English Literature Dictionary

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saga: Lengthy Scandinavian and Icelandic prose narratives about famous historical heroes, notable families, or the adventures of kings and warriors.

sarcasm: A type of verbal irony, where one says one thing but means another, often for the purpose of comedy. See irony.

satire: An attack on any idiocy or vice in the form of scathing humor, or a critique of what the author sees as dangerous religious, political, moral, or social standards. Satire is not solely written for entertainment purposes, but generally has an aim or agenda to present. Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels is an example of a satire.

satirical comedy: A type of comedy that intends to underline the vices of society. Examples of this form include Sheridan'sThe School for Scandal and Jonson's The Alchemist.

scansion: An analysis of the beat or rhythm of a poem.

scene: An episode or sequence that takes place within a single setting on stage. Often scenes act as the subdivision of an act within a play.

scenery: The visual environment fashioned onstage using a backdrop and props. The role of scenery is to imply a specific setting.

schwa: A neutral single vowel sound representing the unstressed vowel in English.

science fiction: A genre of literature that features an alternative society that is founded on the imagined technology of the future. The genre stretches the imagination by rooting the fantasy of the future in recognizable elements of modern life. This type of fantasy literature, typically takes the form of a short story or novel.

scriptorium: A location often in a church or monastery where manuscripts are studied and stored.

second-person point of view: This refers to the narrative perspective of a text.  The story is told to another character, using the word 'you'.

self-reflexive writing: Where an author, sometimes through a self-conscious narrator, integrates ideas about the business of writing itself into the text.

semantic change: The change in meaning of a word.

semantics: The study of meaning in languages, in particular the meanings of distinct words and word combinations in phrases and sentences. Semantics is very different to linguistics.

semiology: See semiotics.

semiotics: The examination of both verbal and nonverbal signs.

sentence: A grammatical unit consisting of a subject and verb. It is generally end-stopped and begins with a capital letter. 

septet: A stanza of a poem that contains seven lines, frequently defined by a rhyme or pattern.

sequel: A complete literary work, which continues the narrative of an earlier composition. See trilogy.

series: A number of works connected to each other by plot, setting, character etc.

sestet: A group of six lines of poetry, which can either be a whole poem in itself or simply a stanza.

setting: The place or period within which a narrative or play is located. In drama, setting comprises of any stage scenery.

Shakespeare, William: Both an English poet and playwright (1564-1616), Shakespeare wrote during the Elizabethan and Jacobean period. In poetry he is most renowned for his sonnets, which cover such themes as love, the effects of time, mortality and carpe diem. Shakespeare's poetic mastery, understanding of human nature and skill with words, several of which he created and brought into use, are what make him so successful.

Shakespearean sonnet: See sonnet.

Shakespearean tragedy: Where a character has a fatal flaw that leads to his demise, despite having free will. Othello is an example of a Shakespearean Tragedy.

Sheridan, Richard Brinsley: An Irish playwright during the 18th Century, he was born on 30 October 1751 and died 7 July 1816. He was well known for his satirical comedy of manners. He is known for his works The School for Scandal and The Rivals.

short meter: A quatrain, usually iambic, made up of three trimeters and a third line of tetrameter. The rhyme scheme is abcb or abab

short novel: See novella.

short story: A prose narrative of fiction, which is relatively short and more concise, often depicting only one event or climax.

sibilance: repetition, or alliteration, of the letter 's' and the sound it makes. For example, ‘the snake slithered soundlessly across the stony ground’.

simile: A comparison of two things not usually paired, made by using the adverbs like or as. Similes contrast with metaphors; however, both devices bring out a deeper meaning.

situational irony: See irony.

skaz: A form of story telling or oral narrative.

slang: Informal diction and vocabulary, often used by youth culture. For instance, a formal greeting might be: "Greetings. How are you?" Whereas the slang might be: "Yo. Whassup?"

slant rhyme: see inexact-rhyme.

slapstick comedy: Low comedy where humour depends almost completely on physical actions.

slave narrative: A narrative - often autobiographical - about a slave's life. It often includes details of the original capture, punishments and daily labour, and escape to freedom. An example is Frederick Douglass's abolitionist writings and speeches.

soliloquy: A monologue spoken by a character who believes himself to be alone during the scene. The device, usually employed in Elizabethan theatre, often exposes a character's innermost thoughts, state of mind, motives or intentions. As such the soliloquy imparts essential but otherwise unattainable information to the audience. The dramatic convention dictates that whatever is said in a soliloquy must be true, or at least true as far as the character speaking is concerned. Well-known examples come from Shakespeare’s work, for instance speeches by Iago in Othello.

song: A lyric poem, with several duplicated stanzas or refrains, written to be set to music in either vocal performance or with accompaniment of musical instruments.

sonnet: A poem of fourteen lines, typically in iambic pentameter, with regular rhyme. It usually expresses a distinct idea or thought with a change of direction in the closing lines. There are three general types:

1. The Petrarchan sonnet (or Italian sonnet): an eight line stanza, called an octave, which is followed by a six line stanza, called a sestet. The initial octave has two quatrains (4 lines) that generally rhyme abba, abba. The first of these quatrains offers the theme, whilst the second develops this main idea. Later in the sestet, the primary three lines offer a reflection on or exemplify the theme. The final three lines bring the poem to a cohesive end. The sestet is sometimes arranged cdecde, cdcdcd, or cdedce.

2. The Shakespearean sonnet (or English sonnet): arranged in three quatrains, where each rhyme is distinct. There is a final, rhymed couplet that creates a unifying peak to the entire sonnet. Its rhyme scheme is generally abab, cdcd, efef, gg.

