appropriated to model new ideas of loyalty to a state, a modeling process
that seems seriously underway if we look at the various literary projects -- The Parker Chronicle,
the laws, the translation of Gregory's Pastoral Care, and the Old English Orosius -- of the
Alfredian period. But the "cooptation of medieval family values" can best be seen, according to
Richardson, in The Battle of Maldon, where kinship loyalty models and reinforces the emergent
claims of the state, as best exemplified, for Richardson, in Aelfwine. Recall that he is the retainer
who says he fights because Byrthnoth is both his kinsman and lord. Presumably, in fighting on to
avenge Byrthnoth, Aelfwine fights on, not for a live lord with whom he has a continuing,
personal relationship, but for that lord in principle, behind whom is that lord's king, Aethelred.
John Niles sees Maldon as a cautionary story. While presenting "a complex vision of reality
whereby conflicting desires and codes of conduct meet," the Maldon poet glances with "longing
eyes at a vanished world where heroes could act like heroes . . . [while pointing] ineluctably to
the need for leadership of a more supple kind than Byrthnoth is shown to offer" (Niles
1994:113). Niles supports this position with a subtle reading of why the loyal retainers stay and
fight in a situation they do not explicitly acknowledge as hopeless: pointedly, they would do the
second of two things, that is, avenge their beloved lord, not simply lose their lives. I differ with
Niles regarding the contextual, ongoing import of various speeches as I imagine the retainers'
situation in a more dramatic and eventually death-driven way than he does. But I agree that the
poem does major ideological work for its time and place.
That work, however, is not a plea for supple, perhaps yielding leadership. Rather, it is the
completion of a stunning, new ideology of retainership and loyalty in the face of overwhelmingly
triumphant lordship (whether the lord who embodies that lordship is victorious in the slaughter
place, as in Brunanburh, or dies fighting, as in Maldon). Byrthnoth himself, however later
sanctified as he was by the monks of Ely, does not matter. What matters most here is that
ideology of triumphant lordship, an ideology under development at least since Alfred's day, and
one that requires a new, matching ideology of retainership. Quite apart, then, from any readerly
concerns we may have regarding Byrthnoth's battlefield actions and motives -- whether he is
flawed, or proud, or whatever -- his order of battle is quite right. After his death, his loyal
retainers dynamically reorder and redefine themselves in an ongoing, group effort, just as they
should. The noble ealdorman dies; but triumphant lordship and equally triumphant, now
sacrificial retainership lives -- transcending the living ties involved.
Still, both my reading of the poem and the Niles and Richardson kind of reviewing point to a
fundamental difference between Byrthnoth's literary world and Beowulf's, especially given the
inset summaries of the Hengest, Ingeld, and Eadgils stories in Beowulf. No matter what
ideological work we think Beowulf does in whatever Anglo-Saxon milieu we place it, the stories
of conflict, relationship building, and group reformation in Beowulf are told by a more
meditative poet -- a poet more aware of the complex contingencies of heroic affairs and of
violence and honor than are the makers of the narratives of Cynewulf and Cyneheard,
Aethelwold's rebellion, The Battle of Brunanburh or The Battle of Maldon. For my purposes, the
former two mark a separation of some kind between Beowulfian story and the later, even more
politically heightened appropriations of heroic formulae and themes in the accounts of battle at
Brunanburh and Maldon.
The poems inspired by the latter events, while composed carefully by makers who understand
complexly the situations and persons involved, are simply much more polemical when compared
to Beowulf and its inset stories. They are shaped more as arguments than as presented worlds,
arguments regarding entirely justified violence. That violence serves one or another of the
following processes: the defining and asserting of sacrosanct lordship and kingship; the erecting
of a mythologically, legislatively, genealogically, and ecclesiastically inclusive kingship; or else
the dramatic, speech ennobled shaping of that jewel in the crown of triumphant lordship -- the
ideal of transcendent, sacrificial, retainer loyalty. A sense of this movement from reasserting
lordship to defining a new retainership can inform a review of literary uses of Germanic heroic
situations and themes in the course of the ninth and tenth centuries.
We might assume that Beowulf is not composed new in the very early eleventh century, the
period to which the surviving manuscript dates. Also, we might assume that some version of the
poem existed perhaps in East Anglian or Mercian contexts before the ninth century -- as many,
including most recently Sam Newton (1993) and Peter Clemoes (1995), have argued (although
Niles (1994) offers circumstantial argument for the tenth century). Given these assumptions, we
could develop a kind of timeline from Beowulf, through the story of Cynewulf and Cyneheard,
down to The Battle of Maldon. But doing so on shaky chronological grounds is both troublesome
and unnecessary. Simply put: there is no gradual development from Beowulf to the politically
shaped heroic stories noted in this essay. We have Beowulf and then we have all the rest, with
differentiations given subject matter and theme among them.
The Beowulf poet is a "master of the aristocratic oral tradition" (Niles 1993: 104). His work just
stands out as a complex counter to the politically shaped narratives emerging in the ninth century
and continuing down virtually to the end of the Anglo-Saxon period. ButBeowulf does not
simply stand in monumental exception. We can further suppose, along with Kirsten Hastrup
(1990: 6), that later writers may use old material in a spirit of corporate inclusiveness. They may,
that is, assert a kind of sameness between present and past -- an assertion opposing the idea that
an Anglo-Saxon poet would necessarily distance himself radically in his Anglo-Saxon present
from the heroic past to which he gestures. For Beowulf this would mean that the poet of course
knows the past is both past and different in some respects from his present. Yet his story
provides a myth embodying both heroic values and a complex vision of worldly affairs. That
myth, the poet's means of forming an image of himself and his present to himself and his peers,
would have been taken up in subsequent versions of the poem and in the same ways.
Beowulf gives us the fullest display of heroic values, choices, and exigencies in the poetic
corpus. For example, Beowulf contains no suicidal code of battlefield loyalty -- no automatic
code at all. The nearest expression of such an impulse might be Wiglaf's effort to rally Beowulf's
retainers in defense of their fire-encompassed king against the dragon. Among other things, he
says that he would rather that fire embraced him with his lord than that he and the others should
bear shields back to their homes -- unless they first slay the monster in the course of defending
the life of the lord of the Weders (ll. 2650-55). The affair here is presented as still ongoing and
thus open-ended. Beowulf has not died yet. Thus, an active, participatory defense is what Wiglaf
urges, not anything absolutely doomed.
The entire story of Wiglaf's assistance to Beowulf is far from a dramatization of automatic
response given some principle of retainer and kinsman loyalty. Neither an automaton nor an
idealized companion, Wiglaf acts within complex circumstances of obligation, grief, and shame.
He can be said to embody the poet's idea of a person quite mindful of all the honorable and
worth-conferring things Beowulf has done for him. Consciousness of this has him gloss his
action as a reciprocal one. But internalized need, mixed with magnanimity, impels him as much
as would thoughts of live obligations now falling due. Moreover, his relationship to Beowulf is
hardly fixed at the beginning, needing only an illustrative acting out. He is a kinsman of some
sort and a fellow countryman; but he becomes much more than that in the course of violent
assistance from behind his lord's shield. His new identity, forged in the heat of battle, is that of
an adopted son and worthy, warrior successor.
Beginning as a general kinsman, the last of Beowulf's Waegmunding people, Wiglaf emerges
from the dragon fight as Beowulf's now noble kinsman. After Beowulf's death he is both
Beowulf's executor in the matter of funeral ceremonies and the wise, battle-worthy, chooser of
thanes -- a hard-won status in that Wiglaf, in effect, sacrificed his right hand in the dragon's
flames. Indeed, it is in these warlord capacities -- wisdom, martial worthiness, chooser of thanes- that he exercises a command independent of one of Beowulf's last wishes. Beowulf would have
had the dragon's treasure compensate the Geats for his death. Wiglaf acts independently when he
takes seven of the best king's thanes with him into the dragon's barrow. Together they remove the
treasure and eventually inter it again in Beowulf's mound. In this respect heroic story in Beowulf
is complex and open to change. It becomes the world as the poet would know it, not an array of
attitudes, norms, or situations from which the poet can pick for decidedly ideological reasons
(though of course he does select what he emphasizes and he has ideals).
The inclusion of the Finn, Ingeld, and Eadgils stories in Beowulf provides highly framed
opportunities for literary response to heroic circumstances. Elsewhere, in my forthcoming study,
I have explored the grievous situations that in time come to define or else call out the righteous
choices made by Ingeld in his situation, or Hengest in his, or, finally, Eadgils in his. Recall that
during wedding festivities, one of Ingeld's old warriors urges on a young warrior against a
visiting Dane who sports a weapon taken in earlier battle from the young warrior's father. In the
Hengest case, after a disastrous attack upon visiting Half-Danes by cohorts among their hosts, a
mixed group of Frisians and Jutes, the Danes suffer through the winter months in a terrible peace
alliance with Finn and his Frisians (who killed the Dane's leader, Hnaef, Hengest's lord). But
spring brings the urging and taking of revenge. In Eadgils case, his uncle, Onela, attacks him and
his brother, both of whom have sought an exile's haven among the Geats. Eadgils survives the
attack, whereas his brother does not.
In two cases the key turn involves a rupture of whatever social harmony prevailed before the
initial outbreak of violence. In Eadgil's case, some such rupture may have precipitated his
alliance with his brother against Onela, their paternal uncle, but in the story as we have it, the
terrible rupture is Onela's attack upon Eadgils and Eanmund in their haven among the Geats. In
the course of that attack, Eanmund dies (killed by Weohstan, Wiglaf's father), along with
Heardred, Beowulf's cousin and king. It is at this point that Beowulf, apparently with Onela's
approval, assumes the kingship Heardread's death vacated.
Practically and psychologically, these ruptures fully justify the settlements achieved or attempted
in consequence, although the slaughters that ensue have disturbing undertones. The poet's
ambivalence here, however, does not amount to a critique of the institution of feud. Nor does the
poet reach for an ideologically or else thematically inspired resolution regarding feud-generated
violence. Simply, again, this is how the world is, how the poet sees things.
In each case the poet develops those circumstances in terms of their shaping contingencies
without judging either the heroic actions when taken or when forestalled. Nor does he draw those
actions toward a moral or toward a purpose extrinsic to the contingent affairs dramatized.
Moreover, he never narrows the scope of those actions or simplifies the realm of choice for some
ideological reason. When Hengest accepts Hunlafing's laying of a sword on his lap, and when
revenge falls upon Finn, we face a violent settlement that Danes in Heorot celebrate during the
great banquet scene. But we are not asked either to consider those Danes witless or else to
embrace an all-encompassing principle: that one must always avenge the death of a lord sooner
rather than later (or else die trying if one cannot avenge him and live). Nor does an idea emerge
that would have one never follow or else have no ties with the slayer of one's lord . This is no
more the case than is the existence here of a view of revenge feud that characterizes such events
as inherently destructive, as beyond human powers of control (the usual view in Beowulf
criticism of feud and the revenge motive).
Circumstances might make "violations" of the first two precepts quite acceptable, at least in the
short run. After that, however, the changeable calculations of honor and the availability of a
suitable object will determine what happens next. Finn is close to hand and spring apparently
brings opportunities in the form of Danes urgent now about the terror they have suffered. But
elsewhere in Beowulfone's lord's slayer is not obviously killed, although the lord's death is
avenged. Beowulf slays Daeghrefn and destroys Daeghrefn's warband (avenging Hygelac's death
by Frisians); and Beowulf helps Eadgils assume the Swedish throne in revenge for Onela's attack
on his (Onela's) recalcitrant nephews, who, while refusing to accept Onela's kingship, had
received asylum among the Geats. These conflicts between two generations of the Swedish royal
house are not moralized upon or otherwise offered as part of the construction of a countervailing
idea, say of respect for lordship, or of the evil of rebellion, or of the interminable imperatives of
However, the poet might have done something like that for the Freawaru and Ingeld story. There
the Danes experience a strong reversal from the peaceful hopes and expectations with which
Hrothgar broaches the marriage-alliance between Danes and Heathobards. The abrupt, bloody
end of the wedding alliance in the resumption of violence between Danes sporting the weapons
of slain Heathobards and those an aggrieved, old Heathobard urges on seems too intense to
dismiss with just a worldly shrug. But then that seems to be the poet's point: we can neither
dismiss this violence nor condemn it. We must take it as a complex development and remain
open-eyed, aware of these deeply mixed affairs -- open-ended affairs that can easily unfold
violently between recently warring and only briefly accommodated parties. This is especially
something to worry about when the great hope of an illustrious marriage and a concomitant
peace-kinship leads to an alliance between two peoples.
Thus I have elsewhere argued that in these cases the Beowulf poet's response to heroic story is
open-ended, emotionally complex, and at least ambivalently accepting within the limits of
loyalty understood as reciprocal between right-minded lord and right-minded retainer. Such
loyalty is of course built out of the needs of warriors who would, when appropriately urged by
others or else otherwise awakened to their own sense of obligated identity, avenge the losses they
have suffered -- that is, within a psychology of moral or juridical choices resident in heroic
The poet's degree of acceptance, however, does not mean that he makes no judgments
whatsoever regarding the violent affairs he recapitulates. For example, he does not, it seems
clear, embrace those threads in heroic story that implicitly celebrate even as they seek to contain
the actions of berserkers. I see little approval in his treatment of the enraged Ongentheow who, in
lines 2936-40, is said to promise dishonor to the bodies of those Geats he plans to kill in the
morning. Nor does the Beowulf poet embrace even for entertainment's sake the taste for
adventure that leads some warriors into criminal acts (whatever it was that Sigemund and Fitela
did together or to others). Nor does he look neutrally upon those who terrorize others (as Swedes
do when they ambush Geats after Hrethel's death) rather than settle feuds or preempt aggression.
The latter is what a fierce king does, as when Scyld Scefing attacks his neighbors and settles his
Still, the poet's range is great and his scenes alive with their contingent complexities, much more
so than are the situations in the story of Cynewulf and Cyneheard. The composer of this
narrative, given as the entry for 755 in the A or Parker Chronicle (but composed in the late ninth
century according to Chronicle scholars) seems to pick among a number of heroic gestures or
tableaux in the course of establishing a novel construction of lordship. He does this without
vilifying the king-killing nobleman, Cyneheard, or without making a saint of the attacked king,
Cynewulf. Indeed, both antagonists have faults -- as far as we can tell, Cyneheard's is simply that
he went too far in his effort to settle some dispute with Cynewulf (over Cynewulf''s effort to
exile Cyneheard, for some reason not given). And Cynewulf's fault is that in trying to drive
Cyneheard out of the kingdom he would do something (the 'driving out') that seems to involve
unjustified violence nearly everywhere else in the Parker Chronicle . Moreover, a degree of
moral taint appears in the fact that Cyneheard surprises Cynewulf in the embrace of a woman
some distance from where his retainers lie sleeping. Yet, Cynewulf is the West Saxon king. He
has done nothing unjust to his retainers or to his people, and he fights bravely, nearly slaying his
attacker, Cyneheard, before Cyneheard's men kill him.
This sets up the composer's display of heroic possibilities in the episode. With Cynewulf dead, a
tableau appears that resembles the one later used in Maldon, as the remaining retainers see their
dead lord, Byrthnoth, flanked by the loyal dead. Much as those retainers will regroup under a
new definition of loyalty, so Cynewulf''s scrambling retainers -- who have heard sounds of battle
and the cries of the woman -- have an opportunity to define their loyalties, and in relation to
whom, once they rush (perhaps Wiglaf-like) into the terror that has befallen Cynewulf (now dead
-- a situation they perhaps do not discover until they get there). Offered treasures and their lives,
they refuse to a man, instead fighting on furiously until all lie dead but one.
This begins to look like the triumph of what we can call, retrospectively, the Byrthnoth principle
-- the mute demand for revenge and even for suicidal revenge on behalf of the slain lord. But not
quite: for Cynewulf's retainers do not pose such alternatives to themselves, not even to pick
revenge over death. Their actions are suggested as those of the moment, in the heat of the
moment, after they vigorously refuse "drinking" (implicit in the verb thicgan, 'accept') to
Cyneheard's offer. Yet their scene contrasts notably with the situation in Finn's territory when
Hengest and his battle reduced warband accept terms with Finn and thus with the slayer of
Hengest's lord.
The composer's rapid summary in the 755 episode, even in his inclusion of indirect speech,
accords well with his insistence that no complicating contingency is possible. Killing a sitting
king is bad; under no circumstances will that king's honored, worthy supporters yield to the
killing, even if they are (presumably) disadvantaged in their relatively small numbers and
disheveled preparations (having been roused in a hurry from their disarmed sleep). The
magnitude of the deed, and its ultimate futility: these, rather than some underlined principle of
retainer loyalty, are what the annalist insists upon most.
When in the morning Cynewulf's army shows up, led by his ealdorman, Osric, and by a great
thane named Wiferth, yet another tableau comes together. The possibility arises, Hengest-like, of
making peace or at least of forming some kind of reciprocal pact with one's lord's slayer -complicated somewhat by the noted presence of kinsmen on both sides. If they will let him be
king, Cyneheard, in trying shrewdly to deflect the question of following one's lord's slayer, offers
them, unto their own choice, both lands and riches. This is a kind of self-judgment, offered
bizarrely as far as the Alfredian composer seems concerned. When told, in addition, as part of
Cyneheard's general strategy of persuasion, that there are kinsmen of theirs in Cyneheard's
warband -- kinsmen who will not abandon Cyneheard -- Osric and Wiferth reply that no kinsman
is dearer to them than is their lord. Refusing to sidestep the lordship issue, they say that they will
never follow their lord's slayer. Nevertheless, they add, their kinsmen may safely emerge from
the fortified enclosure Cyneheard has seized.
Hengest's situation thus appears here in a collapsed form, without the contingencies of
circumstance or without the preceding context of suffered terror. Osric and Wiferth have not
been terrorized by a sudden onslaught in the course of which their lord dies and their numbers, in
bloody ways, diminish. Moreover, regarding Osric and Wiferth, the kinship motif is added, in
contrast to Hengest's case, to cloud the lordship issue initially (Cyneheard seems to be saying
that we have kinsmen on both sides -- this is all in the family -- as a way of deflecting attention
from the sore point of accepting terms). The issue of kinship then comes to reflect Osric's and
Wiferth's steadfastness, that is, their unwavering loyalty to their lord in their refusal to serve or
else come to terms with his slayer. Yet theirs is not a live choice between traditional loyalty to
kinsmen or to lord (as usually claimed in Old English Readers) because they offer a solution that
conserves both. It is up to their kinsmen in Cyneheard's service to choose seemingly between
lord and kinsmen, seemingly, that is, because theirs is really a choice between a free offer to
leave the fortified enclosure or to stay and fight alongside Cyneheard. Citing the furious example
of Cynewulf's slain hearthtroop, they say that they will do no less than did Cynewulf's warriors.
So they stay and die with everyone else in Cyneheard's small army (except for one, Osric's
godson) in the subsequent onslaught.
Although in fact complex enough when we examine the implications of choices and offers,
clearly these affairs have been orchestrated to a specific end. Loyalty to a personally just lord is
an unqualified good, no matter the circumstances; and loyalty to the greatest of secular lords,
one's king, is sacred in effect if that king has been good, but not at the necessary expense of
loyalty to kinsmen (that can be accommodated). Again, the upshot is that king killing, especially
among collateral branches of the royal family, is most foul -- even if the king has criminally
tainted himself as somehow a king did, one Sigebryht, Cynewulf's predecessor. His deposition
actually begins the 755 entry, before we get to the fight between Cyneheard and Cynewulf.
Sigebryht is deposed, although tellingly neither exiled nor killed, for unspecified, unjust deeds.
As noted already, that one must not kill kings hangs heavily over the entire narrative.
The onus of king killing, then, controls this story's development -- an issue that matters greatly in
the Alfredian program that would both raise the king above all great lords and newly inculcate a
sense of duty to lords in general. In contrast, no particular point is ever made inBeowulf about
the bad form of king killing -- not when Onela is killed, anyway, and not even when hostile
parties kill one's own king. In the latter cases, of course, one must avenge such a killing, as
Beowulf does, first on Hygelac's behalf, then later on Heardred's.
When we look to Brunanburh, probably composed not long after 937, and then to Maldon, it
becomes clear that a political literature has superimposed itself upon the materials and themes of
heroic scenes and heroic story. The appearance in The Parker Chronicle of the Cynewulf and
Cyneheard story, along with the literarily similar account of Aethelwold's rebellion (entries for
901 and 905), suggests that Alfredian composers have an admonitory genre close to hand for
both events. Then the appearance of The Battle of Brunanburh and "The Five Boroughs" poem
(celebrating King Edmund's wresting of several districts from heathen Danish control) should be
enough to confirm our suspicion that these stories and poems are part of Alfredian
historiography, serving the lordship, kingship and dynastic interests of that historiography. But
Chronicle context alone would not be sufficient evidence for this argument -- the Chronicle has
its oddities of inclusion. When we look closely at internal evidence, then the direction of shaping
is clear. The Brunanburh poet, for example, responds to heroic affairs without much meditation
by emphasizing what I will call the "Scyld seizes their meadbenches" principle. The poem even
has some heroic verse set-pieces, such as the beasts of battle theatre, but used in unconventional
ways -- not as anticipatory; rather as an expression of triumph over enemies killed in a nearly
sacred defense of land, hoard, and home. Moreover, this exultant poet of absolute victory over
rightly savaged foes produces a poem that is also one of genealogical justification. At least it is
one of ancestral justification of the sort that establishes the fame and martial merit in Beowulf of
Heorot, Hrothgar's hall, given Hrothgar's premier, warrior-king genealogy going back to Scyld
In Brunanburh, the great victory Athelstan and Edmund, King Alfred's grandsons, achieve is one
that circles around through Alfredian claims of dynastic right and nobility. Noble in their lineage,
Edward's sons are virtually born to their roles as conquering warriors. They appreciate the
violence of lawful victory because through such violence they demonstrate their essential
nobility. Indeed, they demonstrate their right to conquer and thus to rule well beyond any right
they have simply through their ties to the House of Alfred -- to which they are linked through
their father, Edward, Alfred's son. With his poem, the Brunanburh poet appropriates for them the
entire history of nobility in victory -- this in terms of all the victories of ancient Angles and
Saxons, beginning with the heroic invasions of Britain and the overcoming therein of the Welsh.
In Brunanburh, heroic poetry serves a dynastic argument. The poet in effect argues for the almost
destined, lawful primacy of that family of warriors, the Alfredian, West Saxon kings.
While The Battle of Maldon appears independently of the Chronicle, politically it is of the same
world, connected internally as it is to Alfredian kingship, Aethelred's in this case. The new order
the poet urges is one that transcends all living relationships, whether to kin, lord, or even (by
implication) to a living king. Retainers die to embody this transcendent loyalty, the terms of
which redeem them. That loyalty marks both the total inclusion and transcendence of all
possibilities of ongoing, reciprocal ties between battlelord and loyal retainer -- this in the poet's
insistence on an absolute commitment to live with one's lord or, on the battlefield, avenge his
death until one can do no more. Presumably, if one can slay the enemy entirely, then one can go
home honorably. However, the poet does not plot matters that way, staring as he does at the
implications of battlefield defeat for those retainers who would triumph anyway, after their lord
has fallen. In effect, the ongoing, consequential recommitments of those retainers become
increasingly untenable militarily, until approaching and reaching the suicidal -- a gesture treated
as the ultimate expression of keen heart and mind, of love and loyalty as strength and military
success wane.
Dealing with great lords who are unreliable as often as not, and who may at times have hoped to
serve some other lord, King Aethelred--whom historians have considered weak, vacillating, and
perhaps tainted by the appalling murder of his half-brother, Edward the King and eventual
Martyr--must have hoped devoutly for ealdormen like the Byrthnoth depicted in Maldon. He
must especially have hoped for warrior groupings that define themselves in the way Byrthnoth's
loyal hearthtroop does. Aethelred's strategies against Viking raids do include, as Richard Abels
(1991: 144-5) tells us, both efforts to divide Viking armies against each other and diplomatic
initiatives aimed at depriving them of cross-channel ports. Aethelred also undertakes
comprehensive programs of fortification and naval construction and deployment. But his efforts
suffer from what Abels terms "the treachery and incompetence" (Abels 1991:145) of the thanes
and ealdormen he appoints to lead his armies and navy.
Certainly the Maldon poet can have his own view of whether military effort or else the paying of
tribute is the better strategy in dealing with serious, often quite destructive Viking incursions.
But how we see this matter affects our evaluation of Byrthnoth and of the poet's point of view.
