Roman Calendar

Random Greco-Roman Image

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Literary Genres

Listening to oratory these last couple weeks (the greatest speech and most historical had to be Sarah Palin's convention speech, I continued my notes on literary genres.

By Richard K. Munro, MA

“The history of literature is best pursued in terms of the emergence, development, and transformation of genres or literary “kinds.” A literary genre is quite simply a way of categorizing a literary composition. Genre means “type” or ‘class.” In literature or music is a category of artistic composition. In music we could speak of Beethoven’s symphonies or string quartets. We could speak of Bach’s cantatas, concertos or solo keyboard music. In painting there are also genres for different historical periods such as impressionist or romantic. But we are concerned here with literary genres and devices only. A literary genre is quite simply a way of categorizing a literary composition. Literary genres are models of structure and theme that offer the author an outline or guide for the creation of his or her literary work. The boundaries of genres are ambiguous, however and overlap to some degree
Literary genres can be determined by content, literary technique, tone or length. For example in NON-FICTION one could have a short letter, a newspaper column (800 words) , a longer article or essay in a magazine (2000 to 4000 words) or a complete book on a particular subject (at least 100 or 200 pages). NON-FICTION includes history, biography, oratory, In FICTION one begins with short fables or folk tales –perhaps one paragraph or a few pages, to short stories, to dramas (one act, two act three act or more), to novellas (short novels, to novels (usually 200 pages or more sometimes in several parts. So one common division of the genres is into FICTION and NON-FICTION.


Autobiography--The story of a person's life, written by him or herself; often in the form of diaries, journals, or letters.

Biography--As Dryden defined it in 1683, "the history of particular men's lives"; the story of a person's life according to another person who writes it.

Drama--Aristotle termed it "imitated human action"; once wrongly thought to have evolved from the Greeks' religious ceremonials, it can simply be thought of as a story creatively constructed and acted out on a stage.

Essay--A moderately brief prose piece of writing that focuses upon a particular topic; the examination by the author of a specific subject, usually in an opinionated manner.

Novel--Any extended fictional prose narrative; generally this type of writing has several characters and a distinct plot.

Poem--A piece of writing characterized by its compact, powerful, concrete language; it usually presents truth, emotion, or beauty through rhythmic and orderly arrangement.

Short story--A relatively brief fictional narrative written in prose form; generally it ranges in length from 500 words all the way up to 20,000 words (a long short story).

We can divide writing into POETRY and PROSE; the earliest poems were oral hymns, ballads and praise poems; the earliest prose was GNOMIC WISDOM (proverbs; aphorisms). The Bible has all the genres. It has poetry, semi-fictional allegories, history (most of the kings and rulers in the Bible are historic), plus works of revelation. It is not for me to say that these are entirely fictitious or entirely true!

for praise ,satire, entertainment or delight
for praise ,satire, entertainment or delight
(Poetry) Lyrical, Epic, Dramatic
Limericks are short humorous ridiculous poems. Songs and ballads are a form of poetry.

Myths/ and Legends , folk tales (originally oral)
Dramas (Plays) : all dramas were originally POETRY; some still are
Movie scripts are derived from this ancient Greek genre; sub genres include
Novels: many subgenres
Mysteries, historical novels, science fiction, romance, realistic, satiric, humorous
Short stories: many subgenres which of course would include funny stories and jokes. The best novels and dramas often have comic relief or comic elements.
Oratory can be fictional or use
Quotations from poetry or the Bible.
Some novels are psychological
Satiric dictionaries exist

NON-FICTION (didactic; to teach to disseminate knowledge)

HISTORY/ inscriptions were an early form of ‘official history” or propaganda
Text books for didactic purposes, SCIENCE , MATHEMATICS, MEDICINE LAW
Oratory / Sermons
Aristotle identified three types of civic rhetoric (see below)

The Greeks began literary criticism and many literary terms are Greek, some are Latin, a few more are French and, occasionally English such as the term FLASHBACK. Traditionally, the classical Romans and Greeks divided literary genres into three (or four categories)

 Lyrical (Aristotle) poetry
 Epic (Aristotle) poetry
 Dramatic (Aristotle) originally poetry
 Didactic (Greco-Roman humanist Renaissance term)

E|xtended commentary on the genres.

