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Literature - Poem Type - Scope Notes

Literature Online Scope Notes - Poem Type

These notes represent the criteria that we have used in assigning poems to poem types. The list of types we have identified includes both fixed verse forms and looser poetic genres and forms. For each poem type, our aim is to identify every poem in Literature Online that belongs to that category; however, as the service contains over 344,000 poems, this is inevitably a long-term project, and we will continue adding new types, and adding more poems to existing types, as part of ongoing regular updates of the service.

A poem in which the first letters of each line spell out a name, an alphabetical sequence or a hidden message.

A text, usually in narrative form, that has a hidden meaning in addition to its apparent meaning. This will generally take the form of personification, in which human characters represent abstract qualities such as vices or virtues; in addition, the story itself, or the places, animals or objects that feature in it, may have a symbolic significance, and fictional characters may be used to represent real, historical or mythical characters.

Alliterative Revival
English poems from the fourteenth century that use alliterative metre, a form inherited from Old English poetry and characterised by the alliteration of stressed syllables within an unrhymed verse line, e.g.:
      In a somer seson whan soft was the sonne, 
      I shope me in shroudes as I a shepe were
      (Langland, Piers the Plowman)

A song or lyric poem in which a speaker (usually male) laments the arrival of the dawn, heralding his imminent separation from his lover. Modern poems on the theme of dawn that consciously draw on the aubade tradition have also been included.

A traditional form of anonymous narrative poetry which, in its most typical form, employs a four-line stanza, with three or four stresses in each line, and (often) a strong element of repetition. The most common metrical form is 'common measure', which has alternate lines of four and three stresses, with an abab or abcb rhyme scheme. We have included in this category the contents of standard collections of anonymous ballads such as Francis James Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-98), Thomas Percy'sReliques (1767) and Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border(1802). In addition, we have included modern authored poems that invoke or adhere closely to ballad forms and conventions.

A hymn, usually of a rejoicing nature, associated with Christmas or Easter.

A poem in which the speaker laments or protests against the cruelty of fate; this includes satirical works, didactic poems and plaintive love poems.

Concrete poem
A genre of poetry that developed in the 1950s, featuring unorthodox typographical layouts in which characters and/or fragments of words are arranged on the page as a form of abstract visual art. Concrete poems are not designed to be read aloud; in fact, they are usually impossible to read out. In some cases the shape in which the characters are arranged will be suggestive of the theme of the poem; however, poems that explicitly take the shape of the object they describe have instead been classified under the heading 'Shape/pattern poem'.

A poem in any genre or form that consists entirely of a dialogue between two characters.

Dramatic monologue
A form of poetry that developed in the Victorian period, in which the entire poem is in the voice of a fictional or historical character who is addressing a silent listener or audience. It is the presence of this implied listener that makes the monologue 'dramatic' and distinguishes it from a soliloquy. In many of the most characteristic examples of the dramatic monologue, such as those by Tennyson and Robert Browning, the persona unwittingly reveals secret deeds they have committed, or hidden aspects of their personality.

A lyric poem that mourns the dead: either the death of a specific figure (such as a friend of the poet or a statesman), or a more general meditation on death and transience, as in Gray's 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard'. Certain earlier English poems (such as those by John Donne) are entitled 'elegies' although they do not fit the above description; often, they instead draw on the significantly different and broader meaning attached to the term 'elegy' in Classical prosody. These poems have not been included.

Epic poem
A long narrative poem, written in a grand style, that recounts the actions of legendary, mythical or divine figures. The narrative is usually one that is central to the traditions and beliefs of its culture. This does not include the Modernist Long Poem, which often draws on epic conventions.

A short, light-hearted witty poem, that makes a point (often a satirical one) in a compressed, pithy manner.

A poem written in the form of an inscription on a gravestone. Epitaphs are generally shorter than elegies, and sum up the salient facts about a character's characteristics or achievements; they may also be witty and satirical rather than mournful, and often use the convention of addressing a passer-by.

A song or poem in celebration of a wedding (originally, to be sung outside the bridal chamber on the wedding night). This is a Classical form, also known as epithalamion or prothalamion, that was revived during the Renaissance.

A poem in praise of a specified person, either living or dead, in the style of a commemorative speech at a funeral or memorial service.

A single-stanza poem in strict syllabic form, consisting of seventeen syllables arranged in three unrhymed lines of five, seven and five syllables. The form is Japanese in origin, and traditionally depicts a natural scene in a particular season; it has been adopted by English poets since the early twentieth century.

Heroic couplets
Poems written throughout in rhyming pairs of iambic pentameter. This form has been in use in English since the early sixteenth century.

