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Glossary of Terms

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Tale: A story told by a narrator with a simple plot and little character development. Tales are usually relatively short and often carry a simple message.
Examples of tales can be found in the work of Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Saki, Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, and Armistead Maupin. (Compare with Fable, Fairy Tales, and Short Story.)

Tall Tale: A humorous tale told in a straightforward, credible tone but relating absolutely impossible events or feats of the characters. Such tales were commonly told of frontier adventures during the settlement of the west in the United States.
Tall tales have been spun around such legendary heroes as Mike Fink, Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, and Captain Stormalong as well as the real-life William F. Cody and Annie Oakley. Literary use of tall tales can be found in Washington Irving's History of New York, Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi, and in the German R. F. Raspe's Baron Munchausen's Narratives of His Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia.

Tanka: A form of Japanese poetry similar to haiku. A tanka is five lines long, with the lines containing five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables respectively.
Skilled tanka authors include Ishikawa Takuboku, Masaoka Shiki, Amy Lowell, and Adelaide Crapsey.

Teatro Grottesco: See Theater of the Grotesque

Terza Rima: A three-line stanza form in Poetry in which the rhymes are made on the last word of each line in the following manner: the first and third lines of the first stanza, then the second line of the first stanza and the first and third lines of the second stanza, and so on with the middle line of any stanza rhyming with the first and third lines of the following stanza.
An example of terza rima is Percy Bysshe Shelley's "The Triumph of Love":
As in that trance of wondrous thought I lay
This was the tenour of my waking dream.
Methought I sate beside a public way
Thick strewn with summer dust, and a great stream
Of people there was hurrying to and fro
Numerous as gnats upon the evening gleam,...

Tetrameter: See Meter

Textual Criticism: A branch of literary criticism that seeks to establish the authoritative text of a literary work. Textual critics typically compare all known manuscripts or printings of a single work in order to assess the meanings of differences and revisions. This procedure allows them to arrive at a definitive version that (supposedly) corresponds to the author's original intention.
Textual criticism was applied during the Renaissance to salvage the classical texts of Greece and Rome, and modern works have been studied, for instance, to undo deliberate correction or censorship, as in the case of novels by Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser.

Theater of Cruelty: Term used to denote a group of theatrical techniques designed to eliminate the psychological and emotional distance between actors and audience. This concept, introduced in the 1930s in France, was intended to inspire a more intense theatrical experience than conventional theater allowed. The "cruelty" of this dramatic theory signified not sadism but heightened actor/audience involvement in the dramatic event.
The theater of cruelty was theorized by Antonin Artaud in his Le Theatre et son double (The Theatre and Its Double), and also appears in the work of Jerzy Grotowski, Jean Genet, Jean Vilar, and Arthur Adamov, among others.

Theater of the Absurd: A post-World War II dramatic trend characterized by radical theatrical innovations. In works influenced by the Theater of the absurd, nontraditional, sometimes grotesque characterizations, plots, and stage sets reveal a meaningless universe in which human values are irrelevant. Existentialist themes of estrangement, absurdity, and futility link many of the works of this movement.
The principal writers of the Theater of the Absurd are Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, and Harold Pinter. (See also Existentialism.)

Theater of the Grotesque: (Also known as Teatro Grottesco.) An Italian theatrical movement characterized by plays written around the ironic and macabre aspects of daily life in the World War I era.
Theater of the Grotesque was named after the play The Mask and the Face by Luigi Chiarelli, which was described as "a grotesque in three acts." The movement influenced the work of Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello, author of Right You Are, If You Think You Are.

Theme: The main point of a work of literature. The term is used interchangeably with thesis.
The theme of William Shakespeare's Othello — jealousy — is a common one.

Thesis: A thesis is both an essay and the point argued in the essay. Thesis novels and thesis plays share the quality of containing a thesis which is supported through the action of the story.
A master's thesis and a doctoral dissertation are two theses required of graduate students. (See also Theme.)

Thesis Novel: See Thesis

Thesis Play: See Thesis

Third Person: See Point of View

Three Unities: See Unities

Tone: The author's attitude toward his or her audience may be deduced from the tone of the work. A formal tone may create distance or convey politeness, while an informal tone may encourage a friendly, intimate, or intrusive feeling in the reader. The author's attitude toward his or her subject matter may also be deduced from the tone of the words he or she uses in discussing it.
The tone of John F. Kennedy's speech which included the appeal to "ask not what your country can do for you" was intended to instill feelings of camaraderie and national pride in listeners.

Tragedy: A drama in prose or Poetry about a noble, courageous hero of excellent character who, because of some tragic character flaw or hamartia, brings ruin upon him- or herself. Tragedy treats its subjects in a dignified and serious manner, using poetic language to help evoke pity and fear and bring about catharsis, a purging of these emotions. The tragic form was practiced extensively by the ancient Greeks. In the Middle Ages, when classical works were virtually unknown, tragedy came to denote any works about the fall of persons from exalted to low conditions due to any reason: fate, vice, weakness, etc. According to the classical definition of tragedy, such works present the "pathetic" — that which evokes pity — rather than the tragic. The classical form of tragedy was revived in the sixteenth century; it flourished especially on the Elizabethan stage. In modern times, dramatists have attempted to adapt the form to the needs of modern society by drawing their heroes from the ranks of ordinary men and women and defining the nobility of these heroes in terms of spirit rather than exalted social standing.
The greatest classical example of tragedy is Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. The "pathetic" derivation is exemplified in "The Monk's Tale" in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Notable works produced during the sixteenth century revival include William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. Modern dramatists working in the tragic tradition include Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Miller, and Eugene O'Neill. (Compare with Comedy.) (See also Elizabethan Age, tragic flaw.)

