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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: May 2006

9 - Lyric forms


Students with a keen sense of curiosity - or possibly merely a keen sense of mischief - could fruitfully exercise either predilection by asking their teachers for a brief definition of lyric. The complexities of responding to that demand, like the problems a similar query about tragedy would generate, demonstrate the complexities of the literary types in question. But despite the difficulty of defining lyric, exploring the forms it took during the English Renaissance can illuminate this mode as a whole, some of its most challenging and exciting texts, and the workings of the early modern era. Aristotle posits an apparently clear-cut division of all literature into lyric, epic, and drama, basing the distinctions on the mode of presentation: lyric is sung, epic recited, and drama staged. This division remains influential, lying behind the work of Northrop Frye and many other modern theorists.