A Christian song in praise of God, to be sung in Church. We have not included settings of psalms, nor translations and adaptations of Classical hymns in this category, nor other poems in an elevated style that are entitled 'hymn' (such as Shelley's 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty' or Swinburne's 'Hymn to Proserpine'). (Note: the editorial policy for English Poetry explicitly excluded hymns published after 1800; Literature Online is therefore unlikely to include hymns published after that date, unless they were composed by poets selected for inclusion in our literature collections.)

A self-contained comic poem that generally creates its effect by providing comic rhymes for the names of people and places. The verse form consists of five lines with the rhyme scheme aabba; the b-rhyme lines are shorter than the others (two stresses rather than three), and are sometimes combined into one line, making for a four-line stanza. Classically, the limerick is a single-stanza form, although poems consisting of multiple limericks (such as Wendy Cope's 'Waste Land Limericks') have also been included.

Traditionally, a song to be sung to children to lull them to sleep, which includes repeated refrains and employs simple language; we have also included modern poems that draw on the conventions of the lullaby.

Metaphysical poem
A poem written by one of the 'Metaphysical poets' of seventeenth-century England, in which, in the words of Samuel Johnson, 'The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions'. In other words, the poems are characterised by irony, wit and complexity, and use convoluted or far-fetched images, often drawn from the spheres of science, religion or other areas of learning. We have generally restricted the contents of this category to poems included in influential modern anthologies of metaphysical poetry.

Metrical psalm
A translation or adaptation of one or more psalms in poetic form.

Mock heroic poem
A poem in which there is an ironic disjunction between the grand and solemn style and the trivial or comic subject matter. Mock heroic poems employ epic conventions, often in order to satirise modern characters or events that are of a decidedly un-heroic nature. The mock heroic is a Classical form that flourished in England in the Neoclassical Period.

Modernist long poem
Early- or mid-twentieth-century poems that aim to provide a modern equivalent of the epic; whereas the traditional epic consists of a continuous narrative of central cultural importance, modernist long poems are fragmentary and discontinuous, and tend to combine depictions of modern culture and society with allusions to history and myth and a focus on personal psychology.

Nonsense poem
Light, humorous verse, usually written for children, that employs made-up words and/or impossible, bizarre or illogical situations and ideas.

A lyric poem of a serious and elevated tone, which flourished in English between the seventeenth century and the Romantic period. English odes were originally derived from two Classical models: the Greek Pindaric Ode (poems in irregular stanzas written in praise of public figures, and intended for public performance by a chorus) and the Latin Horatian Ode (after Horace's more private, meditative poems in regular stanzas, characterised by a tranquil mood and urbane tone). Odes are generally divided into stanzas (either regular or irregular); in content, they tend to be either meditations on public events, petitions or prayers addressed to deities or abstractions, or (in the Romantic period), expressions of a crisis in the poet's life or poetic career.

Ottava rima
An verse stanza of Italian origin, consisting of eight lines of iambic pentameter with an abababcc rhyme scheme; it was introduced into English by Thomas Wyatt in the sixteenth century, and was later used for both narrative and lyric poems, largely by Romantic poets, but also in the twentieth century.

Pastoral poem
Poems that draw on the Classical pastoral tradition in which the lives of shepherds and shepherdesses (or other scenes of country life) are depicted as a stylised Golden Age of innocence, leisure and simplicity. The sub-genres of 'idyll' and 'eclogue' are very similar in meaning to 'pastoral', and such poems have also been included in this category.

A poem written in the form of a puzzle which challenges the reader to discover the thing, person or idea to which the poem is indirectly alluding.

Rhyme royal
A stanza form consisting of seven iambic pentameter lines rhyming ababbcc, initiated by Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde and other works, and subsequently used throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Examples after this period are rare.

Three closely related verse forms, all derived from Medieval French forms and subsequently revived by late-nineteenth-century English poets; all three terms refer to short song-like poems with refrains. The three terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and in all cases there are a number of variations on the basic pattern. A rondeau usually consists of 13 lines of eight syllables each, grouped in stanzas of five, three and five lines, plus a refrain, which is part of the first line and re-appears after the second and third stanzas; only two rhymes are used throughout. There are variations in length of line and number of lines, but the refrain and use of two rhymes are constant (an example is Thomas Hardy's 'The Roman Road'). The rondel also usually has 13 lines grouped in three stanzas, but the refrain comes in lines 1-2 and 7-8 (e.g. Austin Dobson, 'The Wanderer'). 'Roundel' is a Medieval synonym for 'rondeau', but was used by Swinburne in his Century of Roundels for his own variant, which has only nine lines (plus refrains) grouped in three stanzas.