The main purpose is praise of character or beauty, delight or entertainment. The earliest literature is oral and was composed of songs, poetry myths and fables most of which were written in rhythmical and metrical form so as to be better remembered. Aesop’s fables are a famous example
POETRY is the emotional and evocative interpretations of life, love, and nature through beautiful language (usually metrical, symbolic and figurative.

Lyrical poetry is one of the most ancient forms or oral or written literature. It is short and polished often with a strict metrical form and a rhyme scheme. A song is a form of lyrical poetry. Some famous lyrical poets are Pindar, Sappho, Horace, Coleridge, Jorge Manrique, anonymous Romances of France and Spain, Bécquer, Quevedo, García Lorca, Donne, Shakespeare (sonnets), Pope, Robert Frost, T.S. Elliot, Keats, Shelly Wordsworth, Burns, Schiller, Goethe, Tennyson, Byron, Kipling, Yeats. Whitman
Epic poetry ( also called Epic Poems) is the fountainhead of Western Literature the story of a hero struggling against challenges and the human condition. Epics are long narrative poems. The most famous and most highly regarded epics are:
The Iliad (Homer)
The Odyssey (Homer)
The Aeneid (Vergil)
Other great national epics are Dante’s Divne Comedy
Beowulf (Anonymous) and
Poem of the Cid (Anonymous)
Martin Fierro (Hernandez)
John Brown’s Body (Benet)
Drama was originally in poetry though today most modern dramas are prose. Usually performed on the stage with actors who perform the dialogue and action.
Drama originated with the Greeks, Sophocles, Aeschylus , Euripides, Aristophanes are still ranked among the greatest. . Shakespeare, Calderon de La Barca, Moliere, Racine, Shaw, Tirso de Molina, Schiller, García Lorca are some of the really great playrights of Western literature. Drama is divided into TRAGEDY and COMEDY
Short Stories (FICTION)A relatively brief fictional narrative written in prose form; generally it ranges in length from 500 words all the way up to 20,000 words. Hemingway, Borges, Joyce, Alarcón. Poe, Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, Saki, Stephen Crane, Stephen Vincent Benet are really outstanding examples of the art of the concise fictional story.
Novel—(FICTION( Any extended fictional prose narrative; generally this type of writing has several characters and a distinct plot. A short novel is called a novella.
Most famous novels: Cervante’s Don Quixote Dicken’s David Copperfield and Tale of Two Cities Tolstoy, War and Peace , Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe Joseph Conrad , NOSTROMO, Lord Jim Flaubert (Madam Bovary)
Novels have many sub-genres:
Historical fiction, Romance novels (Walter Scott)
Adventures, thrillers and mystery novels (Ken Follett)
Fantasy and science fiction Ray Bradbury, Stephen Vicent Benet, H. G. Wells
Spy novels and political novels Ian Fleming
Political satire. Jonathan Swift, George Orwell

Oratory(Rhetoric) the art of public speaking. The purpose of oratory is to effect the mind of the listener, please, praise, arouse, convince, persuade or inform an audience. Orators will sometimes quote from other genres such as poetry. Famous orators or public speakers: Cicero, Jesus of Nazareth, Pitt, Burke, . Lincoln, Churchill, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy. Barrack Obama is an excellent orator.
A sermon or homily is a form of oratory.
Aristotle also identifies three different types or genres of civic rhetoric:
1) forensic (also known as judicial, was concerned with determining truth or falsity of events that took place in the past, issues of guilt),
2) deliberative (also known as political, was concerned with determining whether or not particular actions should or should not be taken in the future),
3) epideictic (also known as ceremonial, was concerned with praise and blame, values, right and wrong, demonstrating beauty and skill in the present)

NON-FICTION includes history, biography, essays, journalism, text books.

All genres will have some literary devices in common but the genres should be studied and analyzed separately.

No comments: