A posteriori


SUBJUNCTIVE: Click here for more information. SUBLIME, THE



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SUBJUNCTIVE: Click here for more information.

SUBLIME, THE: The Greek rhetorician Longinus wrote a treatise On the Sublime, which argued that sublimity ("loftiness") is the most important quality of fine literature. The sublime caused the reader to experience elestasis ("transport"). Edmund Burke developed this line of thought further in his influential essay, "The Sublime and the Beautiful" (1757). Here, he distinguished the sublime from the beautiul by suggesting that the sublime was not a stylistic quality but the powerful depiction of subjects that were vast, obscure, and powerful. These sublime topics or subjects evoked "delightful horror" in the viewer or reader, a combination of terror and amazed pleasure. To illustrate the difference between beauty and sublimity, we might say that gazing thoughtfully into a rosebud merely involves the beautiful; gazing in awe into the Grand Canyon from its edge involves the sublime--particularly if the viewer is about to fall in. Contrast with bathos.

SUBLUNARY: The area of the cosmos inside the orbit of the moon, including the earth. In medieval and Renaissance theology, this area was thought to be imperfect and subject to decay, death and mutability, while the stars, planets, heavenly bodies, and celestial realms were "fixed," i.e., perfect, unchanging, and immune to death and decay. In early Christian cosmology, it was believed that the earth was similarly perfect and unchanging until Adam's fall from grace, after which old age, erosion, unstable weather, decay, and mutability appeared in the sublunary realm.

SUBPLOT: A minor or subordinate secondary plot, often involving a deuteragonist's struggles, which takes place simultaneously with a larger plot, usually involving the protagonist. The subplot often echoes or comments upon the direct plot either directly or obliquely. Sometimes two opening subplots merge into a single storyline later in a play or narrative.

SUBSTANTIVE: A substantive word or phrase is one that can functoin as a noun within a sentence or clause. See especially substantive adjective, below.

SUBSTANTIVE ADJECTIVE: An adjective that stands by itself in the place of an implied noun--a type of rhetorical ellipsis. In the beatitudes, for instance, Christ says "Blessed are the meek." Here, the word meek is a substantive adjective for the implied meek people. We talk of the "wails of the damned" or the "troubles of the dispossessed." One spaghetti Western confronts the audience with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Karen Elizabeth Gordon writes that her grammar handbook is designed "for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed." These are all substantive adjectives that gleefully cast their nouns aside and stand alone.

SUBSTANTIVE TEXT: A text based upon access to an original manuscript as opposed to a text derived only from an earlier edition.

SUBSTITION, METRICAL: See metrical substition.

SUBSTITION, RHETORICAL: The manipulation of the caesura to create the effect of a series of different feet in a line of poetry. Contrast with metrical substitution.

SUBSTRATUM THEORY: The idea that an original language in a region alters or affects later languages introduced there. Contrast with the superstratum theory.

SUCCUBUS (plural succubi): A demon-lover in feminine shape, as opposed to an incubus (plural incubi), the same sort of demon-lover in masculine shape. The term comes from medieval demonology, which was probably influenced by the Hebrew Zohar and its legends of lilitu (the demonic daughters of Lilith that seduced men and killed human infants). By the time the Maleus Maleficarum was written in the fifteenth-century, late medieval writers had posited an elaborate reproductive cycle for the succubus/incubus, in which the demon would alternately seduce sleeping men in its female shape, store the man's nocturnal emissions within its body, then take on a masculine shape, seduce a woman, and impregnate her with the stolen sperm.

The incubus/succubus became a powerful image in literature. Chaucer's Wife of Bath, for instance, claims in her tale that depraved friars are in her day even more common and persistant than the incubus. In "Kubla Khan," Coleridge writes of a "woman wailing for her demon lover" in a haunted grove, an image adapted from legends of the demon-knight who seduces and destroys women.

SUFFIX: In linguistics, an affix that comes after the base of a word.