3. The Miltonic sonnet: similar in form to the petrarchan sonnet, however the Miltonic sonnet does not divide its ideas between the octave and the sestet. The train of thought instead runs straight from the eighth to ninth line. Furthermore, Milton develops the sonnet's scope to encompass not only the theme of love, as the earlier sonnets did, but also to incorporate politics, religion, and personal matters.

speaker: A person who speaks, as well as someone who gives a speech or a talk.

speech: Whilst this term refers to the ability to speak, it also means to address a group or to give a talk.

spondee: A poetic beat consisting of two long syllables.

spoof: An entertaining imitation or parody.

spoonerism: An accidental switch of 2 sounds with humorous effect eg 'a crushing blow' becomes 'a blushing crow'.

sprung rhythm: A type of poetic metre or beat.  Often used by the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins.

stage: An area constructed where actors, dancers, musicians, or singers can perform, which allows an audience to obverse simultaneously.

stage direction: In drama the term refers to notes in the printed text of a play that are not actually spoken, but instead set out the scene and direct the actions or activities of the actors on stage. For example "exit / exuent direct the actor/actors to leave the stage."

Standard English: An esteemed brand of English, which is described in dictionaries and grammar rules. It is generally taught by instructors, and used for public affairs.

stanza: Sections of arranged lines within a poem. Sometimes this is in a pattern repeated throughout the poem. Generally, each stanza has a fixed number of lines, and a consistent rhyme scheme, however in modern poetry this is not always the case. Further, a stanza may be a subdivision of a poem, or it may amount to the entire poem.

stasimon (plural stasima): From Greek "stationary song," in Greek tragedy a stasimon is an ode sung by the chorus once the chorus assumes its place in the orchestra. Sasima in addition serve as dividing segments.

static character: A character who doesn't develop or change throughout the text.

stave: See quatrain.

Steinbeck, John: (1902 -1968) American writer and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Many of Steinbeck’s novels deal with the lives of rural workers. One of his novels Of Mice and Men is one of the most frequently read books by secondary school students.

stressed: A syllable that has a heavy distinction from other syllables when spoken aloud. See unstressed, foot and meter.

sterotype: A character who is so average or unoriginal that he or she seems like an oversimplified representation of gender, class, religious group, or occupation. This technique in creating a character can be intentionally employed. See stock character.

stichomythia: Dialogue consisting of one-liners between characters, designed for rapid delivery and snappy exchanges. The effect is the creation of verbal tension and conflict, thus stichomythia is often used during arguments. The technique stems from Greek tragedy.

stock character: A type of characterthat emerges frequently in a specific literary genre. Stock characters in western films might include the noble sheriff, the whorehouse madam, the town drunkard.  Another example: Stock characters in medieval romances include the damsel in distress, handsome young knight, and the senex amans (the ugly old man married to a younger girl).

Stoppard, Tom: British playwright born in 1937. He is well known for his involvement with drama for theTheatre of the Absurd. He has also worked on hollywood movies.

story: A succession of events, which become a plot once the events are structured into a narrative.

story within a story: This is a narrative technique where there is a principal story, within which there is another major fictive narrative, generally told by the characters of the principal story. See play within a play and frame narrative.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher: (1811 -1896) An American novelist and abolitionist . Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin shoed life for African-American slaves.

stream of consciousness: See interior monologue.

stress: In linguistics, stress is the emphasis, length and loudness that characterise one syllable as more prominent than another. In poetry, see meter and sonnets.

structuralism: This theory suggests that no text has any meaning independently, but only makes sense when thought of as part of a complete language system. Furthermore, it is argued that all writing is comprised of an arrangement of signs, codes and conventions. This turns away fromthe traditional view that literaturereflects reality, and thus creates a connection between the writer and reader. Structuralists reject both these ideas and argue the writer creates a persona, which is a literary construction, creating a barrier to the access of the actual writer. Roland Barthes (1915-80) was a key structuralist during the theory’s rise in the 1960s. The discourse has now been outdated by post-structuralism

structure: The general organisation of writing.

style: The distinguishing way writers employ language and their words choice to accomplish certain effects. A significant ingredient of interpreting and understanding fiction is paying attention to the way the author uses words. Syntax, structure and narrative technique are also important.

subject matter: The issue or topic that is the focus of a discussion or text.

sub-plot: a second plot in a play or narrative that adds to or parallels the main plot.

subversion: when a concept or text aims to undermine an established idea.

suspense: A sentiment that is often created within plays and stories to engage the reader. Suspense is the eagerness to know what will happen.

suspension of disbelief: An explanation for incredible or unrealistic elements in a work of literature. First suggested by Coleridge as a way of accepting the implausible in a story.

Swift, Jonathan: Born on 30 November 1667, Swift was an Irish satirist who wrote essays and pamphlets which were political. He is renowned for Gulliver's Travels and A Modest Proposal.

syllabary: In writing, a set of symbols which roughly equate to a syllable. This is seen in a language such as Chinese.

syllables: The smallest unit of speech spoken with one single sound. 

symbol: A word, place, character, or object that signifies something beyond what it is on the surface, and represents a broader concept. Symbols can be contextual, cultural, or personal. 

symbolic character: Characters whose chief literary purpose is symbolic, although the character may have common or realistic qualities.

symbolism: The use of characters, diction, places, or objects that mean something beyond their literal level meaning. Often the symbol is indefinite in meaning. When many objects or characters each appear to have a specific symbolic meaning, the story is usually an allegory.

symploce: A figure of speech used rhetorically for effect.

synecdoche: A figure of speech where an example becomes a symbol for a whole or larger classification.

syntax: The sentence arrangement of a language or standard word order. Standard English syntax operates on a Subject-Verb-Object pattern; however poets sometimes adjust syntax to accomplish poetic effects. Deliberately unsettling word sequence for a poetic effect is called anastrophe.

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Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow...
Lawrence Clark Powell

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