A poem of the Neoclassical Period (1660-1785) that criticises and ridicules the follies and moral failings of individuals or social groups, employing rhetorical devices such as irony, hyperbole and understatement as well as more direct forms of invective and insult.

A fixed poetic form of Medieval French origin, consisting of six six-line stanzas, in which the same end-words are repeated in a different order each time, followed by a three-line 'envoi', which employs all six of these words, three of them as end-words. The established pattern of repetition is: 1-ABCDEF, 2-FAEBDC, 3-CFDABE, 4-ECBFAD, 5-DEACFB, 6-BDFECA.

Shape/pattern poem
A poem in which the type is arranged in a regular pattern, or in a shape that represents the subject of the poem (e.g. George Herbert's Easter Wings).

A lyric poem consisting of 14 lines of iambic pentameter. The Petrarchan sonnet takes the form of an 'octave' (rhymed abbaabba) followed by a sestet (rhymed cdecde or cdcdcd), whereas the Shakespearian sonnet has three quatrains and a final couplet: abab cdcd efef gg. There are many variations and combinations of these two patterns, including the Spenserian sonnet (ababbabc cdcdee); in addition, we have also included George Meredith's 16-line sonnets and Gerald Manley Hopkins's shorter 'curtal' sonnets as variant forms.

Spenserian stanza
A verse form consisting of stanzas of nine lines (eight iambic pentameters followed by one alexandrine) with an ababbcbcc rhyme scheme. It was developed by Edmund Spenser and adopted by many poets in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Terza rima
Poems composed entirely in the verse form used by Dante Alighieri for the Divine Comedy, which consists of three-line stanzas with an interlinking rhyme-scheme: aba bcb cdc ded efe and so on.

Topographical poem
A poem that describes a specified place, either rural or urban; the tradition within English poetry begins with John Denham's Cooper's Hill (1642). The description of scenery (which is often a survey of a landscape as seen from a high vantage point) is generally a starting-point for reflections on moral, historical or political themes, or, in the work of Romantic poets, for meditations inspired by personal memory and experience.

A short poem based on a Medieval French fixed form that was revived by late-nineteenth-century English poets. It consists of eight lines that use only two rhymes; the first two lines are repeated at the end, and the first line is also repeated as the fourth line.

Verse epistle
Any poem written in the form of a letter. These may draw on Classical models such as the Horatian epistle (a poem addressed to a friend or patron, written in a familiar, conversational mode, dealing with a moral or literary subject) or the Ovidian epistle (in which the poet adopts the persona of a fictional or legendary heroine addressing her husband or lover), but we have also included other modern poems that take the form of a letter without conforming to either of these generic conventions.

A fixed verse form that originated in sixteenth-century France, and was revived by English poets in the late nineteenth century. It employs only two rhymes, and consists of an odd number of three-line stanzas that rhyme aba, followed by a quatrain rhyming abaa. The first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated alternately as the final lines of the subsequent three-line stanzas; these two lines then come together as the closing couplet of the final quatrain.

Literature - Play Types - Scope Notes

Literature Online Scope Notes - Play Type

Every play in Literature Online has been assigned one or more genre, and the following notes represent the criteria which we have used. In some cases, we have been guided by how the play is described on the title page – e.g. Henry Brooke's Little John And The Giants: A Dramatic Opera (1749) is indexed as 'Dramatic Opera' – but in other cases, we have used terms that have come into use retrospectively, such as 'Ballad opera'. In many cases, we were guided by the usage in the following reference sources:
  • Annals of English Drama 975-1700, 3rd edn, ed. by Alfred Harbage (London: Routledge, 1989)
  • New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, ed. by George Watson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969-72)

In addition to formal genres, we have also used more neutrally descriptive categories such as 'Dramatisation of novel' and 'Civil War'.


Ballad Opera
An English dramatic form which began with John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728), in which dialogue is interspersed with songs sung to existing popular tunes. The plays were generally satirical, often on political themes, and some incorporated parodies of Italian opera and other serious forms. The vogue for ballad opera lasted throughout the 1730s, tailing off considerably after the Stage Licensing Act of 1737, and included works by Henry Fielding, Colley Cibber, John Kelly and Edward Phillips.
Although this is generally understood as a dance genre with no textual element, Literature Online includes two texts of entertainments which advertise themselves as ballets. Both are taken from James C. Cross's 1809 volume Circusiana, a collection of spectacles performed at the Royal Circus:
  • Rinaldo Rinaldini; or, The Secret Avengers. A Grand Ballet of Action, in two parts
  • The Fire King; or, Albert and Rosalie. A Grand Magic Ballet of Action, in two Parts
Black Minstrel Show
An American genre of popular entertainment in which troupes of white actors wearing 'blackface' or 'burnt-cork' make-up performed as stereotyped stock African American characters. The conventional form that emerged in the 1850s included songs, comic dialogues (often between a 'Mr Bones' and a 'Mr Tambo'), parodic speeches, and sketches such as burlesques of Shakespeare plays or melodramas, all performed in a stage version of Southern black dialect.

