Technical Terminology

This is a new section which deals with some of the problems students have in learning conventions for the use of technical terms relating to literature. At present, it is a small section, but I will continue to add new materials each time I encounter a new problem area. If you find yourself having trouble with a particular convention, let me know, and I'll add an explanation to this page.


Capitalisation of medieval and the Middle Ages

The word medieval should never be capitalised unless it begins a sentence or forms part of a title. The term the Middle Ages should always be capitalised, except for the the. Occasionally you will find that older writers capitalise medieval. You should follow their usage only when quoting them. You will also occasionally see the middle ages in lower case. This is less grave of a sin. Always follow the most up-to-date convention, except where you are quoting another writer.


The terms romance and romantic

The word romance refers to a type of medieval narrative: a tale in verse (or prose in the later Middle Ages) often based on legendary material and relating the adventures of chivalric heroes. In this sense, the word can be used with an article (a romance, the romance) to refer to an individual text or without an article to refer to the literary genre in general (e.g. "romance is a literary mode characteristic of the Middle Ages"). Romance also refers to an idealised form of love (or an individual love affair characterised by love). The reason for this is because late medieval romances tended to make love one of their primary subject matters. As a result, the term came to refer to love--but only after the Middle Ages. Hence the term romance when referring to modern literature generally refers to a tale (generally a novel) about love. It is important that you (a) not use the modern sense when talking about medieval romance and (b) make sure that it is clear from the context of your sentence which sense you are using.

The term romantic refers the modern sense of romance; a romantic tale generally implies that love is its subject matter, or at least that its subject matter is idealised like romantic love. The term should not be used to refer to medieval romance. For medieval romance, the adjective form is romance. Hence we talk about romance literature as the characteristic mode of the Middle Ages, not romantic literature.

The terms romance and romantic should normally only be capitalised at the beginnings of sentences or in titles. The term Romantic (with a capital letter) refers to the literary style of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

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Last Update: 20 March, 2003