John Niles (1994) thinks the poet prefers a more flexible strategy than the one he has Byrthnoth
adopt. That may be so as an intention governing the poet's view of Byrthnoth's tactical mistakes.
But I do not see any confirmation of such a supposition in the crucial series of retainer
commitments that follow upon Byrthnoth's death, the flight of the cowards, the breaking in
consequence of the shield wall, and thus the crisis of fight or flight. The retainers who face that
crisis are made to resolve it by aligning themselves entirely with Byrthnoth, first to avenge him if
they can, then to share his fate.
Entries in The Parker Chronicle for 991 (the date of the battle) through 994 almost breathlessly
reflect this policy debate -- armed resistance or else payoffs for peace (which might involve, as
some recent commentary has suggested, a post-Benedictine effort at a pacifistic conversion of
the Vikings)? Clearly the recommendation to pay tribute is an issue of policy, not desire.
Recommended initially, we learn, by Archbishop Sigeric in 991, perhaps in response to Viking
harrying after Byrthnoth's death, this policy is followed reluctantly, out of weakness or else
given political divisions as well as the confusion that treachery and fecklessness among the
English produce. Unable either to catch marauding Viking armies or else defeat them in the field,
Aethelred in 992 decides to stop them preemptively, if he can, at sea. But the ealdorman he trusts
most and to whom he gives the command, Aelfric, warns the Vikings and flees from the levies.
The Viking host escapes. In 993 the Chronicle records yet another debacle caused by cowardice.
The leaders of a great levy gathered to confront the Viking host were among the first to flee.
These kinds of events establish a sad pattern-one that recurs in one way or another year after
As the annalist for this period in the Laud version of the Chronicle laments, efforts at resistance
were either scattered or undermined (aside from the stout defense of London and, occasionally,
of other fortified sites) and tribute was not paid soon enough to ward off wide-spread destruction.
Reluctantly, Aethelred and his counselors agree to pay tribute on several occasions when the
country seems on the verge of complete destruction. I think The Battle of Maldon fits eloquently
into this context. Had numerous leaders and their levies joined battle with Byrthnoth's resolve
and the absolute commitments of his loyal retainers, the various Viking hosts might have been
defeated and the country saved from great destruction. Only an unrealistically compliant policy
of tribute paid immediately upon sighting a Viking fleet could have forestalled the devastation
suffered by shire after shire. Such a policy, in effect, would have meant total capitulation,
leaving Viking hosts with only themselves as contestants for English wealth. In effect, this nearly
happens in 1012 and 1013 when, successively, much of the country submits to King Svein, while
King Aethelred is confined largely to London at first but then finally crosses the channel into
I think the Maldon poet, no pacifist bent on converting the Vikings, shares Aethelred's hope for
reliable, vigorous ealdormen and for staunch warbands and associated levies. Even then one
might not prevail in given battles, although surely one could inflict significant damage upon a
Viking army (as some levies occasionally did). Over time one could wear down, outwit,
outmaneuver, or even surprise the Viking hosts and eventually defeat them -- much as, beginning
in much more desperate straits than Aethelred faced in the 990s, Alfred did in his time more than
a century earlier. Men like the Byrthnoth of poetry and his loyal retainers might yet appear to
lead armies and bolster the defenses of heavily raided counties. As Byrthnoth is a triumphant
model for great lords, so, corporately, the loyal retainers form a new ideal for ambitious, rightminded warriors. Those loyal retainers construct, piece by piece, a refurbished, group-ideal of
glorious action. And so it is here, in a master-stroke of heroic transformation, that Anglo-Saxon
heroic poetry and its past complexities will come to an end in the developing, pre-Norman
prose characterized by the use of poetic devices, as alliteration, assonance, rhyme, etc., and
especially by an emphasis on rhythm notstrictly metered.
In literature, polyphony (Russian: полифония) is a feature of narrative, which includes a
diversity of points of view and voices. The concept was introduced by Mikhail Bakhtin, based on
the musical concept polyphony. Bakhtin claimed that polyphony and heteroglossia are the
defining features of the novel as a literary genre.
For Bakhtin the primary example of polyphony was Dostoevsky's prose. Bakhtin argued that
Dostoyevsky, unlike previous novelists, does not appear to aim for a 'single vision' and goes
beyond simply describing situations from various angles. Dostoevsky engendered fully dramatic
novels of ideas where conflicting views and characters are left to develop unevenly into
unbearable crescendo (The Brothers Karamazov).
Categories are intended to group together pages on similar subjects. They are implemented by a
MediaWiki feature that adds any page with a text like in its wikimarkup to the automated listing
that is the category with name XYZ. Categories help readers to find, and navigate around, a
subject area, to see pages sorted by title, and to thus find article relationships.
Categories are normally found at the bottom of an article page. Clicking a category name brings
up a category page listing the articles (or other pages) that have been added to that particular
category. There may also be a section listing the subcategories of that category. The
subcategorization feature makes it possible to organize categories into tree-like structures to aid
The term category does refer to both the title of a category page—the category pagename—and
the category itself. Keeping this in mind while reading about categorization, plus learning a
category page layout is a worthwhile investment in research techniques. (See also the search box
parameter "incategory".) The layout of a category page is mostly text, but see about displaying
category treesbelow.
The MediaWiki software maintains tables of categories, to which any editable page can be
added. To add a page to a category, include "[[Category:Category name]]" or "[[Category:
Category name|Sortkey]]" in that page's wikimarkup. The categories to which a page belongs
appear in a box at the bottom of the page.
A category is usually associated with a category page in the "Category:" namespace. A category
page contains text that can be edited, like any other page, but when the page is displayed, the last
part of what is displayed is an automatically generated list of all pages in that category, in the
form of links. Other category pages which appear in this list are treated separately, as
Putting pages in categories
A page belongs to a category if the page's wikimarkup contains a declaration for that category. A
category declaration takes the form[[Category:Category name]] or [[Category:Category
name|Sortkey]]. The declaration must be processed, i.e. it will not work if it appears between
<nowiki>...</nowiki> or <includeonly>...</includeonly> tags, or in a comment. The declaration
may however come from a transcluded page; see Categories and templates below.
A category name can be any string that would be a legitimate page title. It cannot begin with a
lower-case letter. If the category name given in a category declaration begins with a lower-case
letter, then it is interpreted as if it were capitalized.
In Wikipedia, it is customary to place category declarations at the end of the wikimarkup, but
before any stub templates (which themselves transclude categories) and interlanguage links.
When a page has been added to one or more categories, a categories box appears at the bottom of
the page (or possibly elsewhere, if a non-default skin is being used). This box contains a list of
the categories the page belongs to, in the order in which the category declarations appear in the
processed wikimarkup. The category names are linked to the corresponding category pages.
They appear as redlinks if the corresponding category page does not exist. The categories box
also provides links to quickly add, remove, or modify category declarations on the page, without
having to edit the whole page
Hidden categories are not displayed, except as described below under Hiding categories.
Category pages
A category page is a page in the "Category:" namespace. The page "Category:Name"
corresponds to the category called "Name". New category pages can be created like any other
pages – by clicking on redlinks or entering the name in the search box and clicking "Go".
A category page can be edited like any other page. However, when it is displayed, the editable
part of the page is followed by automatically generated lists of pages belonging to the category,
as follows:
First a count and list of subcategories (other category pages belonging to the category) is
shown, if any exist. The name of each subcategory is followed by a count of its own
subcategories. These further subcategories are expanded in the display if the ► sign alongside
the subcategory is clicked (but this "widget" is only visible if your browser has JavaScript
enabled). Note: ► is shown if there are no further subcategories. The subcategory is collapsed
again if ▼ is clicked.
Next a count and list of pages in the category (excluding subcategories and images) is
shown. If the category has no members, a message to that effect is displayed.
Next a count and list of image and other media files in the category appears, if any exist.
These are shown with thumbnails. The first 20 characters of the file name are shown, with an
ellipsis if that is not the full name; also the file size is shown.
The items in the lists all link to the pages concerned; in the case of the images this applies both to
the image itself and to the text below it (the name of the image).
For the way in which the lists are ordered, see Sort order below. The first and second lists are
divided into sections, according to the first character of the sort key. These initial characters are
displayed above the sections. To suppress these, make all sort keys start with a space.
A category page can only display a limited number of items (currently 200). If more pages
belong to the category, there will be a link to the next ones.
The categories box for the category page appears at the bottom, in the same place as for other
pages. This contains the categories to which the current category page has been added, i.e. its
parent categories (the categories of which it is a subcategory). Add a category page to other
categories in the normal way, using the "[[Category:Category name]]" or "[[Category:Category
name|Sortkey]]" syntax.
Linking to category pages
To link to a category page without putting the current page in that category, precede the link with
a colon: [[:Category:Category name]]. Such a link can be piped like a normal wikilink. (The
{{cl}} template, and others listed on its documentation page, may sometimes be helpful.)
Sort order
By default, a page is sorted under the first letter of its full name including the namespace. Also,
MediaWiki groups accented characters separately from their unaccented version, so pages
starting by À, Á, Ä, will be listed under separate headings, instead of under heading A.
Unlike at Special:Allpages and Special:Prefixindex, a space is treated as a space (coming before
all other characters), not as an underscore.
Each of the three lists (subcategories, pages, media files) is arranged in the order explained
above (except that, in the subcategories list, the namespace indicator "Category:" is not
considered). If an item ought to be positioned within a list on the basis of an alternative name
(sort key) for that item, then this can be specified in the category tag that places the item in the
Unlike with a piped link (which uses the same syntax), the sort key itself is not displayed to
readers. It affects only the order in which pages are listed on the category page.
It is useful to document the system being used for sort keys on the category page. For guidelines
about the use of sort keys on Wikipedia, see WP:SORTKEY.
Default sort key
It is possible to set a default sort key which is different from {{PAGENAME}} by using the
magic word {{DEFAULTSORT}} thus:
In the case of multiple default sort key tags, the last DEFAULTSORT on the final rendering of a
page applies for all categories, regardless of the position of the category tags. This also means
that a DEFAULTSORT tag included from a template is not effective if another DEFAULTSORT
tag occurs later on the page, even if the later DEFAULTSORT tag is also "hidden" (included by
another template).
Hiding categories
When the magic word __HIDDENCAT__ is placed on a category page, that category becomes
hidden, meaning that it will not be displayed on the pages belonging to that category. On
Wikipedia, the magic word is not normally used explicitly, but is applied through the
{{hiddencat}} template. The feature is mostly used to prevent project maintenance categories
from showing up to ordinary readers on article pages.
However, hidden categories are displayed (although listed as hidden):
on category pages (whether as parent categories or subcategories);
at preview during editing;
if the user has selected "Show hidden categories" in user preferences.
Hidden categories are automatically added to Category:Hidden categories.
For guidelines on the hiding of categories on Wikipedia, see WP:HIDDENCAT.
Categories and templates
A template can be used to add pages to a category, usually by placing the category link inside
<includeonly></includeonly> tags on the template (e.g. <includeonly>[[Category:category
name]]</includeonly>). When the template is transcluded into the page, the category link
becomes active, and the page is added to the category page. This is useful for categories that
have high turnover or many pages included, like cleanup categories.
Changes to the template, however, may not be reflected immediately on the category page. When
you edit an article to add a category tag directly, the list of category members is updated
immediately when the page is saved. When a category link is contained in a template, however,
this does not happen immediately: instead, whenever a template is edited, all the pages that
transclude it are put into the job queue to be recached during periods of low server load. This
means that, in busy periods, it may take hours or even days before individual pages are recached
and they start to appear in the category list. Performing a null edit to a page will allow it to jump
the queue and be immediately recached.
To add the template itself to the category page as well, omit the "includeonly" tags. To add the
template to a category withoutcategorizing pages on which the template is transcluded, place the
category declaration between <noinclude>...</noinclude> tags.
Parser functions can be used to make the transcluded categories, or the sort key used in them,
dependent on other variables, notably PAGENAME.
Passing a category by parameter
If the user provides a parameter 'cat=XXX' the page will be categorized at the page
[[Category:XXX]], otherwise it will be categorized at the page [[Category:default]]. Calling the
template with "cat=" (equal to nothing) disables putting the page in any category.
Excluding non-article pages
<includeonly>{{#if:{{NAMESPACE}} | | [[Category:XXX]]}}</includeonly>
the variable NAMESPACE is null for mainspace articles. For any space other than mainspace,
this ParserFunction will produce an empty string, but for regular articles this will include the
article in Category:XXX.
On Wikipedia it is not recommended that templates be used to populate ordinary content
categories of articles. See Categorization using templates in the categorization guideline.
Categorizing redirect pages
Redirect pages can be categorized. The category tag must be placed after the redirect link. On a
category page, redirects are listed in italics.
For conventions on the categorization of redirects in Wikipedia, see Wikipedia:Categorizing
Moving and redirecting category pages
You can move a category by creating a new one and using the {{category redirect}} template on
the category you wish to move. For categories entirely populated through templates (see above)
modifying the templates enables all affected articles to be moved to another category, but with
the refresh problem mentioned. Almost all category "moves" are made pursuant to a consensus
decision at Wikipedia:Categories for discussion.
Do not create intercategory redirects. See Wikipedia:Categories for discussion#Redirecting
categories for more on category redirects.
Searching for articles in categories.
In addition to browsing through hierarchies of categories, it is possible to use the search tool to
find specific articles in specific categories. To search for articles in a specific category, type
incategory:"CategoryName" in the search box.
An "OR" can be added to join the contents of one category with the contents of another. For
example, enter
incategory:"Suspension bridges" OR incategory:"Bridges in New York City"
to return all pages that belong to either (or both) of the categories, as here.
Note that using search to find categories will not find articles which have been categorized using
templates. This feature also doesn't return pages in subcategories.
"Related Changes" with categories
For a category, the "Related Changes" feature, applied to the corresponding category page, lists
recent changes to the pages currently listed as belonging to that category. Where those pages are
subcategories or image pages, only changes to their editable parts are listed.
Notice that "Related Changes" does not list recent changes to pages linked from the editable part
of the category page (as it would normally, with a non-category page). (If a workaround is
required for this, the links in question could be placed in a template and transcluded onto the
category page.)
As usual (unlike with watchlists) recent changes to corresponding talk pages are not shown under
"Related Changes". Pages you are watching are bolded on the list (this can be helpful for finding
which pages in a given category you have on your watchlist).
"Related Changes" can be used to find pages which have recently been added to a category
(unless they were added through modification of a template; then "What links here" should be
used with the template). However it is not possible to detect deletions from a category in this
way (since once pages have been removed from a category, their edits no longer show up in
Related Changes). Another way of finding recent additions is to use an API query; see Retrieving
category information below. There is an external tool to watch additions and removals from
The DynamicPageList (third-party) extension provides a list of last edits to the pages in a
category, or optionally, just the list of pages; the simpler DynamicPageList (Wikimedia) is
installed on Meta and Wikinews; the extension mw:Extension:DPLforum is installed on Wikia.
Listing all categories
Special:Categories provides an alphabetic list of all categories, with the number of members of
each; this number does not include the content of the subcategories, but it includes the
subcategories themselves, i.e., each counting as one.
The above list contains all categories that have members, regardless of whether they have
corresponding category pages. To list all existing category pages (regardless of whether they
have members), use Special:AllPages/Category:.
Displaying category trees and page counts
As described at mw:Help:Magic words, {{PAGESINCATEGORY:Example}} or
{{PAGESINCAT:Example}} returns the number of pages in "Category:Example". Each
subcategory counts as one page; pages in subcategories are not counted.
The page Special:CategoryTree enables you to see the tree structure of a category (its
subcategories, their subcategories and so on; the display of files and other member pages is
The CategoryTree extension can be used to display such a tree on any page. (This is sometimes
done on the category page itself, if the category is split over multiple screens, to make all
subcategories available on every screen.) The basic syntax is
<categorytree>Category name</categorytree>
to display just the subcategory tree, and
<categorytree mode=pages>Category name</categorytree>
to display member pages as well.
Dapete's category-visualizer Catgraph will render charts of the tree structure.
You may also use Template:Category tree or Template:Category tree all, instead.
Retrieving category information
Raw information about the members of a category, their sortkeys and timestamps (time when last
added to the category) can be obtained from the API, using a query of the form:
Village Prose
A movement called ―village prose‖ cultivated nostalgic descriptions of rural life. Particularly
noteworthy is Valentin Rasputin’s elegiac novel Proshchaniye s Matyoroy (1976; Farewell to
Matyora) about a village faced with destruction to make room for a hydroelectric plant.
Village Prose(Russian: Деревенская проза, or Деревенская литература) was a movement in
Soviet literature beginning during theKhrushchev Thaw, which included works that focused on
the Soviet rural communities. Some point to the critical essays oncollectivization in Novyi mir
by Valentin Ovechkin as the starting point of Village Prose, though most of the subsequent
works associated with the genre are fictional novels and short stories.Authors associated with
Village Prose include Aleksander Yashin,Vasily Belov,Fyodor Abramov, Valentin Rasputin,
Boris Mozhayev, Vasily Shukshin. Some critics also count Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn among the
Village Prose writers for his short novel Matryona's House.
Many Village Prose works espoused an idealized picture of traditional Russian village life and
became increasingly associated withRussian nationalism in the 1970s and 1980s. Some have
argued that the nationalist subtext of Village Prose is the reason the Soviet government remained
supportive of Village Prose writers like Valentin Rasputin (who became a member of the
Writers' Union) during the Time of Stagnation, even while they began to more heavily censor
other dissenting movements, like Youth and Urban Prose.
Kathleen Parth offers the first comprehensive examination of the controversial literary
movement Russian Village Prose. From the 1950s to the decline of the movement in the 1970s,
Valentin Rasputin, Fedor Abramov, and other writers drew on "luminous" memories of their
rural childhoods to evoke a thousand-year-old pattern of life that was disappearing as they wrote.
In their lyrical descriptions of a vanishing world, they expressed nostalgia for Russia's past and
fears for the nation's future; they opposed collectivized agriculture, and fought to preserve
traditional art and architecture and to protect the environment. Assessing the place of Village
Prose in the newly revised canon of twentieth-century Russian literature, Parth maintains that
these writers consciously ignored and undermined Socialist Realism, and created the most
aesthetically coherent and ideologically important body of published writings to appear in the
Soviet Union between Stalin's death and Gorbachev's ascendancy. In the 1970s, Village Prose
was seen as moderately nationalist and conservative in spirit. After 1985, however, statements by
several of its practitioners caused the movement to be reread as a possible stimulus for
chauvinistic, anti-Semitic groups like Pamyat. This important development is treated here with a
thorough discussion of all the political implications of these rural narratives. Nevertheless, the
center of Parth's work remains her exploration of the parameters that constitute a "code of
reading" for works of Village Prose. The appendixes contain a translation and analysis of a
particularly fine example of Russian Village Prose--Aleksei Leonov's "Kondyr."
The transcript of Andrei Sakharov’s talk at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington [―On
Gorbachev: A Talk with Andrei Sakharov,‖ NYR, December 22, 1988] contains several very
questionable statements about contemporary Russian writers.
In answer to a perceptive question by James Billington about Russian nationalism, Dr. Sakharov
began by discussing the chauvinist group Pamyat (which had its origins in a desire to preserve
old monuments of Russian architecture, but which evolved into a group that directs its venom
against anyone who isn’t Russian, including Jews, ―Masons,‖ and Georgians). Sakharov and
Sergei Kovalyov then exchanged opinions on three Russian Village Prose writers (Belov,
Rasputin, and Astafiev), connecting them with recent Russian chauvinist activity.
In the process of writing a book on Russian Village Prose, I have read hundreds of works by
these and many other writers. I have corresponded with a number of them, and I have
interviewed several, including Rasputin. These writers are not Pamyat activists; their lobbying
efforts are devoted to environmental issues. In their stories, novels, and essays there are only on
very rare occasions anything that could be cited as evidence of chauvinistic beliefs. In recent
works, Belov and Mozhaev have fallen into the trap of blaming (incorrectly) the excesses of
collectivization primarily on Jewish members of the Party apparatus. Rasputin, to my
knowledge, has no other sin on his conscience than not having denounced Pamyat. Chauvinism,
specifically anti-Semitism, is in no way typical of Village Prose.
Russian Village Prose has concentrated on describing traditional Russian villages from the 1920s
to the present. The writers have celebrated many aspects of the old rural way of life, trying to
preserve the memory of it as the thousand-year-old Russian village passes into history. Some
Village Prose works, for example Rasputin’s Farewell to Matyora, are among the most beautiful
in post-Stalinist literature. In general, this movement is largely responsible for reviving Russian
literature after the ravages of Socialist Realism.
Pamyat is indeed an ominous development. It is not in any important way connected to Village
Prose writers, who represent for the most part positive aspects of Russian nationalist feelings.
Kathleen Parthé
The University of Rochester
Rochester, New York
Sergei Kovalyov replies:
Neither Sakharov nor I ever maintained that Astafyev, Belov, or Rasputin belong to Pamyat or
that they completely share its views. In fact, neither of us spoke about so-called Village Prose as
a whole. This is, by the way, quite apparent from the text published in The New York Review of
Books. Quite the contrary, like Professor Parthé, I consider Village Prose to be a significant
literary phenomenon. We were talking about something else. Replying to a question from Mr.
Billington about the positive ideas of the Russian nationalist movement, I said I could see no
such ideas in contemporary Russian nationalism. The basic logic of my position is as follows:
The deep crisis that has gripped all areas of Soviet life is apparent to all and can no longer be
concealed. Many are asking the question: ―Whose fault is it?‖ It is very tempting to look for the
guilty parties among outsiders, and probably for this reason Russian nationalists discover the
guilty everywhere except inside Russian society. In all Russian troubles—whether they refer to
the October Revolution, collectivization of the peasants (1929–1934), the mass terror, the
destruction of historical monuments, or the pollution of Lake Baikal—the guilty are always nonRussians. In keeping with its doubtful cultural level, Pamyat, or at any rate many of its
representatives, insist that there is a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy; they look for a sinister meaning
and for evidence of such a conspiracy in the running of the Moscow metro or in the innocent
design details in theater productions, street signs, and so on.
Of course, I by no means believe that the authors I mentioned share those absurd notions.
However, the regrettable tendency to look for non-Russian perpetrators of Russian misfortunes is
widespread even in circles of the Soviet intellectual elite. This tendency is common to most
Russian nationalists, both among writers, regardless of their literary genre or level of talent, and
in academic circles. In my view, both this tendency, inevitably involving chauvinism, and the
very fact of its popularity among certain intellectuals are very dangerous. In fact, I spoke about
this at the Kennan Institute. Dr. Sakharov also noted that there is reason to assume that the KGB
supports Russian nationalism to some extent—and that represents an additional, important
Let me offer evidence for these statements. Astafyev refers, in his letter of 1987 to the Moscow
historian Natan Eidelman, to ―the seething pus of Jewish super-intellectual arrogance.‖ Is this
one of the ―very rare occasions [when] anything…could be cited as evidence of chauvinistic
beliefs,‖ that Professor Parthé mentions? In the same letter, Astafyev writes: ―As we [the
Russians] rise again, we shall get to the point where we begin to sing our own songs, dance our
own dances…. In our chauvinistic beliefs, we shall get to the point where the Pushkin and
Lermontov scholars of our country will also be Russian and—terrifying to think—we ourselves
will compile the collected works of our own classics…and—O horror, O nightmare!—we
ourselves will provide the commentaries to Dostoevsky’s diaries.‖ Astafyev seems to suggest
here that the fifth item (on official identity documents) about one’s nationality has up to now
been impeding access to the scholarly world for Russians (not, as is more widely believed, for
Jews and other non-Russians).
The other writer I mentioned, V. Rasputin, said at a meeting with readers on December 18, 1987:
―I am not against a Museum of the Decembrists,2 but against a memorial to the Decembrists in
Irkutsk designed by the Muscovite sculptor Shapiro. [Laughter, applause] …Among those who
are ruining Lake Baikal is Volevkovich [a Jew], this is understandable. But not only
Volevkovich, Zhavoronkov [is responsible] as well. And he’s a Russian!‖ So the quality of the
memorial’s design and the attitude toward nature is determined by nationality. In my opinion,
this is chauvinism. (Summary published in the weekly newspaper Russkaia mysl, Paris, February
12, 1988.)
The literary merits of V. Belov’s book Vse vperedi (Moscow, 1987) pale beside the xenophobia
vividly expressed in it.
The kinds of appallingly chauvinistic forms assumed by Russian nationalism in other literary
genres are convincingly shown in M. Kaganskaya’s interesting article, published in No. 11
(1986) and No. 2 (1987) of the journal Strana i mir. I strongly recommend this article to those
doing research on contemporary Russian literature and to all interested parties. It shows that in
such different genres as Village Prose and science fiction, the basic idea of the nationalists is the
same—the special role of the Russian people in the world struggle between Good and Evil.
I sincerely wish Professor Parthé success in her work but it seems obvious that research into
literature, including Village Prose, should not avoid the controversial issues mentioned here. I
think that a writer’s affiliation to this literary trend, the merits of which in the rebirth of
contemporary Russian literature are beyond doubt, should not inhibit scholars from conducting
full, many-sided, and objective research.
Fiction writing
Fiction writing is any kind of writing that is not factual. Fictional writing most often takes the
form of a story meant to convey an author's point of view or simply to entertain. The result of
this may be a short story, novel, novella, screenplay, or drama, which are all types (though not
the only types) of fictional writing styles.
Elements of fiction
Just as a painter uses color and line to create a painting, an author uses the elements of fiction to
create a story:
The elements of fiction are: character, plot, setting, theme, and style. Of these five elements,
character is the who, plot is thewhat, setting is the where and when, theme is the why, and style
is the how of a story.
A character is any person, personal, identity, or entity whose existence originates from a fictional
work or performance.
A plot, or storyline, is the rendering and ordering of the events and actions of a story, particularly
towards the achievement of some particular artistic or emotional effect.
Setting is the time and location in which a story takes place.
Theme is the broad idea, message, or lesson of a story.
Style includes the multitude of choices fiction writers make, consciously or subconsciously, as
they create a story. They encompass the big-picture, strategic choices such as point of view and
narrator, but they also include the nitty-gritty, tactical choices of grammar, punctuation, word
usage, sentence and paragraph length and structure, tone, the use of imagery, chapter selection,
titles, and on and on. In the process of writing a story, these choices meld to become the writer's
voice, his or her own unique style.
is one of the five elements of fiction, along with plot, setting, theme, and writing style. A
character is a participant in the story, and is usually a person, but may be any persona, identity,
or entity whose existence originates from a fictional work or performance.
Characters may be of several types:
Point-of-view character: the character by whom the story is viewed. The point-of-view
character may or may not also be the main character in the story.
Protagonist: the main character of a story
Antagonist: the character who stands in opposition to the protagonist
Minor character: a character that interacts with the protagonist. They help the story move
Foil character: a (usually minor) character who has traits in aversion to the main character
The plot, or storyline, is the rendering and ordering of the events and actions of a story. Starting
with the initiating event, then the rising action, conflict, climax, falling action, and ending with
the resolution.
On a micro level, plot consists of action and reaction, also referred to as stimulus and response.
On a macro level, plot has a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
The climax of the novel consists of a single action-packed sentence in which the conflict
(problem) of the novel is resolved. This sentence comes towards the end of the novel. The main
part of the action should come before the climax.
Plot also has a mid-level structure: scene and sequel. A scene is a unit of drama—where the
action occurs. Then, after a transition of some sort, comes the sequel—an emotional reaction and
regrouping, an aftermath.
Setting is the locale and time of a story. The setting is often a real place, but may be a fictitious
city or country within our own world; a different planet; or an alternate universe, which may or
may not have similarities with our own universe. Sometimes setting is referred to as milieu, to
include a context (such as society) beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. It is basically
where and when the story takes place.
Theme is what the author is trying to tell the reader. For example, the belief in the ultimate good
in people, or that things are not always what they seem. This is often referred to as the "moral of
the story." Some fiction contains advanced themes like morality, or the value of life, whereas
other stories have no theme, or a very shallow one.
Style includes the multitude of choices fiction writers make, consciously or not, in the process of
writing a story. It encompasses not only the big-picture, strategic choices such as point of view
and choice of narrator, but also tactical choices of grammar, punctuation, word usage, sentence
and paragraph length and structure, tone, the use of imagery, chapter selection, titles, etc. In the
process of creating a story, these choices meld to become the writer's voice, his or her own
unique style.
Components of style
For each piece of fiction, the author makes many choices, consciously or subconsciously, which
combine to form the writer's unique style. The components of style are numerous, but include
point of view, choice of narrator, fiction-writing mode, person and tense, grammar, punctuation,
word usage, sentence length and structure, paragraph length and structure, tone, imagery, chapter
usage, and title selection.
The narrator is the teller of the story, the orator, doing the mouthwork, or its in-print equivalent.
Point of View
Point of view is from whose consciousness the reader hears, sees, and feels the story.
Tone is the mood that the author establishes within the story.
Suspension of Disbelief
Suspension of disbelief is the reader's temporary acceptance of story elements as believable,
regardless of how implausible they may seem in real life.
Fan fiction, or fanfiction (often abbreviated as fan fic, fanfic, or simply fic), is a broadly defined
fan labor term for stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather
than by the original creator. Works of fan fiction are rarely commissioned or authorized by the
original work's owner, creator, or publisher; also, they are almost never professionally published.
Due to these works' not being published, stories often contain a disclaimer stating that the creator
of the work owns none of the original characters. Fan fiction is defined by being both related to
its subject's canonical fictional universe and simultaneously existing outside the canon of that
universe. Most fan fiction writers assume that their work is read primarily by other fans, and
therefore tend to presume that their readers have knowledge of the canon universe (created by a
professional writer) in which their works are based.
Fan fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear
apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker. They don't do it
for money. That's not what it's about. The writers write it and put it up online just for the
satisfaction. They're fans, but they're not silent, couch-bound consumers of media. The culture
talks to them, and they talk back to the culture in its own language.
—Lev Grossman, TIME, July 18, 2011
Media scholar Henry Jenkins explains the correlation between transmedia storytelling and fan
The encyclopedic ambitions of transmedia texts often results in what might be seen as gaps or
excesses in the unfolding of the story: that is, they introduce potential plots which can not be
fully told or extra details which hint at more than can be revealed. Readers, thus, have a strong
incentive to continue to elaborate on these story elements, working them over through their
speculations, until they take on a life of their own. Fan fiction can be seen as an unauthorized
expansion of these media franchises into new directions which reflect the reader's desire to "fill
in the gaps" they have discovered in the commercially produced material.
Modern phenomenon
The Star Trek fanzineSpockanalia contained the first fan fiction in the modern sense of the term.
Before about 1965, the term "fan fiction" was used in science fiction fandom to designate
original, though amateur, works of science fiction published in science fiction fanzines, as
differentiated from fiction that was professionally published by professional writers; or fiction
about fans and fandom.
However, the modern phenomenon of fan fiction as an expression of fandom and fan interaction
was popularized and defined via Star Trek fandom and their fanzines published in the 1960s. The
first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia (1967), contained some fan fiction; many others followed its
example.1These fanzines were produced via offset printing and mimeography, and mailed to
other fans or sold atscience fiction conventions for a small fee to help recoup costs. Unlike other
aspects of fandom, women dominated fan fiction authoring; 83% of Star Trek fan fiction authors
were female by 1970, and 90% by 1973. One scholar states that fan fiction "fill[s] the need of a
mostly female audience for fictional narratives that expand the boundary of the official source
products offered on the television and movie screen."
Fan fiction has become more popular and widespread since the advent of the World Wide
Web;according to one estimate, fan fiction comprises one third of all content about books on the
Web. In addition to traditional fanzines and conventions, Usenet group electronic mailing lists
were established for fan fiction as well as fan discussion. Online, searchable fan fiction archives
were also established. The online archives were initially non-commercial hand-tended and
fandom- or topic-specific. These archives were followed by non-commercial automated
databases. In 1998, the not-for-profit site FanFiction.Net came online, which allowed anyone to
upload content in any fandom.[ The ability to self-publish fan fiction at an easily-accessible
common archive that did not require insider knowledge to join, and the ability to review the
stories directly on the site, became popular quite quickly.FanFiction.net now hosts millions of
stories in dozens of languages, and as of 2003 was widely considered the largest most popular
fan fiction archive online. Its indiscriminate policy of accepting any and all submissions has led
to its being fondly/derogatively nicknamed "The Pit of Voles".
LiveJournal (founded in 1999) and other blogging services played a large part in the move away
from mailing lists (both electronic andamateur press associations) to blogs as a means for fan
communication and the sharing of fan fiction. Although much fan fiction today is published to
archives, it would be impossible to tell whether more or less fan fiction today is posted directly
to blogging services than to fan-fiction-specific archives, particularly since many authors
maintain accounts on multiple sites and liberally cross-post their stories.
On May 22, 2013, the online retailer Amazon.com established a new publishing service, Kindle
Worlds. This service would enable fan fiction stories of certain licensed media properties to be
sold in the Kindle Store with terms including 35% of net sales for works of 10,000 words or
more and 20% for short fiction ranging from 5000 to 10,000 words.However, this arrangement
includes restrictions on content, copyright violations, poor document formatting and/or using
misleading titles.
Relationship to canon
Stories are also categorized by their relationship to canon.The most common term is alternate
universe which is frequently abbreviated AU. There are two main sub-categories of alternate
universe fan fiction: stories that exist in the same "world" as canon, but change one or more
major plot points (e.g. a character dies who is still alive in the source material or some event in
the characters' lives is altered) and stories that take some or all characters from the source
material and put them in an entirely different situation (e.g.Harry Potter and Hermione Granger
are a "soul-bonded" couple rather than Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger being a couple). In
some cases, only names, genders, locations and sometimes relationships are retained, with
everything else different, such as the characters of the Harry Potter universe all being normal
humans instead of wizards. Fan fiction work sometimes include Dark! or Fem! prefixes before
names in their summaries. Fem! denotes of a male character in canon either born female or made
female intentionally or by accident. Dark! denotes a character showing the evil part of their
personality throughout most, if not all, of the story.
There are several categories of "canon" stories as well, that is, stories that do not contradict the
source material in any way. Missing scene fill in parts of the story that were "left out" of the
source. Episode Codas (a term that applies only to fan fiction based on animated or televised
works) are stories that pick up at the end of an episode. These are usually written shortly after an
episode airs, when viewers are left wanting more. Other categories, like pre- and post-series refer
to stories that depict events taking place outside the chronological scope of the source material.
Futurefic refers to any story that takes place after the currently available canon.
Prose Poem
Prose poetry is poetry written in prose instead of using verse but preserving poetic qualities such
as heightened imagery and emotional effects. Poetic Form: Prose Poem
Though the name of the form may appear to be a contradiction, the prose poem essentially
appears as prose, but reads like poetry. In the first issue of The Prose Poem: An International
Journal, editor Peter Johnson explained, "Just as black humor straddles the fine line between
comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels
resting precariously on banana peels."
While it lacks the line breaks associated with poetry, the prose poem maintains a poetic quality,
often utilizing techniques common to poetry, such as fragmentation, compression, repetition, and
rhyme. The prose poem can range in length from a few lines to several pages long, and it may
explore a limitless array of styles and subjects.
Though examples of prose passages in poetic texts can be found in early Bible translations and
the Lyrical Ballads of William Wordsworth, the form is most often traced to nineteenth-century
French symbolists writers. The advent of the form in the work of Aloysius Bertrand and Charles
Baudelaire marked a significant departure from the strict separation between the genres of prose
and poetry at the time. A fine example of the form is Baudelaire's "Be Drunk," which concludes:
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude
of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave,
the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that
is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind,
wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred
slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."
The form quickly spread to innovative literary circles in other coutries: Rainer Maria Rilke and
Franz Kafka in Germany; Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz in Latin America;
and William Carlos Williams and Gertrude Stein in the United States. Each group of writers
adapted the form and developed their own rules and restrictions, ultimately expanding the
definitions of the prose poem.
Among contemporary American writers, the form is widely popular and can be found in work by
poets from a diverse range of movements and styles, including James Wright, Russell Edson, and
Charles Simic. Campbell McGrath’s winding and descriptive "The Prose Poem" is a recent
example of the form; it begins:
On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard, though driving past you would hardly
notice it, this boundary line or ragged margin, a shallow swale that cups a simple trickle of water,
less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell, a tangled ditch grown up throughout with a fearsome
assortment of wildflowers and bracken. There is no fence, though here and there a weathered
post asserts a former claim, strands of fallen wire taken by the dust. To the left a cornfield carries
into the distance, dips and rises to the blue sky, a rolling plain of green and healthy plants aligned
in close order, row upon row upon row.
There are several anthologies devoted to the prose poem, including Traffic: New and Selected
Prose Poems and Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, as well as the study of
the form in The American Prose Poem: Poetic Form and the Boundries of Genre.
Prose poetry should be considered as neither primarily poetry nor prose but is essentially a
hybrid or fusion of the two, and accounted a separate genre altogether. The argument for prose
poetry belonging to the genre of poetry emphasizes its heightened attention to language and
prominent use of metaphor. On the other hand, prose poetry can be identified primarily as prose
for its reliance on prose's association with narrative and on the expectation of an objective
presentation of truth.
Prose poetry originated in early 19th century France and Germany as a reaction against
dependence upon traditional uses of line in verse. Earlier examples can be found in Western
literature, e.g. James Macpherson's 'translation' of Ossian.) German Romanticism (Jean Paul,
Novalis, Hoelderlin,Heine) may be seen as forerunners of the prose poem as it evolved in
Europe. At the time of the prose poem's establishment as a form, French poetry was dominated
by the Alexandrine, a strict and demanding form that poets starting with Aloysius Bertrand and
later Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé rebelled against in works such
asGaspard de la nuit, Paris Spleen and Les Illuminations.Gedichte in Prosa. Von der Romantik
bis zur Moderne. Vorwort und Auswahl von Alexander Stillmark, Frankfurt a. Main (2013).
Germany and Austria throughout the nineteenth century produced a large body of examples of
prose poetry without using the designation. The prose poem continued to be written in France
into the 20th century by such writers as Max Jacob, Henri Michaux, and Francis Ponge.
At the end of the 19th century, British Decadent movement poets such as Oscar Wilde picked up
the form because of its already subversive associations.
Writers of prose poetry outside of France include Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis, Hans Christian
Andersen, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan George, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Maeterlinck,
Turgenev, Kafka, Georg Trakl, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith.
Notable Modernist poet T. S. Eliot wrote vehemently against prose poems. He added to the
debate about what defines the genre, saying in his introduction to Djuna Barnes' highly
poeticized 1936 novel Nightwood that this work may not be classed as "poetic prose" as it did
not have the rhythm or "musical pattern" of verse.
In contrast, a couple of other Modernist authors wrote prose poetry consistently, including
Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson.
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Canadian author Elizabeth Smart, written in
1945, is a relatively isolated example of English-language poetic prose in the mid-20th century.
Then, for a while, prose poems died out, at least in English—until the early 1950s and '60s, when
American poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs,
Russell Edson, Charles Simic, Robert Bly and James Wright experimented with the form. Edson
worked principally in this form, and helped give the prose poem its current reputation for
surrealist wit. Simic won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 1989 collection, The World Doesn't
At the same time, poets elsewhere were exploring the form in Spanish, Japanese and Russian.
Octavio Paz worked in this form in Spanish in his Aguila o Sol? (Eagle or Sun?). Spanish poet
Ángel Crespo did his most notable work in the genre. Giannina Braschi, postmodern Spanishlanguage poet, wrote a trilogy of prose poems, El imperio de los sueños (Empire of Dreams,
1988). TranslatorDennis Keene (translator) presents the work of six Japanese prose poets in The
Modern Japanese Prose Poem: an Anthology of Six Poets. Similarly, Adrian Wanner and Caryl
Emerson describe the form's growth in Russia in their critical work, Russian Minimalism: from
the Prose Poem to the Anti-story.
The writings of Syrian poet and writer Francis Marrash (1836-73) featured the first examples of
prose poetry in modern Arabic literature.
In Poland, Bolesław Prus (1847–1912), influenced by the French prose poets, had written a
number of poetic micro-stories, including "Mold of the Earth" (1884), "The Living Telegraph"
(1884) and "Shades" (1885). His somewhat longer story, "A Legend of Old Egypt" (1888),
likewise shows many features of prose poetry.
The form has gained popularity since the late 1980s. Journals have begun to specialize,
publishing solely prose poems/flash fiction in their pages (see external links below). In the UK,
Stride Books published, in 1993, an anthology of prose poetry, "A Curious Architecture".Some
contemporary writers who write prose poems or flash fiction include Michael Benedikt, Leigh
Blackmore, Robert Bly, J. Karl Bogartte, Anne Carson, Graham Burchell, Kim Chinquee,
Stephen Dunn, Russell Edson, Phillip A. Ellis, Richard Garcia, Ray Gonzalez, Kimiko Hahn,
Lyn Hejinian, Mark Jarman, Louis Jenkins, Campbell McGrath, Sheila Murphy, Naomi Shihab
Nye, Mary Oliver, Alan Baker, Ian Seed, Steve Spence, Linda Black, John Olson, Marge Piercy,
Bruce Holland Rogers, David Shumate, James Tate, and J. Marcus Weekley, Ron Silliman,
Robin Spriggs, Thomas Wiloch, Jason Whitmarsh, W.H. Pugmire, and Gary Young.
Poems in Prose (Wilde)
Poems in Prose is the collective title of six prose poems published by Oscar Wilde in The
Fortnightly Review (July 1894).Derived from Wilde's many oral tales, these prose poems are the
only six that were published by Wilde in his lifetime, and they include (in order of appearance):
"The Artist," "The Doer of Good", "The Disciple," "The Master," "The House of Judgment," and
"The Teacher of Wisdom." Two of these prose poems, "The House of Judgment" and "The
Disciple," appeared earlier in The Spirit Lamp, an Oxford undergraduate magazine, on February
17 and June 6, 1893 (respectively). A set of illustrations for the prose poems was completed by
Wilde's friend and frequent illustrator, Charles Ricketts, who never published the pen-and-ink
drawings in his lifetime.
Form and Influences
According to The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, the defining traits of the
prose poem are "unity even in brevity and poetic quality even without the line breaks of free
verse: high patterning, rhythmic and figural repetition, sustained intensity, and
compactness."Invented in the nineteenth century, the modern prose poem form is largely
indebted to Charles Baudelaire's experiments in the genre, notably in his Petits poèmes en prose
(1869), which created the subsequent interest in France exemplified by later writers such as
Stéphane Mallarmé and Arthur Rimbaud. In English literature, Edgar Allan Poe and Charles
Kingsley were progenitors of the form.
The Artist
In this prose poem, an artist is filled with the desire to create an image of "The Pleasure that
abideth for a Moment." Able to fashion this image out of bronze only, he searches the world for
the metal but all he can find is the bronze of one of his earlier pieces, "The Sorrow that endureth
for Ever." The prose poem ends with the artist melting down his earlier creation to create his
sculpture of the "The Pleasure that abideth for Moment."
The Doer of Good
This tale narrates the lives of four individuals after they have been helped by Christ. Noticing a
man who is living exorbitantly, Christ asks him why he is living this way, to which the man
replies that he was a leper and Christ healed him: how else should he live? Seeing another man
lusting after a prostitute, Christ asks this man why he looks at the women in that way, to which
he replies that he was blind but now can see: at what else should he look? Christ turns to the
woman, and asks her, too, why she is living in sin: you have forgiven me my sins, she says in
turn. Lastly, Christ comes upon a man weeping by the roadside. When Christ asks why he is
weeping, the man replies: I was raised from the dead, so what else should I do but weep?
The Disciple
This story is told from the perspective of the reflection pool in which Narcissus gazed at himself.
Beginning immediately after Narcissus' death, the prose poem captures the Oreads and the pool
grieving for the loss of Narcissus. Seeing that the pool has become a "cup of salt tears," the
Oreads try to console the pool, saying that it must be hard not to mourn for someone so beautiful.
The pool, however, confesses that it did not know Narcissus was beautiful; instead, it admits that
it is mourning because its own beauty was reflected in Narcissus' eyes.
The Master
Joseph of Arimathea comes upon a weeping man, who he mistakenly thinks is mourning because
of Christ's crucifixion. Instead, the man confesses that he is grieving because, in spite of
performing the same miracles as Christ performed, no one has crucified him.
The House of Judgment
Standing before God in the House of Judgment, a sinner listens to God read the list of his sins.
After each catalogue of sins, the man replies that he has done those things of which he is
accused. God, then, sentences the man to Hell, but the sinner replies that he has always lived
there. God, then, sentences the man to go to Heaven, but the man responds by saying that in no
way could he ever imagine Heaven. Stumped by the man's replies, God must remain silent.
The Teacher of Wisdom
A disciple preaches the gospel to the multitudes but finds that he remains unhappy. The man's
soul warns him that he is dividing his treasure by giving away his knowledge of God, after which
the man hoards his remaining knowledge and makes shelter in a cave in which a Centaur had
lived. Having lived in the cave for some while, the hermit encounters a robber passing by one
day. The robber is arrested by the hermit's glare, which the latter says is a look of pity because he
has treasure more valuable than all of the robber's stolen goods. The robber threatens the hermit,
but the hermit will not give away his knowledge until the robber threatens to sell his stolen
treasure for the pleasures of the city. Finally, the hermit gives away his remaining knowledge
and expires, but is then greeted by God, who tells the man that he will now know the perfect love
of God.
1.Harvard Classics, xvii, 47ff.
2.Among the best-known collections is that of Overbury.
3.As in ―The Old English Baron.
4.Thee Oxford Companion to English Literature (1996), p. 323.
5.Anglo-Saxon literature" in Dictionary of the Middle Ages, v.1, pp. 274–288.
6.Felluga, D. (n.d.). General Introduction to Postmodernism. College of Liberal Arts : Purdue
University. Retrieved August 16, 2013
7.Mikhail Bakhtin — Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Art: Polyphony and Unfinalizability
8.Townsend, Alex, Autonomous Voices: An Exploration of Polyphony in the Novels of Samuel
Richardson, 2003, Oxford, Bern,
9.Monteleone, Tom (2004). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel p. 51. Scribner.
10.Hellekson, Karen, and Kristina Busse. Fan fiction and fan communities in the age of the
Internet: new essays. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2006.
“The lesson content has been compiled from various sources in public domain including but not limited to the
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Understanding Drama
Chapter-1: Origin Of Drama
Chapter-2: The Elements Of Drama
Chapter-3: Asian Drama
Chapter-4: Forms Of Drama
Chapter-5: Dramatic Structure
Chapter-6: Comedy (Drama)
Chapter-7: Play (Theatre)
Chapter-8: Theories Of Theatre
Chapter-9: Theater Structure
Chapter-10: Shakespeare's Plays
Chapter-11: American Drama
Chapter-12: Othello – William Shakespear
Origin of Drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek
word meaning "action" (Classical Greek: drama), which is derived from the verb meaning "to
do" or "to act‖. The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an
audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a collective form of reception. The
structure of dramatic texts, unlike other forms of literature, is directly influenced by this
collaborative production and collective reception. The early modern tragedy Hamlet (1601) by
Shakespeare and the classical Athenian tragedy Oedipus the King (c. 429 BC) by Sophocles are
among the masterpieces of the art of drama. A modern example is Long Day's Journey into Night
by Eugene O‘Neill (1956).
The two masks associated with drama represent the traditional generic division between comedy
and tragedy. They are symbols of the ancient Greek Muses, Thalia and Melpomene. Thalia was
the Muse of comedy (the laughing face), while Melpomene was the Muse of tragedy (the
weeping face). Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been
contrasted with the epic and the lyrical modes ever since Aristotle's Poetics (c. 335 BC)—the
earliest work of dramatic theory.
The use of "drama" in the narrow sense to designate a specific type of play dates from the 19th
century. Drama in this sense refers to a play that is neither a comedy nor a tragedy—for example,
Zola's Thérèse Raquin (1873) or Chekhov's Ivanov (1887). It is this narrow sense that the film
and television industry and film studies adopted to describe "drama" as a genre within their
respective media. "Radio drama" has been used in both senses—originally transmitted in a live
performance, it has also been used to describe the more high-brow and serious end of the
dramatic output of radio.
Drama is often combined with music and dance: the drama in opera is generally sung
throughout; musicals generally include both spoken dialogue and songs; and some forms of
drama have incidental music or musical accompaniment underscoring the dialogue (melodrama
and Japanese Nō, for example). In certain periods of history (the ancient Roman and modern
Romantic) some dramas have been written to be read rather than performed. In improvisation,
the drama does not pre-exist the moment of performance; performers devise a dramatic script
spontaneously before an audience.
