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Tragedy – loosely speaking, any literary composition having a tragic theme. It is, however, a term most frequently applied to the drama. Usually it means a serious play in which the protagonist is overcome by the obstacles with which he is contending. Aristotle’s theory of tragedy was that it should imitate a serious, complete, and important action in such a way as to bring about an emotional purging of the audience through pity and terror. He also said that tragedy must be unified in time and action (see Unities) and expresses in noble, rhythmic, and harmonious language. In Greek tragedy such things as battles and murders were not acted on a stage, but were announced by messengers. The Greek theory of tragedy was the destruction of some noble person through Fate. In a Shakespearean tragedy there is shown the destruction of some noble person through some passion, flaw, or limitation in his nature (Macbeth’s ambition). This is called the tragic flaw theory of tragedy.

Tragi-Comedy – (See Comedy.)

Triolet (tri’ o let) – One of what are called the Old French forms, this is a stanza of eight lines, in which the first line is repeated as the fourth and seventh, and the second as the eighth. Its rhyme scheme is abaaabab:

“Wee Rose is but three   I can scarcely agree   Wee Rose is but three,   When her archness I see!          Are the sex born unsteady?-    Wee Rose is but three   Yet coquettes she already.” - Arlo Bates

Triplet – (also called a Tercet) – a stanza of three lines.

Trochaic – adjective describing a foot of poetry made up of an accented and then unaccented syllable.

Turning Point – (See Crisis.)


Understatement –a statement for dramatic or humorous effect of less importance than the occasion would warrant. (A soldier knowing that he is dying says, “I am hurt.”)

Unity – the sense of oneness, harmony, or singleness of effect given by a literary composition. The Three Unities means the unities of time, action and place, which were principles governing the structure of drama derived from Aristotle’s Poetics by writers of the French classical school (Moliere, etc.). They required that the action of a play occur in one place, within one day, and within one tightly knit main plot. Most other dramatists, however, have been much freer in their interpretation of the unities.

Universality – a literary work is said to have universality if it contains some everlasting truth about human life, that is, if its ideas, situations, characters, or incidents are true to life, not only for the time of the work but for all times—past, present, and future. One of the universal qualities of Hamlet, for example, is its theme: youth’s shocked and depressing discovery of deceit and treachery in the world. A universal character in it is Polonius, the self-advancing schemer. A universal situation is exemplified in the dueling scene when Queen Gertrude shows her concern for her son Hamlet’s welfare.


Vernacular – generally speaking, this means one’s mother tongue, but is used more often in the sense of the language of the ordinary or common people, as opposed to the language of the literary or educated.

Versification – metrical composition. The most generally used meters in English are the Iambic, Trochaic, Anapestic, and Dactylic. The Iambic foot consists of one unaccented syllable followed by one accented one (            ). Grays’s “Elegy” is an example of iambic pentameter:

“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.   The lowing herds winds slowly o’er the lea.”

The Trochaic is the opposite, an accented foor followed by an unaccented one (           ). Milton’s “”L’Allegro” is an example of trochaic tetrameter, although a syllable is omitted in the last foot of the line:

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