Literature Online includes many examples of this historically significant genre, including Frank Dumont's The Painter's Apprentice. An Ethiopian farce (1872), Evelyn Greenleaf Sutherland's Po' White Trash: A Study of a Little-Known Phase of American Life (1897), and the entirety of the multi-volume collection Darkey Plays, a Collection of Ethiopian Dramas, Farces, Interludes, Burlesque Operas, Eccentricities, Extravaganzas, Comicalities, Whimsicalities, Etc., Etc., as Played by the Principal "Burnt Cork" Performers All Over the Union, arranged by C. White (1874). It also includes plays written as vehicles for black entertainers which drew on minstrelsy conventions, such as "Jes Lak White Fo'ks" by Will Marion Cook and Paul Laurence Dunbar (1900).
Refers to comedic plays that parody 'high' serious genres, beginning with 17th-century burlesques of the heroic drama such as The Rehearsal (1672) by the Duke of Buckingham, Samuel Butler, Thomas Sprat and Martin Clifford. Well-known examples include Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Critic (1781) and John Poole's Hamlet Travestie (1810), and this category also covers many of the parodic sketches from Black Minstrel Shows (q.v.). 

This is not related to the later usage of 'burlesque' in the US in the early 20th century to refer to a type of variety performance that incorporates erotic dancing alongside sketches and musical numbers.
An Italian term referring to musical comedies, which was applied in the 18th century to farces with songs such as Henry Fielding's The Covent Garden Tragedy (1732) and Isaac Bickerstaff's He Wou'd if He Cou'd (1771). In the early 19th century it was used to refer to productions of plays to which music had been added as a way of bypassing licensing laws, and the term continued to be used throughout the 19th century to refer to light comic plays such as Charles Dickens's Is She His Wife (1877).
Civil War
Plays dealing with the American Civil War, 1860-65, such as Bronson Howard's Shenandoah (1897).
Classical Legend
Term used in Harbage's Annals of English Drama to refer to dramatizations of Greek mythology such as Thomas Heywood's The Golden Age (1611) and George Peele's The Araygnement of Paris (1584).
Used broadly to include both plays in the Classical/Neoclassical traditions of farce, satire, mistaken identity and word play, and modern forms such as romantic comedy, sentimental comedy and comedy of manners. This category therefore stretches from the early English translations of Classical models, like the anonymous Tudor version of Terence's Andria (1520?), to popular modern classics like Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).
Comedy of Manners
Derived from the earlier Comedy of Humours dramas of Jonson and Chapman, this genre thrived in the Restoration period in England. Plays in this genre frequently utilise stock characters and plots based on romantic entanglements to satirise the shortcomings of a particular social class. The witty and daring comedy is often given greater emphasis and importance than the plot. Though Molière is generally regarded as its best practitioner, English and Irish writers, such as Vanbrugh, Congreve and Goldsmith, developed the style and their plays were immensely popular. The style was revived and modernised in more recent years by Wilde and Coward.
Comic Opera
Term derived from the French opéra comique meaning a play (not necessarily comic) containing both spoken dialogue and sung passages. Includes satires of the Italian opera style such as the ballad operas (q.v.) of the 1730s, as well as later musical comedies such as Sheridan's The Duenna (1794) and George Colman the Younger's Inkle and Yarico (1787).
Community Theatre
Refers to plays that are written, produced and performed for and within a specific community. In America, the term is taken to define plays performed by amateur actors in the first half of the Twentieth Century. The genre is used here, however, with the meaning that it has adopted in the British Isles. These plays are frequently performed by professional actors or companies and commonly focus on political, social or historical issues affecting that community. The best known company of this kind was 7.84 (‘7% of the population own 84% of the wealth’) which toured working class areas in Scotland in the 1970s and 1980s when this form of drama was at its height. Certain playwrights, such as John McGrath and Margaretta D’Arcy, wrote almost exclusively for this type of theatre company, touring with them and frequently directing or acting also.
A text written in the form of a discussion or debate between two speakers. Dialogues often have a didactic purpose, as in Charles Stearn's collection of Dramatic Dialogues for the Use of Schools(1798) and Richard Storrs's A Dialogue, Exhibiting Some of the Principles and Practical Consequences of Modern Infidelity (1806).
A term applied to 19th- and 20th-century American melodramas and other plays of middle-class family life such as Elizabeth Lincoln Gould's The "Little Women" Play (1912).
