Literary Genres Poetic Genres
A circular walking bookshelf, part of the Archive Series Collection designed by Barcelona born architect David Garcia (1970). The collection was showcased at the Royal Danish Art Academy Fall 2005
You can also “lie / In vacant or in pensive mood” on or in it.(Who is the quotation by?)
Aristotle : On the Art of Poetry Translated by Ingram BywaterOxford: Clarendon Press, 1920 “Our subject being Poetry, I propose to speak not only of the art in general but also of its species and their respective capacities; of the structure of plot required for a good poem; of the number and nature of the constituent parts of a poem; and likewise of any other matters in the same line of inquiry.” Note: Aristotle’s work is better known under the title“Poetics” but the translation quoted above is alsorelevant and reliable.
Aristotle cont. “Epic poetry and Tragedy, as also Comedy, Dithyrambicpoetry, and mostflute-playing and lyre-playing, are all,viewed as a whole, modesof imitation. But at the sametime they differfrom oneanother in threeways, eitherby a differenceof kind intheir means, or by differencesin theobjects,or in the manner of their imitations.”
Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1483–1520)
Aristotle cont.Classification according to the difference in themanner in which eachkind of object is represented: “Given both the same means and the samekind of object for imitation, one may either • speak at onemoment in narrative and at another in an assumedcharacter, as Homer does; or (2)one may remain thesame throughout, without any such change; or (3) theimitators may represent the whole story dramatically,as though theywere actually doing the thingsdescribed.”
Tripartite Division Aristotle in the first passages of his work argues that different arts can be separated on the basis of the kinds of means they employ. However, you won’t find the so-called Aristotelian tripartite classification in his poetics. There is a division between dramatic poetry (theatre as direct imitation of persons) and epic poetry which is the narrative portrayal of human actions. There is no clear-cut recognition of lyric poetry. Direct expression of personal feelings and thoughts was added after a long process by the 16th century.
Martin Montgomery, Alan Durant,Nigel Fabb, TomFurniss and Sara Mills: Ways ofReading. 3rd Edition.London and New York: Routledge, 2007
Genre(Source: Ways of Reading, pp 41-47) “In its most general sense, ‘genre’ simply means a sort, or type, oftext: thriller, horror movie, musical, autobiography, tragedy, etc.” “The word comes from the Latin word ‘genus’, meaning ‘kind’ or‘type’ of anything, not just literary or artistic works.” “(‘Genus’, infact, is still used to describe a technical sense of type,in theclassiﬁcation of species; and ‘generic’ is sometimes used tomean‘broad’ or ‘with the properties of a whole type or class’.)”
Ways of Reading, cont. “There is an obvious convenience in being able to label texts. We can ﬁt any given text into a class that offers a convenient shorthand in which to describe what it is like: it resembles others that people already know.” “The notion is useful when applied not only to literary works but also to non-literary discourse, distinguishing the typical features of, say, a shopping list from those of food labeling, a menu or a recipe.”
Ways of Reading, cont.Difficulties "For all its convenience, however, the notion of genre presents difﬁculties. Is there a ﬁxed number of sorts of text? If so, when and how was this decided, and on what basis? And who will decide for still evolving types, such as emergent styles in popular music, texting or multimedia? A more theoretical question also arises: whether genre is a prescriptive category – grouping features to be incorporated into writing or production of a given type – or whether it is descriptive, generalizing on the basis of agreement among language users."
Ways of Reading, cont. Classiﬁcation on the basis of formal arrangement "One basis for classifying texts is their formal properties. Sonnets, for instance, have fourteen lines and follow distinctive stanzaic and rhyme patterns. At the same time, sonnets are a type of poetry,which in turn exists within a conventional three-way distinction between poetry,drama and ﬁction – a classiﬁcation derived historically from Aristotle’s distinction between lyric, epic or narrative, and drama."
Ways of Reading, cont.Difficulties "Aristotle further emphasized one particular, distinguishing aspect of form: who speaks. Lyrics are uttered in the ﬁrst person; in epic or narrative, the narrator speaks in the ﬁrst person, then lets characters speak for themselves; in drama, the characters do all the talking." "Although common ever since Aristotle, genre classiﬁcation on the basis of formal differences can be difﬁcult to sustain. What about verse drama? Or narrative poetry (as in ballads)?"
Ways of Reading, cont.Classiﬁcation on the basis of theme or topic "Sometimes subject matter is the basis for genre classiﬁcation. Texts showthematic afﬁnities by treating thesame or similar topics, often topics or subjectmatter thatmay be especially important for the society in which thetexts circulate (e.g. war, love, independence struggles)."