SUMMA (Latin, "highest" or "all", cf. Modern English "summation" and "summit"): A treatise, essay, or book that attempts to deal comprehensively with its topic, especially one that is meant to be the "final word" on a subject. Although it may seem like hubris to modern readers to think a single book could answer every possible question that could arise about a topic, medieval theologians were not cowed from making the attempt. Probably the most famous summa is Peter Abelard's Sic et Non, a book that attempts to list every major argument about church doctrine. With atypical political reserve, Abelard does not attempt to solve each debate, but instead he merely lists all the "pro-" arguments and authorities under the Sic column and all the "con-" arguments and authorities under the Non column of each entry. (Such tact is definitely not typical of the fiery scholar.) Likewise Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica is probably the most influential intellectual document in Christian theology for its thorough attempt at completeness and its intricate, in-depth analyses.

Art historians have suggested that the summa represents a typically medieval drive to encapsulate and summarize the entire world, an urge that also reveals itself in the architecture of gothic cathedrals. Here, the artwork is carefully hierarchical, from outside to inside and top to bottom, often with typological figures from the Old Testament placed comprehensively next to their anti-typological figure in the New Testament in stained glass and sculpture, but still leaving room for even the demonic in the form of gargoyles on the outside. A similar type of summa-like influence might appear in the mystery cycles of medieval drama, which attempt in three days to portray the entirety of human history, from Creation to Judgment Day. This idea that the universe can be accurately summarized and portrayed in art may have also influenced Chaucer's ambitious plans for his Canterbury Tales, in which Chaucer attempts to encapsulate the entire human race by creating a humanly-faced gallery of medieval occupations, and he attempts to encapsulate the spiritual journey of human life from materialism to the divine by using the artistic metaphor of a pilgrimage from a sleazy bar in Southwerk to the grandeurs of Canterbury Cathedral.

SUMMONER: Medieval law courts were divided into civil courts that tried public offenses and ecclesiastical courts that tried offenses against the church. Summoners were minor church officials whose duties included summoning offenders to appear before the church and receive sentence. By the fourteenth century, the job became synonymous with extortion and corruption because many summoners would take bribes from the individuals summoned to court. Chaucer satirized a summoner in The Canterbury Tales.

SUMPTUARY LAWS: Laws that regulate the sort of clothing an individual may wear. Classical Rome restricted certain types of garb to the senatorial classes and equestrian classes, for instance. In Classical China, only the Emperor was allowed to wear the emblem of a five-fingered dragon on his garb, or have it depicted on personal possessions. In medieval Europe and Britain through the late Renaissance, the nobility enacted a series of sumptuary laws to maintain distinctions between themselves and the rising bourgeois class. The bourgeoisie were often quite wealthy, especially after the economic upheaval of the Black Death (1348) caused labor shortages that forced landowners to pay skilled laborers extra money. The newly wealthy could afford to mimic the styles and fashions of the nobility, and they did. This trend caused the nobility to enact laws stating that non-noblity could no longer wear, for instance, silver jewelry, or certain styles of footwear. We can see the guildsmen in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales attempting to "push the boundaries" of the sumptuary laws. For instance, the five guildsmen all carry silver knives with them. (The law prohibits silver jewelry, but says nothing about fine silver cutlery, for instance.) Many of the sumptuary laws were anti-Semitic in origin. For instance, in Britain, France, and Germany, sumptuary laws required that all Jews wear on their clothing a yellow circle to distinguish the wearers from their Christian neighbors. Thus, the authorities could enforce more easily those laws that stated Jews could not work at certain occupations, or hold land, or whatnot. (That particular sumptuary law was revived during Hitler's regime of World War II, except Hitler required a yellow star of David instead of a yellow circle.)

SUPERSTRATUM THEORY: The idea that a new language introduced into a region alters or affects the language spoken there previously.Contrast with the substratum theory.

SUPINE: A supine verb form is one that is not fully conjugated. For instance, the subjunctive mood is often supine in modern English ("Had he been dancing, he would have would have tripped"), and thus easily confused with the pluperfect indicative ("He had been dancing when he tripped.") Other languages would express the distinction with markedly different verb forms between the subjunctive and the indicative.

SUPPLETIVE FORM: An inflectional form in which a common word has its current inflection come from a completely different word that later grew to be associated with it. For instance, the preterite form of go is the suppletive form went. In the past, these came from two different Old English verbs entirely, but they have now blurred together to be considered a single verb.

