English Literature Dictionary

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cacophony: See dissonance.

cadence: The musical rhythm of language in prose or verse.

caesura: A natural pause in a line of verse, sometimes roughly midway and usually denoted by punctuation. Regularly used alongside enjambment to give variety in the pacing of verse, and to avoid monotonous regularity. Also sometimes referred to as rhythmical pause.

calque: A type of translation or borrowing from another language.

canon: The concept of an accepted list of great literature which constitutes the essential tradition of English

Canterbury Tales, The: See Chaucer, Geoffrey

canticle: Hymn, poem or song of praise.

canto: A division in a longer poem.

canzone: A type of Italian lyric poem.

Cardinal Virtures: Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude.

caricature: A style of writing (or drawing) which intentionally amplifies particular features of its subject or character, usually for comic and/or satirical effect

carpe diem: A Latin term coined by the poet Horace, which means 'seize the day'. The phrase suggests that as life is short one must grasp present pleasures. This motif is used in literature, and was especially popular with the Elizabethan lyric poets.

Carter, Angela: Carter was an English novelist and journalist, born on 7 May 1940. She is best known for her writings on feminism and science fiction. Notable works by Carter include the set of short stories The Bloody Chamber and The Passion of New Eve. She died on 16 February 1992

catachresis: A word or phrase used in an inappropriate or strained way (such as a mixed metaphor).

catalectic: A line of poetry which is missing one part of the final beat or foot.

catastrophe: The final climax of a play or story after which the plot is resolved. See resolution.

catchword: A slogan or memorable phrase.

catharsis: An emotional release felt by an audience or reader as they observe the fate of a tragic hero. It is often a welcome relief from tension and anxiety.

caudate rhyme: A type of rhyme scheme where the lines which rhyme, using a couplet or triplet, are followed by a shorter tail line with a different rhyme.

Celtic: Of or relating to the Celts and their language.

chapter: A division or segment found within any prose text.

character: A created person in a play or a narrative whose particular qualities are revealed by the action, description and conversation. Not to be mixed up with the 'actor' in a play, who represents the character.

characterisation: The method by which characters are established in a story, using description, dialogue, dialect, and action.

Chaucer, Geoffrey: Born around 1343, Chaucer died on 25 October 1400. He was an eminent author, poet and politician whose works most notably included the unfinished The Canterbury Tales. The tales are a compilation of stories written in the 14th century. Whilst two of them are in prose, the remaining twenty-two are in verse. Written in Middle English, the tales are told by a group of pilgrims on a pilgrimage from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.

chiasmus: In rhetioric, this refers to a structure which is otherwise parallel, yet the word order in each part is reversed.

chicano / chicana literature: Written by Mexicans in the USA.

children's literature: Literature targeted at children.

chivilary: The customs of a knight in medieval times (also see courtly love).

choragos: In a dramatic chorus, the leader.

choric figures: Characters within a play or novel who remark upon the action while contributing to it, e.g. Alfieri in Arthur Miller A view from the bridge. See chorus.

chorus: A person or group of people which stand outside the action and remark upon it. Most tragedies in ancient Greece had a chorus of citizens or elders who, as representatives of the audience, react to the events. They are however powerless to affect the course of events.

chronicle: Any kind of serial historical account.

chthonic: Relating to spirits or gods dwelling beneath the earth.

cinquain: A stanza of five lines.

classic: Three broad meanings include, firstly, works from ancient Greece or Rome ('classical' times). Secondly, a superior work from any age. Thirdly, a typical work e.g. Shakespeare's Hamlet might be described as a classic revenge play.

clause: In grammatical terminology, a clause is a word-construction containing a nominative and a predicate, i.e. a subject "doing" a verb. The term clause contrasts with the term phrase.

clerihew: A humorous poem or verse of 2 couplets about a person whose name acts as one of the rhymes.

cliché: A word or phrase that once had originality, but has now become exhausted through overuse, e.g. 'to turn over a new leaf'

cliffhanger: A suspenseful situation.

climax: Indicates the arrival of any time of crucial intensity in a play or narrative. It is also a word used to show that particular moment when the rising action leads to a peak in the destinies of the hero or heroine.

close reading: The careful focus upon ways that writers' choices of form, structure and language shape meaning. See critique and analysis.

closed text examination: An examination where the texts studied are not allowed to be taken in or used during the assessment.

