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Literature Glossary

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Romance

Definition:

Romance is all about hearts, flowers, and sappy mixtapes, right? Well, yeah. Today we use the word "romance" to refer to romantic love. But the term has quite a different meaning in literature. We'll give you a hint: there are swords involved.

As a genre, romance originated in medieval France. Romance is all about courtly love and chivalry. Want stories about questing knights jousting in the name of their lady-loves? This is your genre. It's all about honor, duty, and damsels in distress. Check out Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur for a classic romance.

Of course anything involving such lofty ideals is bound to be cut down a peg or two by later authors. And indeed the genre of romance is ripe for parodying. Cervantes's Don Quixote makes fun of the high falutin' heroism of knights, for example, by depicting a knight errant who tilts at windmills. (Hey, they could have been giants. He was just trying to be careful.) For a more recent parody, check out Monty Python's awesome Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Though it reached its peak during the Medieval period, the romance genre influenced other later genres, like Gothic and Victorian literature.

But hold up, folks: we're not done yet. Not having much luck finding knights, dragons, and damsels in distress in your copy of The Tempest? That's because a Renaissance romance is something so chill it got its own genre. Back in old Willy's day, people started writing plays called romances that were tragicomedies with some specific elements: long journeys, happy endings, elements of magic, adventure, and an emphasis on time and the life cycle. They also feature an above-average number of shipwrecks.

The Tempest, Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale are all examples of Shakespearean romance. These romances aren't supposed to be realistic—they're more like fairy tales where people find redemption in symbolic situations.

Hungry for more? Check out this smarty pants's take.

Tags: General, Genre