Tragedy of Blood: See Revenge Tragedy

Tragic Flaw: In a tragedy, the quality within the hero or heroine which leads to his or her downfall.
Examples of the tragic flaw include Othello's jealousy and Hamlet's indecisiveness, although most great tragedies defy such simple interpretation. (Compare with Hamartia.)

Transcendentalism: An American philosophical and religious movement, based in New England from around 1835 until the Civil War. Transcendentalism was a form of American romanticism that had its roots abroad in the works of Thomas Carlyle, Samuel Coleridge, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Transcendentalists stressed the importance of intuition and subjective experience in communication with God. They rejected religious dogma and texts in favor of mysticism and scientific naturalism. They pursued truths that lie beyond the "colorless" realms perceived by reason and the senses and were active social reformers in public education, women's rights, and the abolition of slavery.
Prominent members of the group include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. (Compare with Naturalism and Romanticism.)

Trickster: A character or figure common in Native American and African literature who uses his ingenuity to defeat enemies and escape difficult situations. Tricksters are most often animals, such as the spider, hare, or coyote, although they may take the form of humans as well.
Examples of trickster tales include Thomas King's A Coyote Columbus Story, Ashley F. Bryan's The Dancing Granny and Ishmael Reed's The Last Days of Louisiana Red. (See also Signifying Monkey.)

Trimeter: See Meter

Triple Rhyme: See Rhyme

Trochee: See Foot


Understatement: See Irony

Unities: (Also known as Three Unities.) Strict rules of dramatic structure, formulated by Italian and French critics of the Renaissance and based loosely on the principles of drama discussed by Aristotle in his Poetics. Foremost among these rules were the three unities of action, time, and place that compelled a dramatist to: (1) construct a single plot with a beginning, middle, and end that details the causal relationships of action and character; (2) restrict the action to the events of a single day; and (3) limit the scene to a single place or city. The unities were observed faithfully by continental European writers until the Romantic Age, but they were never regularly observed in English drama. Modern dramatists are typically more concerned with a unity of impression or emotional effect than with any of the classical unities.
The unities are observed in Pierre Corneille's tragedy Polyeuctes and Jean-Baptiste Racine's Phedre.

Urban Realism: A branch of realist writing that attempts to accurately reflect the often harsh facts of modern urban existence.
Some works by Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Emile Zola, Abraham Cahan, and Henry Fuller feature urban realism. Modern examples include Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land and Ron Milner's What the Wine Sellers Buy.

Utopia: A fictional perfect place, such as "paradise" or "heaven."
Early literary utopias were included in Plato's Republic and Sir Thomas More's Utopia, while more modern utopias can be found in Samuel Butler's Erewhon, Theodor Herzka's A Visit to Freeland, H. G. Wells' A Modern Utopia, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland. (Compare with Dystopia.)

Utopian: See Utopia

Utopianism: See Utopia


Verisimilitude: Literally, the appearance of truth. In literary criticism, the term refers to aspects of a work of literature that seem true to the reader.
Verisimilitude is achieved in the work of Honore de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Henry James, among other late nineteenth-century realist writers.

Vers de societe: See Occasional Verse

Vers libre: See Free Verse

Verse: A line of metered language, a line of a poem, or any work written in verse.
The following line of verse is from the epic poem Don Juan by Lord Byron: "My way is to begin with the beginning."

Versification: The writing of verse. Versification may also refer to the meter, rhyme, and other mechanical components of a poem.
Composition of a "Roses are red, violets are blue" poem to suit an occasion is a common form of versification practiced by students.

Victorian: (Also known as Victorian Age and Victorian Period.) Refers broadly to the reign of Queen Victoria of England (1837-1901) and to anything with qualities typical of that era. For example, the qualities of smug narrowmindedness, bourgeois materialism, faith in social progress, and priggish morality are often considered Victorian. This stereotype is contradicted by such dramatic intellectual developments as the theories of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud (which stirred strong debates in England) and the critical attitudes of serious Victorian writers like Charles Dickens and George Eliot. In literature, the Victorian Period was the great age of the English novel, and the latter part of the era saw the rise of movements such as decadence and symbolism.
Works of Victorian literature include the Poetry of Robert Browning and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the criticism of Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin, and the novels of Emily Bronte, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Thomas Hardy.

(See also Aestheticism, Decadents, and Symbolism.)

Victorian Age: See Victorian

Victorian Period: See Victorian


Weltanschauung: A German term referring to a person's worldview or philosophy.

Examples of weltanschauung include Thomas Hardy's view of the human being as the victim of fate, destiny, or impersonal forces and circumstances, and the disillusioned and laconic cynicism expressed by such poets of the 1930s as W. H. Auden, Sir Stephen Spender, and Sir William Empson.

Weltschmerz: A German term meaning "world pain." It describes a sense of anguish about the nature of existence, usually associated with a melancholy, pessimistic attitude.
Weltschmerz was expressed in England by George Gordon, Lord Byron in his Manfred and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, in France by Viscount de Chateaubriand, Alfred de Vigny, and Alfred de Musset, in Russia by Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov, in Poland by Juliusz Slowacki, and in America by Nathaniel Hawthorne.


Zarzuela: A type of Spanish operetta.
Writers of zarzuelas include Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderon. (See also Opera.)

Zeitgeist: A German term meaning "spirit of the time." It refers to the moral and intellectual trends of a given era.
Examples of zeitgeist include the preoccupation with the more morbid aspects of dying and death in some Jacobean literature, especially in the works of dramatists Cyril Tourneur and John Webster, and the decadence of the French Symbolists.

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