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blank verse

ballad: In poetry, a subcategory of the genre of narrative (as opposed to the lyric or dramaticgenres) in which a story is told in the form of a song; as such, the ballad relies strongly on the elements of dialogue, repetition, and musicality. “Ballad” is from the late Latin and Italian ballare (“to dance”) and emerges out of the oral tradition of medieval folk musicians. Thus, one feature that distinguishes a ballad from other forms of narrative poetry is its incorporation of a refrain or chorus. This mode of repetition is an aid to the listener, for “in a story being recited or sung, crucial facts must be firmly planted in the memory since the hearer cannot turn back a page to refresh himself about a fact that slipped by” (Preminger 62-63). Ballads often focus on a single episode or situation, told through dialogue and action. The language is simple, and there is little development of imagery or detail of surroundings. Themes are often tragic but can be comic, and the narrator is impersonal; that is, his or her attitude toward the material is not apparent. Traditionally there are two kinds of ballads: 1) The traditional or folk ballad, which include texts like “Bonny Barbara Allan,” “Sir Patrick Spens” or John Skelton’s “Mannerly Margery Milk and Ale” (1495), and 2) Literary ballads, which include texts like S. T. Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798), John Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci” (1819) and Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (1898).


baroque: A term used to designate a style prevalent in architecture and the arts between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which was characterized by ornamentation, extravagant decoration, and rich or sumptuous material. The word baroque derives from the Spanish and Portugese “barroco,” which refers to a rough or imperfectly shaped pearl. In art, the paintings of Bernini, Caravaggio and Peter Paul Rubens illustrate the characteristics of the baroque; in music, a similar ornamentation is heard in pieces by Bach, Vivaldi and Handel. The term has also been used in a literary context to indicate works which are highly stylized and rely on literary devices such as hyperbole, oxymoron and verbal echo, and which embody a sense of playfulness, theatricality, and sensuality. “Richard Crashaw’s bizarre imagery and the conceits and rhythms of John Donne and other metaphysical poets are sometimes called baroque, sometimes mannerist…Some [literary historians] include John Milton in the baroque period, considering Paradise Lost (1667) the supreme baroque achievement” (Frye et al 63). On a more formal level, “A common way of describing baroque poetic style is to say that it abounds in conceits…that is, puns or unusual similes…Baroque poetry often attempts to cover the enormous range between religious sentiments and libertinage, beauty and ugliness, egocentricity and impersonality, temporality and eternity” (Preminger 68).


bildungsroman: In narrative prose, the bildungsroman is essentially a “novel of education”; that is, it’s a genre in which the progressive experiences from youth through adulthood are illustrated. The German term can also be translated as a “story of development” or a “formation novel” and is closely related to the kunstlerroman, a novel which follows the progression of an artist. Examples of the bildungsroman include Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722), Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749), Jane Austen’s Emma (1816), and Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (1850).


blank verse: In poetry, the term for unrhymed iambic pentameter. Considered to be the closest meter form to the natural rhythms of English speech, blank verse was first employed by the Earl of Surrey in his translation of Virgil’s The Aeneid around 1540. It later became the standard meter of Elizabethan drama and much lyric poetry, and is often used in works of extreme length and ambition, such as John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), originally published in ten books. Other examples of blank verse compositions include William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” (1798) and “Prelude” (1805-50), S.T. Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” (1798), Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” (1856-1885). Twentieth century examples include “The Waste Land” (1922) by T.S. Eliot and “Sunday Morning” (1923) by Wallace Stevens. The rhythms and textures of blank verse are evident in the opening lines of Paradise Lost:

Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
In the beginning how the heav’ns and earth
Rose out of Chaos: or if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my advent’rous song
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme. (l. 1-16)


burlesque: Burlesque is a form of entertainment that makes use of parody, satire and farce in ways which imitate, exaggerate or bring low themes or material which could be considered “high” or “lofty.” It often relies on bawdy or suggestive theatricality, spoof, caricature and stylization for its effects. Although burlesque is primarily associated with forms of stage entertainment, it’s not confined to drama; the mock epic and some narrative prose also are easily suited to its characteristics. Early examples include Aristophanes’ comedies (427-388 BC), Chaucer’s “Tale of Sir Thopas” and “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale (1387), and Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1615). Burlesque flourished in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century and is seen particularly in the works of Samuel Butler (Hudibras, 1662), Alexander Pope (The Rape of the Lock, 1714), and John Gay (The Beggar’s Opera, 1728). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics claims that burlesque, parody and travesty all “employ the device of incongruous imitation and deflationary treatment of serious themes for satiric purposes”:

There is some general agreement among authorities that parody is the more exclusively literary and critical method, fixing the attention closely on an individual style or poem, while burlesque is freer to strike at social or literary eccentricity by employing such established verse conventions as the love-romance, the pastoral, the courtly tradition, or the Homeric manner. (88)

M.H. Abrams distinguishes “high” and “low” burlesque forms from one another, including parody and mock epic in high burlesque; the “low” burlesque would include “Hudibrastic” poems, the travesty, the lampoon, and the caricature (John Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel, 1681). In more recent history, burlesque has moved into popular culture and is now often associated with variety shows, ribald music hall entertainment, and vaudeville theatre performance, but can be used with subtlety in other literary texts or performances.



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