Questions tagged [history-of-literature]

Questions about historical development within literature: for example, the history of a particular literary theme or idea, or of literature in a particular country or context. For questions about real-world history as it relates to literature, use the [historical-context] tag instead.

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82
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1answer
11k views

How do we know Humpty Dumpty was an egg?

As depicted in 1870 by James William Elliott's National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs, the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty" goes as follows: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great ...
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7answers
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Has copy protection ever been used in physical books?

"Digital rights management", DRM, is almost a standard in the e-book industry. Have copyright holders ever tried to protect physical books from scanning, for example in a way how banknotes are ...
51
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2answers
9k views

Where did the idea of a “true name” come from?

There's a common trope in Western fantasy that, up until now, I've sort of taken for granted: the "true name." This is the idea that all things have true names that are somehow more closely linked to ...
45
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1answer
1k views

History of Spoilers

I live in the USA, where people react poorly if you spoil a move or a book for them. However, the question What is the benefit in the Prologue "spoiling" the play in Romeo + Juliet? raises ...
27
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1answer
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Why are haiku usually of 17 syllables?

One of the characteristics of Haiku is that the poems are usually of 17 syllables (5-7-5). Exceptions exist, of course, but 17 is the norm. Why 17? How did the originators of Haiku come to settle on ...
24
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2answers
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Since when is Shakespeare's “Scottish play” considered unlucky?

In theatrical superstition, Shakespeare's play Macbeth is considered to be unlucky, to the extent that even saying its name more than necessary may bring bad luck: hence the tradition of actors ...
24
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2answers
722 views

Did Borges invent the idea of writing reviews/summaries of imaginary literary works?

In reading short stories by the great Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, I've noticed a repeated theme: many of these stories are written in the style of a review or summary of a much larger and ...
23
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1answer
294 views

Was pretending to be an abridgement of a made-up work invented by William Goldman?

William Goldman's The Princess Bride is famous (among other reasons) for a literary device it employs - it pretends to be an abridgment (or "the good parts version") of a longer work by S. ...
20
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2answers
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Were English poets of the sixteenth century aware of the Great Vowel Shift?

The Great Vowel Shift was a series of changes in the pronunciation of English vowel sounds, marking the dividing line between Middle English and Modern English. A wholesale shift of sounds took place ...
19
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2answers
738 views

How did the Inklings originate?

The (original) Inklings were a group of Oxford academics and writers, their most famous members including J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Hugo Dyson. They used to meet regularly, ...
19
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676 views

Was Paradise Lost the first major work of literature to give “sympathy for the devil”?

John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost was first published in England in 1667. While this is long after the Protestant Reformation where alternative ideas about Christianity became slightly more ...
19
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1answer
149 views

How wide was the exploration of Japan's culture in American literature before 1905?

Prior to Russo-Japanese war and Teddy Roosevelt's efforts to end it, I don't recall USA being overly involved with Japan. As such, was that reflective in American literature? How wide/common was the ...
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1answer
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When did men dressed as women stop being the norm in English theatre?

This excellent answer by Joshua Engel draws a comparison between men dressed as women in Shakespeare-era plays and perspective jumps in modern cinema: The audience would, of course, have been aware ...
15
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2answers
430 views

Who first referred to Odysseus as Ulysses?

When I was in high school, Homer's Iliad, Homer's Odyssey, and Virgil's Aeneid were taught as a trilogy of sorts. Was Virgil the first Roman to refer to Odysseus as 'Ulysses' or was there another (...
15
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1answer
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Dickens invented the scary clown?

Today in "Messages from Firefox" (some annoying thing that comes up in my browser), I saw the following which piqued my interest: Dickens invented the scary clown, the ‘80s perfected it. ...
15
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4answers
496 views

Is it a common theme in (western) storytelling that the antagonists are located to the east?

I'm not sure if this is the correct place for this question. I was reading some Lord of the Rings-lore the other day and it got me thinking about the location of "evil" in storytelling. In LOTR, ...
15
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2answers
1k views

What is the origin of the trope of an evil character whose name is not permitted to be spoken?

