Mostly Common Literary Device

Literary Device and Definitions

This lesson studies some of the more common literary devices found in the literature. Devices studied include allusion, diction, epigraph, euphemism, foreshadowing, imagery, metaphor/simile, personification, point-of-view, and structure.

List of Literary Device and Definitions.


When an author sits to write a story, she doesn’t simply write what happened. Instead, she uses what are called literary devices which are narrative techniques that add texture, energy, and excitement to the narrative, grip the reader’s imagination, and convey information.


Poetry has much in common with music. When we read a poem aloud, it is nearly always possible to notice that sounds used follow a definite pattern and are meant to appeal to the ear. The rhythm of a poem must always help to convey the poet’s intention and gives us the indication of his mood’ for example we notice in “The Ancient Mariner” how the rhythm of the lines  “The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew/The furrow followed free.” Matches the speed of the ship. When the ship stops, the rhythm changes and pace of the poem becomes much slower.


In general, a work was written to be performed by actors on a stage. Most dramatic works can be classified as tragedy or comedy.

Drama originated in ancient Greece, developing from religious ceremonies. The great classical writers of tragedy were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides (in Greece) and the Roman philosopher, Seneca. Well known comic writers of antiquity included the Greek, Aristophanes, and the Romans, Plautus and Menander.

Medieval drama developed from religious rituals commemorating the birth and resurrection of Christ. As it evolved, it took the form of mystery, miracle and morality plays.

In England during the Renaissance, a revived interest in classical drama united with the traditions developed from medieval techniques to produce the vigorous and varied Elizabethan drama.

The English theaters were closed in 1642 by the Puritans. However, during the Restoration, the drama was revived under the auspices of the court. In the eighteenth century, neoclassical lays and the comedy of manners flourished.

Melodrama and spectacle predominated in most nineteenth-century drama until the end of the century, when shorter plays stressing ideas, problems or situations began to appear.

This trend toward a more faithful and accurate representation of life continued into the twentieth century. Further developments included expressionism and the introduction of the theater of the absurd.


Tragedy as a dramatic form refers to a serious playing which the hero becomes engaged in a conflict, experiences great suffering and is finally defeated and dies.

The classical conception of tragedy, as defined by Aristotle in his “Poetics’ involves a hero of noble stature whose fortunes are reversed as a result of a weakness (“hamartia’) in an otherwise noble nature. The Middle Ages, lacking knowledge or classical theory, conceived tragedy merely a tale of an eminent person passing from happiness to misery. He is shown as a victim of fate. In England, tragedy began in Elizabethan times. The chief influences, in so far as dramatic tradition and theory were concerned, were classical: the ‘Poetics” of Aristotle and the tragedies of Roman Philosopher, Seneca. The Senecan tragedy was written to be recited rather than acted. In the latter part of the sixteenth century, however, playwrights paid less attention to classical restriction, producing dramas that varied widely in form and structure. These plays culminated in Shakespeare’s tragedies. “King Lear”, “Hamlet”, “Macbeth”, are usually regarded as the highest achievements of the English stage.


Rhyme is a figure of speech belonging to sound devices in English literature. It occurs at the line endings in poetry and consists of words, which have the same sound’ the letter preceding the vowels must be unlike in sound’ for instance, ‘night’ and ‘sight’ are true rhymes, but ‘night’ and ‘Knight’ or ‘right’ and ‘rite’ are not. If rhymes are used too much, the poem becomes monotonous.

The blank verse uses the rhyme in a balanced manner. There is no excessive use of rhymed verse as we find in heroic couplets.

Improve Your Grammar with Tense. Present Tense

Dramatic Irony

Irony basically is the contrast between appearance and reality. It is a device generally used by dramatist to provide universality to his drama. It is a contrast between two aspects of the same situation or remark. It may be found in a situation or dialogue where some of the characters are ignorant of certain facts, which are known to the other characters and to the audience. The dramatic character says one thing and means the opposite of it. The character utters words but himself does not know the deep meaning of this utterance. Other characters and the audience know the meaning and understand the significance of these words.

Shakespeare has used this device more frequently and abundantly in ‘Macbeth’. The very first words uttered by Macbeth are Ironical. “So foul and fair a day have not seen” because they startle the readers by recalling words of the witches in the opening scene: “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” When King Duncan comes to the castle of Macbeth, he admires the atmosphere. Thus, he is ignorant of the fact. The audience knows that he is going to be murdered by Macbeth in the same castle. So, the description of Macbeth’s castle is highly ironical: “This castle hath a pleasant seat.”

This is very important blog-related Literary Terms. Practice all the terms of English Literature.

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