SURFACE STRUCTURE: In linguistics, Noam Chomsky distinguishes between superficial "surface structure" and "deep structure." Surface structure is a particular speech act (parole) as distinct from the biological hardwiring that generates individual speech acts.

SURPRISE ENDING: Another term for an O. Henry ending.

SURREALISM: An artistic movement doing away with the restrictions of realism and verisimilitude that might be imposed on an artist. In this movement, the artist sought to do away with conscious control and instead respond to the irrational urges of the subconscious mind. From this results the hallucinatory, bizarre, often nightmarish quality of surrealistic paintings and writings. Sample surrealist painters include Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Sample surrealist writers include Frank O'Hara, John Ashberry, and Franz Kafka.

SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF: See willing suspension of disbelief.

SVARABHAKTI VOWEL: See discussion under intrusive schwa.

SYLLABA ANCEPS: Also called a syllable anceps, the term refers to a syllable that may be read as either long or short--especially a syllable at the end of a line. See discussion under sapphic meter.

SYLLABARY: A writing system in which each symbol represents a syllable such as in Japanese kana (hiragana and katakana) scripts or in Sequoia's writing system for Amerindian readers.

SYLLEPSIS: A specialized form of zeugma in which the meaning of a verb cleverly changes halfway through a sentence. See discussion under zeugma.

SYMBOL: A word, place, character, or object that means something beyond what it is on a literal level. For instance, consider the stop sign. It is literally a metal octagon painted red with white streaks. However, everyone on American roads will be safer if we understand that this object also represents the act of coming to a complete stop--an idea hard to encompass briefly without some sort of symbolic substitute. In literature, symbols can be cultural, contextual, or personal. (See cultural symbol, contextual symbol, and personal symbol.) An object, a setting, or even a character can represent another more general idea. Allegories are narratives read in such a way that nearly every element serves as an interrelated symbol, and the narrative's meaning can be read either literally or as a symbolic statement about a political, spiritual, or psychological truth. See also allegory, or click here to download a pdf handout contrasting allegory and symbolism in greater detail.

SYMBOLIC CHARACTER: Symbolic characters are characters whose primary literary function is symbolic, even though the character may retain normal or realistic qualities. For instance, in Ellison's Invisible Man, the character Ras is on a literal level an angry young black man who leads rioters in an urban rampage. However, the character Ras is a symbol of "race" (as his name phonetically suggests), and he represents the frustration and violence inherent in people who are denied equality. Cf. allegory.

SYMBOLIC WORD: In linguistics, this is a new word created because it sounds similar to another word with strong semantic associations. Algeo lists examples such as gleam, glitter, gloom, and glow, where the gl- suggests light (331).

SYMBOLISM: Frequent use of words, places, characters, or objects that mean something beyond what they are on a literal level. Often the symbol may be ambiguous in meaning. When multiple objects or characters each seem to have a restricted symbolic meaning, what often results is an allegory. Contrast with allegory, leit-motif and motif. Click here to download a pdf handout contrasting allegory and symbolism in greater detail.

SYMPLOCE: Repeating words at both the beginning and the ending of a phrase. In St. Paul's letters, he seeks symploce to reinforce in the reader the fact that his opponents are no better than he is: "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they of the seed of Abraham? So am I" (2 Cor. 11:22-23). Contrast with anadiplosis. Symploce is an example of a rhetorical scheme.

SYMPOSIUM (plural symposia): An after-dinner speech contest or informal debate. Such spontaneous talks were popular in classical Athens as evening entertainment. Probably the most famous is that one depicted in Plato's Symposium.

SYNAERESIS: When two vowels appear side-by-side within a single word, and the poet blurs them together into a single syllable to make his meter fit. Contrast with elision, syncope, and acephalous lines.

SYNCHRONIC: The examination of a subject such as literature, linguistics, or history when focusing on a single point of time--but perhaps across a wide geographic area, a variety of economic situations or through comparison and contrast of that subject with related ones in the same time period. Synchronic studies are, however, not concerned with historical change. This term contrasts with a diachronic study--one that focuses on historical change across time and examines that single topic over a period of years or centuries.

