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Literary names and terms: literary forms.



narrator speaks:









short story


poet speaks:









characters speak:

mystery plays

morality plays





comedies of manners

heroic plays

dramatic monologues

Each literary genre and subgenre falls into one of three major categories: narrative, lyric, and dramatic. In each case the major generic form is determined by the person or persons speaking the words that make up the literary work.


Narratives are written in both poetry and prose. In a narrative, the person speaking describes the thoughts and actions of other characters.

Narrative Speaker

Narrators can comment on the characters and their behavior or on the events surrounding them. The narrator stands between the characters in the story and the reader, interpreting and revealing as he or she sees fit but not participating in or affecting the events being narrated.

Narrative Strategy

The narrator thus controls what the reader knows, when the reader knows it, and to some extent how the reader feels about it. The narrator's personality influences the reader's perception of story events. If the narrator seems to be distorting the story, the reader may conclude that the narrator is not always to be trusted to give the most appropriate emphasis or the correct interpretation of events. If this occurs, the narrator is said to be "unreliable." He or she thus takes on some of the qualities of a character but still occupies the position of narrator in relationship to the other characters and to the reader.


Although prose may contain lyrical-sounding passages, almost all lyrics are in verse.

Lyric Speaker

In a lyric, the person speaking seems to be the poet. The lyrical speaker tells of his or her own actions, thoughts, and feelings in such a way as to seem to be talking to him- or herself, to some unknown other person who may be present or absent or directly to the reader. In a formal lyric such as an ode, the speaker may be addressing the public in general or some large segment of it. Whatever the audience, the speaker is primarily creating a feeling. He or she may relate brief stories or bites of conversation (dialogue), but the speaker's own feelings are the focus of the poem.

As the speaker of a lyric, the poet may project a version of self that does not exactly represent his or her whole self or perhaps reflects that self only as it was a given moment in the past. To the extent that the poet creates a somewhat separate personality for the speaker, the poem moves away from being a lyric and becomes more like a dramatic monologue.

Lyric Strategy

Because it presents a feeling, the lyric is ordinarily written in the present tense. The essence of a lyric poem is "I feel"--that is, first person, present tense. The lyric poet creates images and metaphors that suggest the feelings rather than stating flatly what they are.


In dramatic literature, the only speakers are the characters. One or more of the characters may represent the attitudes or values of the playwright, but the playwright does not appear on stage.

Dramatic Speaker

Each speaker or character in a drama sees the situation from his or her own point of view and engages in dialogue with the other characters, each character expressing his or her own thoughts and feelings.

Dramatic Strategy

The reader of the play or its audience must comprehend and evaluate each character's statements and actions as a part of the whole work and then come to an understanding of the meaning of the play. The conflict of values acted out by the characters needs to be resolved by the end of the play, or else the audience feels puzzled and unsatisfied. Usually, the playwright guides the audience by showing that the characters who represent the "right way" are those who succeed in the end, but this is not always so. In a tragedy, the hero may be destroyed even though his values are the most praiseworthy.
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Author:McCoy, Kathleen; Harlan, Judith A.V.
Publication:English Literature to 1785
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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