What is literature? – Definition and main forms

What is literature? – Definition and main forms

When literature is mentioned, one thinks of poetry, narratives, stories and every other written work under the sun. Artists and creatives have over the years produced works of prose that have been used to pass a message or teach a lesson. So, what is literature? This article has comprehensively defined literature and also given out the various forms. Read on to know more.

What is literature

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There are different forms of literature. The difference comes in the place of origin, language used, the historic period, the subject matter and the genre. Literature across the globe has the same impact on people. The elements that make literature are similar, though there can be a few variations depending on the geographical location. For instance, African literature may differ from western literature, which can be different from oceanic literature or literature from Asia.

Definition of literature

Literature is a body of written works that have an artistic value or intellectual significance. Literature is divided into two main parts; fiction and nonfiction. The two are further subdivided to poetry and prose. As you go on, you’ll find short stories, drama, and novels. The following are the main forms of literature.

1. Prose

Prose is simply defined as a form of language that displays a natural flow of speech and basic grammar. Prose does not have a specific structure. It takes a free arrangement. Prose writing does not involve any form of metrical structure. It is basically ordinary writing. Prose is divided into four types; Fictional prose, non-fictional prose, heroic prose, and poetry prose.

  • Fictional prose: It is defined as a body of work that is totally or partly made up. Fictional prose is not real; it is imagined. Examples of fictional prose include short stories, novels, and novellas.
  • Non-fictional prose: Non-fictional prose is based on facts and truths. Some non-fictional prose may have fictional elements, but it is mostly wholly factual. Examples include essays, memoirs, technical writings, biographies, and journals.
  • Heroic prose: These are writings that take the formulaic expressions of oral traditions. Heroic prose could either be oral or written and is often recited. Examples include tales, legends, and fables.
  • Poetry prose: This the type of poetry is written in paragraphs as opposed to the traditional verses. It, however, takes all the qualities of poetry like syllables per line, rhythm, the plot, and the language used. Prose poetry is not taken either as poetry or prose, but rather as a hybrid of the two.

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2. Drama

Dramas are prose and verse compositions which are presented in either dialogue or pantomime. The dialogue is divided into acts and scenes. More often, dramas are meant to bring about some form of conflict. Dramas are purposed to be performed and not read. They are meant to be acted in front of an audience. The main types of dramas include comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy, melodrama, musical drama and farce.

  • Comedy: Comedies are created with a light touch and are meant to make the audience happy at the end. Comedies sometimes have characters that are exaggerated so as to present the needed humor. Shakespeare’s "Winter’s Tale" is a great example of a comedy-drama.
  • Tragedy: Tragic plays and tragic dramas often take a dark theme in the plot. They contain agony, discomfort, pain, calamities, death, and misadventure. The protagonists are often characterized by error, which sometimes leads to their downfall.
  • Tragicomedy: Plays classified as tragicomedies take a fusion of both tragedy and comedy. They contain elements of pain which are blended with a comic relief. The comic elements lighten up the somber mood of the play, resorting to a happy conclusion.
  • Melodrama: Melodrama is a type of work with exaggerated elements that are sensational. The purpose of melodrama in literature is to charm the audience’ emotions. Stereotyping is a common thing in melodrama.
  • Musical drama: Music and dance are incorporated in these types of plays. To convey the message or tell the story, musical dramas often combine dialogue with movement in music. This theatrical performance can exhibit anger, love, pain, humor or any other emotion appealing to the audience.
  • Farce: A farce is a type of drama that uses humorous or exaggerated situations to the amusement of the audience. A farce can also be described as a light comedy that aims to entertain the audience with slapstick humor.

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What is literature?

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3. Poetry

This is perhaps the most known form of literature. Poetry is a form of literature that evokes emotions and creates awareness through rhythm, sound, and wordplays. Poetry aids in the understanding of content that may seem abstract or challenging to explain.

Poems are classified depending on the number of lines, syllables used, rhythmic pattern, rhymes and whether they are in prose or non-prose form. The following are the main divisions in poetry

  • Narratives: A narrative is a poem that tells a story or describes an event. Narratives take strong emotions when telling the tales. The design of narration, characters are all deep.
  • Epic: Epic poems are usually lengthy. They tell the journey and achievements of heroic figures and legends. Homer’s “Illiad” and “The Odyssey’ are some of the famous epic poems.
  • Free verse: A free verse does not take any poetic rules. They don’t have any rhythm or rhymes although they take the art form. One is not limited on how to display their words in free verses. Free verse poems are basically words arranged for their musical effects.

You now have the answer to the question "what is literature?" and the various forms that make it. From these forms, you can appreciate other people’s culture and beliefs, build critical thinking skills and connect with humanity easily.

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