Classical Greek drama
Western drama originates in classical Greece. The theatrical culture of the city-state of Athens
produced three genres of drama: tragedy, comedy, and the satyr play. Their origins remain
obscure, though by the 5th century BC they were institutionalised in competitions held as part of
festivities celebrating the god Dionysus. Historians know the names of many ancient Greek
dramatists, not least Thespis, who is credited with the innovation of an actor ("hypokrites") who
speaks (rather than sings) and impersonates a character (rather than speaking in his own person),
while interacting with the chorus and its leader ("coryphaeus"), who were a traditional part of the
performance of non-dramatic poetry (dithyrambic, lyric and epic).
Only a small fraction of the work of five dramatists, however, has survived to this day: we have a
small number of complete texts by the tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and the
comic writers Aristophanes and, from the late 4th century, Menander. Aeschylus' historical
tragedy The Persians is the oldest surviving drama, although when it won first prize at the City
Dionysia competition in 472 BC, he had been writing plays for more than 25 years. The
competition ("agon") for tragedies may have begun as early as 534 BC; official records
("didaskaliai") begin from 501 BC, when the satyr play was introduced. Tragic dramatists were
required to present a tetralogy of plays (though the individual works were not necessarily
connected by story or theme), which usually consisted of three tragedies and one satyr play
(though exceptions were made, as with Euripides' Alcestis in 438 BC). Comedy was officially
recognised with a prize in the competition from 487 to 486 BC.
Five comic dramatists competed at the City Dionysia (though during the Peloponnesian War this
may have been reduced to three), each offering a single comedy. Ancient Greek comedy is
traditionally divided between "old comedy" (5th century BC), "middle comedy" (4th century
BC) and "new comedy" (late 4th century to 2nd BC).
Classical Roman drama
Following the expansion of the Roman Republic (509–27 BC) into several Greek territories
between 270–240 BC, Rome encountered Greek drama. From the later years of the republic and
by means of the Roman Empire (27 BC-476 AD), theatre spread west across Europe, around the
Mediterranean and reached England; Roman theatre was more varied, extensive and
sophisticated than that of any culture before it.
While Greek drama continued to be performed throughout the Roman period, the year 240 BC
marks the beginning of regular Roman drama. From the beginning of the empire, however,
interest in full-length drama declined in favour of a broader variety of theatrical entertainments.
The first important works of Roman literature were the tragedies and comedies that Livius
Andronicus wrote from 240 BC. Five years later, Gnaeus Naevius also began to write drama. No
plays from either writer have survived. While both dramatists composed in both genres,
Andronicus was most appreciated for his tragedies and Naevius for his comedies; their
successors tended to specialise in one or the other, which led to a separation of the subsequent
development of each type of drama.
By the beginning of the 2nd century BC, drama was firmly established in Rome and a guild of
writers (collegium poetarum) had been formed. The Roman comedies that have survived are all
fabula palliata (comedies based on Greek subjects) and come from two dramatists: Titus Maccius
Plautus (Plautus) and Publius Terentius Afer (Terence). In re-working the Greek originals, the
Roman comic dramatists abolished the role of the chorus in dividing the drama into episodes and
introduced musical accompaniment to its dialogue (between one-third of the dialogue in the
comedies of Plautus and two-thirds in those of Terence). The action of all scenes is set in the
exterior location of a street and its complications often follow from eavesdropping.
Plautus, the more popular of the two, wrote between 205 and 184 BC and twenty of his comedies
survive, of which his farces are best known; he was admired for the wit of his dialogue and his
use of a variety of poetic meters. All of the six comedies that Terence wrote between 166 and
160 BC have survived; the complexity of his plots, in which he often combined several Greek
originals, was sometimes denounced, but his double-plots enabled a sophisticated presentation of
contrasting human behavior. No early Roman tragedy survives, though it was highly regarded in
its day; historians know of three early tragedians—Quintus Ennius, Marcus Pacuvius and Lucius
From the time of the empire, the work of two tragedians survives—one is an unknown author,
while the other is the Stoic philosopher Seneca. Nine of Seneca's tragedies survive, all of which
are fabula crepidata (tragedies adapted from Greek originals); his Phaedra, for example, was
based on Euripides' Hippolytus. Historians do not know who wrote the only extant example of
the fabula praetexta (tragedies based on Roman subjects), Octavia, but in former times it was
mistakenly attributed to Seneca due to his appearance as a character in the tragedy.
In the Middle Ages, drama in the vernacular languages of Europe may have emerged from
religious enactments of the liturgy. Mystery plays were presented on the porch of the cathedrals
or by strolling players on feast days. Miracle and mystery plays, along with moralities and
interludes, later evolved into more elaborate forms of drama, such as was seen on the
Elizabethan stages.
Elizabethan and Jacobean
One of the great flowerings of drama in England occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many
of these plays were written in verse, particularly iambic pentameter. In addition to Shakespeare,
such authors as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Middleton, and Ben Jonson were prominent
playwrights during this period. As in the medieval period, historical plays celebrated the lives of
past kings, enhancing the image of the Tudor monarchy. Authors of this period drew some of
their storylines from Greek mythology and Roman mythology or from the plays of eminent
Roman playwrights such as Plautus and Terence.
Modern and postmodern
The pivotal and innovative contributions of the 19th-century Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen
and the 20th-century German theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht dominate modern drama; each
inspired a tradition of imitators, which include many of the greatest playwrights of the modern
era. The works of both playwrights are, in their different ways, both modernist and realist,
incorporating formal experimentation, meta-theatricality, and social critique. In terms of the
traditional theoretical discourse of genre, Ibsen's work has been described as the culmination of
"liberal tragedy", while Brecht's has been aligned with an historicised comedy.
Other important playwrights of the modern era include Antonin Artaud, August Strindberg,
Anton Chekhov, Frank Wedekind, Maurice Maeterlinck, Federico García Lorca, Eugene O'Neill,
Luigi Pirandello, George Bernard Shaw, Ernst Toller, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Arthur Miller,
Tennessee Williams, Jean Genet, Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Friedrich
Dürrenmatt, Dario Fo, Heiner Müller, and Caryl Churchill.
The Elements of Drama
A toolbox for diagnosing problems with performance, the elements of drama provide a useful
checklist for students and teachers working on student performance. As the elements are the
building blocks of a performance, teachers will find it invaluable to focus on each of them when
diagnosing problems with a performance. When students become skilled and confident with the
use of the elements of drama, the facilitator has a ready reference point to work from. As
students continue working with the elements, they will begin to refer to them in their reflection
and the development of their own performance work. In a successful performance the focus will
be clear, tension will be thoughtfully manipulated and managed. This will contribute to the
successful creation of an appropriate atmosphere or mood. Actors, props and sets will be
organized in the space in a way that is aesthetically appropriate and creates meaning. Roles will
be sustained in a convincing and appropriate way. Devices like contrast and symbol are also
central to the development of a performance.
The following exercises may assist students to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their
piece by using and understanding the elements of drama in an active way. By using the elements,
students can develop the skills needed in a successful performance.
―The frame that directs attention to what is most significant and intensifies the dramatic
meaning‖. A strong performance piece will have a clear intent which influences the performers‘
motivation and channels the attention of the audience. In other words the piece has a clear focus
which determines the focus of the character and actor and directs the focus of the audience.
There are 4 closely related areas of focus:
1. The focus of the scene
2. The focus of the audience
3. The focus of the character
4. The focus of the actor.
To simply demonstrate the concept of focus and tension, the class observes three miniperformances, then discusses and compares them.
(a) Two people walking around the acting space.
(b) Two people searching in the acting space for a pen.
(c) Two people searching for a bomb in the acting space, time limit 20 seconds, defuse by count
of 4.
The second performance has a focus; the third has heightened tension. Activities to develop the
focus of the actor/student
(a) The whole group move in the working space.
An object thrown onto the floor alternatively repels then attracts them, providing a whole-group
(b) The whole group point to a corner above their heads and move towards it purposefully.
(c) ―Nectar of the gods‖ or ―dungeons‖.
This creeping up game may be played as a tribe retrieving the nectar of life or prisoners escaping
the dungeon. One person stands at one end of the room with the ―key‖ or the ―nectar‖ on the
floor at feet. When he or she turns his or her back the rest of the group creep up to get the ―key‖
or ―nectar‖. Anyone seen moving must return to the start. The group use tactics to pass the object
back to the start which sets them free or empowers the tribe. Variations of this sort of game
requiring a freeze help to develop focus.
(d) Group counting 1-21.
Anyone may call out a number at any time in an attempt to reach 21 without an overlap of
(e) Group clap.
The aim is to clap as a group simultaneously without a signal. Anyone may initiate the move.
(f) ―Edelweiss claps.‖
Group stand in a circle with right hand facing up at right side and left hand facing down at left
side. A clap is passed around the circle from hand to hand.
(g) ―Ray gun‖.
An initial ray gunner is nominated. When the person touches another, he/she is hit by the ray
gun. The ray gunner points to a person and moves to touch. The victim must call someone else‘s
name before being touched to save his/her life. The named person becomes the new ray gunner
―The force that engages the performers and audience in the dramatic action‖. Every performance
contains the element of tension. In the first activity on focus, where actors wandered in the space,
the tension was very low. The second performance, searching for a pen, raised the tension
slightly and the third, searching for a bomb, heightened the tension.
To demonstrate and define tension:
(a) String tension
Two people play a scene. A string is stretched across the front of the space. When it is tight they
play the
scene with high tension; when it is loose they play with low tension. e.g. a doctor presents results
of test
student in principal‘s office opening a birthday present grocery shopping with kids.
(b) Jewel thief and security guard (introduces concept of dramatic tension) Group form
protective circle around two blindfolded performers. One is a thief searching for jewels; the other
is the security guard attempting to capture him.
―The personal and general space used by the actors. It focuses on the meaning of the size and
shape of distances between actor and actor, actor and objects (props and sets) and actor and
audience.‖ To demonstrate and define the element:
(a) Build some statues of frozen moments e.g. ―Don‘t speak to your mother like that!‖ Discuss:
―What is the focus of this scene?‖, ―How do we know?‖ Remove facial expression and gestures.
(b) Discuss: ―How does the space between the people and the objects on the stage convey
Demonstrate the power of the space to carry meaning by moving people around without altering
their gestures or expression. In small groups build a statue which indicates status and
relationships through the use of ―space‖, e.g. a family, a court, a gang, an argument, a peace
―The atmosphere created. Mood concentrates the dramatic action and moves the audience in
emotionally appropriate directions.‖ To demonstrate and define mood:
(a) Form small groups. Listen to an allocated piece of music. Select some scarves from the props
box which reflect the mood, atmosphere or feelings created by the music.
(b) Develop 3 freeze frame statues which capture this mood. Find a way to move from one freeze
frame to the next, using the scarves to emphasize the mood. Punctuate the movement by
occasionally calling out a word which reflects the mood that you are working on
―The use of difference to create dramatic meaning.‖ Contrast is an effective means to emphasize,
heighten or intensify. Contrasting colours stand out on the stage. Contrasting sizes, shapes and
sounds draw attention.
To demonstrate and define contrast:
(a) From the previous exercise select two pieces of music which you feel offer a useful contrast,
to create either a serious or humorous effect. Mime a scene which illustrates this contrast.
(b) Explore the effect of improvising with characters who have contrasting characteristics e.g.
fat/thin, loud/ soft, rough/gentle, tall/short, fast/slow, wise/silly. The contrast exaggerates the
feature, throwing emphasis on it.
―The use of objects, gestures or persons to represent meaning beyond the literal.‖ Every culture
has developed an elaborate series of signals where objects are endowed with meaning. It is
possible to signal complex ideas through commonly recognized symbols.
To demonstrate and define symbols:
Work in pairs. Select an object from a collection of symbols; develop a brief scene which relies
on the symbolic strength of the object to convey meaning, e.g. rose, heart, flag, treasure chest,
suitcase, lipstick on collar, walking stick, pipe, dove, teddy bear, cross, stethoscope, heart, skull,
peace sign, ring, broken doll, sunset, infinity. Gestures: handshake, salute, turned back.
Taking on a role requires performers to accept the physicality, attitudes and beliefs of the
characters they are playing. Laban movement exercises provide an excellent springboard for
developing the physicality of character. A range of exercises to develop skill in other aspects of
role may be found in Dramawise by Haseman and O‘Toole. As students become familiar with
each of these elements and devices, they are better able to identify for themselves the areas of
their work which need attention. It is often helpful to step away from the performance briefly and
revisit key elements in order to see the work afresh. Teachers can use the elements as a checklist
as they observe and provide students with meaningful feedback on their performance work.
Asian Drama
The earliest form of Indian drama was the Sanskrit drama that is said to have its framework
directly given by Lord Shiva who used these techniques to pray to Lord Vishnu. Between the 1st
century AD and the 10th was a period of relative peace in the history of India during which
hundreds of modern plays were written. With the Islamic conquests that began in the 10th and
11th centuries, theatre was discouraged or forbidden entirely. Later, in an attempt to re-assert
indigenous values and ideas, village theatre was encouraged across the subcontinent, developing
in a large number of regional languages from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Modern Indian
theatre developed during the period of colonial rule under the British Empire, from the mid-19th
century until the mid-20th.
Sanskrit theatre
The earliest-surviving fragments of Sanskrit drama date from the 1st century AD. The wealth of
archeological evidence from earlier periods offers no indication of the existence of a tradition of
theatre. The ancient Vedas (hymns from between 1500 to 1000 BC that are among the earliest
examples of literature in the world) contain no hint of it (although a small number are composed
in a form of dialogue) and the rituals of the Vedic period do not appear to have developed into
theatre. The Mahābhāṣ ya by Patanjali contains the earliest reference to what may have been the
seeds of Sanskrit drama. This treatise on grammar from 140 BC provides a feasible date for the
beginnings of theatre in India.
The major source of evidence for Sanskrit theatre is A Treatise on Theatre (Nātyaśāstra), a
compendium whose date of composition is uncertain (estimates range from 200 BC to 200 AD)
and whose authorship is attributed to Bharata Muni. The Treatise is the most complete work of
dramaturgy in the ancient world. It addresses acting, dance, music, dramatic construction,
architecture, costuming, make-up, props, the organisation of companies, the audience,
competitions, and offers a mythological account of the origin of theatre.
Its drama is regarded as the highest achievement of Sanskrit literature. It utilised stock
characters, such as the hero (nayaka), heroine (nayika), or clown (vidusaka). Actors may have
specialised in a particular type. It was patronized by the kings as well as village assemblies.
Famous early playwrights include Bhasa, Kalidasa (famous for Vikrama and Urvashi, Malavika
and Agnimitra, and The Recognition of Shakuntala), Śudraka (famous for The Little Clay Cart),
Asvaghosa, Daṇ ḍ in, and Emperor Harsha (famous for Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarsika).
Śakuntalā (in English translation) influenced Goethe's Faust (1808–1832).
Modern Indian drama
Rabindranath Tagore, was a pioneering modern playwright who wrote plays noted for their
exploration and questioning of nationalism, identity, spiritualism and material greed . His plays
are written in Bengali and include Chitra (Chitrangada, 1892), The King of the Dark Chamber
(Raja, 1910), The Post Office (Dakghar, 1913), and Red Oleander (Raktakarabi, 1924). Girish
Karnad is a noted playwright, who has written a number of plays that use history and mythology,
to critique and problematize ideas and ideals that are of contemporary relevance. Karnad's
numerous plays such as Tughlaq, Hayavadana, Taledanda and Naga-Mandala are significant
contributions to Indian drama.
Urdu Drama evolved from the prevailing dramatic traditions of North India shaping Rahas or
Raas as practiced by exponents like Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh. His dramatic experiments
led to the famous Inder Sabha of Amanat and later this tradition took the shape of Parsi Theatre.
Agha Hashr Kashmiri is the culmination of this tradition.
In some way or other, Urdu theatre tradition has greatly influenced modern Indian theatre.
Among all the languages Urdu (which was called Hindi by early writers), along with Gujrati,
Marathi and Bengali theatres have kept flourishing and demand for its writers and artists has not
subsided by the drama aficionados. For Urdu drama, no place is better than Bombay Film
industry otherwise known as Hindi film industry. All the early gems of Urdu Theatre (performed
by Parsi Companies) were made into films. Urdu Dramatic tradition has been a spectator‘s
delight since 100 years and counting.
Drama as a theme is made up of several elements. It focuses on life and different aspects of it.
The thing to be noticed here is that drama on stage imitates drama in life. It has been said that,
there has always been a mutual relationship between theatre and real life. Great historical
personalities like Shakespeare have influenced Modern Urdu tradition to a large extent when
Indian, Iranian, Turkish stories and folk was adapted for stage with heavy doses of Urdu poetry.
In modern times writers like Imtiaz Ali Taj, Rafi Peer, Krishan Chander, Manto, Upender Nath
Ashk, Ghulam Rabbani, Prof. Mujeeb and many others shaped this tradition.
While Prof Hasan, Ghulam Jeelani, J.N,Kaushal, Shameem Hanfi, Jameel Shaidayi, etc. belong
to the old generation, contemporary writers like Danish Iqbal, Sayeed Alam, Shahid Anwar,
Iqbal Niyazi, and Anwar are a few postmodern playwrights actively contributing in the field of
Urdu Drama.
Sayeed Alam is known for his wit and humour and more particularly for Plays like 'Ghalib in
New Delhi', 'Big B' and many other gems which are regularly staged for massive turn out of
theatre lovers. Maulana Azad is his magnum opus both for its content and style.
Danish Iqbal's play about 'Dara Shikoh' directed by M. S. Sathyu is considered a modern classic
for the use of newer theatre techniques and contemporary perspective. His other plays are 'Sahir'
on the famous lyricist and revolutionary poet. 'Kuchh Ishq kiya Kuchh Kaam' is another play
written by Danish which is basically a Celebration of the Faiz's poetry, featuring events from the
early part of his life, particularly the events and incidents of pre-partition days which shaped his
life and ideals. 'Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan' - another play inspired from Faiz's letters written from
various jails during the Rawalpindi Conspiracy days. He has written 14 other plays including
'Dilli Jo Ek Shehr Thaa' and 'Main Gaya Waqt Nahin hoon'. Shahid's 'Three B' is also a
significant play. He has been associated with many groups like 'Natwa' and others. Zaheer
Anwar has kept the flag of Urdu theatre flying in Kolkata. Unlike the writers of previous
generation Sayeed, Shahid, Danish Iqbal and Zaheer do not write bookish plays but their work is
a product of vigorous performing tradition. Iqbal Niyazi of Mumbai has written several plays in
Urdu, his play "AUR KITNE JALYANWALA BAUGH?" won a National award other awards.
Hence this is the only generation after Amanat and Agha Hashr who actually write for stage and
not for libraries.
Chinese theatre has a long and complex history. Today it is often called Chinese opera although
this normally refers specifically to the popular form known as Beijing opera and Kunqu; there
have been many other forms of theatre in China, such as zaju.
Japanese Nō drama is a serious dramatic form that combines drama, music, and dance into a
complete aesthetic performance experience. It developed in the 14th and 15th centuries and has
its own musical instruments and performance techniques, which were often handed down from
father to son. The performers were generally male (for both male and female roles), although
female amateurs also perform Nō dramas. Nō drama was supported by the government, and
particularly the military, with many military commanders having their own troupes and
sometimes performing themselves. It is still performed in Japan today.
Kyōgen is the comic counterpart to Nō drama. It concentrates more on dialogue and less on
music, although Nō instrumentalists sometimes appear also in Kyōgen. Kabuki drama, developed
from the 17th century, is another comic form, which includes dance.
Forms of Drama
Western opera is a dramatic art form, which arose during the Renaissance in an attempt to revive
the classical Greek drama tradition in which both music and theatre were combined. Being
strongly intertwined with western classical music, the opera has undergone enormous changes in
the past four centuries and it is an important form of theatre until this day. Noteworthy is the
huge influence of the German 19th-century composer Richard Wagner on the opera tradition. In
his view, there was no proper balance between music and theatre in the operas of his time,
because the music seemed to be more important than the dramatic aspects in these works. To
restore the connection with the traditional Greek drama, he entirely renewed the operatic format,
and to emphasize the equal importance of music and drama in these new works, he called them
"music dramas".
Chinese opera has seen a more conservative development over a somewhat longer period of
These stories follow in the tradition of fables and folk tales. Usually there is a lesson learned, and
with some help from the audience, the hero/heroine saves the day. This kind of play uses stock
characters seen in masque and again commedia dell'arte, these characters include the villain
(doctore), the clown/servant (Arlechino/Harlequin/buttons), the lovers etc. These plays usually
have an emphasis on moral dilemmas, and good always triumphs over evil, this kind of play is
also very entertaining making it a very effective way of reaching many people.
Creative drama
Creative drama includes dramatic activities and games used primarily in educational settings
with children. Its roots in the United States began in the early 1900s. Winifred Ward is
considered to be the founder of creative drama in education, establishing the first academic use
of drama in Evanston, Illinois.
Flash drama
Flash drama is a type of theatrical play that does not exceed ten minutes in duration, hence the
name Flash drama. Groups of four to six flash drama plays are popular with school, university
and community drama companies since they offer a wide variety of roles and situations in a
single performance.
There are no set rules for flash plays but the typical play has certain characteristics, such as:
Consisting of one act
Utilising one to three characters
Simple, if any, set design
Crime film
Crime films are films that focus on the lives of criminals. The stylistic approach to a crime film
varies from realistic portrayals of real-life criminal figures, to the far-fetched evil doings of
imaginary arch-villains. Criminal acts are almost always glorified in these movies.
Yakshagana (Kannada) is a theater form that combines dance, music, dialogue, costume, makeup, and stage techniques with a unique style and form. This theater style, resembling Western
opera, is mainly found in the coastal districts and the Malenadu region of India. Yakshagana is
traditionally presented from dusk to dawn.
Medical drama
A medical drama is a television program, in which events center upon a hospital, an ambulance
staff, or any medical environment.
In the United States, most medical episodes are one hour long and set in a hospital. Most current
medical Dramatic programming go beyond the events pertaining to the characters' jobs and
portray some aspects of their personal lives. A typical medical drama might have a storyline in
which two doctors fall in love.
Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan, in his 1964 work on the nature of media, predicted
a big success of this particular genre on TV, because such medium "creates an obsession with
bodily welfare".
Costume drama
A costume drama or period drama is a period piece in which elaborate costumes, sets and
properties are featured in order to capture the ambience of a particular era.
The term is usually used in the context of film and television. It is an informal crossover term
that can apply to several genres but is most often heard in the context of historical dramas and
romances, adventure films and swashbucklers. The implication is that the audience is attracted as
much by the lavish costumes as by the content.
The most common type of costume drama is the historical costume drama, both on stage and in
movies. This category includes Barry Lyndon, Amadeus, Braveheart, From Hell and Robin
Hood. Films that are set in the 1930s and 1940s, such as Last Man Standing, may also be placed
in this category. Other examples include Marie Antoinette, Middlemarch and Pride and
There have been highly successful television series that have been known as costume
dramas/period pieces. Notable examples include Upstairs Downstairs, The Tudors, Mad Men,
Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abbey, Deadwood, Dr. Quinn, and Medicine Woman, Little House
on the Prairie and Freaks and Geeks. There also exist shows that use the effects of a costume
drama/period piece because they are set in a particular era of time, although their true focus is
based around a different genre. Examples of these are Xena: Warrior Princess, Legend of the
Seeker and That '70s Show.
The term melodrama refers to a dramatic work that puts characters in a lot of danger in order to
appeal to the emotions. It may also refer to the genre which includes such works, or to language,
behavior, or events which resemble them. It is based around having the same character in every
scene, often a hero, damsel in distress, a villain. It is also used in scholarly and historical musical
contexts to refer to dramas of the 18th and 19th centuries in which orchestral music or song was
used to accompany the action. The term originated from the early 19th-century French word
mélodrame, which is derived from Greek melos, music, and French drame, drama (from Late
Latin drāma, which in turn derives from Greek drān, to do, perform).
Legal drama
A legal drama or a courtroom drama is a television show subgenre of dramatic programming.
This subgenre presents fictional drama about law. Law enforcement, crime, detective-based
mystery solving, lawyer work, civil litigation, etc., are all possible focuses of legal dramas.
Common subgenres of legal dramas include detective dramas, police dramas, courtroom dramas,
legal thrillers, etc. Legal dramas come in all shapes and sizes and may also span into other forms
of media, including novels, plays television shows, and films. Legal drama sometimes overlaps
with crime drama, most notably in the case of Law & Order. Most crime drama focuses on crime
investigation and does not feature the court room. An early example of this overlapping form
was Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason, in which the eponymous trial lawyer would usually
defend his clients from their murder charges by investigating the crime before the trial, and
dramatically revealing the actual perpetrator during the closing courtroom scene, by calling some
other person to the stand and interrogating him or her into confessing in open court:
either of having committed the crime
or of having witnessed the crime being perpetrated by someone other than Mason's client,
the defendant.
