The UVicWriter's Guide

Genres: An Introduction

A genre is a particular type of literature, a literary form. The broadest categories of genre remain the three classical divisions defined by Aristotle:

  1. Epic or narrative (combining a first person narrator with dialogue by characters).
  2. Lyric
    (spoken entirely by a first person narrator)
  3. Drama (spoken entirely by characters).

In modern terms these divisions are usually seen as prose narrative, poetry, and drama.

However, classifications of genre are largely arbitrary, based on conventions which give writers a basic medium to explore and the reader or audience particular expectations. In Hamlet (ca. 1600), Shakespeare satirizes the dogmatic genre critics of his time with a list of genres that shows their confusion:

...tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral. . . .

A distinction is often made between a genre and a mode. A genre is a form like a novel,
tragedy, comedy, epic, or sonnet. A mode describes the quality of a part of a larger work; thus a comedy can have passages that are tragic in mode, and a tragedy can have scenes that are in a comic mode (modern criticism often substitutes the more impressive-sounding "comedic," though no-one has yet found a passage "tragedic.")

Literary Terms (By Category)
Literary Terms (Alphabetized)
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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated May 13, 1995