coda: A concluding section which rounds off a piece of literature, see epilogue.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor: Born in England in 1772, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an influential Romantic poet. He is well regarded for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. See romanticism

collection: The gathering together of the work of a single writer, usually a poet, and of a particular time period.

collective noun: A noun such as team or pair that technically is indicative of a collective group of individuals or individual items.

collocation: Words which are usually found together.

colloquialism: A word or phrase employed everyday in plain and relaxed speech, but rarely found in formal writing.

colonial criticism: See post-colonial criticism.

colonialism: The term refers to the habit of powerful civilizations to "colonize" less powerful ones. The process can take many forms, including a literal geographic occupation, outright enslavement.

comedy: A work which is principally designed to amuse and entertain, and where, despite problems during the narrative, all ends well for the characters.

comedy of the absurd: Drama or performance which is satirical, ridiculous or a parady.  Examples can be as diverse as A Midsummer night's dream, a Gilbert and Sullivan such as The Pirates of Penzance or even Monty Python's Flying Circus.

comedy of manners: A type of drama where the social demeanour of a  community is humorously depicted.

comic opera: An opera with a happy ending that contains spoken dialogue.

commedia dell'arte: Developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Italy, it was a popular comedy which featured improvisation of standard plots and traditional costumes with masks.

Coming of age story: (See BILDUNGSROMAN) a story with the central theme of growing up or making the transition from childhood to adulthood. It might contain a sexual / emotional awakening or some ritual or rite of passage.

commentary A term which is often used in examinations or assessments. A commentary is a piece of writing where the candidate gives a close reading of a text, taking into account aspects of style, view point and content.

common measure: See common meter.

common meter: Often used in hymns, it is a style of stanza with four iambic lines and a regular rhyming scheme.

Commonwealth literature: Post-colonial literature from countries who are members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

comparative literature: An examination of similarities and differences in pieces of literature.

conceit: A metaphor, often extravagant or fantastic.

conflation: The blending or bringing together of two texts into a whole.

connotation: An indirect implication or suggestion from a word, or string of words, beyond the literal meaning. See denotation.

consider: See discuss.

consonance: Repetition of the same consonant sounds before and after a different vowel, e.g. clip-clop and leader loader louder. See inexact rhyme, alliteration, assonance.

consonant: Any letter of the alphabet that is not a vowel.

contemporary literature: Generally understood to be literature set after World War 2.

contemporary period: Broadly speaking the term covers literature written from 1939 to the present.

content: Any theme, idea, argument, action or story which is contained within a literary text.

context: Indicates the place of a given passage or section of a literature in relation to the parts which immediately precede and follow it. More broadly speaking it can also indicate the social, historical and political backdrop in which the piece appeared.

contextual symbol: A symbol which keeps its literal meaning while at the same time suggesting other meanings.

contraction: The compression of sounds or words, for example don’t or isn’t.

contrapasso: Seen in Dante's Inferno and carries the idea of the punishment befitting the crime. In the version of Hell Dante visits, punishments are limited to what the sinners had done wrong on earth.

convention: A literary rule, practice or custom, which has been established through frequent and common usage in texts.

couplet: A pair of rhyming lines in verse, e.g The dog ate the cat/But forgot about the bat.

cosmic irony: The notion that humans and their world are inconsequential in the scheme of the universe.

cothurni: A style of acting which is tragic.

coursework: Essays or work done in a student’s own time, rather than in examination conditions. The mark from coursework contributes to a candidate's overall grade or qualification.

courtly love: A type of idealised love portrayed in literature of the Middle Ages. The lovers are always of a high social class, and their love is ennobling, although outside marriage.

Creole: A native language, which merges together the traits of several languages, i.e. an advanced and fully formed pidgin. In the American South, black slaves were taken from a variety of African tribes sharing no language. Thus, on the plantation they developed first a pidgin (limited and simplified) version of English with heavy Portuguese and African influences. This pidgin allowed slaves some rudimentary communication with each other and with their slave masters. In time, they lost their original African languages and the mixed speech became the native tongue of their children, a Creole.

crescendo: See climax

crime novel: The term covers both detective fiction and other kinds of crime stories.

critical reading: Careful analysis of a piece of writing. see close reading .

criticism Refers to the concept of analysis, evaluation and interpretation of literature.

critique: A detailed analysis of a work.

crossed rhyme: A pattern of rhyming of abab.

cyberpunk: A genre of science fiction.

cyfarwydd: Story teller, from the Welsh.

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Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.
Barbara W. Tuchman

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