It is widely believed by most practicing lawyers that legal dramas result in the general public
having misconceptions about the legal process. Many of these misconceptions result from the
desire to create an interesting story. For example, conflict between parties make for an
interesting story, which is why legal dramas emphasize the trial and ignore the fact that the vast
majority of civil and criminal cases in the United States are settled out of court. Legal dramas
also focus on situations where there is an obvious injustice or ones in which either the plaintiff or
defendant is very interesting and unusual. As a result, things such as the insanity defense occur
far more often in legal drama than in real life. Finally, legal dramas often focus on areas of the
legal process which can be portrayed dramatically, such as oral arguments, and ignore areas
which are less easily portrayed, such as researching a written legal brief.
Dramatic structure
Dramatic structure is the structure of a dramatic work such as a play or film. Many scholars have
analyzed dramatic structure, beginning with Aristotle in his Poetics (c. 335 BC). This article
focuses primarily on Gustav Freytag's analysis of ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama.
In his Poetics the Greek philosopher Aristotle put forth the idea that "A whole is what has a
beginning and middle and end" (1450b27). This three-part view of a plot structure (with a
beginning, middle, and end – technically, the protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe) prevailed until
the Roman drama critic Horace advocated a 5-act structure in his Ars Poetica: "Neue minor neu
sit quinto productior actu fabula" (lines 189-190) ("A play should not be shorter or longer than
five acts"). Renaissance dramatists revived the use of the 5-act structure. In 1863, around the
time that playwrights like Henrik Ibsen were abandoning the 5-act structure and experimenting
with 3 and 4-act plays, the German playwright and novelist Gustav Freytag wrote Die Technik
des Dramas, a definitive study of the 5-act dramatic structure, in which he laid out what has
come to be known as Freytag's pyramid. Under Freytag's pyramid, the plot of a story consists of
five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and revelation/catastrophe.
Freytag's analysis
According to Freytag, a drama is divided into five parts, or acts, which some refer to as a
dramatic arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement.
Although Freytag's analysis of dramatic structure is based on five-act plays, it can be applied
(sometimes in a modified manner) to short stories and novels as well, making dramatic structure
a literary element. Nonetheless, the pyramid is not always easy to use, especially in modern plays
such as Alfred Uhry's "Driving Miss Daisy", which is actually divided into 25 scenes without
concrete acts.
Rising action
In the rising action, a series of related incidents build toward the point of greatest interest. The
rising action of a story is the series of events that begin immediately after the exposition
(introduction) of the story and builds up to the climax. These events are generally the most
important parts of the story since the entire plot depends on them to set up the climax, and
ultimately the satisfactory resolution of the story itself.
Climax or Crisis
The climax is the turning point, which changes the protagonist‘s fate. If the story is a comedy,
things will have gone badly for the protagonist up to this point; now, the plot will begin to unfold
in his or her favor, often requiring the protagonist to draw on hidden inner strengths. If the story
is a tragedy, the opposite state of affairs will ensue, with things going from good to bad for the
protagonist, often revealing the protagonist's hidden weaknesses.
Falling action
During the falling action, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, with
the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist. The falling action may contain a
moment of final suspense, in which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt.
Dénouement, resolution, or catastrophe
The dénouement comprises events from the end of the falling action to the actual ending scene of
the drama or narrative. Conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense
of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader. Etymologically, the French word
dénouement is derived from the Old French word desnouer, "to untie", from nodus, Latin for
"knot." It is the unraveling or untying of the complexities of a plot.
The comedy ends with a dénouement (a conclusion), in which the protagonist is better off than at
the story's outset. The tragedy ends with a catastrophe, in which the protagonist is worse off than
at the beginning of the narrative. Exemplary of a comic dénouement is the final scene of
Shakespeare‘s comedy As You Like It, in which couples marry, an evildoer repents, two
disguised characters are revealed for all to see, and a ruler is restored to power. In Shakespeare's
tragedies, the dénouement is usually the death of one or more characters.
Freytag's analysis was intended to apply to ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama, not modern
A specific exposition stage is criticized by Lajos Egri in The Art of Dramatic Writing. He states,
―exposition itself is part of the whole play, and not simply a fixture to be used at the beginning
and then discarded.‖ According to Egri, the actions of a character reveal who he/she is, and
exposition should come about naturally within the play, beginning with the initial conflict.
Contemporary dramas increasingly use the fall to increase the relative height of the climax and
dramatic impact (melodrama). The protagonist reaches up but falls and succumbs to doubts,
fears, and limitations. The negative climax occurs when the protagonist has an epiphany and
encounters the greatest fear possible or loses something important, giving the protagonist the
courage to take on another obstacle. This confrontation becomes the classic climax.
Three-act structure
The three-act structure is a model used in writing and in evaluating modern storytelling that
divides a fictional narrative into three parts, often called the Setup, the Confrontation and the
The first act is usually used for exposition, to establish the main characters, their relationships
and the world they live in. Later in the first act, a dynamic, on-screen incident occurs that
confronts the main character (the protagonist), whose attempts to deal with this incident lead to a
second and more dramatic situation, known as the first turning point, which (a) signals the end of
the first act, (b) ensures life will never be the same again for the protagonist and (c) raises a
dramatic question that will be answered in the climax of the film. The dramatic question should
be framed in terms of the protagonist's call to action, (Will X recover the diamond? Will Y get
the girl? Will Z capture the killer?). This is known as the inciting incident, or catalyst. As an
example, the inciting incident in the 1972 film The Godfather is when Vito Corleone is shot,
which occurs approximately 40 minutes into the film.
The second act, also referred to as "rising action", typically depicts the protagonist's attempt to
resolve the problem initiated by the first turning point, only to find him- or herself in ever
worsening situations. Part of the reason protagonists seem unable to resolve their problems is
because they do not yet have the skills to deal with the forces of antagonism that confront them.
They must not only learn new skills but arrive at a higher sense of awareness of who they are and
what they are capable of, in order to deal with their predicament, which in turn changes who they
are. This is referred to as character development or a character arc. This cannot be achieved
alone and they are usually aided and abetted by mentors and co-protagonists.
The third act features the resolution of the story and its subplots. The climax is the scene or
sequence in which the main tensions of the story are brought to their most intense point and the
dramatic question answered, leaving the protagonist and other characters with a new sense of
who they really are.
In Writing Drama, French writer and director Yves Lavandier shows a slightly different
approach. He maintains that every human action, whether fictitious or real, contains three logical
parts: before the action, during the action, and after the action. Since the climax is part of the
action, Yves Lavandier considers the second act must include the climax, which makes for a
much shorter third act than what is found in most screenwriting theories. A short third act (quick
resolution) is also fundamental to traditional Japanese dramatic structure, in the theory of jo-hakyū.
Comedy (drama)
Comedy is a word that Greeks and Romans confined to descriptions of stage-plays with happy
endings. In the Middle Ages, the term expanded to include narrative poems with happy endings
and a lighter tone. In this sense Dante used the term in the title of his poem, La Divina
Commedia. As time passed, the word came more and more to be associated with any sort of
performance intended to cause laughter.
The phenomena connected with laughter and that which provokes it has been carefully
investigated by psychologists and agreed upon the predominating characteristics are incongruity
or contrast in the object, and shock or emotional seizure on the part of the subject. It has also
been held that the feeling of superiority is an essential factor: thus Thomas Hobbes speaks of
laughter as a "sudden glory." Modern investigators have paid much attention to the origin both of
laughter and of smiling, as well as the development of the "play instinct" and its emotional
Much comedy contains variations on the elements of surprise, incongruity, conflict,
repetitiveness, and the effect of opposite expectations, but there are many recognized genres of
comedy. Satire and political satire use ironic comedy used to portray persons or social
institutions as ridiculous or corrupt, thus alienating their audience from the object of humor.
Parody borrows the form of some popular genre, artwork, or text but uses certain ironic changes
to critique that form from within (though not necessarily in a condemning way). Screwball
comedy derives its humor largely from bizarre, surprising (and improbable) situations or
characters. Black comedy is defined by dark humor that makes light of so-called dark or evil
elements in human nature. Similarly scatological humor, sexual humor, and race humor create
comedy by violating social conventions or taboos in comedic ways.
A comedy of manners typically takes as its subject a particular part of society (usually upper
class society) and uses humor to parody or satirize the behavior and mannerisms of its members.
Romantic comedy is a popular genre that depicts burgeoning romance in humorous terms, and
focuses on the foibles of those who are falling in love.
The word "comedy" is derived from the Classical Greek κωμῳδία, which is a compound either
of κῶμος (revel) or κώμη (village) and ᾠδή (singing): it is possible that κῶμος itself is derived
from κώμη, and originally meant a village revel. The adjective "comic" (Greek κωμικός), which
strictly means that which relates to comedy is, in modern usage, generally confined to the sense
of "laughter-provoking".The word came into modern usage through the Latin comoedia and
Italian commedia and has, over time, passed through various shades of meaning.
In ancient Greece, comedy seems to have originated in songs or recitations aporpos of fertility
festivals or gatherings, or also in making fun at other people or stereotypes. In the Poetics,
Aristotle states that comedy originated in phallic songs and the light treatment of the otherwise
base and ugly. He also adds that the origins of comedy are obscure because it was not treated
seriously from its inception.
Northrop Frye described the comic genre as a drama that pits two societies against each other in
an amusing agon or conflict. He depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a
"Society of the Old", The Anatomy of Criticism. 1957, but this dichotomy is seldom described as
an entirely satisfactory explanation. A later view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a
struggle between a powerless youth and the societal conventions that pose obstacles to his hopes;
in this sense, the youth is understood to be constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left
with little choice but to take recourse to ruses which engender very dramatic.
Types of comic drama:
Ancient Greek comedy, as practiced by Aristophanes and Menander
Ancient Roman comedy, as practiced by Plautus and Terence
Ancient Indian comedy, as practiced in Sanskrit drama
Burlesque, from Music hall and Vaudeville to Performance art
Citizen comedy, as practiced by Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton and Ben Jonson
Clowns such as Richard Tarlton, William Kempe and Robert Armin
Comedy of humors, as practiced by Ben Jonson and George Chapman
Comedy of intrigue, as practiced by Niccolò Machiavelli and Lope de Vega
Comedy of manners, as practiced by Molière, William Wycherley and William Congreve
Comedy of menace, as practiced by David Campton and Harold Pinter
comédie larmoyante or 'tearful comedy', as practiced by Pierre-Claude Nivelle de La
Chaussée and Louis-Sébastien Mercier
Commedia dell'arte, as practiced in the twentieth-century by Dario Fo, Vsevolod
Meyerhold and Jacques Copeau
Farce, from Georges Feydeau to Joe Orton and Alan Ayckbourn
Laughing comedy, as practiced by Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Restoration comedy, as practiced by George Etherege, Aphra Behn and John Vanbrugh
Sentimental comedy, as practiced by Colley Cibber and Richard Steele
Shakespearean comedy, as practiced by William Shakespeare
Dadaist and Surrealist performance, usually in cabaret form
Theatre of the Absurd, used by some to describe Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Jean
Genet and Eugène Ionesco
Play (theatre)
A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of scripted dialogue
between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. Plays are
performed at a variety of levels, from Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theater, to Community
theatre, as well a University or school productions. There are rare dramatists, notably George
Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed or read. The
term "play" can refer to both the written works of playwrights and to their complete theatrical
Comedies are plays which are designed to be humorous. Comedies are often filled with witty
remarks, unusual characters, and strange circumstances. Certain comedies are geared toward
different age groups. Comedies were one of the two original play types of Ancient Greece, along
with tragedies. An example of a comedy would be William Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer
Night Dream," or for a more modern example the skits from "Saturday Night Live".
A generally nonsensical genre of play, farces are often overacted and often involve slapstick
humour. An example of a farce includes William Shakespeare's play "The Comedy of Errors," or
Mark Twain's play "Is He Dead?"
A satire play takes a comic look at current events people while at the same time attempting to
make a political or social statement, for example pointing out corruption. An example of a satire
would be Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector and Aristophanes' Lysistrata.
Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the
experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers
may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech,
song, music, and dance. Elements of design and stagecraft are used to enhance the physicality,
presence and immediacy of the experience. The specific place of the performance is also named
by the word "theatre" as derived from the Ancient Greek θέατρον (théatron, "a place for
viewing"), itself from θεάομαι (theáomai, "to see", "to watch", "to observe").
Modern Western theatre derives in large measure from ancient Greek drama, from which it
borrows technical terminology, classification into genres, and many of its themes, stock
characters, and plot elements. Theatre scholar Patrice Pavis defines theatricality, theatrical
language, stage writing, and the specificity of theatre as synonymous expressions that
differentiate theatre from the other performing arts, literature, and the arts in general.
Theatre today, broadly defined, includes performances of plays and musicals, ballets, operas and
various other forms.
Classical and Hellenistic Greece
The city-state of Athens is where western theatre originated. It was part of a broader culture of
theatricality and performance in classical Greece that included festivals, religious rituals, politics,
law, athletics and gymnastics, music, poetry, weddings, funerals, and symposia. Participation in
the city-state's many festivals—and attendance at the City Dionysia as an audience member (or
even as a participant in the theatrical productions) in particular—was an important part of
citizenship. Civic participation also involved the evaluation of the rhetoric of orators evidenced
in performances in the law-court or political assembly, both of which were understood as
analogous to the theatre and increasingly came to absorb its dramatic vocabulary. The Greeks
also developed the concepts of dramatic criticism, acting as a career, and theatre architecture.
The theatre of ancient Greece consisted of three types of drama: tragedy, comedy, and the satyr
play. The origins of theatre in ancient Greece, according to Aristotle (384–322 BCE), the first
theoretician of theatre, are to be found in the festivals that honoured Dionysus.The performances
were given in semi-circular auditoria cut into hillsides, capable of seating 10,000–20,000 people.
The stage consisted of a dancing floor (orchestra), dressing room and scene-building area
(skene). Since the words were the most important part, good acoustics and clear delivery were
paramount. The actors (always men) wore masks appropriate to the characters they represented,
and each might play several parts. Athenian tragedy—the oldest surviving form of tragedy—is a
type of dance-drama that formed an important part of the theatrical culture of the city-state.
Having emerged sometime during the 6th century BCE, it flowered during the 5th century BCE
(from the end of which it began to spread throughout the Greek world), and continued to be
popular until the beginning of the Hellenistic period. No tragedies from the 6th century BCE and
only 32 of the more than a thousand that were performed in during the 5th century BCE have
survived. We have complete texts extant by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The origins of
tragedy remain obscure, though by the 5th century BCE it was institution alised in competitions
(agon) held as part of festivities celebrating Dionysos (the god of wine and fertility). As
contestants in the City Dionysia's competition (the most prestigious of the festivals to stage
drama) playwrights were required to present a tetralogy of plays (though the individual works
were not necessarily connected by story or theme), which usually consisted of three tragedies
and one satyr play. The performance of tragedies at the City Dionysia may have begun as early
as 534 BCE; official records (didaskaliai) begin from 501 BCE, when the satyr play was
introduced. Most Athenian tragedies dramatise events from Greek mythology, though The
Persians—which stages the Persian response to news of their military defeat at the Battle of
Salamis in 480 BCE—is the notable exception in the surviving drama. When Aeschylus won
first prize for it at the City Dionysia in 472 BCE, he had been writing tragedies for more than 25
years, yet its tragic treatment of recent history is the earliest example of drama to survive. More
than 130 years later, the philosopher Aristotle analysed 5th-century Athenian tragedy in the
oldest surviving work of dramatic theory—his Poetics (c. 335 BCE).
Athenian comedy is conventionally divided into three periods, "Old Comedy", "Middle
Comedy", and "New Comedy". Old Comedy survives today largely in the form of the eleven
surviving plays of Aristophanes, while Middle Comedy is largely lost (preserved only in
relatively short fragments in authors such as Athenaeus of Naucratis). New Comedy is known
primarily from the substantial papyrus fragments of Menander. Aristotle defined comedy as a
representation of laughable people that involves some kind of blunder or ugliness that does not
cause pain or disaster.
Roman theatre
Western theatre developed and expanded considerably under the Romans. The Roman historian
Livy wrote that the Romans first experienced theatre in the 4th century BCE, with a performance
by Etruscan actors. Beacham argues that they had been familiar with "pre-theatrical practices"
for some time before that recorded contact. The theatre of ancient Rome was a thriving and
diverse art form, ranging from festival performances of street theatre, nude dancing, and
acrobatics, to the staging of Plautus's broadly appealing situation comedies, to the high-style,
verbally elaborate tragedies of Seneca. Although Rome had a native tradition of performance, the
Hellenization of Roman culture in the 3rd century BCE had a profound and energizing effect on
Roman theatre and encouraged the development of Latin literature of the highest quality for the
stage. The only surviving Roman tragedies, indeed the only plays of any kind from the Roman
Empire, are ten dramas- nine of them pallilara- attributed to Lucuis Annaeus Seneca (4 b.c.-65
a.d.), the Corduba-born Stoic philosopher and tutor of Nero.
Post-classical theatre in the West
Theatre took on many alternate forms in the West between the 15th and 19th centuries, including
commedia dell'arte and melodrama. The general trend was away from the poetic drama of the
Greeks and the Renaissance and toward a more naturalistic prose style of dialogue, especially
following the Industrial Revolution.
Theatre took a big pause during 1642 and 1660 in England because of Cromwell's Interregnum.
Theatre was seen as something sinful and the Puritans tried very hard to drive it out of their
society. Because of this stagnant period, once Charles II came back to the throne in 1660 in the
Restoration, theatre (among other arts) exploded because of a lot of influence from France,
where Charles was in exile the years previous to his reign.
One of the big changes was the new theatre house. Instead of the types in the Elizabethan era that
were like the Globe Theatre, round with no place for the actors to really prep for the next act and
with no "theater manners,‖ it transformed into a place of refinement, with a stage in front and
somewhat stadium seating in front of it. This way, seating was more prioritized because some
seats were obviously better than others because the seating was no longer all the way around the
stage. The king would have the best seat in the house: the very middle of the theatre, which got
the widest view of the stage as well as the best way to see the point of view and vanishing point
that the stage was constructed around. Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg was one of the most
influential set designers of the time because of his use of floor space and scenery.
Because of the turmoil before this time, there was still some controversy about what should and
should not be put on the stage. Jeremy Collier, a preacher, was one of the heads in this
movement through his piece A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English
Stage. The beliefs in this paper were mainly held by non-theatre goers and the remainder of the
Puritans and very religious of the time. The main question was if seeing something immoral on
stage effects behavior in the lives of those who watch it, a controversy that is still playing out
The eighteenth century also introduced women to the stage, which was viewed as inappropriate
before. These women were looked at as celebrities (also a newer concept, thanks to some ideas
on individualism that were beginning to be born in Renaissance Humanism) but on the other
hand, it was still very new and revolutionary that they were on the stage and some said they were
unladylike and looked down on. Charless II did not like young men playing the parts of young
women, so he asked that women play their own parts. Because women were allowed on the
stage, playwrights had more leeway with plot twists like dressing them up as men and narrow
escapes of morally sticky situations as forms of comedy.
Comedies were full of the young and very much in vogue, with the storyline following their love
lives: commonly a young roguish hero professing his love to the chaste and free minded heroine
near the end of the play, much like Sheridan's The School for Scandal. Many of the comedies
were fashioned after the French tradition, mainly Molière, again hailing back to the French
influence brought back by the King and the Royals after their exile. Molière was one of the top
comedic playwrights of the time, revolutionizing the way comedy was written and performed by
combining Commedia dell'arte, French comedy and satire to create some of the longest lasting
and most influential satiric comedies. Tragedies were similarly victorious in their sense of
righting political power, especially poignant because of the recent Restoration to the Crown.
They were also imitations of French tragedy, although the French had a larger distinction
between comedy and tragedy, whereas the English fudged the lines occasionally and put some
comedic parts in their tragedies. Common forms of non-comedic plays were sentimental
comedies as well as something that would later be called tragedie bourgeoise, the tragedy of
common life, were more popular in England because they applied more to the English
Through the 19th century, the popular theatrical forms of Romanticism, melodrama, Victorian
burlesque and the well-made plays of Scribe and Sardou gave way to the problem plays of
Naturalism and Realism; the farces of Feydeau; Wagner's operatic Gesamtkunstwerk; musical
theatre (including Gilbert and Sullivan's operas); F. C. Burnand's, W. S. Gilbert's and Wilde's
drawing-room comedies; Symbolism; proto-Expressionism in the late works of August
Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen and Edwardian musical comedy.
These trends continued through the 20th century in the realism of Stanislavski and Lee Strasberg,
the political theatre of Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht, the so-called Theatre of the Absurd of
Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, American and British musicals, the collective creations of
companies of actors and directors such as Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, experimental
and postmodern theatre of Robert Wilson and Robert Lepage, the postcolonial theatre of August
Wilson or Tomson Highway, and Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed.
Indian Theatre
The first form of Indian theatre was the Sanskrit theatre. It began after the development of Greek
and Roman theatre and before the development of theatre in other parts of Asia. It emerged
sometime between the 2nd century BCE and the 1st century CE and flourished between the 1st
century CE and the 10th, which was a period of relative peace in the history of India during
which hundreds of plays were written. Japanese forms of Kabuki, Nō, and Kyōgen developed in
the 17th century CE. Theatre in the medieval Islamic world included puppet theatre (which
included hand puppets, shadow plays and marionette productions) and live passion plays known
as ta'ziya, where actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. In particular, Shia Islamic plays
revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali.
Secular plays were known as akhraja, recorded in medieval adab literature, though they were less
common than puppetry and ta'ziya theatre.
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek
word meaning "action", which is derived from the verb δράω, dráō, "to do" or "to act". The
enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes
collaborative modes of production and a collective form of reception. The structure of dramatic
texts, unlike other forms of literature, is directly influenced by this collaborative production and
collective reception. The early modern tragedy Hamlet (1601) by Shakespeare and the classical
Athenian tragedy Oedipus the King (c. 429 BCE) by Sophocles are among the masterpieces of
the art of drama. A modern example is Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O'Neill (1956).
Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been contrasted with the epic
and the lyrical modes ever since Aristotle's Poetics (c. 335 BCE)—the earliest work of dramatic
theory.The use of "drama" in the narrow sense to designate a specific type of play dates from the
19th century. Drama in this sense refers to a play that is neither a comedy nor a tragedy—for
example, Zola's Thérèse Raquin (1873) or Chekhov's Ivanov (1887). In Ancient Greece however,
the word drama encompassed all theatrical plays, tragic, comic, or anything in between.
Drama is often combined with music and dance: the drama in opera is generally sung
throughout; musicals generally include both spoken dialogue and songs; and some forms of
drama have incidental music or musical accompaniment underscoring the dialogue (melodrama
and Japanese Nō, for example). In certain periods of history (the ancient Roman and modern
Romantic) some dramas have been written to be read rather than performed. In improvisation,
the drama does not pre-exist the moment of performance; performers devise a dramatic script
spontaneously before an audience.
Musical theatre
Music and theatre have had a close relationship since ancient times—Athenian tragedy, for
example, was a form of dance-drama that employed a chorus whose parts were sung (to the
accompaniment of an aulos—an instrument comparable to the modern clarinet), as were some of
the actors' responses and their 'solo songs' (monodies). Modern musical theatre is a form of
theatre that also combines music, spoken dialogue, and dance. It emerged from comic opera
(especially Gilbert and Sullivan), variety, vaudeville, and music hall genres of the late 19th and
early 20th century. After the Edwardian musical comedy that began in the 1890s, the Princess
Theatre musicals of the early 20th century, and comedies in the 1920s and 1930s (such as the
works of Rodgers and Hammerstein), with Oklahoma! (1943), musicals moved in a more
dramatic direction. Famous musicals over the subsequent decades included My Fair Lady (1956),
West Side Story (1957), The Fantasticks (1960), Hair (1967), A Chorus Line (1975), Les
Misérables (1980) and The Phantom of the Opera (1986), as well as more contemporary hits
including Rent (1994), The Lion King (1997) and Wicked (2003).