After the 18th-century French term drame, referring to a serious realistic play that mixes elements of comedy and tragedy, this term is used for serious stage plays from the late 18th century onwards that do not conform to generic modes such as tragedy or melodrama.
Dramatic Opera
This category has been used for serious plays with musical passages, as opposed to libretti for sung-through operas. Many of these are described as 'operas' or 'dramatic operas' on the title page, e.g. John Dryden's King Arthur: or, The British Worthy. A Dramatick Opera (1691).
Dramatic Poem
Verse works written in dramatic form but not necessarily intended for performance. Includes a number of 'closet dramas' (plays intended for private reading or recital) by Romantic poets such as Byron's Manfred (1817) and Percy Bysshe Shelley's Rosalind and Helen (1819). Note that other dramatic poems can be found by searching in Poetry rather than Drama, e.g. Milton's Samson Agonistes or Keats's Otho the Great.
Dramatisation of novel
Used for any play adapted from a novel, whether adapted by the author (as in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy, 1888) or by a third party (as in Clyde Fitch’s 1906 version of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth). Included in this genre are plays which have been based upon short stories.
Short plays of a light or celebratory nature, often written for a specific civic occasion, such as Ben Jonson's Entertainment of King Iames and Queene Anne at Theobalds (1607) or Thomas Dekker's Brittannia's Honor (1628), which was performed at the inauguration of the Lord Mayor of London.
Experimental Theatre
This is a rather loose term, often interchangeable with ‘Avant-Garde theatre’, that has been widely used since the middle of the twentieth century to account for plays that use non-traditional methods of staging or performance which overthrow audiences’ expectations of drama and theatre. The genre is opposed to naturalism on stage. Plays in this category can incorporate dance or audio-visual elements into their production and commonly involve little or no characterisation or plot. Notable playwrights working in this genre include Megan Terry, Richard Foreman and Luis Valdez. The term has shifted over time as many once radical elements of experimental theatre have been adopted and incorporated into more mainstream theatre productions.
Precursors of the modern pantomime (q.v.), these were lavish costumed shows featuring songs, dance and comic dialogue that were very popular on the mid-19th-century English stage. Many drew on fairy tales or nursery rhymes, such as Puss in Boots(1879) by J. R. Planché, one of the leading exponents of the genre.
This term has been applied to 20th-century plays that feature magical or supernatural elements, or combine imagined worlds with real settings, from J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1904) to Kurt Vonnegut Jr's Between Time and Timbuktu or Prometheus-5: A Space Fantasy (1972).
A comic genre with its origins both in Ancient Greek satyr plays and medieval French comedy, the modern tradition of farce as a bawdy comedy with rudimentary characterisation, stock figures, ingeniously contrived plots and elaborate sets and props comes from the 17th-century vaudeville performers of the popular French stage. Early English-language plays that reflect this influence include the Duchess of Newcastle's The Unnatural Tragedie (1662), Vanbrugh's The Country-House (1698), Garrick's Miss in Her Teens (1747) and Sheridan's St Patrick's Day (1788), and the tradition carries through to Broadway hits such as George M. Cohan's Seven Keys to Baldpate (1913) and Winchell Smith and Byron Ongley's Brewster's Millions (1906). 

Since your Literature Online subscription includes Twentieth-Century Drama, this category also covers plays that show the influence of Labiche and Feydeau's 'French farces', with their emphasis on bourgeois sexual intrigues, such as Arthur Wing Pinero's The Magistrate (1885) and Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit (1941).
Folk Drama
This category is used for anonymous traditional plays that are rooted in folk rituals, often with links to specific festivals, such as the anonymous medieval text A Play of Robin Hood for May-Games. 

Since your Literature Online subscription includes Twentieth-Century Drama, this category also covers modern plays that consciously draw on national or regional folk traditions, such as the Irish folk plays of W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, and postcolonial adaptations of folk materials by Ama Ata Aidoo, Hanay Geiogamah and others.
Plays set on the frontier of the American West, such as Walter Woods's Billy the Kid (1906).
This includes both 'chronicle plays' such as Shakespeare's Henry Vwhose material is drawn from written histories such as Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles, and modern plays which present historical events or deal thematically with the process of historical change. Examples include John Ford's Perkin Warbeck (1634), George Cockings's The Conquest of Canada (1766) and George Washington Parke Custis's Pocahontas (1830). 