SYNCOPATED: A syncopated word has lost a sound or letter. This syncopation happens because of contractions, linguistic erosion over time, or intentional poetic artifice. See syncope.

SYNCOPATION: The use of syncope. See below.

SYNCOPE: When a desperate poet drops a vowel sound between two consonants to make the meter match in each line. It can also be used as a rhetorical device any time a writer deletes a syllable or letter from the middle of a word. For instance, in Cymbeline, Shakespeare writes of how, "Thou thy worldy task hast done, / Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages" (4.2.258). In 2 Henry IV, we hear a flatterer say, "Your lordship, though not clean past your youth, hath yet some smack of age in you, some relish of the saltness of time" (1.2.112). Here, the -i- in saltiness has vanished to create a new word. Syncope is an example of a rhetorical scheme.

SYNECDOCHE: A rhetorical trope involving a part of an object representing the whole, or the whole of an object representing a part. For instance, a writer might state, "Twenty eyes watched our every move." Rather than implying that twenty disembodied eyes are swiveling to follow him as he walks by, she means that ten people watched the group's every move. When a captain calls out, "All hands on deck," he wants the whole sailors, not just their hands. When a cowboy talks about owning "forty head of cattle," he isn't talking about stuffed cowskulls hanging in his trophy room, but rather forty live cows and their bovine bodies. When La Fontaine states, "A hungry stomach has no ears," he uses synecdoche and metonymy simultaneously to refer to the way that starving people do not want to listen to arguments. In the New Testament, a similar synecdoche about the stomach appears. Here, the stomach represents all the physical appetites, and the heart represents the entire set of personal beliefs. Paul writes:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. (Romans 16:17)

Likewise, when Christians pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," they aren't asking God for bread alone, but rather they use the word as a synecdoche for all the mundane necessities of food and shelter. In the demonic play Faust, Marlowe writes of Helen of Troy, "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?" The thousand ships is a synecdoche for the entire Greek army: i.e., men, horses, weapons, and all. Likewise, the towers are a synecdoche; they are one part of the doomed city's architecture that represents the entire city and its way of life. Helen's face is a decorous synecdoche for Helen's entire sexy body, since her suitors were presumably interested in more than her visage alone. Eliot writes in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" that Prufrock "should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floor of silent seas." Here, the synecdoche implies the incompleteness of the poetic speaker. Prufrock is so futile and helpless, he shouldn't even be a complete crab, only the crab's claws scuttling along without a complete body, brain, or sense of direction. Henry IV implies that the city of Paris deserves some honorable ceremony when he claims, "Paris is well worth a mass," and so on.

Synecdoche is often similar to and overlaps with metonymy, above. It is an example of a rhetorical trope.

SYNAESTHESIA (also spelled synesthesia, from Grk. "perceiving together"): A rhetorical trope involving shifts in imagery. It involves taking one type of sensory input (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) and comingling it with another separate sense in an impossible way. In the resulting figure of speech, we end up talking about how a color sounds, or how a smell looks. When we say a musician hits a "blue note" while playing a sad song, we engage in synaesthesia. When we talk about a certain shade of color as a "cool green," we mix tactile or thermal imagery with visual imagery the same way. When we talk about a "heavy silence," we also use synaesthesia. Examples abound: "The scent of the rose rang like a bell through the garden." "I caressed the darkness with cool fingers." French poets, especially Baudelaire in Les fleurs du mal, have proven especially eager to use synaesthesia. The term itself is a fairly late addition to rhetoric and literary terminology, first coined in 1892, though examples of this figure of speech can be found in Homer, Aeschylus, Donne, Shelley, Crashaw, and scores of other writers and poets. See examples under tropes.



SYNCHRONIC: A synchronic study is one that provides an overview of a subject at a particular moment in time, as opposed to a diachronic study, which traces changes from one time period to the next across many years or centuries. For example, in linguistics, etymology is a diachronic study--one concerned with where words came from in the past and how their meanings have changed from century to century. Saussurian linguistics, on the other hand, studies language synchronically as a functioning system of signs existing at the present moment without studying developmental changes across time.

SYNESTHESIA: An alternative spelling of synaesthesia, above.