Ways of Reading, cont.Difficulties "The pastoral, for instance, is concerned with country life;crime ﬁction isabout crime; biography relates events in a life, etc.; but in principle it is possible to treat anyof thesetopics following formal conventions of any of the differentkinds listedabove, or in different moods that will createdifferent kinds of effect on the reader or viewer."
Ways of Reading, cont.Classiﬁcation on the basis of mood or anticipated response "What a text is about can overlap with an attitude or emotion conventionally adopted towards that subject matter. Pastoral often implies not just concern with country life, but also a reﬂective or nostalgic mode. Elegies – although ﬁrst deﬁned on the basis of the metre they used – became primarily concerned with lamenting deaths (and often take the form of pastoral elegies, delivered in the personae of shepherds)."
Ways of Reading, cont.Difficulties "A more complex case is that of tragedy. Classical tragedy combinesconventions about the protagonist (the ‘tragic hero’, who has a character witha crucial ﬂaw) and conventions about the nature of the plot (in which the maincharacter typically suffers and dies). At the same time, tragedy is also deﬁned(at least in Aristotle’s account in Poetics) by its characteristic mode of audience response: what Aristotle called catharsis, or a purging or puriﬁcation bymeans of feelings of pity and fear aroused in the audience by the dramaticspectacle."
Ways of Reading, cont.Classiﬁcation on the basis of occasion "Literary forms may now seem specialized kinds of discourse, isolated from therest of society and mainly discussed in literature classes, but for most of its history literature has not been marked off within speciﬁed boundaries in thisway. Rather, its involvement in public life, including in various kinds of socialritual, meant that many different texts had their origins in composition for orperformance on speciﬁc kinds of social occasion."
Ways of Reading, cont. "An epithalamium is apoem written for – and proclaimed at – a public occasion, in celebration of a victorious person (e.g. an athlete or a general). The genre of elegy evolvedduring the seventeenth century into its modern role as a consolatory lamentfor the death of a particular person. Ballads began as poems to be danced to,but evolved into two divergent traditions: continuing folk ballads in the oral tradition, and urban broadside ballads circulated as single sheets or chapbooksthat typically contained popular songs, jests, romantic tales and sensational topical stories."
Ways of Reading, cont.Classiﬁcation on the basis of mode of address "Even when dissociated from speciﬁc social occasions orperformance rituals,texts are still in some cases labelledon the basis of how they address theirreaders oraudience. Some texts involve direct address to a reader or audience(e.g. public speeches, letters); others have a speciﬁcaddressee named in thetext but are written so as to beoverheard (e.g. odes,dialogue in most stage drama).Sometimes within a singleform there is variationbetween modes of address."
Genre Classification A few examples of various modes of address
Henry Fielding: The History of Tom JonesBook X. In Which the History Goes Forward aboutTwelve HoursI. Containing Instructions VeryNecessary toBe Perused by Modern Critics READER, it is impossible we should know what sort of person thou wilt be; for, perhaps, thou may’st be as learnedin human nature as Shakespear himself was, and, perhaps,thou may’st be no wiser than some of his editors. Now, lestthis latter should be the case, we think proper, before wego any farther together, to give thee a few wholesomeadmonitions; that thou may’st not as grossly misunderstandand misrepresent us, as some of the said editors havemisunderstood and misrepresented their author.
Image is a frontispiece etching of Henry Fielding (1707-1754) from a 1920 edition of The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great. Original image is from a drawing by William Hogarth (1697-1764)
William Shakespeare: Julius CaesarAct III Scene 1Rome. Before the Capitol; the Senate sitting above. ANTONYO mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,Shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well.I know not, gentlemen, what you intend,Who else must be let blood, who else is rank:If I myself, there is no hour so fitAs Caesar's death hour, nor no instrumentOf half that worth as those your swords, made richWith the most noble blood of all this world.I do beseech ye, if you bear me hard,Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke,Fulfil your pleasure. Live a thousand years,I shall not find myself so apt to die:No place will please me so, no mean of death,As here by Caesar, and by you cut off,The choice and master spirits of this age.
Robert Browning: My Last Duchess That's my last duchess painted on the wall,Looking as if she were alive. I callThat piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's handsWorked busily a day, and there she stands.Will't please you sit and look at her? I said"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never readStrangers like you that pictured countenance,The depth and passion of its earnest glance,But to myself they turned (since none puts byThe curtain I have drawn for you, but I)And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,How such a glance came there; so, not the firstAre you to turn and ask thus.