Since your Literature Online subscription includes Twentieth-Century Drama, this category also covers modern history plays such as Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts (1904-08), George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra (1898), Noël Coward's Cavalcade (1931), John Osborne's Luther (1961) and the plays of Paul Green and Maxwell Anderson.
Interludes and Preludes
Short plays staged as part of a longer programme of entertainment. This includes: plays to be performed in the intervals of Tudor banquets, or at Court or other formal settings, such as John Rastell's Of gentylnes and nobylyte (c.1527); satirical 18th-century sketches performed at professional theatres, such as Isaac Bickerstaff's The Recruiting Serjeant (1770); and 19th-century sketches from the popular American stage (including minstrel shows).
International Adaptation
This refers to plays that have been adapted from or heavily based upon a previous play by a different writer from another country. Frequently, this involves translation - either of language or of setting. For instance, Augustin Daly, a prolific adapter, modernised and adapted the plays of, amongst others, Sheridan and Cibber to satisfy American, rather than British, tastes. Other plays in this genre include adaptations of Ibsen, Chekhov, Molière and Shakespeare.
This refers to the spectacular formal entertainments performed at the courts of James I and Charles I, or written for other formal society occasions, by authors such as Thomas Campion, Aurelian Townshend and Ben Jonson, and also to later revivals of the form such as the anonymous Americana (1802) and Oscar Wilde's For Love of the King: A Burmese masque (published 1922). Masques (also known as 'masks') are characterised by allegorical plots and characters, lavish costumes and scenery, and the incorporation of dance and song elements, and parts were often performed by members of the court in masked disguise.
A genre which emerged in the popular theatre of early 19th-century London, where elements of Gothic fiction were incorporated into drama, melodrama is characterised by exaggerated emotional content, simplified good and evil characterisation, and implausible plots of peril and suspense. Adapted from a French model, Thomas Holcroft's A Tale of Mystery (1802) was the first English play to be described as a melodrama, and later examples such as Dion Boucicault's The Colleen Bawn (1860) and Augustin Daly's Under the Gaslight(1867) followed the pattern of scheming villains, virtuous maids and sensational escapes (the latter featuring a romantic lead tied to the railroad tracks). 

Originally signifying a play in which the dialogue was accompanied by background music, the term 'melodrama' was later used for plays that had a similarly exaggerated emotional content but not necessarily the same sensational and criminal plot elements as the above examples.
Any short play written for a solo speaking part, such as Henry James's Monologue Written for Ruth Draper (1913) or Pauline Phelps's A Telephone Romance: Humorous Monologue for a Lady (1905). Note that 'dramatic monologues' by poets such as Robert Browning and Carol Ann Duffy can be found by searching in Poetry.
Allegorical Christian dramas, mostly written in the 15th and early 16th centuries, featuring contests over the soul of man between personified vices and virtues; examples include The castell of perseverance (anonymous, first performed 1405-25), and John Skelton's Magnyfycence (first performed 1515-26). Also covers later adaptations of the genre, such as Winnie Rover's Wealth and Wisdom (1877).
Covers late 19th- and early 20th-century plays in which the action is interspersed with song numbers. In distinction to operas and operettas, these precursors of the 20th-century Broadway musical form are based around popular songs rather than arias and choruses. Their settings lack the fairy-tale elements of extravaganzas and pantomimes, and have a fully-developed plot, as opposed to musical sketches and numbers from minstrel shows and other reviews. Examples include both musical comedies such as In Dahomey (1902) by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Jesse Shipp and more serious works such as Pauline E. Hopkins's Peculiar Sam; or, The Underground Railroad (1879). 