SYNOPTIC GOSPELS: The three first gospels (Matthew Mark, Luke), which share several textual similarities. Biblical scholars think they might be adaptations from a single lost source known as the Q-Text. This contrasts with the fourth gospel, John, which does not share these traits. Thus, Matthew, Mark and Luke are synoptic, but John is non-synoptic.

SYNTAGMATIC CHANGE: Any change in language resulting from the influence of nearby sounds or words. Examples include linguistic assimilation and dissimilation.

SYNTAX (from Greek syntaxis): As David Smith puts it, "the orderly arrangement of words into sentences to express ideas," i.e., the standard word order and sentence structure of a language, as opposed to diction (the actual choice of words) or content (the meaning of individual words). Standard English syntax prefers a Subject-Verb-Object pattern, but poets may tweak syntax to achieve rhetorical or poetic effects. Intentionally disrupting word order for a poetic effect is called anastrophe. Syntax is often distinguished from morphology and grammar. Note that syntax is what allows us to produce sequential grammatical units such as phrases, clauses, and sentences. See also analytic language and synthetic language.

SYNTHETIC (also called a declined language): Not to be confused with an artificial or made-up language like Esperanto or Tolkien's Elvish, a synthetic language is one in which word order is irrelevant for determining meaning. Instead of using word order (i.e., Subject-Verb-Object or some similar pattern), a synthetic language uses special endings attached to the ends of nouns. These patterned endings, called declensions, indicate what noun in the sentence is a subject, what noun is a direct or indirect object, and so on, generally establishing the relationship between different parts of speech. Synthetic languages allow a great degree of poetic freedom in word order. Examples of synthetic languages include Latin, German, koine Greek, Welsh, and Anglo-Saxon. The opposite type of language is an analytic language such as Modern English, Spanish, or French. See also artificial language, anastrophe and periodic sentence. Click here for more information.

SYZYGY: (from Greek "yoke"): In classical prosody, syzygy describes the combination of any two feet into another single metrical unit. It is often used interchangeably with the more precise term dipody, which refers more specifically to the metrical substitution of two normal feet, usually iambs or trochees, under a more powerful beat, so that a "galloping" or "rolling" rhythm results. See meter, rhythm, dipody.

TABOO (also spelled tabu): (1) In anthropology, a taboo is a socially prohibited activity. For instance, in classical Greek culture, it was forbidden for a murderer or menstruating woman to enter the sacred space of a temple or the central agora of a city beyond a temenos boundary lest that action spread contagious miasma. (2) A linguistic taboo is a social prohibition that forbids mentioning a word or subject. Commonly, various cultures might have taboos against mentioning bodily fluids, defecation, certain sexual activities, or certain religious terms. These terms often suffer linguistic pejoration and become "curse-words." For instance, in Britain, the adjective bloody is considered taboo or impolite to speak aloud as a curse word because of its older religious connotations as a medieval curse about the blood of Christ's wounds. In American English, words describing specific sexual activities or bodily functions usually are taboo for polite conversation, and so on.

TABULA RASA (Latin, "erased tablet"): The term used in Enlightenment philosophy for the idea that humanity is born completely innocent, without any initial predispositions, attitudes, or beliefs. Accordingly, no natural state of humanity exists, but instead, humanity is infinitely malleable. The newborn child is thus a "blank slate" on which experiences and education will write his or her future personality and beliefs. The idea is influential in the philosophical writings of Locke, Rousseau, and Wollstonecraft, but it also influences literary fiction such as Frankenstein, in which the monster's account of his experiences after his initial creation characterize him as an innocent tabula rasa.

TACTILE IMAGERY: Verbal description that evokes the sense of touch. See imagery.

TAG: "Tags" are catch-phrases or character traits that a fiction writer uses repeatedly with a character. For instance, both the phrase, "Elementary my dear Watson," and the "smoking-pipe-with-deer-hunter-hat" ensemble of Sherlock Holmes, are two "tags" Sir Arthur Conan Doyle uses repeatedly as distinguishing marks for that character. In the old Doc Savage adventurer thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s, the phrase, "The Man of Bronze" was a verbal tag to describe the protagonist, while the author used a sword hidden in a cane as the object-tag for his dapper lawyer side-kick. Meanwhile, the author used ape-like visage as a descriptive tag for "Monk," the stunted chemist who was a part of his crime-busting team. Tags thus can be either phrases or words or they can be imagery and description or perhaps simple objects and wardrobe--overall, a very versital term.