Musical theatre may be produced on an intimate scale Off-Broadway, in regional theatres, and
elsewhere, but it often includes spectacle. For instance, Broadway and West End musicals often
Theatre productions that use humour as a vehicle to tell a story qualify as comedies. This may
include a modern farce such as Boeing Boeing or a classical play such as As You Like It.
Theatre expressing bleak, controversial or taboo subject matter in a deliberately humorous way is
referred to as black comedy.
Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude;
in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in
separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting
the proper purgation of these emotions.
Aristotle's phrase "several kinds being found in separate parts of the play" is a reference to the
structural origins of drama. In it the spoken parts were written in the Attic dialect whereas the
choral (recited or sung) ones in the Doric dialect, these discrepancies reflecting the differing
religious origins and poetic metres of the parts that were fused into a new entity, the theatrical
Tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role
historically in the self-definition of Western civilisation. That tradition has been multiple and
discontinuous, yet the term has often been used to invoke a powerful effect of cultural identity
and historical continuity—"the Greeks and the Elizabethans, in one cultural form; Hellenes and
Christians, in a common activity," as Raymond Williams puts it. From its obscure origins in the
theatres of Athens 2,500 years ago, from which there survives only a fraction of the work of
Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, through its singular articulations in the works of
Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Racine, and Schiller, to the more recent naturalistic tragedy of
Strindberg, Beckett's modernist meditations on death, loss and suffering, and Müller's
postmodernist reworkings of the tragic canon, tragedy has remained an important site of cultural
experimentation, negotiation, struggle, and change. In the wake of Aristotle's Poetics (335 BCE),
tragedy has been used to make genre distinctions, whether at the scale of poetry in general
(where the tragic divides against epic and lyric) or at the scale of the drama (where tragedy is
opposed to comedy). In the modern era, tragedy has also been defined against drama,
melodrama, the tragicomic, and epic theatre.
Improvisation has been a consistent feature of theatre, with the Commedia dell'arte in the
sixteenth century being recognised as the first improvisation form. Popularized by Nobel Prize
Winner Dario Fo and troupes such as the Upright Citizens Brigade improvisational theatre
continues to evolve with many different streams and philosophies. Keith Johnstone and Viola
Spolin are recognized as the first teachers of improvisation in modern times, with Johnstone
exploring improvisation as an alternative to scripted theatre and the American Spolin and her
successors exploring improvisation principally as a tool for developing dramatic work or skills or
as a form for situational comedy
Theories of theatre
Having been an important part of human culture for more than 2,500 years, theatre has evolved a
wide range of different theories and practices. Some are related to political or spiritual
ideologies, while others are based purely on "artistic" concerns. Some processes focus on a story,
some on theatre as event, and some on theatre as catalyst for social change. The classical Greek
philosopher Aristotle's Poetics (c. 335 BCE) is the earliest-surviving example and its arguments
have influenced theories of theatre ever since. In it, he offers an account of what he calls "poetry"
(a term which in Greek literally means "making" and in this context includes drama—comedy,
tragedy, and the satyr play—as well as lyric poetry, epic poetry, and the dithyramb). He
examines its "first principles" and identifies its genres and basic elements; his analysis of tragedy
constitutes the core of the discussion. He argues that tragedy consists of six qualitative parts,
which are (in order of importance) mythos or "plot", ethos or "character", dianoia or "thought",
lexis or "diction", melos or "song", and opsis or "spectacle". "Although Aristotle's Poetics is
universally acknowledged in the Western critical tradition," Marvin Carlson explains, "almost
every detail about his seminal work has aroused divergent opinions." Important theatre
practitioners of the 20th century include Konstantin Stanislavski, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Jacques
Copeau, Edward Gordon Craig, Bertolt Brecht, Antonin Artaud, Joan Littlewood, Peter Brook,
Jerzy Grotowski, Augusto Boal, Eugenio Barba, Dario Fo, Keith Johnstone and Robert Wilson
Stanislavski treated the theatre as an art-form that is autonomous from literature and one in
which the playwright's contribution should be respected as that of only one of an ensemble of
creative artists. His innovative contribution to modern acting theory has remained at the core of
mainstream western performance training for much of the last century. That many of the precepts
of his system of actor training seem to be common sense and self-evident testifies to its
hegemonic success. Actors frequently employ his basic concepts without knowing they do so.
Thanks to its promotion and elaboration by acting teachers who were former students and the
many translations of his theoretical writings, Stanislavski's 'system' acquired an unprecedented
ability to cross cultural boundaries and developed an international reach, dominating debates
about acting in Europe and the United States. Many actors routinely equate his 'system' with the
North American Method, although the latter's exclusively psychological techniques contrast
sharply with Stanislavski's multivariant, holistic and psychophysical approach, which explores
character and action both from the 'inside out' and the 'outside in' and treats the actor's mind and
body as parts of a continuum.
Technical aspects of theatre
Theatre presupposes collaborative modes of production and a collective form of reception. The
structure of dramatic texts, unlike other forms of literature, is directly influenced by this
collaborative production and collective reception. The production of plays usually involves
contributions from a playwright, director, a cast of actors, and a technical production team that
includes a scenic or set designer, lighting designer, costume designer, sound designer, stage
manager, and production manager. Depending on the production, this team may also include a
composer, dramaturg, video designer or fight director.
Stagecraft is a generic term referring to the technical aspects of theatrical, film, and video
production. It includes, but is not limited to, constructing and rigging scenery, hanging and
focusing of lighting, design and procurement of costumes, makeup, procurement of props, stage
management, and recording and mixing of sound. Stagecraft is distinct from the wider umbrella
term of scenography. Considered a technical rather than an artistic field, it relates primarily to
the practical implementation of a designer's artistic vision. In its most basic form, stagecraft is
managed by a single person (often the stage manager of a smaller production) who arranges all
scenery, costumes, lighting, and sound, and organizes the cast. At a more professional level, for
example modern Broadway houses, stagecraft is managed by hundreds of skilled carpenters,
painters, electricians, stagehands, stitchers, wigmakers, and the like. This modern form of
stagecraft is highly technical and specialized: it comprises many sub-disciplines and a vast trove
of history and tradition. The majority of stagecraft lies between these two extremes. Regional
theatres and larger community theatres will generally have a technical director and a complement
of designers, each of whom has a direct hand in their respective designs.
Theatre organization and administration
There are many modern theatre movements which go about producing theatre in a variety of
Theatrical enterprise varies enormously in sophistication and purpose. People who are involved
vary from professionals to hobbyists to spontaneous novices. Theatre can be performed with no
money at all or on a grand scale with multi-million dollar budgets. This diversity manifests in the
abundance of theatre sub-categories, which include:
Broadway theatre and West End theatre
Community theatre
Dinner theatre
Fringe theatre
Off-Broadway and Off West End
Regional theater in the United States
Summer stock theatre
Repertory companies
While most modern theatre companies rehearse one piece of theatre at a time, perform that piece
for a set "run", retire the piece, and begin rehearsing a new show, repertory companies rehearse
multiple shows at one time. These companies are able to perform these various pieces upon
request and often perform works for years before retiring them. Most dance companies operate
on this repertory system. The Royal National Theatre in London performs on a repertory system.
Repertory theatre generally involves a group of similarly accomplished actors, and relies more
on the reputation of the group than on an individual star actor. It also typically relies less on strict
control by a director and less on adherence to theatrical conventions, since actors who have
worked together in multiple productions can respond to each other without relying as much on
convention or external direction.
Producing vs. presenting
In order to put on a piece of theatre, both a theatre company and a theatre venue are needed.
When a theatre company is the sole company in residence at a theatre venue, these theatres (and
its corresponding theatre company) are called a resident theatre or a producing theatre, because
the venue produces its own work. Other theatre companies, as well as dance companies, do not
have their own theatre venue. These companies perform at rental theatres or at presenting
theatres. Both rental and presenting theatres have no full-time resident companies. They do,
however, sometimes have one or more part-time resident companies, in addition to other
independent partner companies who arrange to use the space when available. A rental theatre
allows the independent companies to seek out the space, while a presenting theatre seeks out the
independent companies to support their work by presenting them on their stage.
Some performance groups perform in non-theatrical spaces. Such performances can take place
outside or inside, in a non-traditional performance space, and include street theatre, and sitespecific theatre. Non-traditional venues can be used to create more immersive or meaningful
environments for audiences. They can sometimes be modified more heavily than traditional
theatre venues, or can accommodate different kinds of equipment, lighting and sets.
A touring company is an independent theatre or dance company that travels, often
internationally, being presented at a different theatre in each city.
There are many theatre unions including Actors' Equity Association (for actors and stage
managers), the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), and the International
Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE, for designers and technicians). Many theatres
require that their staff be members of these organizations.
Theater Structure
Basic Elements:
On and off stage
The most important of these areas is the acting space generally known as the stage. In some
theaters, specifically proscenium theaters, arena theaters and amphitheaters, this area is
permanent part of the structure. In a blackbox theater the acting area is undefined so that each
theater may adapt specifically to a production.
In addition to these acting spaces, there may be offstage spaces as well. These include wings on
either side of a proscenium stage (called "backstage" or "offstage") where props, sets and scenery
may be stored as well as a place for actors awaiting an entrance. A Prompter's box may be found
backstage. In an amphitheater, an area behind the stage may be designated for such uses while a
blackbox theater may have spaces outside of the actual theater designated for such uses.
Often a theater will incorporate other spaces intended for the performers and other personnel. A
booth facing the stage may be incorporated into the house where lighting and sound personnel
may view the show and run their respective instruments. Other rooms in the building may be
used for dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, spaces for constructing sets, props and costumes, as
well as storage.
Seating and audience
All theaters provide a space for an audience. The audience is usually separated from the
performers by the proscenium arch. In proscenium theaters and amphitheaters, the proscenium
arch, like the stage, is a permanent feature of the structure. This area is known as the auditorium
or the house. Like the stage in a blackbox theater, this area is also defined by the production
The seating areas can include some or all of the following:
Stalls or arena: the lower flat area, usually below or at the same level as the stage. The
word parterre (occasionally, parquet) is sometimes used to refer to a particular subset of this
area. In North American usage this is usually the rear seating block beneath the gallery in the
orchestra stalls whereas Britain it can mean either the area immediately in front of the orchestra,
or the whole of the stalls. The term can also refer to the side stalls in some usages. Derived from
the gardening term parterre, the usage refers to the sectioned pattern of both the seats of an
auditorium and of the planted beds seen in garden construction. Throughout the 18th century the
term was also used to refer to the theater audience who occupied the parterre.
Balconies or galleries: one or more raised seating platforms towards the rear of the
auditorium. In larger theaters, multiple levels are stacked vertically above or behind the stalls.
The first level is usually called the dress circle or grand circle. The next level may be the loge,
from the French version of loggia. A second tier inserted beneath the main balcony may be the
mezzanine. The highest platform, or upper circle is sometimes known as the gods, especially in
large opera houses, where the seats can be very high and a long distance from the stage.
Boxes (state box or stage box): typically placed immediately to the front, side and above
the level of the stage. They are often separate rooms with an open viewing area which typically
seat five people or fewer. These seats are typically considered the most prestigious of the house.
A state box or royal box is sometimes provided for dignitaries.
History of Theatre Construction
Ancient Greece
Greek theater buildings were called a theatron ('seeing place'). The theaters were large, open-air
structures constructed on the slopes of hills. They consisted of three principal elements: the
orchestra, the skene, and the audience.
The centerpiece of the theater was the orchestra, or "dancing place", a large circular or
rectangular area. The orchestra was the site the choral performances, the religious rites, and,
possibly, the acting. An altar was located in the middle of the orchestra; in Athens, the altar was
dedicated to Dionysus.
Behind the orchestra was a large rectangular building called the skene (meaning "tent" or "hut").
It was used as a "backstage" area where actors could change their costumes and masks, but also
served to represent the location of the plays, which were usually set in front of a palace or house.
Typically, there were two or three doors in the skene that led out onto orchestra, and from which
actors could enter and exit. At first, the skene was literally a tent or hut, put up for the religious
festival and taken down when it was finished. Later, the skene became a permanent stone
structure. These structures were sometimes painted to serve as backdrops, hence the English
word scenery.
In front of the skene there may have been a raised acting area called the proskenion, the ancestor
of the modern proscenium stage. It is possible that the actors (as opposed to the chorus) acted
entirely on the proskenion, but this is not certain.
Rising from the circle of the orchestra was the audience. The audience sat on tiers of benches
built up on the side of a hill. Greek theaters, then, could only be built on hills that were correctly
shaped. A typical theater was enormous, able to seat around 15,000 viewers.
Roman Theater, Orange, France
Greek theaters were not enclosed; the audience could see each other and the surrounding
countryside as well as the actors and chorus.
See also: Theatre of Ancient Greece
Ancient Rome
The Romans copied the Greek style of building, but tended not to be so concerned about the
location, being prepared to build walls and terraces instead of looking for a naturally-occurring
site. (See Roman theater for more.)
Elizabethan England
1596 illustration of Swan Theater, Southwark, London, showing round structure
During the Elizabethan era in England, theaters were constructed of wooden framing, infilled
with wattle and daub and roofed with thatch. They consisted of several floors of covered
galleries surrounding a courtyard which was open to the elements. A large portion of the
audience would stand in the yard, directly in front of the stage. This layout is said to derive from
the practice of holding plays in the yard of an inn. Archaeological excavations of The Rose
theater at London's Bankside, built 1587, have shown that it had en external diameter of 72 feet
(22 metres). The nearby Globe Theater (1599) was larger, at 100 feet (30 metres). Other
evidence for the round shape is a line in Shakespeare's Henry V which calls the building "this
wooden O", and several rough woodcut illustrations of the city of London.
Recreation of Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London
Around this time, the green room, a place for actors to wait until required on stage, became
common terminology in English theaters.
The Globe has now been rebuilt as a fully working and producing theater near its original site
(largely thanks to the efforts of film director Sam Wanamaker) to give modern audiences an idea
of the environment for which Shakespeare and other playwrights of the period were writing.
Enclosed theaters
During the Renaissance, the first modern enclosed theaters were constructed in Italy. Their
structure was similar to that of ancient theaters, with a cavea and an architectural scenery,
representing a city street. The oldest surviving examples of this style are the Teatro Olimpico in
Vicenza (1580) and the Teatro all'antica in Sabbioneta (1590).
At the beginning of 17th century theaters had moved indoors and began to resemble the
arrangement we see most frequently today, with a stage separated from the audience by a
proscenium arch. This coincided with a growing interest in scenic elements painted in
perspective, such as those created by Inigo Jones, Nicola Sabbatini and the Galli da Bibiena
family. The perspective of these elements could only be viewed properly from the center back of
the auditorium, in the so-called "duke's chair." The higher one's status, the closer they would be
seated to this vantage point, and the more the accurately they would be able to see the
perspective elements.
The first enclosed theaters were court theaters, open only to the sovereigns and the nobility. The
first opera house open to the public was the Teatro San Cassiano (1637) in Venice. The Italian
opera houses were the model for the subsequent theaters throughout Europe.
German Operatic influence
Richard Wagner placed great importance on "mood setting" elements, such as a darkened theater,
sound effects, and seating arrangements (lowering the orchestra pit) which focused the attention
of audience on the stage, completely immersing them in the imaginary world of the music drama.
These concepts were revolutionary at the time, but they have since come to be taken for granted
in the modern operatic environment as well as many other types of theatrical endeavors.
Contemporary theaters
The Alley Theater, home to the Alley Theater Company, Houston, Texas
Queen's Theater (Ganta, Liberia)
Contemporary theaters are often non-traditional, such as very adaptable spaces, or theaters where
audience and performers are not separated. A major example of this is the modular theater, (see
for example the Walt Disney Modular Theater). This large theater has floors and walls divided
into small movable sections, with the floor sections on adjustable hydraulic pylons, so that the
space may be adjusted into any configuration for each individual play. As new styles of theater
performance have evolved, so has the desire to improve or recreate performance venues. This
applies equally to artistic and presentation techniques, such as stage lighting.
Specific designs of contemporary live theaters include proscenium, thrust, black box theater,
theater in the round, amphitheater, and arena. In the classical Indian dance, Natya Shastra defines
three stage types. In Australia and New Zealand a small and simple theater, particularly one
contained within a larger venue, is a theatrette. The word originated in 1920s London, for a
small-scale music venue.
Theatrical performances can also take place in venues adapted from other purposes, such as train
carriages. In recent years the Edinburgh Fringe has seen performances in an elevator and a taxi.
Shakespeare's plays
Sir John Gilbert's 1849 painting: The Plays of Shakespeare, containing scenes and characters
from several of William Shakespeare's plays.
William Shakespeare's plays have the reputation of being among the greatest in the English
language and in Western literature. Traditionally, the 38 plays are divided into the genres of
tragedy, history, and comedy; they have been translated into every major living language, in
addition to being continually performed all around the world.
Many of his plays appeared in print as a series of quartos, but approximately half of them
remained unpublished until 1623, when the posthumous First Folio was published. The
traditional division of his plays into tragedies, comedies and histories follows the categories used
in the First Folio. However, modern criticism has labelled some of these plays "problem plays"
that elude easy categorisation, or perhaps purposely break generic conventions, and has
introduced the term romances for what scholars believe to be his later comedies.
When Shakespeare first arrived in London in the late 1580s or early 1590s, dramatists writing for
London's new commercial playhouses (such as The Curtain) were combining two different
strands of dramatic tradition into a new and distinctively Elizabethan synthesis. Previously, the
most common forms of popular English theatre were the Tudor morality plays. These plays,
celebrating piety generally, use personified moral attributes to urge or instruct the protagonist to
choose the virtuous life over Evil. The characters and plot situations are largely symbolic rather
than realistic. As a child, Shakespeare would likely have seen this type of play (along with,
perhaps, mystery plays and miracle plays).
The other strand of dramatic tradition was classical aesthetic theory. This theory was derived
ultimately from Aristotle; in Renaissance England, however, the theory was better known
through its Roman interpreters and practitioners. At the universities, plays were staged in a more
academic form as Roman closet dramas. These plays, usually performed in Latin, adhered to
classical ideas of unity and decorum, but they were also more static, valuing lengthy speeches
over physical action. Shakespeare would have learned this theory at grammar school, where
Plautus and especially Terence were key parts of the curriculum and were taught in editions with
lengthy theoretical introductions.
1 Theatre and stage setup
2 Elizabethan Shakespeare
3 Jacobean Shakespeare
4 Style
4.1 Soliloquies in plays
5 Source material of the plays
6 Canonical plays
6.1 Comedies
6.2 Histories
6.3 Tragedies
7 Dramatic collaborations
8 Lost plays
9 Plays possibly by Shakespeare
10 Shakespeare and the textual problem
11 Alternative authorship proposals
Theatre and stage setup
Archaeological excavations on the foundations of the Rose and the Globe in the late twentieth
century showed that all London English Renaissance theatres were built around similar general
plans. Despite individual differences, the public theatres were three stories high, and built around
an open space at the centre. Usually polygonal in plan to give an overall rounded effect, three
levels of inward-facing galleries overlooked the open centre into which jutted the stage—
essentially a platform surrounded on three sides by the audience, only the rear being restricted
for the entrances and exits of the actors and seating for the musicians. The upper level behind the
stage could be used as a balcony, as in Romeo and Juliet, or as a position for a character to
harangue a crowd, as in Julius Caesar.
Usually built of timber, lath and plaster and with thatched roofs, the early theatres were
vulnerable to fire, and gradually were replaced (when necessary) with stronger structures. When
the Globe burned down in June 1613, it was rebuilt with a tile roof.
A different model was developed with the Blackfriars Theatre, which came into regular use on a
long term basis in 1599. The Blackfriars was small in comparison to the earlier theatres, and
roofed rather than open to the sky; it resembled a modern theatre in ways that its predecessors
did not.
Elizabethan Shakespeare
For Shakespeare as he began to write, both traditions were alive; they were, moreover, filtered
through the recent success of the University Wits on the London stage. By the late 16th century,
the popularity of morality and academic plays waned as the English Renaissance took hold, and
playwrights like Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe revolutionised theatre. Their plays
blended the old morality drama with classical theory to produce a new secular form. The new
drama combined the rhetorical complexity of the academic play with the bawdy energy of the
moralities. However, it was more ambiguous and complex in its meanings, and less concerned
with simple allegory. Inspired by this new style, Shakespeare continued these artistic strategies,
creating plays that not only resonated on an emotional level with audiences but also explored and
debated the basic elements of what it means to be human. What Marlowe and Kyd did for
tragedy, John Lyly and George Peele, among others, did for comedy: they offered models of
witty dialogue, romantic action, and exotic, often pastoral location that formed the basis of
Shakespeare's comedic mode throughout his career.
Shakespeare's Elizabethan tragedies (including the history plays with tragic designs, such as
Richard II) demonstrate his relative independence from classical models. He takes from Aristotle
and Horace the notion of decorum; with few exceptions, he focuses on high-born characters and
national affairs as the subject of tragedy. In most other respects, though, the early tragedies are
far closer to the spirit and style of moralities. They are episodic, packed with character and
incident; they are loosely unified by a theme or character. In this respect, they reflect clearly the
influence of Marlowe, particularly of Tamburlaine. Even in his early work, however,
Shakespeare generally shows more restraint than Marlowe; he resorts to grandiloquent rhetoric
less frequently, and his attitude towards his heroes is more nuanced, and sometimes more
sceptical, than Marlowe's. By the turn of the century, the bombast of Titus Andronicus had
vanished, replaced by the subtlety of Hamlet.
In comedy, Shakespeare strayed even further from classical models. The Comedy of Errors, an
adaptation of Menaechmi, follows the model of new comedy closely. Shakespeare's other
Elizabethan comedies are more romantic. Like Lyly, he often makes romantic intrigue (a
secondary feature in Latin new comedy) the main plot element; even this romantic plot is
sometimes given less attention than witty dialogue, deceit, and jests. The "reform of manners,"
which Horace considered the main function of comedy, survives in such episodes as the gulling
of Malvolio.
Jacobean Shakespeare
Shakespeare reached maturity as a dramatist at the end of Elizabeth's reign, and in the first years
of the reign of James. In these years, he responded to a deep shift in popular tastes, both in
subject matter and approach. At the turn of the decade, he responded to the vogue for dramatic
satire initiated by the boy players at Blackfriars and St. Paul's. At the end of the decade, he seems
to have attempted to capitalise on the new fashion for tragicomedy even collaborating with John
Fletcher, the writer who had popularised the genre in England.
The influence of younger dramatists such as John Marston and Ben Jonson is seen not only in the
problem plays, which dramatise intractable human problems of greed and lust, but also in the
darker tone of the Jacobean tragedies. The Marlovian, heroic mode of the Elizabethan tragedies
is gone, replaced by a darker vision of heroic natures caught in environments of pervasive
corruption. As a sharer in both the Globe and in the King's Men, Shakespeare never wrote for the
boys' companies; however, his early Jacobean work is markedly influenced by the techniques of
the new, satiric dramatists. One play, Troilus and Cressida, may even have been inspired by the
War of the Theatres.
Shakespeare's final plays hearken back to his Elizabethan comedies in their use of romantic
situation and incident. In these plays, however, the sombre elements that are largely glossed over
in the earlier plays are brought to the fore and often rendered dramatically vivid. This change is
related to the success of tragicomedies such as Philaster, although the uncertainty of dates makes
the nature and direction of the influence unclear. From the evidence of the title-page to The Two
Noble Kinsmen and from textual analysis it is believed by some editors that Shakespeare ended
his career in collaboration with Fletcher, who succeeded him as house playwright for the King's
Men. These last plays resemble Fletcher's tragicomedies in their attempt to find a comedic mode
capable of dramatizing more serious events than had his earlier comedies.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, "drama became the ideal means to capture and convey the
diverse interests of the time." Stories of various genres were enacted for audiences consisting of
both the wealthy and educated and the poor and illiterate. Shakespeare served his dramatic
apprenticeship at the height of the Elizabethan period, in the years following the defeat of the
Spanish Armada; he retired at the height of the Jacobean period, not long before the start of the
Thirty Years' War. His verse style, his choice of subjects, and his stagecraft all bear the marks of
both periods. His style changed not only in accordance with his own tastes and developing
mastery, but also in accord with the tastes of the audiences for whom he wrote.
While many passages in Shakespeare's plays are written in prose, he almost always wrote a large
proportion of his plays and poems in iambic pentameter. In some of his early works (like Romeo
and Juliet), he even added punctuation at the end of these iambic pentameter lines to make the
rhythm even stronger. He and many dramatists of this period used the form of blank verse
extensively in character dialogue, thus heightening poetic effects.
