GRE Literature in English Subject Test

alexandrine
a line of iambic hexameter. The final line of a Spenserian stanza is an alexandrine.

alliteration
the use of a repeated consonant or sound, usually at the beginning of a series of words

allusion
a reference to someone or something, usually literary

antagonist
the main character opposing the protagonist. Iago, from Othello, is the quintessence of an antagonist

anthropomorphism
the assigning of human attributes, such as emotions or physical characteristics, to nonhumans (usually plants and animals). It’s different from personification in that it is an ongoing pattern applied to a nonhuman character throughout a work. EX: C.S. Lewis’s Aslan; all characters in Animal Farm; Zeus, because he’s superhuman

apostrophe
a speech addressed to someone not present, or to an abstraction. John Donne, in poem “The Sun Rising,” addressing the sun: “busy old fool, unruly sun,”

bildungsroman
german term meaning a “novel of education.” typically follows a young person over a period of years, from naïveté to the harsher realities of the adult world. EX: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce; The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger

caesura
the pause that breaks a line of Old English verse. Also, any particularly deep pause in a line of verse

decorum
relation of style to content in the speech of dramatic characters. Neoclassical principle of drama. EX: Character’s speech should be appropriate to his or her social station; Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest

doggerel
a derogatory term used to describe poorly written poetry of little or no literary value. EX: Shakespeare purposefully employed this in dialogue between the Dromio twins in The Comedy of Errors for comedic effect.

epithalamium
a work, especially a poem, written to celebrate a wedding. EX: Edmund Spenser’s “”

euphuism
a word derived from Lyly’s Ephues to characterize writing that is self-consciously laden with elaborate figures of speech. Popular in 16th century. EX: character of Polonius in Hamlet likes these: “To thine own self be true” / “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” / “brevity is the soul of wit”

feminine rhyme
lines rhymed by their final two syllables. Properly, to make it not just a double rhyme, the penultimate syllables are stressed and the final syllables unstressed. EX: running/gunning; fashion/passion; Sonnet 20 Shakespeare