Robert Browning (1812-1889)Oil painting by Michele Gordigiani,1858
Recognizing or deciding what genre a text is inWays of Reading "Criteria for distinguishing different genrestend to worktogether rather than independentlyof one another.Deciding what genre a text is intherefore involvesweighing up a number ofinterlocking considerations.This can make it difﬁcult to judge whether a text ﬁts a category simply by ticking off features in a list of required attributes."
Genre as an expression of conventional agreementWays of Reading "An alternative to thinking of genre as a list of essentialproperties is to startinstead with the idea that genres maybe focused in especially inﬂuential textsthat serve asexemplary cases. Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex (c.400 BC) is oftenappealed to as an exemplary tragedy, for example: asort of benchmark, withother texts deﬁned as tragedies tothe extent that they are similar to it. Thisview of genre,where a prototype is taken to exist and where other texts arejudged to be more or less close to the prototype, enables texts to be assignedto genres even when they donot have all the apparently necessary features."
Genre as an expression of conventional agreement, cont.Ways of Reading "It then becomes possible for a text to be a novel even if it has no discernible narrative (as many experimental novels don’t), so long as the text works with or exploits our expectation that it should have." "Even notions of the typical or ‘prototypical’ are not ﬁxed, however. Generic conventions come to us as a historical legacy, shaped and reshaped by the changing production and circulation of texts, as well as by changing attitudes to them."
Functions of genreWays of Reading Genre as a framework for a text’s intelligibility "The main psychological function of genre is to act as a sort of schema, or structured set of assumptions within our tacit knowledge, that we draw on to guidereading, rather like a series of signposts or instructions." Genre as reﬂecting the nature of human experience "Some critics have suggested connections between speciﬁcgenres and fundamental kinds of human experience."
Functions of genre, cont.Ways of Reading Genre as a promotional device "By comparison with the previous two functions, most other functions suggested for genre are concerned more with the social circulation of texts than with cognitive processes involved in interpreting them. Genres allow audiences to predict and plan kinds of experience for themselves. (The problemsolving pleasure of detective ﬁction, for a story to make you cry, etc.)" Genre as a way of controlling markets and audiences "Genres in this view are part of a process of controlling the production of entertainment and directing culture markets, by actively repeating the formula of whatever has already been successful. (The ﬁnancing of Hollywood ﬁlms, with notable exceptions, is often argued to follow this pattern.)"
J. A. Cuddon: Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, 4th ed. (London: Penguin Books, 1999, p 342) Genre is a French term for a kind, a literary type or class. The major Classical genres were: epic, tragedy, lyric, comedy and satire, to which would now be added novel and short story. From the Renaissance and until well on into the 18th century the genres were carefully distinguished and writers were expected to follow the rules prescribed for them.
Chris Baldick: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, pp 104-105) Genre - The French term for a type, species, or class of composition. A literary genre is a recognizable and established categoryof written work employing such common CONVENTIONS as will preventreaders or audiences from mistaking it for another kind. Much of theconfusion surrounding the term arises from the fact that it isusedsimultaneously for the most basic modes of literary art(LYRIC, NARRATIVE, DRAMATIC); for the broadestcategories of composition(poetry, prose fiction),
Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, cont. and formore specialized sub-categories, which are definedaccording to several different criteria including formalstructure(SONNET, PICARESQUE NOVEL), length(NOVELLA, EPIGRAM), intention(SATIRE), effect(COMEDY), origin (FOLKTALE), and subject matter(PASTORAL, SCIENCE FICTION). While somegenres,such as the pastoralELEGY or the MELODRAMA, havenumerous conventions governing subject, style, and form,others—like the NOVEL—have no agreed rules,althoughthey may include several more limited SUBGENRES.
Wikipedia definition of Literary genres A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even (as in the case of fiction) length. Genreshould not be confused with age category, by whichliterature may be classified as either adult, young-adult orchildren's. They also must not be confused with format,such as graphic novel or picture book. The distinctionsbetween genres and categories are flexible and looselydefined, often with subgroups.
Wikipedia, cont. The most general genres in literature are (in loose chronological order) epic, tragedy, comedy, novel, short story, and creative nonfiction. They can all be in the genres prose or poetry, which shows best how loosely genres are defined. Additionally, a genre such as satire, allegory or pastoral might appear in any of the above, not only as a sub-genre, but asa mixture of genres. Finally, they are defined by thegeneral cultural movement of the historical period inwhich they were composed.
Wikipedia, cont. Sub-genres Genres are often divided into sub-genres. Literature, forinstance, is divided into three basic kinds of literature, theclassic genres of Ancient Greece, poetry, drama, andprose. Poetry may then be subdivided into epic, lyric, anddramatic. Subdivisions of drama include foremost comedyand tragedy, while e.g. comedy itself has sub-genres, including farce, comedy of manners, burlesque, satire andso on.
Wikipedia, cont. Dramatic poetry, instance, might include comedy, tragedy, melodrama, and mixtures like tragicomedy. This parsing into sub-genres can continue: "comedy" has its own genres, including, for example, comedy of manners, sentimental comedy, burlesque comedy, and satirical comedy. Creative nonfiction can cross many genres but is typicallyexpressed in essays, memoir, and other forms that may ormay not be narrative but share the characteristics of beingfact-based, artistically rendered prose.
Wikipedia, cont. Often, the criteria used to divide up works into genres arenot consistent, and may change constantly, and be subjectof argument, change and challenge by both authors andcritics. Genres may easily be confused with literary techniques,but, though only loosely defined, they are not the same;examples are parody, frame story, constrained writing,stream of consciousness.
Literary Kinds or Genres Although the term seems highly flexible (if not vague) it is yet to be used for literary analyses. Literay kinds and genres are hierarchical, like a family tree: Kind or Genre Genre Subgenre Subgenre Sub-subgenre
Literary Kinds or Genres Kind Poetry Drama Fiction Genre (e.g.) Elegy Ode Epistle etc. Tragedy Comedy Novel Short story Morality Miracle etc. Romance etc. Sub-genre (e.g.) Funeral / Revenge / Picaresque / Pastoral Domestic Epistolary / Utopia / Detective
Literary Kinds or Genres Here is a list of literary genres as defined by the California Department of Education (http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/rl/ll/litrlgenres.asp) Although kinds/genres are hierarchical, this list differentiates between two main categories (fiction and nonfiction, i.e. works of imagination and factual information) and, for simplicity’s sake, within these categories provides two lists in alphabetical order.
All Fiction DramaStories composed in verse or prose, usually for theatrical performance, where conflicts and emotion are expressed through dialogue and action. Fable Narration demonstrating a useful truth, especially in which animals speak as humans; legendary, supernatural tale. Fairy Tale Story about fairies or other magical creatures, usually for children. Fantasy Fiction with strange or other worldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality.
Fiction, cont. Fiction Narrative literary works whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact. Fiction in Verse Full-length novels with plot, subplot(s), theme(s), major and minor characters, in which the narrative is presented in (usually blank) verse form. Folklore The songs, stories, myths, and proverbs of a people or "folk" as handed down by word of mouth. Historical Fiction Story with fictional characters and events in a historical setting. Horror Fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread in both the characters and the reader.
Fiction, cont. Humour Fiction full of fun, fancy, and excitement, meant to entertain; but can be contained in all genres. Legend Story, sometimes of a national or folk hero, which has a basis in fact but also includes imaginative material. Mystery Fiction dealing with the solution of a crime or the unravelling of secrets. Mythology Legend or traditional narrative, often based in part on historical events, that reveals human behaviour and natural phenomena by its symbolism; often pertaining to the actions of the gods.
Fiction, cont. Poetry Verse and rhythmic writing with imagery that creates emotional responses. Realistic Fiction Story that can actually happen and is true to life. Science Fiction Story based on impact of actual, imagined, or potential science, usually set in the future or on other planets. Short Story Fiction of such brevity that it supports no subplots. Tall Tale Humorous story with blatant exaggerations, swaggering heroes who do the impossible with nonchalance.
All Nonfiction Biography/Autobiography Narrative of a person's life, a true story about a real person. Essay A short literary composition that reflects the author's outlook or point. Narrative Nonfiction Factual information presented in a format which tells a story. Nonfiction Informational text dealing with an actual, real-life subject. Speech Public address or discourse.
California Department of Education Despite its pragmatic reduction, even this division is debatable. To what extent does a biased biography or an apologetic autobiography distorting facts belong to nonfiction?
Classification, categorization For clarifications, definitions of terms, go for Chris Baldick: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001 J. A. Cuddon: Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, 4th ed. London: Penguin Books, 1999 Alex Preminger, ed.: Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, enlarged ed. London: Macmillan, 1975 http://www.britannica.com/