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Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444333275.2013.x


In literature, and especially in poetry, decorum is consistency with the canons of propriety ( q.v. ); a matter of behaviour on the part of the poet qua his poem, and therefore what is proper and becoming in the relationship between form and substance. Action, character, thought and language all need to be appropriate to each other. At its simplest, the grand and important theme (for instance that of Paradise Lost ) is treated in a dignified and noble style; the humble or trivial (for example, Skelton's The Tunning of Elynour Rumming ) in a lower manner. Decorum was of considerable importance to Classical authors. Aristotle deals with it in Poetics ; Cicero in De Oratore ; Horace in Ars Poetica . What they said had wide influence during and after the Renaissance, though there were many who did not subscribe to their dictates. Many Elizabethan plays, for example, show an awareness of certain rules of decorum. An obvious instance is Much Ado About Nothing ( c . 1598–9). It being a comedy of manners ( q.v. ), all the comic passages, especially the badinage between Beatrice and Benedick, are written in colloquial dramatic prose; the romantic episodes and themes are always rendered in verse. As soon as Benedick and Beatrice realize they are in love, the emotional temperature rises and they speak in verse. Decorum became of great importance towards the end of the 17th c. and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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