TAIL-RHYME (translated from French rime couée, or Latin rhythmus caudatus, also called caudate rhyme): A unit of verse in which a short line, followed by a longer line or section of longer lines, rhymes with a preceding short line. The number of possible variants following this scheme are too many to list here. Famous examples can be found in Chaucer's "Sir Thopas" and Drayton's "Ballad of Agincourt." The following example of tail-rhyme comes from P. B. Shelley's "To Night":

Swiftly walk o'er the western wave,

Spirit of Night!

Out of the misty eastern cave,
Where, all the long and lone daylight,
Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear,
Which make thee terrible and dear,--

Swift be thy flight!

TANKA: A genre of Japanese poetry similar to the haiku. A tanka consists of thirty-one syllables arranged in five lines. The lines contain five / seven / five / seven / seven syllables. Also known as the waka or uta, it originated in the 600s CE, and it is regarded as the classic, ancient Japanese poetic form. It has had little influence on Western poetry, though Amy Lowell and Adelaide Crapsey have imitated it. Contrast it with the much more influential haiku.

TELEMACHIA: The first four books of The Odyssey are together called the Telemachia because they focus on the problems Telemachus faces while waiting for his father Odysseus to return home.

TELESTICH: A poem in which the last letters of successive lines form a word, phrase, or consecutive letters of the alphabet. Compare with abecedarian poem and acrostic.

TEL QUEL SCHOOL: A school of French intellectuals associated with Philippe Seller's review Tel Quel. Sample members include Julia Kristeva, Jean-Joseph Goux, and Jacques Derrida.

TEMENOS (from Greek "to cut"): In Classical Greek culture, the temenos is a sacred area marked off as holy ground. On this special plot of land, we might find temples dedicated to a particular god, sanctuaries, holy groves, the race-course for Pythian or Olympic games, the agora in the center of each city, and the Acropolis. Stones called temenos markers would indicate the boundary, and it would be taboo for any ritually unclean person to cross this line lest they risk creating or spreading miasma.

TEMPO: The pace or speed of speech and also the degree to which individual sounds are fully articulated or blurred together. The faster the tempo, the more likely sounds will blur or elide.

TEMPORAL: In grammatical and linguistic discussion, something relating to the element of time. See further discussion under clause.

TEMPTATION MOTIF: A motif in which one of the protagonist's primary struggles is the conflict between his or her sense of (1) personal honor and ethics and (2) his or her personal desires, ambitions, or wickedness. Biblical examples include the fall of mankind in Genesis, David and Bathsheba, and Satan's three temptations of Christ. This motif is central to a variety of patristic, medieval and Renaissance works, including the Confessions, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Paradise Lost, and The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. Stories that involve a temptation motif frequently focus on internal conflict or psychological drama in addition to any external plot lines. In medieval theology, the temptation motif was often divided into three categories: concupiscentia carnis (physical temptations of the flesh such as gluttony, drunkenness, and illicit sexuality), concupiscentia oculora ("temptation of the eyes" i.e., mental temptations for imagined material possessions, power or wealth) and superbia vitae (pride concerning life--the desire humans have to be more than what God created humans to be.) Perhaps the most dramatic example is the Faustian bargain, a temptation motif in which an individual sells his or her soul to the devil.

TENDENTIAL: In grammar, tendential refers to action that has been attempted but remains incomplete--especially interrupted action. This situation is only of minor concern in English grammar, but it is important in Greek and other languages.

TENOR: In common usage, tenor refers to the course of thought, meaning or emotion in anything written or spoken. Among rhetoricians, however, the word tenor more specifically refers to the subject of a metaphor. For instance, if a writer claimed, "Mrs. Higgins is a witch," the tenor of the metaphor witch is Mrs. Higgins. When Shakespeare claims that "all the world's a stage," the entire world is the tenor for the metaphor of a stage. See metaphor.