To end many scenes in his plays he used a rhyming couplet to give a sense of conclusion, or
completion. A typical example is provided in Macbeth: as Macbeth leaves the stage to murder
Duncan (to the sound of a chiming clock), he says
―Hear it not Duncan; for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell.‖
Shakespeare's writing (especially his plays) also feature extensive wordplay in which double
entendres and clever rhetorical flourishes are repeatedly used. Humor is a key element in all of
Shakespeare's plays. Although a large amount of his comical talent is evident in his comedies,
some of the most entertaining scenes and characters are found in tragedies such as Hamlet and
histories such as Henry IV, Part 1. Shakespeare's humour was largely influenced by Plautus.
Soliloquies in plays
Shakespeare's plays are also notable for their use of soliloquies, in which a character makes a
speech to him- or herself so the audience can understand the character's inner motivations and
In his book Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies, James Hirsh defines the convention of a
Shakespearean soliloquy in early modern drama. He argues that when a person on the stage
speaks to himself or herself, they are characters in a fiction speaking in character; this is an
occasion of self-address. Furthermore, Hirsh points out that Shakespearian soliloquies and
"asides" are audible in the fiction of the play, bound to be overheard by any other character in the
scene unless certain elements confirm that the speech is protected. Therefore, a Renaissance
playgoer who was familiar with this dramatic convention would have been alert to Hamlet's
expectation that his soliloquy be overheard by the other characters in the scene. Moreover, Hirsh
asserts that in soliloquies in other Shakespearian plays, the speaker is entirely in character within
the play's fiction. Saying that addressing the audience was outmoded by the time Shakespeare
was alive, he "acknowledges few occasions when a Shakespearean speech might involve the
audience in recognising the simultaneous reality of the stage and the world the stage is
representing." Other than 29 speeches delivered by choruses or characters who revert to that
condition as epilogues "Hirsh recognises only three instances of audience address in
Shakespeare's plays, 'all in very early comedies, in which audience address is introduced
specifically to ridicule the practice as antiquated and amateurish.'"
Source material of the plays
As was common in the period, Shakespeare based many of his plays on the work of other
playwrights and recycled older stories and historical material. His dependence on earlier sources
was a natural consequence of the speed at which playwrights of his era wrote; in addition, plays
based on already popular stories appear to have been seen as more likely to draw large crowds.
There were also aesthetic reasons: Renaissance aesthetic theory took seriously the dictum that
tragic plots should be grounded in history. This stricture did not apply to comedy, and those of
Shakespeare's plays for which no clear source has been established, such as Love's Labour's Lost
and The Tempest, are comedies. Even these plays, however, rely heavily on generic
commonplaces. For example, Hamlet (c.1601) may be a reworking of an older, lost play (the socalled Ur-Hamlet), and King Lear is likely an adaptation of an older play, King Leir. For plays
on historical subjects, Shakespeare relied heavily on two principal texts. Most of the Roman and
Greek plays are based on Plutarch's Parallel Lives (from the 1579 English translation by Sir
Thomas North, and the English history plays are indebted to Raphael Holinshed's 1587
While there is much dispute about the exact Chronology of Shakespeare plays, as well as the
Shakespeare Authorship Question, the plays tend to fall into three main stylistic groupings.
The first major grouping of his plays begins with his histories and comedies of the 1590s.
Shakespeare's earliest plays tended to be adaptations of other playwright's works and employed
blank verse and little variation in rhythm. However, after the plague forced Shakespeare and his
company of actors to leave London for periods between 1592 and 1594, Shakespeare began to
use rhymed couplets in his plays, along with more dramatic dialogue. These elements showed up
in The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Almost all of the plays written
after the plague hit London are comedies, perhaps reflecting the public's desire at the time for
light-hearted fare. Other comedies from Shakespeare during this period include Much Ado
About Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor and As You Like It.
The middle grouping of Shakespeare's plays begins in 1599 with Julius Caesar. For the next few
years, Shakespeare would produce his most famous dramas, including Macbeth, Hamlet, and
King Lear. The plays during this period are in many ways the darkest of Shakespeare's career
and address issues such as betrayal, murder, lust, power and egoism.
The final grouping of plays, called Shakespeare's late romances, include Pericles, Prince of Tyre,
Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. The romances are so called because they bear
similarities to medieval romance literature. Among the features of these plays are a redemptive
plotline with a happy ending, and magic and other fantastic elements.
American Drama
Theater of the United States
This article is about stage theater in the United States. For information about the movie industry,
see Theater of the United States is based in the Western tradition. Regional or resident theatres in
the United States are professional theatre companies outside of New York City that produce their
own seasons.
Early history
Before the first English colony was established in 1607, there were Spanish dramas and Native
Americans tribes performed theatrical events.
The birth of professional theatre in America may have begun with the Lewis Hallam troupe that
arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1752. A theater was built in Williamsburg in 1716, and, in
January 1736, the original Dock Street Theatre was opened in Charles Town, South Carolina. In
any case, The Hallams were the first to organize a complete company of actors in Europe and
bring them to the colonies. They brought a repertoire of plays popular in London at the time,
including Hamlet, Othello, The Recruiting Officer, and Richard III. The Merchant of Venice was
their first performance, shown initially on September 15, 1752. Encountering opposition from
religious organisations, Hallam and his company left for Jamaica in 1754 or 1755. Soon after,
Lewis Hallam, Jr., founded the American Company, opened a theater in New York, and
presented the first professionally mounted American play—The Prince of Parthia, by Thomas
Godfrey—in 1767.
In the 18th century, laws forbidding the performance of plays were passed in Massachusetts in
1750, in Pennsylvania in 1759, and in Rhode Island in 1761, and plays were banned in most
states during the American Revolutionary War at the urging of the Continental Congress. In
1794, president of Yale College, Timothy Dwight IV, in his "Essay on the Stage", declared that
"to indulge a taste for playgoing means nothing more or less than the loss of that most valuable
treasure: the immortal soul."
In spite of such laws, however, a few writers tried their hand at playwriting. Most likely, the first
plays written in America were by European-born authors—we know of original plays being
written by Spaniard, Frenchmen and Englishmen dating back as early as 1567—although no
plays were printed in America until Robert Hunter's Androboros in 1714. Still, in the early years,
most of the plays produced came from Europe; only with Godfrey's The Prince of Parthia in
1767 do we get a professionally produced play written by an American, although it was a lastminute substitute for Thomas Forrest's comic opera The Disappointment; or, The Force of
Credulity, and although the first play to treat American themes seriously, Ponteach; or, the
Savages of America by Robert Rogers, had been published in London a year earlier. 'Cato', a
play about revolution, was performed for George Washington and his troops at Valley Forge in
the winter of 1777-1778.
The Revolutionary period was a boost for dramatists, for whom the political debates were fertile
ground for both satire, as seen in the works of Mercy Otis Warren and Colonel Robert Munford,
and for plays about heroism, as in the works of Hugh Henry Brackenridge. The post-war period
saw the birth of American social comedy in Royall Tyler's The Contrast, which established a
much-imitated version of the "Yankee" character, here named "Jonathan". But there were no
professional dramatists until William Dunlap, whose work as playwright, translator, manager and
theatre historian has earned him the title of "Father of American Drama"; in addition to
translating the plays of August von Kotzebue and French melodramas, Dunlap wrote plays in a
variety of styles, of which André and The Father; or, American Shandyism are his best.
The 19th century
Pre-war theatre
At 825 Walnut Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the Walnut Street Theatre, or, "The
Walnut." Founded in 1809 by the Circus of Pepin and Breschard, "The Walnut" is the oldest
theater in America. The Walnut's first theatrical production, The Rivals, was staged in 1812. In
attendance were President Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Provincial theaters frequently lacked heat and minimal theatrical property ("props") and scenery.
Apace with the country's westward expansion, some entrepreneurs operated floating theaters on
barges or riverboats that would travel from town to town. A large town could afford a long
"run"—or period of time during which a touring company would stage consecutive multiple
performances—of a production, and in 1841, a single play was shown in New York City for an
unprecedented three weeks.
John Drew, a famous American actor, playing the part of Petruchio from The Taming of the
William Shakespeare's works were commonly performed. American plays of the period were
mostly melodramas, a famous example of which was Uncle Tom's Cabin, adapted by George
Aiken, from the novel of the same name by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
In 1821, William Henry Brown established the African Grove Theatre in New York City. It was
the third attempt to have an African-American theatre, but this was the most successful of them
all. The company put on not only Shakespeare, but also staged the first play written by an
African-American, The Drama of King Shotaway. The theatre was shut down in 1823. AfricanAmerican theatre was relatively dormant, except for the 1858 play The Escape; or, A Leap for
Freedom by William Wells Brown, who was an ex-slave. African-American works would not be
regarded again until the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.
A popular form of theatre during this time was the minstrel show, which featured white (and
sometimes, especially after the Civil War, black) actors dressed in "blackface (painting one's
face, etc. with dark makeup to imitate the coloring of an African or African American)." The
players entertained the audience using comic skits, parodies of popular plays and musicals, and
general buffoonery and slapstick comedy, all with heavy utilization of racial stereotyping and
racist themes.
Throughout the 19th century, theatre culture was associated with hedonism and even violence,
and actors (especially women), were looked upon as little better than prostitutes. Jessie Bond
wrote that by the middle of the 19th century, "The stage was at a low ebb, Elizabethan glories
and Georgian artificialities had alike faded into the past, stilted tragedy and vulgar farce were all
the would-be playgoer had to choose from, and the theatre had become a place of evil repute".
On April 15, 1865, less than a week after the end of the United States Civil War, Abraham
Lincoln, while watching a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., was assassinated by a
nationally popular stage-actor of the period, John Wilkes Booth.
Victorian burlesque, a form of bawdy comic theatre mocking high art and culture, was imported
from England about 1860 and in America became a form of farce in which females in male roles
mocked the politics and culture of the day. Criticized for its sexuality and outspokenness, this
form of entertainment was hounded off the "legitimate stage" and found itself relegated to
saloons and barrooms. The female producers, such as Lydia Thompson were replaced by their
male counterparts, who toned down the politics and played up the sexuality, until the burlesque
shows eventually became little more than pretty girls in skimpy clothing singing songs, while
male comedians told raunchy jokes.
The drama of the pre-war period tended to be a derivative in form, imitating European
melodramas and romantic tragedies, but native in content, appealing to popular nationalism by
dramatizing current events and portraying American heroism. But playwrights were limited by a
set of factors, including the need for plays to be profitable, the middle-brow tastes of American
theatre-goers, and the lack of copyright protection and compensation for playwrights. During this
time, the best strategy for a dramatist was to become an actor and/or a manager, after the model
of John Howard Payne, Dion Boucicault and John Brougham. This period saw the popularity of
certain native character types, especially the "Yankee", the "Negro" and the "Indian",
exemplified by the characters of Jonathan, Sambo and Metamora. Meanwhile, increased
immigration brought a number of plays about the Irish and Germans, which often dovetailed
with concerns over temperance and Roman Catholic. This period also saw plays about American
expansion to the West (including plays about Mormonism) and about women's rights. Among
the best plays of the period are James Nelson Barker's Superstition; or, the Fanatic Father, Anna
Cora Mowatt's Fashion; or, Life in New York, Nathaniel Bannister's Putnam, the Iron Son of '76,
Dion Boucicault's The Octoroon; or, Life in Louisiana, and Cornelius Mathews's Witchcraft; or,
the Martyrs of Salem. At the same time, America had created new dramatic forms in the Tom
Shows, the showboat theater and the minstrel show.
Post-war theatre
In the postbellum North, theatre flourished as a post-war boom allowed longer and morefrequent productions. The advent of American rail transport allowed production companies, its
actors, and large, elaborate sets to travel easily between towns, which made permanent theaters
in small towns feasible. The invention and practical application of electric lighting also led to
changes to and improvements of scenery styles and the designing of theater interiors and seating
Minstrel show performers Rollin Howard (in female costume) and George Griffin, c. 1855.
In 1896, Charles Frohman, Al Hayman, Abe Erlanger, Mark Klaw, Samuel F. Flenderson, and
Fred Zimmerman formed the Theatrical Syndicate, which established systemized booking
networks throughout the United States, and created a management monopoly that controlled
every aspect of contracts and bookings until the turn of the 20th century, when the Shubert
brothers founded rival agency, The Shubert Organization.
For playwrights, the period after the War brought more financial reward and aesthetic respect
(including professional criticism) than was available earlier. In terms of form, spectacles,
melodramas and farces remained popular, but poetic drama and romanticism almost died out
completely due to the new emphasis upon realism, which was adopted by serious drama,
melodrama and comedy alike. This realism was not quite the European realism of Ibsen's Ghosts,
but a combination of scenic realism (e.g., the "Belasco Method") with a less romantic view of
life that accompanied the cultural turmoil of the period. The most ambitious effort towards
realism during this period came from James Herne, who was influenced by the ideas of Ibsen,
Hardy and Zola regarding realism, truth, and literary quality; his most important achievement,
Margaret Fleming, enacts the principles he expounded in his essay "Art for Truth's Sake in the
Drama". Although Fleming did not appeal to audiences—critics and audiences felt it dwelt too
much on unseemly topics and included improper scenes, such as Margaret nursing her husband's
bastard child onstage—other forms of dramatic realism were becoming more popular in
melodrama (e.g., Augustin Daly's Under the Gaslight) and in local color plays (Bronson
Howard's Shenandoah). Other key dramatists during this period are David Belasco, Steele
MacKaye, William Dean Howells, Dion Boucicault, and Clyde Fitch.
The 20th century
Vaudeville was common in the late 19th and early 20th century, and is notable for heavily
influencing early film, radio, and television productions in the country. (This was born from an
earlier American practice of having singers and novelty acts perform between acts in a standard
play.) George Burns was a very long-lived American comedian who started out in the vaudeville
community, but went on to enjoy a career running until the 1990s.
Some vaudeville theaters built between about 1900 and 1920 managed to survive as well, though
many went through periods of alternate use, most often as movie theaters until the second half of
the century saw many urban populations decline and multiplexes built in the suburbs. Since that
time, a number have been restored to original or nearly-original condition and attract new
audiences nearly one hundred years later.
By the beginning of the 20th century, legitimate 1752 (non-vaudville) theatre had become
decidedly more sophisticated in the United States, as it had in Europe. The stars of this era, such
as Ethel Barrymore and John Drew, were often seen as even more important than the show itself.
The advance of motion pictures also led to many changes in theatre. The popularity of musicals
may have been due in part to the fact the early films had no sound, and could thus not compete,
until The Jazz Singer of 1927, which combined both talking and music in a moving picture.
More complex and sophisticated dramas bloomed in this time period, and acting styles became
more subdued. Even by 1915, actors were being lured away from theatre and to the silver screen,
and vaudeville was beginning to face stiff competition.
While revues consisting of mostly unconnected songs, sketches, comedy routines, and scantilyclad dancing girls dominated for the first 20 years of the 20th century, musical theatre would
eventually develop beyond this. One of the first major steps was Show Boat, with music by
Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. It featured songs and non-musical scenes which
were integrated to develop the show's plot. The next great step forward was Oklahoma!, with
lyrics by Hammerstein and music by Richard Rodgers. Its "dream ballets" used dance to carry
forward the plot and develop the characters.
Amateur performing groups have always had a place alongside professional acting companies.
The Amateur Comedy Club, Inc. was founded in New York City on April 18, 1884. It was
organized by seven gentlemen who broke away from the Madison Square Dramatic
Organization, a socially prominent company presided over by Mrs. James Brown Potter and
David Belasco. The ACC staged its first performance on February 13, 1885. It has performed
continuously ever since, making it the oldest, continuously performing theatrical society in the
United States. Prominent New Yorkers who have been members of the ACC include Theodore,
Frederick and John Steinway of the piano manufacturing family; Gordon Grant, the marine artist;
Christopher La Farge, the architect; Van H. Cartmell, the publisher; Albert Sterner, the painter;
and Edward Fales Coward, the theatre critic and playwright. Elsie De Wolfe, Lady Mendl, later
famous as the world's first professional interior decorator, acted in Club productions in the early
years of the 20th Century, as did Hope Williams (whom Katharine Hepburn understudied in
"Holiday" in the 1920s), and Julie Harris in the 1940s. ACC directors have included Charles
Coburn, Herbert Dawley, George Ferencz, Walter Greaza, Josephine Hull, Howard Lindsay,
Gene Lockhart, Priestly Morrison, Ruth Rawson, Maida Reade, Jose Ruben, Janet Hayes Walker
and Monty Wooley, among others.
The massive social change that went on during the Great Depression also had an effect on theatre
in the United States. Plays took on social roles, identifying with immigrants and the unemployed.
The Federal Theatre Project, a New Deal program set up by Franklin D. Roosevelt, helped to
promote theatre and provide jobs for actors. The program staged many elaborate and
controversial plays such as It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis and The Cradle Will Rock by
Marc Blitzstein. By contrast, the legendary producer Brock Pemberton (founder of the Tony
Awards) was among those who felt that it was more than ever a time for comic entertainment, in
order to provide an escape from the prevailing harsh social conditions: typical of his productions
was Lawrence Riley's comedy Personal Appearance (1934), whose success on Broadway (501
performances) vindicated Pemberton.
The years between the World Wars were years of extremes. Eugene O'Neill's plays were the high
point for serious dramatic plays leading up to the outbreak of war in Europe. Beyond the Horizon
(1920), for which he won his first Pulitzer Prize; he later won Pulitzers for Anna Christie (1922)
and Strange Interlude (1928) as well as the Nobel Prize in Literature.
1940 proved to be a pivotal year for African-American theatre. Frederick O'Neal and Abram Hill
founded ANT, or the American Negro Theater, the most renowned African-American theatre
group of the 1940s. Their stage was small and located in the basement of a library in Harlem, and
most of the shows were attended and written by African-Americans. Some shows include
Theodore Browne's Natural Man (1941), Abram Hill's Walk Hard (1944), and Owen Dodson's
Garden of Time (1945). At ANT, many famous actors received their training there, including
Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Alice and Alvin Childress, Osceola Archer, Ruby Dee, Earle
Hyman, Hilda Simms, among many others.
Post World War II theatre
After World War II, American theatre came into its own. Several American playwrights, such as
Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, became world-renowned.
In the 1950s and 1960s, experimentation in the Arts spread into theatre as well, with plays such
as Hair including nudity and drug culture references. Musicals remained popular as well, and
musicals such as West Side Story and A Chorus Line broke previous records. At the same time,
shows like Stephen Sondheim's Company began to deconstruct the musical form as it has been
practiced through the mid-century, moving away from traditional plot and realistic external
settings to explore the central character's inner state; his Follies relied on pastiches of the
Ziegfeld Follies-styled revue; his Pacific Overtures used Japanese kabuki theatrical practices;
and Merrily We Roll Along told its story backwards. Similarly, Bob Fosse's production of
Chicago returned the musical to its vaudeville origins.
In the late 1990s and 2000s, American theatre began to borrow from cinematic and operatic
roots. For instance, Julie Taymor, director of The Lion King directed Die Zauberflöte at the
Metropolitan Opera. Also, Broadway musicals were developed around Disney's Mary Poppins,
Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, and the one that started it all, Beauty and the Beast, which may
have contributed to Times Square's revitalization in the 1990s. Also, Mel Brooks's The Producers
and Young Frankenstein are based on his hit films.
The early years of the 20th century, before World War I, continued to see realism as the main
development in drama. But starting around 1900, there was a revival of poetic drama in the
States, corresponding to a similar revival in Europe (e.g. Yeats, Maeterlinck and Hauptmann).
The most notable example of this trend was the "Biblical trilogy" of William Vaughn Moody,
which also illustrate the rise of religious-themed drama during the same years, as seen in the
1899 production of Ben-Hur and two 1901 adaptations of Quo Vadis. Moody, however, is best
known for two prose plays, The Great Divide (1906, later adapted into three film versions) and
The Faith Healer (1909), which together point the way to modern American drama in their
emphasis on the emotional conflicts that lie at the heart of contemporary social conflicts. Other
key playwrights from this period (in addition to continued work by Howells and Fitch) include
Edward Sheldon, Charles Rann Kennedy and one of the most successful women playwrights in
American drama, Rachel Crothers, whose interest in women's issues can be seen in such plays as
He and She (1911).
During the period between the World Wars, American drama came to maturity, thanks in large
part to the works of Eugene O'Neill and of the Provincetown Players. O'Neill's experiments with
theatrical form and his combination of Naturalist and Expressionist techniques inspired other
playwrights to use greater freedom in their works, whether expanding the techniques of Realism,
as in Susan Glaspell's Trifles, or borrowing more heavily from German Expressionism (e.g.,
Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine), Other distinct movements during this period include folk-
drama/regionalism (Paul Green's Pulitzer-winning In Abraham's Bosom), "pageant" drama
(Green's The Lost Colony, about the mysterious Roanoke Colony), and even a return to poetic
drama (Maxwell Anderson's Winterset). At the same time, the economic crisis of the Great
Depression led to the growth of protest drama, as seen in the Federal Theatre Project's Living
Newspaper productions and in the works of Clifford Odets (e.g., Waiting for Lefty) and of
moralist drama, as in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes and The Children's Hour. Other key
figures of this era include George S. Kaufman, George Kelly, Langston Hughes, S. N. Behrman,
Sidney Howard, Robert E. Sherwood, and a set of playwrights who followed O'Neill's path of
philosophical searching, Philip Barry, Thornton Wilder (Our Town) and William Saroyan (The
Time of Your Life). Theatre criticism kept pace with the drama, such as in the work of George
Jean Nathan and in the numerous books and journals on American theater that were published
during this time.
The stature that American drama had achieved between the Wars was cemented during the postWorld War II generation, with the final works of O'Neill and his generation being joined by such
towering figures as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, as well as by the maturation of the
musical theatre form. Other key dramatists include William Inge, Arthur Laurents and Paddy
Chayefsky in the 50s, the avant garde movement of Jack Richardson, Arthur Kopit, Jack Gelber
and Edward Albee the 60s, and the maturation of black drama through Lorraine Hansberry,
James Baldwin and Amiri Baraka. In the musical theatre, important figures include Rodgers and
Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Richard Adler and Jerry
Ross, Frank Loesser, Jule Styne, Jerry Bock, Meredith Willson and Stephen Sondheim.
The period beginning in the mid-1960s, with the passing of Civil Rights legislation and its
repercussions, came the rise of an "agenda" theatre comparable to that of the 1930s. Many of the
major playwrights from the mid-century continued to produce new works, but were joined by
names like Sam Shepard, Neil Simon, Romulus Linney, David Rabe, Lanford Wilson, David
Mamet, and John Guare. Many important dramatists were women, including Beth Henley,
Marsha Norman, Wendy Wasserstein, Megan Terry, Paula Vogel and María Irene Fornés. The
growth of ethnic pride movements led to more success by dramatists from racial minorities, such
as black playwrights Douglas Turner Ward, Adrienne Kennedy, Ed Bullins, Charles Fuller,
Suzan-Lori Parks, Ntozake Shange, George C. Wolfe and August Wilson, who created a
dramatic history of United States with his cycle of plays, The Pittsburgh Cycle, one for each
decade of the 20th century. Asian American theatre is represented in the early 70s by Frank Chin
and achieved international success with David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly. Latino theatre grew
from the local activist performances of Luis Valdez's Chicano-focused Teatro Campesino to his
more formal plays, such as Zoot Suit, and later to the award winning work of Cuban Americans
Fornés (multiple Obies) and her student Nilo Cruz (Pulitzer), to Puerto Rican playwrights José
Rivera and Miguel Piñero, and to the Tony Award winning musical about Dominicans in New
York City, In the Heights. Finally, the rise of the gay rights movement and of the AIDS crisis led
to a number of important gay and lesbian dramatists, including Christopher Durang, Holly
Hughes, Karen Malpede, Terrence McNally, Larry Kramer, Tony Kushner, whose Angels in
America won the Tony Award two years in a row, and composer-playwright Jonathan Larson,
whose musical Rent ran for over twelve years.
American theatre today
Earlier styles of theatre such as minstrel shows and Vaudeville acts have disappeared from the
landscape, but theatre remains a popular American art form. Broadway productions still entertain
millions of theatregoers as productions have become more elaborate and expensive. At the same
time, theatre has also served as a platform for expression, and a venue for identity exploration for
under-represented, minority communities, who have formed their own companies and created
their own genres of works, notably East West Players, founded in 1965 as the first Asian
American theatre group. Notable contemporary American playwrights include Edward Albee,
August Wilson, Tony Kushner, David Henry Hwang, John Guare, and Wendy Wasserstein.