Since your Literature Online subscription includes Twentieth-Century Drama, this category also includes notable 20th-century examples of the genre, from Broadway and West End successes such as Knickerbocker Holiday (1938) by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill or Noël Coward's Bitter-Sweet (1929) to works of alternative theatre such as Megan Terry's protest rock musical Viet Rock (1967).
Musical Farce
A term adopted by authors of 18th- and 19th-century farcical comedies in which the dialogue is interspersed with songs, such as Jonathan Postfree, or The Honest Yankee. A Musical Farce, In Three Acts (1807) by 'Lazarus Beach'.
Mystery and Miracle plays
Vernacular English medieval plays based on Biblical or apocryphal stories. 'Miracle play' was the medieval term for plays on religious themes, especially dealing with miracles attributed to saints after their death, whilst 'mystery play' is the modern term used specifically for the anonymous English cycles (series) which were performed as civic pageants in their towns of origin, e.g. the York and Chester cycles.
This category has been used for 20th-century plays that draw on national mythological narratives, generally from a postcolonial viewpoint, such as the Irish plays of W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, or Girish Karnad's The Fire and the Rain (1994), which is based on an episode from the Mahabharata.
Technically referring to a theatre located outside of New York’s Broadway theatre district which accommodates audiences of between 100 and 499 people, this category more broadly refers to the drama of the 1950s and 1960s which developed as an alternative to the commercialism of Broadway theatre. Plays produced in off-Broadway theatres, such as the Circle-In-The-Square theatre in Greenwich Village, were often more experimental or daring than those produced on Broadway. By the late 1960s much of the most exciting theatre in New York was presented off-Broadway and some playwrights voiced a preference for having their plays staged there. Inevitably, by the 1970s its commercial potential was apparent and many of the plays that were originally staged there moved to Broadway. Truly experimental drama thus relocated to off-off-Broadway (q.v.).
Off-Off Broadway
Technically referring to any New York theatre of less than 100 seats, this category evolved in the 1950s out of the perception that off-Broadway (q.v.) productions were becoming more commercial. Plays in this genre regularly incorporate experimental techniques, such as the use of audio-visual elements or non-traditional staging or casting, into performances. The experimental movement (q.v.) inspired many playwrights, including Leonard Melfi and Richard Foreman, who benefited from a regular opportunity to stage their plays. Once the anarchic experimentation of the 1960s and 1970s passed, the influence of off-off-Broadway productions began to be felt on Broadway itself. As off-Broadway had done before it, its original vitality waned and it is now commonly used as a training-ground for Broadway.
Refers to short plays from the 19th century onwards which are not divided into acts. It does not include short plays from earlier periods, such as masques and mystery plays.
This category includes libretto texts, such as Nahum Tate's Dido and Aeneas (music by Henry Purcell, 1689?), which conform to the European model of opera that emerged at the end of the sixteenth century, in which all of the text is sung (in the form of arias, choruses and recitative), and the music has a greater dramatic, expressive and aesthetic importance than the text. It also covers other music dramas that are advertised as operas, but include spoken dialogue and depart from the conventions of opera in other ways, such as Samuel Woodworth's The Forest Rose: Or American Farmers. A Pastoral Opera (1825).
Also known as 'light opera', this refers to musical plays (whether completely sung-through or not) which tend towards sentimentality or frivolity of tone in comparison with the main tradition of operatic drama.
Outdoor Drama
Refers to 20th-century plays intended for performance in an open-air space, often a specific site which relates to the theme or setting of the play. This includes Paul Green's 'Symphonic Dramas' (q.v.) and other plays such as Tony Harrison's The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus (1988), written to be performed at the Ancient Stadium of Delphi.
An English theatrical tradition whose origins lie in early 18th-century imitations of the European Commedia dell'arte. Originally these comic plays included a combination of figures from Classical mythology and the stock characters of the commedia (such as Scaramouch and Harlequin), but the Classical element was later replaced by figures from fairy tales. While early examples included grotesque and bawdy humour (such as Theophilus Cibber's The Harlot's Progress, 1733), in the Victorian period it became primarily a children's Christmas entertainment, characterised by familiar fairy-tale or folk plots (such as Cinderella or Robin Hood), punning, cross-dressing, song and spectacular dance and staging. The genre enjoyed a brief popularity in the United States, an example being George L. Fox's Humpty Dumpty (1868).
Drama inspired by the poetic tradition of pastoral, characterised by peaceful rustic settings and courtship. Early examples include Lyly's Loves Metamorphosis (c.1589), John Fletcher's The Faithful Shepherdess (1608), Ben Jonson's unfinished The Sad Shepherd (published 1640) and Sir Richard Fanshawe's translation of an important Italian model, Guarini Battista's Il Pastor Fido (1647). Modern revivals of the genre, such as John Todhunter's A Sicilian idyll (1890), are also included.
Pulitzer Prize Winning
The Pulitzer Prize, established by the publisher Joseph Pulitzer, is awarded annually to plays which ‘best represent the educational value and power of the stage in raising the standards of good morals and good manners.’ This category represents a selection of plays, from 1917 onwards (when the Prize was instituted), which have won the Prize such as Eugene O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon (1920), Robert E. Sherwood’s There Shall Be No Night (1941) and Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles (1989).
Radio play
Includes any play originally written for radio performance.
Originally a mode of prose fiction, realism was adopted in the theatre by writers such as Henrik Ibsen in the 1870s, and had few exponents in the English language before the early 20th century. Later becoming the dominant style of modern drama, realism involved the rejection of previous theatrical conventions by adopting non-idealised everyday modern settings, close attention to physical details, prosaic dialogue, unexceptional middle- or lower-class characters, and modern social problems and psychological motivations.
Revolutionary War play
Plays dealing with the American Revolutionary War, or War of Independence, 1775-83, such as Clyde Fitch's Nathan Hale (1898).
This category refers to plays from the mid-19th century onwards, which, in contrast to realistic drama, deal with improbable or fanciful subject matter, as in Charles Burke's Rip Van Winkle; A Legend of the Catskills. A Romantic Drama (1850), or have plots that focus on the sentimental but lack the heightened excess of melodrama.
Although satire has a long tradition in English drama, this category has only been applied to American plays: it covers comic plays which use ridicule and parody to attack the vices or hypocrisies of society. 