Many works of fantasy involve an evil leader or "dark lord" whose real name is known but usually not permitted to be spoken, either by his own followers (out of respect?) or by others (out of fear?) ...
14
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2answers
84k views

What is the origin of this contradictory poem?

Does anyone know where this poem originates from: One fine morning in the middle of the night, Two dead men got up to fight, Back to back they faced each other, Drew their swords and shot one another....
14
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0answers
249 views

What was the first book that explicitly used “A Hero's Journey” as a checklist?

Obviously, many stories told fit "A Hero's Journey" - that's the whole point of it. George Lucas was famous for explicitly making the Star Wars story based on Campbell's checklist and acknowledging ...
13
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1answer
746 views

Why did iambic pentameter become so 'standard' in classical English poetry?

Iambic pentameter is probably the most prevailing and widely used meter in classical English poetry, and it's the 'standard' form of verse in many forms of poetry such as sonnets. From Wikipedia (...
13
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1answer
430 views

What happened to the epic poem?

It's so strange to me that we all praised and adore things, but would never consider supporting them in a modern setting. There are many examples of this: poetry (very unpopular nowadays; not in the ...
12
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12answers
567 views

What fictional series has the longest release to completion?

I am being inspired by George R.R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series which is currently at 24 years (A Game of Thrones was released in 1996) since the publication of the first work in the ...
12
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1answer
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What is an epic and why is there “only one epic in English Language so far”?

I’m quite familiar with novels and stories, if my personal view is concerned I would say that story is just a compact and summarised form of novel. The level of detail in novels is, obviously, much ...
12
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1answer
350 views

What is the origin of epigraphs?

What are the origins of putting epigraphs in a work? Wikipedia has this example from 1700, but no explanation on when or why epigraphs came into vogue. Facsimile of the original title page for ...
12
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0answers
312 views

What is the earliest hybrid graphic novel?

Malice (2009) was the first hybrid graphic novel I read, though I've seen more than one other since. By "hybrid graphic novel," I mean a book that contains passages of both traditional, unillustrated ...
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2answers
499 views

Why are Dwarfs almost always technologically advanced compared to other races?

In almost every fantasy world Dwarfs are almost always shown to have superior technology compared to other races. Why is that?
11
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1answer
517 views

How did contemporary readers respond to coincidence in 19th century novels

Reading 19th century literature in the 21st century, it is often striking how often the plot turns on often quite outrageous coincidences. Frequently this happens when a relatively small cast of ...
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1answer
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Origin of symbolic interpretation of Prospero's breaking of his staff?

At the end of The Tempest, which is generally believed to be the last plays that Shakesepare wrote alone, Prospero breaks his staff and drowns his book. This has often been read as Shakespeare telling ...
11
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1answer
535 views

How and why did the story of King Cnut change?

The 11th-century king Cnut/Knut/Canute of Denmark, Norway, and England is today best known for the story of how he sat on the beach commanding the waves to turn back. The original account of this ...
11
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1answer
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Is there any indication that Poe feared live burial?

Many of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories feature burial while alive; in one case, the subject of the story actually suffers from taphophobia before his own live burial. (Wikipedia helpfully includes a ...
10
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2answers
2k views

What is the difference between a philosophical novel and a novel of ideas?

Wikipedia calls the novel of ideas a subgenre of philosophical fiction, without defining the first term. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory (2010) uses the terms "novel of ideas" and "...
10
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1answer
178 views

What qualifies something as “Lovecraftian”?

I often hear the term "Lovecraftian" used in reference to describe certain elements of horror literature or film. I do understand this to be a reference to H.P. Lovecraft and his style of horror, but ...
10
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343 views

Why did attitudes change towards tragedy?

Views on whether or not tragedy provides a fulfilling end to a work have changed over the centuries and it has slipped in and out of popularity in contemporary works of a given period. Great literary ...
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2answers
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Why was/is James Joyce's writing revolutionary for its time?

