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Eng 270 (2)

Mr. Rubsamen
Fall 2014

Literary Devices and Specific Terminology Used in Beowulf


Historical concepts
 Comitatus: The code regulating the relationship between lord and his
thanes/retainers/followers in Anglo-Saxon society. The lord provided protection,
weapons and a share of treasure or land in exchange for loyalty and military service.
Surviving one’s lord in battle was considered extremely shameful.
 Scop (pronounced “Shop”): Anglo-Saxon poet singer.
 Wergild: “Man-payment”; a fee paid to the family of a slain man to atone for his murder
and to prevent the family from seeking revenge.
 Wyrd: Old English for fate, which was believed to be the controlling force of the world
for pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon culture.
Form:
 Epic: A long and formal narrative poem written in an elevated style that tells the
adventures of a hero of almost mythic proportions.
 Elegy: A sad or mournful poem, like a funeral song.
 Alliteration: The repetition of initial sounds, particularly consonant sounds, in a
sequence of words.
 Caesura: A pause in a line of verse dictated by sense or natural speech rhythm rather
than be metrics.
 Kenning: A compound expression in Old English and Old Norse poetry with
metaphorical meaning; e.g. ring-giver = king.
 Lay: A short lyric or narrative poem, accompanied by music.
 Stanza: A grouped set of lines in a poem, usually physically set off from other such
clusters by a blank line.
Rhetorical devices
 Hyperbole: An overstatement, not to be taken literally.
 Litotes or Ironic Understatement: The presentation of something as being smaller,
worse, or less important than it actually is.
Terms for discussing poetry and drama
 Allusion: An indirect reference to a person, event, statement or theme found in literature,
the other arts, history, myths, religion or popular culture.
 Foil: A character who, by contrast with the main character, serves to accentuate that
character’s distinctive qualities or characteristics.
 Imagery: The language an author uses to show a visual picture or represent any sensory
experience.
 Metaphor: A figure of speech associating two things or the representation of one thing
by another.
 Setting: The time, place, and physical details in which the literary work takes place.
 Symbol: A thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object
representing an abstract concept.
 Theme: A common thread or repeated idea that runs through the literary work.
 Foreshadowing: The use of hints or clues to alert the reader to what will happen later in
the story.

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