TENSE VOWEL: Any vowel made with the tongue muscles relatively more tense than in a lax vowel. These tense vowels tend to be less central and pronounced higher in the oral cavity than lax vowels. Examples include the vowels [i], [e], [u], and [o].

TENSION: (1) In common usage, tension refers to a sense of heightened involvement, uncertainty, and interest an audience experiences as the climax of the action approaches. (2) In the school of literary theory called "New Criticism" in the 1930s and later, the word tension refers more specifically to the quality of balanced opposites that can provide form and unity to a literary work of diverse components. This sort of tension exists between the literal and metaphorical meanings of a work, between what is written and what the text implies, between the serious and the ironic, between contradictions in the text that the reader must resolve without authorial discussion, or any equilibrium resulting from the harmony of opposite tendencies.

TESTAMENT: An agreement or covenant, especially in the sense of a will being a "last will and testament" or in the sense of the two major portions of the Bible being a covenant between God and humanity. In literature, the term is often used in the sense of "affirmation," such as Robert Bridges' The Testament of Beauty, which affirms the wisdom of the artistic spirit.

TERCET: A three-line unit or stanza of poetry. It typically rhymes in an AAA or ABA pattern. If the tercet forms a stanza by itself, it is often called a triplet.

TERMINISTIC SCREEN: Kenneth Burke's term for the way a word or label alters the way we categorize, analyze, and perceive the object about which we talk. Compare with Whorf's Hypothesis.

TERRIBLE SONNETS: In spite of the label, this phrase does not refer to poorly written sonnets. Gerard Manley Hopkins used the term "terrible sonnets" to designate several of his later religious poems, in which he feels isolated from God. In this poems, his sense of individuality leads Hopkins to confront his solipsism--and react with despair ("the dark night of the soul," as described by St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order). The terrible sonnets contrast starkly with Hopkins' earlier religious poetry, which focus on the ecstatic joy of being in God's presence or God's creation. Sample terrible sonnets include Hopkins' "Carrion Comfort," "No Worst, There Is None," "I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day," and "Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord."

TERZA RIMA (Italian, "third rhyme"): A three-line stanza form with interlocking rhymes that move from one stanza to the next. The typical pattern is ABA, BCB, CDC, DED, and so on. Dante chose terza rima's tripartite structure as the basic poetic unit of his trilogy, The Divine Comedy. An English example is found in Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." Here are two sample stanzas:

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:


What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,


Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

TETRAGRAMMATON: The four Hebrew consonant letters corresponding to yhwh (or in German transliteration, jhvh). The oldest Hebrew writers referred to God in a variety of ways: El (God), Elohim (God, but in a plural form as was common in other Ugaritic and Semitic traditions), or by a personal name containing the letters yhwh, usually rendered as Yahweh in modern transcription. Over time, given certain Kabbalistic and mystical leanings, Hebrew scribes began to add extra semantic weight to this combination of written letters. It is as if the holiness of God spilled over into the inky strokes signifying the Divine on parchment. Scribes and priests treated the tetragrammaton as spiritually charged by its use in prayers, curses, and blessings. Divine help, after all, is triggered by invocation or calling upon the name of a deity. The tetragrammaton often became personified--almost like a separate entity from its referent. Thus, the Deuteronomic writers customarily referred to the Temple in Jerusalem as the place where Yahweh's "name" dwelled rather than (or in addition to) being the residence of Yahweh himself (Gabel and Wheeler 269).

