History of Literature

Glossary of Literary Terms – complete alphabetical list

Terms Related to History of Literature



Ancient Literature

oral tradition

Ancient Poetry

Classical Greek Drama





comedy of manners

revenge tragedy

Middle Ages

Anglo-Saxon era



metaphysical poets



Victorian Period




Harlem Renaissance

Black Mountain poets

Black Arts Movement

Beat poets

confessional poetry


Spoken Word Movement

literature – any style or genre of writing whose primary focus is the expression or communication of feelings or narrating of events in a way that is not common speech and uses figurative language as opposed to writing to keep records or communicate information.

text – any written body of words; may be either prose or poetry

Ancient Literature – all written stories, poems, histories, and dramas from the surviving texts from about 2800 BC to about 500 AD

oral tradition – the tradition of transmitting stories, poems, and other cultural information from generation to generation through oral presentation instead of by written documents

Ancient Poetry – poetry created before the late 500s AD having roots in an oral tradition of creating and performing poetry verbally. Surviving poetry includes love poem from Ancient Sumeria, poetic verses in ancient religious texts including the Bible and Koran, and epics such as the Iliad and Odyssey.

Classical Greek Drama – the period from about 550 BC to 323 BC highlighted by dramatists such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides where the art forms of tragedy and comedy began.

tragedy – a form of literature originating in the plays of the Classical Greek era which includes a tragic hero, an otherwise noble person having a superior stature in the community who through some tragic flaw causes himself a fall resulting in an adverse impact upon his community and often his own death; thought to have evolved from the aspect of the dying god in the Dionysian rituals

comedy – a form of literature originating in the plays of the Classical Greek era which include a theme of new life often through a marriage; though to have evolved from the aspect of the rebirth of the god in the Dionysian rituals

satire – a form of literature which uses exaggerated, flat characters to represent some aspect of a person or society for the purpose of making a critical comment through ridicule.

farce – a form of literature which uses a situation more than characters to create humor; usually involve slapstick – an exaggerated action such as falling over a chair or a long-played effort at what should be simple such as placing a carton on a shelf; silly, light-hearted, not cynical or satiric.

comedy of manners – a comedy which makes fun of the manners or customs of a specific segment of the society; uses exaggeration

revenge tragedy – revenge tragedy – a genre of tragedy which later evolved where the main theme is to avenge a perceived wrong such as in Hamlet.

Middle Ages – an historic period from the late 500s AD to the middle of the 1400s.

Anglo-Saxon era – poetry created from the beginning of the Middle Ages (late 500s AD) into the end of the Middle Ages (mid-1400s) usually associated with tales of heroic deeds and non-romantic love

troubadours – traveling poets/performers from the Provencal region of France during the Middle Ages reciting lyric poetry about courtly love

Renaissance – from the French for rebirth; a period ranging from the mid-1400s to the mid-1500s associated with a renewed interest in science, philosophy, and arts including literature. William Shakespeare wrote during this period.

metaphysical poets – a poetic movement during the 1600s characterized by analysis, complex form, and themes associated with intellect over emotions

realism – an artistic movement from about 1865 to 1910 characterized by an attempt to portray life as it actually was

Romanticism – a poetic movement beginning in the 1700s characterized by emotion and appreciation for nature and the supernatural and mysterious along with a return to using first-person lyric form

Victorian Period – defined by the period when Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901 and included several artistic movements characterized by a concern for the impact of industrialization on humans and social reform; includes different artistic movements

expressionism – a literary movement in the early 1900s which focused on finding and expressing an inner or spiritual reality rather than portraying an actual external reality.

modernism – a literary movement beginning in the early 1900s spurred by the industrial age, a first World War I, and challenges to established Christianity which characterized by feelings of loss of “old ways” and an unknown, insecure future

surrealism – a literary movement beginning about 1910 where writers wrote automatically rather than with preliminary organizing in an effort to channel inner reality into a writing; followed from a movement in art

postmodernism – a literary movement that began in the 1960s characterized by introspection, disengagement of conventions and standardization, focus on popular themes of the day such as anti-establishment ideology and personal freedom, exploration, and determination.

imagism – a poetic movement beginning in the early 1900s where poets began experimenting with open verse and focused on the poet’s response to a situation or object stressing concrete imagery

Harlem Renaissance – a movement during the 1920s starting in Harlem which focused on Black culture

Black Mountain poets – a movement during the 1930s starting in Black Mountain, North Carolina which stressed the process of writing instead of the completed poem

Beat poets – a movement beginning in the late 1940s where poets turned to use of psychogenic drugs for mind expansion and where social and political criticism was a common theme.

confessional poems – a movement beginning in the 1950s where the subject of poems were the very personal experiences of the poet beyond just a yearning for love or a specific emotional reaction

Black Arts Movement – a movement beginning in the 1960s where poets focused on social and political situation of African-Americans.

slam poetry – a movement characterized by the competitive art of performance poetry

spoken word movement – a movement starting in the 1990s to make poetry more popular and accessible to everyone; some consider rap an example of this movement