I love his writing, but I don't know why he is considered one of the great fiction writers in English. Why was James Joyce's writing so "revolutionary" for its time? I know that at one time ...
10
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0answers
12k views

What's the origin of the rhyme “My friend Billy had a ten foot willy”?

A simple rhyming song which I heard growing up and which still gets stuck in my head every so often: My friend Billy had a ten foot willy. He stuck it through the neighbour's door. OR He showed ...
9
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3answers
589 views

Why are there so many references to Moneylenders and Jews in 19th century fiction?

In 19th century fiction, there are a lot of references to moneylenders as "Jews". For example, in "Framley Parsonage", by Anthony Trollope, Lord Lufton says "the pocket-books of the Jews are stuffed ...
9
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1answer
266 views

Was J.R.R. Tolkien building on a past tradition when relying heavily on languages he made up?

It is a uncontested and well known fact that Tolkien was a linguist, and he wrote Middle-Earth as a setting for his languages. However, what interests me is whether the approach he took was out of ...
9
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1answer
299 views

Why is the title of “Le Morte d'Arthur” in French if the book is in English?

Le Morte d'Arthur, often considered the first English novel, is an early version of the story of Camelot. The book is according, to Wikipedia, written in Middle English. Why, then, is the title of the ...
9
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1answer
840 views

Use of “limited third-person point of view”, vs “omniscient third person point of view” over the past century or so

I notice that a lot of popular recent fiction, for example Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" , and George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" are written in limited/subjective third-person point of ...
9
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1answer
148 views

Why does literature not have a governing body for content ratings?

(Note this question will be based heavily on my experience as an American and the systems we have in place.) I was reading some questions on this and another SE site about age appropriateness for so ...
8
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1answer
227 views

Has a parody of a work of literature ever become more successful than the original work? [closed]

I was thinking of this when I read Nineteen-Neighty-Four, a fanfic with My Little Pony ponies in a 1984-ish world. Parodies can be really successful as a way of challenging another work, or the ideas ...
8
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2answers
344 views

Are there earlier incidences than Merchant of Venice of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other?

In act 2, scene 2 of The Merchant of Venice, Launcelot Gobbo is conflicted regarding whether to run from Shylock, or continue working for him. Shakespeare expresses this internal conflict by ...
8
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2answers
695 views

How does a book become “an American classic”? [closed]

It seems that, in passing, some books are referred to as "an American classic," or "one of the great American classics." This seems like it's a whole subsection of what counts as "classic literature." ...
8
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2answers
181 views

Is there really a single “Old Babylonian version” of the Epic of Gilgamesh?

From the Wikipedia article about the Epic of Gilgamesh: From the diverse sources found, two main versions of the epic have been partially reconstructed: the standard Akkadian version, or He who saw ...
8
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4answers
694 views

What is the earliest work with the time-loop trope?

The film "Groundhog Day" has a plot centered around a character whose day repeats exactly the same way each day, and upon waking retains memory of the previous day. This is what I call a "time-loop," ...
8
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2answers
159 views

How did the story of Robin Hood pass from oral literature to written?

Robin Hood is a famous figure of English folklore, whose existence or fictionality is still a subject of debate. The stories about him started off as folk tales transmitted orally (ballads), but by ...
7
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1answer
275 views

How long have the cantillation marks been around?

Over the whole Jewish Bible, there are cantillation marks that denote how the text is supposed to be chanted. The sounds differ between places, such as between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardic ...
7
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1answer
108 views

How has knowledge of the Ur-Hamlet evolved over the centuries?

I recently read in an excellent verbose answer that the existence of the Ur-Hamlet, on which Shakespeare's Hamlet is presumed to have been based, is known from a throwaway line of Thomas Lodge, ...
7
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1answer
76 views

Oldest library in America?

What’s the oldest free public library in North America? I personally think that this question will be of at least some interest to regular users of this board,as well as some history buffs!
7
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1answer
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When did people begin to regard Gulliver's Travels as a children's book?

Jonathan Swift published Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships in 1726 as a satire on human nature. ...