Since your Literature Online subscription includes Twentieth-Century Drama, this category also includes 20th-century satirical works, such as Bernard Shaw's John Bull's Other Island (1904).
Scripts written for film performance. Although Twentieth-Century Drama is primarily a collection of play texts, it includes a number of screenplays written by playwrights, as a supplement to their dramatic work: an example is John Osborne's script for Tom Jones(1963).
This refers to short comic plays written from the early 19th century onwards, often to be performed as part of a longer review or other programme of entertainments.
Social Comedy
Refers to comic plays from the late-19th and 20th centuries which satirise contemporary social mores, an example being Langdon Elwyn Mitchell's The New York Idea (1906).
Social Problem play
Beginning with the late Victorian realist dramas of Arthur Wing Pinero and Henry Arthur Jones, this refers to plays that deal with current, often controversial, issues relating to social mores, such as the sexual double standard explored in Pinero's The Second Mrs Tanqueray (1893).
Refers to extravagant 19th-century stage performances with elaborate stage effects, often involving the reconstruction of historical events, such as in Richard Cumberland's Lord Viscount Nelson (1805) or L. H. Medina's The Last Days of Pompeii (1856).
Spectacles and Minstrelsies to 1485
This is the term used in the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature to refer to a number of early dramatic works and speeches, including the 'Mummings' of John Lydgate. Often written for specific civic or court occasions, they can be considered forerunners of 17th-century masques and entertainments.
Symphonic Drama
A term coined by the American playwright Paul Green (1894-1981) to refer to his pageant-like celebrations of episodes from US history such as The Lost Colony (1937). These were spectacular performances, incorporating music, dance, mime and poetic oratory, written for performance in locations appropriate to the play's setting, with large casts and the involvement of local civic associations and amateur performers.
Television play
Plays written for performance on television.
American plays and dialogues from the late 19th century which promoted the aims of the temperance movement, such as Thomas Ritchie's Moderation; Or I Can Take It or Leave It Alone(1869) and James Joseph McCloskey's The Fatal Glass (1872).
Covers the full breadth of English-language plays that have been associated with the term 'tragedy', beginning with Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville's Gorboduc (1562) and early translations from the Classics such as Lady Lumley's version of Euripides's Iphigenia at Aulis (published 1555?), covering Shakespearean and Neoclassical stage tragedies, Romantic verse dramas, and later plays which invoke the tragic tradition through their exploration of suffering, catastrophe, moral flaws or doomed protagonists.
This category includes plays from the early 17th century onwards that depart from Classical conventions by combining comic and tragic elements (for example, mixing noble and 'low' characters, or ending with an unexpected happy resolution to the plot), beginning with translations of Battista Guarini's pastoral play Il Pastor Fido, and including Beaumont and Fletcher's Philaster(1609?) and Shakespeare's late 'romances' such as The Winter's Tale (1611). 

Since your Literature Online subscription includes Twentieth-Century Drama, this category also covers modern works which combine the comic and tragic without reference to Classical generic conventions, either through the use of a dark irony within a realistic setting, or by introducing elements of the grotesque and absurd. Prominent examples include Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan (1923) and Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock (1924).
Refers to shorter plays from the late 19th century onwards that are divided into two acts rather than the four or five acts of traditional full-length drama.
University plays
A term adopted in the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature to refer to 16th- and early 17th-century plays performed at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, or at the London Inns of Court, such as Thomas Randolph's The Muses Looking Glasse (1630) and Francis Beaumont's The masqve of the Inner Temple and Grayes Inne (1613).
Verse Drama
Any play written primarily in verse form.