Smaller urban theaters have stayed a source of innovation, and regional theaters remain an
important part of theatre life. Drama is also taught in high schools and colleges, which was not
done in previous eras, and many become interested in theatre through this.
The Faster Times, an online newspaper that began in 2009, features a weekly column that
discusses issues and trends in American theatre.
Othello - William Shakespear
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to
have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story Un Capitano Moro
("A Moorish Captain") by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565. The work
revolves around four central characters: Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army; his
new wife, Desdemona; his lieutenant, Cassio; and his trusted ensign, Iago. Because of its varied
and current themes of racism, love, jealousy and betrayal, Othello is still often performed in
professional and community theatres alike and has been the basis for numerous operatic, film
and literary adaptations
The play opens with Roderigo, a rich and dissolute gentleman, complaining to Iago, an ensign,
that Iago has not told him about the secret marriage between Desdemona, the daughter of a
Senator named Brabantio, and Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army. He is upset by
this development because he loves Desdemona and had previously asked her father for her hand
in marriage. Iago hates Othello for promoting a younger man named Michael Cassio above him,
and tells Roderigo that he plans to use Othello for his own advantage. Iago is also angry because
he believes, or at least gives the pretence of belief, that Othello slept with his wife Emilia. Iago
denounces Cassio as a scholarly tactician with no real battle experience; in contrast, Iago is a
battle-tested soldier. By emphasizing Roderigo's failed bid for Desdemona, and his own
dissatisfaction with serving under Othello, Iago convinces Roderigo to wake Brabantio,
Desdemona's father, and tell him about his daughter's elopement. Iago sneaks away to find
Othello and warns him that Brabantio is coming for him.
Before Brabantio reaches Othello, news arrives in Venice that the Turks are going to attack
Cyprus; therefore Othello is summoned to advise the senators. Brabantio arrives and accuses
Othello of seducing Desdemona by witchcraft, but Othello defends himself successfully before
an assembly that includes the Duke of Venice, Brabantio's kinsmen Lodovico and Gratiano, and
various senators. He explains that Desdemona became enamored of him for the sad and
compelling stories he told of his life before Venice, not because of any witchcraft. The senate is
satisfied, but Brabantio leaves saying that Desdemona will betray Othello. By order of the Duke,
Othello leaves Venice to command the Venetian armies against invading Turks on the island of
Cyprus, accompanied by his new wife, his new lieutenant Cassio, his ensign Iago, and Iago's
wife, Emilia as Desdemona's attendant.
The party arrives in Cyprus to find that a storm has destroyed the Turkish fleet. Othello orders a
general celebration and leaves to spend private time with Desdemona. In his absence, Iago
schemes to get Cassio drunk after Cassio's own admission that he cannot hold his wine. He then
persuades Roderigo to draw Cassio into a fight. The resulting brawl alarms the citizenry, and
Othello is forced to quell the disturbance. Othello blames Cassio for the disturbance and strips
him of his rank. Cassio is distraught, but, as part of his plan to convince Othello that Cassio and
Desdemona are having an affair, Iago persuades Cassio to importune Desdemona to act as an
intermediary between himself and Othello, in order to convince her husband to reinstate him.
Iago now persuades Othello to be suspicious of Cassio and Desdemona. Othello drops a
handkerchief (Desdemona was trying to bind his headache with) that was Othello's first gift to
Desdemona and which he has stated holds great significance to him in the context of their
relationship. Despite the supposed importance of the handkerchief neither seem to notice the
handkerchief had been dropped. Emilia finds it, and gives it to Iago, at his request, but she is
unaware of what he plans to do with the handkerchief. Iago plants it in Cassio's lodgings as
evidence of Cassio and Desdemona's affair. After he has planted the handkerchief, Iago tells
Othello to stand apart and watch Cassio's reactions while Iago questions him about the
handkerchief. Iago goads Cassio on to talk about his affair with Bianca, a local courtesan with
whom Cassio has been spending time, but speaks her name so quietly that Othello believes the
two other men are talking about Desdemona when Cassio is really speaking of Bianca. Bianca,
on discovering the handkerchief, chastises Cassio, accusing him of giving her a second-hand gift
which he received from another lover. Othello sees this, and Iago convinces him that Cassio
received the handkerchief from Desdemona. Enraged and hurt, Othello resolves to kill his wife
and asks Iago to kill Cassio. Othello proceeds to make Desdemona's life miserable, hitting her in
front of visiting Venetian nobles.
Roderigo complains that he has received nothing from Iago in return for his money and efforts to
win Desdemona, but Iago convinces him to kill Cassio. Roderigo attacks Cassio in the street
after Cassio leaves Bianca's lodgings. They fight, and Cassio mortally wounds Roderigo. During
the scuffle, Iago comes from behind Cassio and badly cuts his leg. In the darkness, Iago manages
to hide his identity, and when passers-by hear Cassio's cries for help, Iago joins them, pretending
to help Cassio. When Cassio identifies Roderigo as one of his attackers, Iago quietly stabs
Roderigo to stop him from revealing the plot. He then accuses Bianca of the failed conspiracy to
kill Cassio.
In the night, Othello confronts Desdemona, and then smothers her to death in their bed. When
Emilia arrives, Othello tries to justify his actions by accusing Desdemona of adultery. Emilia
calls for help. The Governor arrives, with Iago, Cassio, and others, and Emilia begins to explain
the situation. When Othello mentions the handkerchief as proof, Emilia realizes what Iago has
done, and she exposes him, whereupon Iago kills her. Othello, belatedly realizing Desdemona's
innocence, stabs Iago but not fatally, saying that he would rather have Iago live the rest of his life
in pain. For his part, Iago refuses to explain his motives, vowing to remain silent from that
moment on. Lodovico, a Venetian nobleman, apprehends both Iago and Othello for the murders,
but Othello commits suicide with a dagger he had hidden. Lodovico then declares Gratiano
Othello's successor and exhorts Cassio to have Iago justly punished.
Cinthio source
Othello is an adaptation of the Italian writer Cinthio's tale "Un Capitano Moro" ("A Moorish
Captain") from his Gli Hecatommithi (1565), a collection of one hundred tales in the style of
Boccaccio's Decameron. No English translation of Cinthio was available in Shakespeare's
lifetime, and verbal echoes in Othello are closer to the Italian original than to Gabriel Chappuy's
1584 French translation. Cinthio's tale may have been based on an actual incident occurring in
Venice about 1508. It also resembles an incident described in the earlier tale of "The Three
Apples", one of the stories narrated in the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights).
Desdemona is the only named character in Cinthio's tale, with his few other characters identified
only as the "Moor", the "Squadron Leader", the "Ensign", and the "Ensign's Wife"
(corresponding to the play's Othello, Cassio, Iago and Emilia). Cinthio drew a moral (which he
placed in the mouth of Desdemona) that European women are unwise to marry the
temperamental males of other nations.
Cinthio's "Moor" is the model for Shakespeare's Othello, but some researchers believe the poet
also took inspiration from the several Moorish delegations from Morocco to Elizabethan England
circa 1600. While Shakespeare closely followed Cinthio's tale in composing Othello, he departed
from it in some details. Brabantio, Roderigo, and several minor characters are not found in
Cinthio, for example, and Shakespeare's Emilia takes part in the handkerchief mischief while her
counterpart in Cinthio does not. Unlike in Othello, in Cinthio, the "Ensign" (the play's Iago) lusts
after Desdemona and is spurred to revenge when she rejects him. Shakespeare's opening scenes
are unique to his tragedy as is the tender scene between Emilia and Desdemona as the lady
prepares for bed. Shakespeare's most striking departure from Cinthio is the manner of his
heroine's death. In Shakespeare, Othello suffocates Desdemona, but in Cinthio, the "Moor"
commissions the "Ensign" to bludgeon his wife to death with a sand-filled stocking. Cinthio
describes each gruesome blow, and, when the lady is dead, the "Ensign" and the "Moor" place
her lifeless body upon her bed, smash her skull, and cause the cracked ceiling above the bed to
collapse upon her, giving the impression its falling rafters caused her death. In Cinthio, the two
murderers escape detection. The "Moor" then misses Desdemona greatly, and comes to loathe
the sight of the "Ensign". He demotes him, and refuses to have him in his company. The
"Ensign" then seeks revenge by disclosing to the "Squadron Leader" the "Moor's" involvement in
Desdemona's death. The two depart Cyprus for Venice, and denounce the "Moor" to the
Venetian Seignory; he is arrested, taken to Venice, and tortured. He refuses to admit his guilt and
is condemned to exile. Desdemona's relatives eventually find and kill him. The "Ensign",
however, continues to escape detection in Desdemona's death, but engages in other crimes while
in Venice. He is arrested and dies after being tortured. Cinthio's "Ensign's Wife" (the play's
Emilia), survives her husband's death to tell her story.
Cinthio's tale has been described as a "partly racist warning" about the dangers of miscegenation.
While supplying the source of the plot, the book offered nothing of the sense of place of Venice
or Cyprus. For knowledge of this Shakespeare would have used Gasparo Contarini's The
Commonwealth and Government of Venice, in Lewes Lewkenor's 1599 translation.
Date and context
The earliest mention of the play is found in a 1604 Revels Office account, which records that on
"Hallamas Day, being the first of Nouembar ... the Kings Maiesties plaiers" performed "A Play
in the Banketinghouse at Whit Hall Called The Moor of Venis." The work is attributed to
"Shaxberd." The Revels account was first printed by Peter Cunningham in 1842, and, while its
authenticity was once challenged, is now regarded as genuine (as authenticated by A.E. Stamp in
1930). Based on its style, the play is usually dated 1603 or 1604, but arguments have been made
for dates as early as 1601 or 1602.
The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 6 October 1621, by
Thomas Walkley, and was first published in quarto format by him in 1622:
"Tragœdy of Othello, The Moore of Venice. As it hath beene diuerse times acted at the Globe,
and at the Black-Friers, by his Maiesties Seruants. Written by William Shakespeare. London.
Printed by N. O. [Nicholas Okes] for Thomas Walkley, and are to be sold at his shop, at the
Eagle and Child, in Brittans Bursse, 1622."
One year later, the play was included among the plays in the First Folio of Shakespeare's
collected plays. However, the version in the Folio is rather different in length, and in wording: as
the editors of the Folger edition explain: "The Folio play has about 160 lines that do not appear
in the Quarto. Some of these cluster together in quite extensive passages. The Folio also lacks a
scattering of about a dozen lines or part-lines that are to be found in the Quarto. These two
versions also differ from each other in their readings of numerous words. Scholars differ in their
explanation of these differences, and no consensus has emerged. One explanation is that the
Quarto may have been cut in the printing house to meet a fixed number of pages. Another is that
the Quarto is based on an early version of the play, while the Folio represents Shakespeare's
revised version. Most modern editions are based on the longer Folio version, but often
incorporate Quarto readings of words when the Folio text appears to be in error. Quartos were
also published in 1630, 1655, 1681, 1695, 1699 and 1705.
Portrait of Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moorish ambassador to Queen
Elizabeth I in 1600, sometimes suggested as the inspiration for Othello.
There is no consensus over Othello's race. E.A.J. Honigmann, the editor of the Arden
Shakespeare edition, concluded that Othello's race is ambiguous. "Renaissance representations of
the Moor were vague, varied, inconsistent, and contradictory. As critics have established, the
term 'Moor' referred to dark-skinned people in general, used interchangeably with similarly
ambiguous terms as 'African', 'Ethiopian', 'Negro', and even 'Indian' to designate a figure from
Africa (or beyond)." Various uses of the word 'black' (for example, "Haply for I am black") are
insufficient evidence for any accurate racial classification, Honigmann argues, since 'black' could
simply mean 'swarthy' to Elizabethans. Iago twice uses the word 'Barbary' or 'Barbarian' to refer
to Othello, seemingly referring to the Barbary coast inhabited by the "tawny" Moors. Roderigo
calls Othello 'the thicklips', which seems to refer to European conceptions of Sub-Saharan
African physiognomy, but Honigmann counters that, as these comments are all intended as
insults by the characters, they need not be taken literally.
Michael Neill, editor of the Oxford Shakespeare edition, notes that the earliest critical references
to Othello's colour, (Thomas Rymer's 1693 critique of the play, and the 1709 engraving in
Nicholas Rowe's edition of Shakespeare), assume him to be Sub-Saharan, while the earliest
known North African interpretation was not until Edmund Kean's production of 1814.
Honigmann discusses the view that Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun,
Moorish ambassador of the Arab King of Barbary to Queen Elizabeth I in 1600, was one
inspiration for Othello. He stayed with his retinue in London for several months and occasioned
much discussion. While Shakespeare's play was written only a few years afterwards Honigman
questions the view that ben Messaoud himself was a significant influence on it.
Artist William Mulready portrays African-American actor Ira Aldridge as Othello. The Walters
Art Museum.
Othello is referred to as a ―Barbary horse‖ (1.1.113) and a ―lascivious Moor‖ (1.1.127). In III.III
he denounces Desdemona's supposed sin as being "black as mine own face." Desdemona's
physical whiteness is otherwise presented in opposition to Othello's dark skin; V.II "that whiter
skin of hers than snow." Iago tells Brabantio that "an old black ram / is tupping your white ewe"
(1.1.88). In Elizabethan discourse, the word "black" could suggest various concepts that
extended beyond the physical colour of skin, including a wide range of negative connotations.
Othello was frequently performed as an Arab Moor during the 19th century. He was first played
by a black man on the London stage in 1833, by Ira Aldridge. However, the first major screen
production casting a black actor as Othello would not come until 1995 with Laurence Fishburne
opposite Kenneth Branagh's Iago. In the past, Othello would often have been portrayed by a
white actor in blackface or in a black mask; more recent actors who chose to ‗blacken up‘
include Ralph Richardson (1937), John Gielgud (1961), Laurence Olivier (1964), Anthony
Hopkins (1981) and Orson Welles. Ground-breaking black American actor Paul Robeson played
the role in three different productions between 1930 and 1959. The casting of the role comes
with a political subtext. Patrick Stewart played the role in the Royal Shakespeare Company's
1997 staging of the play and Thomas Thieme, also white, played Othello in a 2007 Munich
Kammerspiele staging at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford. Michael Gambon also took
the role in 1980 and 1991; their performances were critically acclaimed. Carlo Rota, of
Mediterranean (British Italian) heritage, played the character on Canadian television in 2008.
Iago / Othello
Although eponymously titled, suggesting that the tragedy belongs primarily to Othello, Iago
plays an important role in the plot. He reflects the archetypal villain, and has the biggest share of
the dialogue. In Othello, it is Iago who manipulates all other characters at will, controlling their
movements and trapping them in an intricate net of lies. He achieves this by getting close to all
characters and playing on their weaknesses while they refer to him as "honest" Iago, thus
furthering his control over the characters . A. C. Bradley, and more recently Harold Bloom, have
been major advocates of this interpretation.[29] Other critics, most notably in the later twentieth
century (after F. R. Leavis), have focused on Othello.
As the Protestant Reformation of England highlighted the importance of pious, controlled
behaviour in society, it was the tendency of the contemporary Englishman to displace society's
undesirable qualities of barbarism, treachery, jealousy and libidinousness onto those who are
considered 'other'. The assumed characteristics of black men, or 'the other', were both instigated
and popularised by Renaissance dramas of the time; for example, the treachery of black men
inherent to George Peele's 'The Battle of Alcazar' (1588).
Religious / Philosophical
Many critics have noted references to demonic possession throughout the play, especially in
relation to Othello's seizure, a phenomenon often associated with possession in the popular
consciousness of the day. Another scholar suggests that the epileptic fit relates to the mind-body
problem and the existence of the soul.
The Hero
There have been many differing views on the character of Othello over the years. A.C Bradley
calls Othello the "most romantic of all of Shakespeare's heroes" (by "hero" Bradley means
protagonist) and "the greatest poet of them all". On the other hand, F.R. Leavis describes Othello
as "egotistical". There are those who also take a less critical approach to the character of Othello
such as William Hazlitt saying that "the nature of the Moor is noble... but his blood is of the most
inflammable kind".
Performance history
Poster for an 1884 American production starring Thomas. W. Keene.
Pre-20th century
Othello possesses an unusually detailed performance record. The first certainly known
performance occurred on 1 November 1604, at Whitehall Palace in London, being mentioned in
a Revels account on "Hallamas Day, being the first of Nouembar", 1604, when "the Kings
Maiesties plaiers" performed "A Play in the Banketinge house at Whit Hall Called The Moor of
Venis." The play is there attributed to "Shaxberd". Subsequent performances took place on
Monday, 30 April 1610 at the Globe Theatre, and at Oxford in September 1610. On 22
November 1629, and on 6 May 1635, it played at the Blackfriars Theatre. Othello was also one
of the twenty plays performed by the King's Men during the winter of 1612, in celebration of the
wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V, Elector Palatine.
At the start of the Restoration era, on 11 October 1660, Samuel Pepys saw the play at the
Cockpit Theatre. Nicholas Burt played the lead, with Charles Hart as Cassio; Walter Clun won
fame for his Iago. Soon after, on 8 December 1660, Thomas Killigrew's new King's Company
acted the play at their Vere Street theatre, with Margaret Hughes as Desdemona – probably the
first time a professional actress appeared on a public stage in England.
It may be one index of the play's power that Othello was one of the very few Shakespearean
plays that was never adapted and changed during the Restoration and the eighteenth century.
As Shakespeare regained popularity among nineteenth-century French Romantics, poet,
playwright, and novelist Alfred de Vigny created a French translation of Othello, titled Le More
de Venise, which premiered at the Comédie-Française on 24 October 1829.
Famous nineteenth century Othellos included Edmund Kean, Edwin Forrest, Ira Aldridge, and
Tommaso Salvini, and outstanding Iagos were Edwin Booth and Henry Irving.
20th century
The most notable American production may be Margaret Webster's 1943 staging starring Paul
Robeson as Othello and Jose Ferrer as Iago. This production was the first ever in America to
feature a black actor playing Othello with an otherwise all-white cast (there had been all-black
productions of the play before). It ran for 296 performances, almost twice as long as any other
Shakespearean play ever produced on Broadway. Although it was never filmed, it was the first
lengthy performance of a Shakespeare play released on records, appearing first on a multi-record
78 RPM set and then on a 3-LP one. Robeson had first played the role in London in 1931
opposite a cast that included Peggy Ashcroft as Desdemona and Ralph Richardson as Roderigo,
and would return to it in 1959 at Stratford on Avon with co-stars Mary Ure, Sam Wanamaker
and Vanessa Redgrave. The critics had mixed reactions to the "flashy" 1959 production which
included mid western accents and rock-and roll drumbeats but gave Robeson primarily good
reviews. W. A. Darlington of The Daily Telegraph ranked Robeson's Othello as the best he'd
ever seen while the Daily Express, which had for years prior published consistently scathing
articles about him for his leftist views, praised his "strong and stately" performance (though in
turn suggested it was a "triumph of presence not acting").
Actors have alternated the roles of Iago and Othello in productions to stir audience interest since
the nineteenth century. Two of the most notable examples of this role swap were William
Charles Macready and Samuel Phelps at Drury Lane (1837) and Richard Burton and John
Neville at the Old Vic Theatre (1955). When Edwin Booth's tour of England in 1880 was not
well attended, Henry Irving invited Booth to alternate the roles of Othello and Iago with him in
London. The stunt renewed interest in Booth's tour. James O'Neill also alternated the roles of
Othello and Iago with Booth.
The American actor William Marshall performed the title role in at least six productions. His
Othello was called by Harold Hobson of the London Sunday Times "the best Othello of our
time," continuing: "...nobler than Tearle, more martial than Gielgud, more poetic than Valk.
From his first entry, slender and magnificently tall, framed in a high Byzantine arch, clad in
white samite, mystic, wonderful, a figure of Arabian romance and grace, to his last plunging of
the knife into his stomach, Mr Marshall rode without faltering the play's enormous rhetoric, and
at the end the house rose to him." Marshall also played Othello in a jazz musical version, Catch
My Soul, with Jerry Lee Lewis as Iago, in Los Angeles in 1968.[43] His Othello was captured on
record in 1964 with Jay Robinson as Iago and on video in 1981 with Ron Moody as Iago. The
1982 Broadway staging starred James Earl Jones as Othello and Christopher Plummer as Iago,
who became the only actor to receive a Tony Award nomination for a performance in the play.
The 1943 run of Othello, starring Paul Robeson and Uta Hagen, holds the record for the most
performances of any Shakespeare play ever produced on Broadway.
When Laurence Olivier gave his acclaimed performance of Othello at the Royal National
Theatre in 1964, he had developed a case of stage fright that was so profound that when he was
alone onstage, Frank Finlay (who was playing Iago) would have to stand offstage where Olivier
could see him to settle his nerves. This performance was recorded complete on LP, and filmed by
popular demand in 1965 (according to a biography of Olivier, tickets for the stage production
were notoriously hard to get). The film version still holds the record for the most Oscar
nominations for acting ever given to a Shakespeare film – Olivier, Finlay, Maggie Smith (as
Desdemona) and Joyce Redman (as Emilia, Iago's wife) were all nominated for Academy
Awards. Olivier was among the last white actors to be greatly acclaimed as Othello, although the
role continued to be played by such performers as Donald Sinden at the Royal Shakespeare
Company in 1979-1980, Paul Scofield at the Royal National Theatre in 1980, Anthony Hopkins
in the BBC Shakespeare television production on videotape. (1981), and Michael Gambon in a
stage production at Scarborough directed by Alan Ayckbourn in 1990. Gambon had been in
Olivier's earlier production. In an interview Gambon commented "I wasn't even the second
gentleman in that. I didn't have any lines at all. I was at the back like that, standing for an hour.
[It's] what I used to do – I had a metal helmet, I had an earplug, and we used to listen to The
Archers. No one knew. All the line used to listen to The Archers. And then I went and played
Othello myself at Birmingham Rep I was 27. Olivier sent me a telegram on the first night. He
said, "Copy me." He said, "Do what I used to do." Olivier used to lower his voice for Othello so I
did mine. He used to paint the big negro lips on. You couldn't do it today, you'd get shot. He had
the complete negro face. And the hips. I did all that. I copied him exactly. Except I had a pony
tail. I played him as an Arab. I stuck a pony tail on with a bell on the end of it. I thought that
would be nice. Every time I moved my hair went wild." British blacking-up for Othello ended
with Gambon in 1990, however the Royal Shakespeare Company didn't run the play at all on the
main Stratford stage until 1999, when Ray Fearon became the first black British actor to take the
part, the first black man to play Othello with the RSC since Robeson.
In 1997, Patrick Stewart took the role of Othello with the Shakespeare Theatre Company
(Washington, D.C.) in a race-bending performance, in a "photo negative" production of a white
Othello with an otherwise all-black cast. Stewart had wanted to play the title role since the age of
14, so he and director Jude Kelly inverted the play so Othello became a comment on a white man
entering a black society. The interpretation of the role is broadening, with theatre companies
casting Othello as a woman or inverting the gender of the whole cast to explore gender questions
in Shakespeare's text. Companies also have chosen to share the role between several actors
during a performance.
Canadian playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald's 1988 award-winning play Goodnight Desdemona
(Good Morning Juliet) is a revision of Othello and Romeo and Juliet in which an academic
deciphers a cryptic manuscript she believes to be the original source for the tragedies, and is
transported into the plays themselves.
21st century
Othello opened at the Donmar Warehouse in London on 4 December 2007, directed by Michael
Grandage, with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Othello, Ewan McGregor as Iago, Tom Hiddleston as
Cassio, and Kelly Reilly as Desdemona. Despite tickets selling as high as £2000 on web-based
vendors, McGregor and Reilly's performances received largely negative notices. Ejiofor and
Hiddleston both received nominations for Laurence Olivier Awards, with Ejiofor winning but
Hiddleston being beaten by himself, also nominated in the same category for a different play.
Stand up comedian Lenny Henry was the latest big name to play Othello. He did so on a tour at
the start of 2009 produced by Northern Broadsides in collaboration with West Yorkshire
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2. Buckham, Philip Wentworth, Theatre of the Greeks, 1827.
3. Marteinson, Peter (2006). On the Problem of the Comic: A Philosophical Study on
the Origins of Laughter. Legas Press, Ottawa, 2006.
4. Pickard-Cambridge, Sir Arthur Wallace
5. Raskin, Victor, The Semantic Mechanisms of Humor, 1985.
6. Riu, Xavier, Dionysism and Comedy, 1999.
7. Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane, Tragedy and Athenian Religion, Oxford University
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