The original Hebrew writing system did not have letters indicating vowel sounds. The scribes only wrote down consonant letters and relied upon memory and context to supply the appropriate vowels. However, the tetragrammaton Yahweh was different from other Hebrew terms because it underwent a linguistic taboo. It could be written down, but it became forbidden to say the name aloud. (Gabon and Wheeler note there is "no real evidence that this originally had been the case," with only anachronistic additions to the Leviticus text in Leviticus 24:10-16 being used to justify the taboo a posteriori.) Shortly after the Babylonian Exile, however, the divine name was considered too sacred to pronounce and strict rules prevented its use, even though before this time the ordinary believer used God's name as a matter of course. The convention then became that, when reading the scriptures aloud, the reader would substitute a neutral title, adonai ("my Lord") wherever the tetragrammaton yhwh appeared. After the custom of using diacritical markings to indicate vowels appeared in Hebrew scribal practice, the scribe would continue to use the consonant letters, but would instead place the diacritical vowel markings for adonai above the consonants, reminding the reader to substitute adonai for the tetragrammaton. (This substitution sounds a bit confusing in English, but the markings are distinctive and quickly discernable in Hebrew). The Greek kurios and Latin dominus appear as translated equivalents to adonai, but many modern English Bibles indicate the tetragrammaton by writing LORD in all capital letters but with slightly smaller typefont, which imitates the special status of the yhwh in the original Hebrew. This distinction, however, only applies to the Hebrew Bible, not the New Testament. Note that Jehovah is an incorrect rendering of yhwh first popularized in the Renaissance by King James translators unfamiliar with this unique Hebrew convention.

TETRALOGY: (1) In a general sense, a collection of four narratives that are contiguous and continuous in chronology. Just as three books that tell a continuous story constitute a trilogy, four books that tell a continuous narrative are a tetralogy. (2) A set of four plays that constitute a long historical cycle, written in approximately the same half of Shakespeare's career. Scholars refer to Shakespeare as writing a "First Tetralogy" (containing Richard III and Henry VI, part 1, part 2, and part 3) and a "Second Tetralogy" (containing Richard II, Henry IV, part I., Henry IV, part 2, and Henry V.) In opera, Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs serves as a tetralogy. Contrast with sequel and trilogy.

TETRAMETER: A line consisting of four metrical feet. See discussion under meter.

TERMINUS A QUO: The earliest possible date that a literary work could have been written, a potential starting point for dating a manuscript or text. Latin for "boundary from that point."

TERMINUS AD QUEM: The latest possible date that a literary work could have been written, a potential ending point for dating a manuscript or text. Latin for "boundary up to this point."

TEST ACT OF 1673: A law requiring all British officials holding public office to receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in accordance with the rituals of the Established Church of England (the Anglican Church). This law was designed to exclude Catholics, Anabaptists, and Scottish Presbyterians from holding positions of importance. Swift favored the Test Act, and his political position brought about one of literature's unique satires. When more tolerant times came to England, it became politically desirable to reconcile with Scottish and Irish minorities. At that point, the English government proposed abolishing the Test Act. Swift responded by writing his satirical essay, "Abolishing Christianity in England," in which he equates the removal of the Test Act with an attempt to remove completely the last vestiges of Christianity in England.

TEXT: In literary criticism, formalist critics use the term text to refer to a single work of literary art (such as a specific poem, essay, short story). In formalist thinking, this text is an autonomous verbal object--i.e., it is self-enclosed and self-creating, and thus the critic need not necessarily explicate it using the biography of the author, or the historical background of its time-period, or other "extra-textual" details.

TEXTUAL CRITICISM: The collection, comparison, and collating of all textual variants in order to reconstruct or recreate a single authoritative text--especially one that reflects authorial intention.

TEXTUAL VARIANT: A version of a text that has differences in wording or structure compared with other texts, especially one with missing lines or extra lines added. In some cases, textual variants reflect the difference between an author's early version or rough draft of a work and a later version or polished final product. Variance in Shakespeare's plays might have come about in the difference between the foul papers (handwritten rough drafts) and the fair copy (the largely corrected versions sent to the printers). Variations in Chaucer's manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales might reflect an earlier, alternative scheme for structuring the work that Chaucer later abandoned in favor of a revised order for the various tales. Other textual variants in literary works are the product of error, scribal corruption, intentional censorship, or errata. See fair copy, errata, foul papers, scribal corruption, and Ur-text.

Finally, the author might deliberately make changes in later versions of a poem or story. For instance, Dr. Karen Karbiener notes significant textual variants appear in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In the first edition of 1818, the teenage Shelley describes Elizabeth as having a strong resemblence to Shelley herself. Many of the novel's subplots had rather incestuous overtones, and the text focuses more on Victor Frankenstein's moral free will. Karbiener points out how Shelley alters or changes these elements in her 1831 edition from Colburn and Bentley's Standard Novels Series, when Shelley is an older and less radical author.




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