Term of Art: Anticlimax

Anticlimax: According to Dr. Johnson’s definition (and he appears to have been the first to record the word) it is “a sentence in which the last part expresses something lower than the first.” In fact, a bathetic declension from a noble tone to one less exalted. The effect can be comic and is often intended to be so. A good example occurs in Fielding’s burlesque (q.v.), Tom Thumb:

King [Aruther, to his queen Dolallola]

…Whence flow those tears fast down thy blubber’d cheeks,

Like swoln Gutter, gushing through the streets?

The effect can also be unintentionally comic. There is a well-known example in Crashaw’s Saint Mary Magdelene, or the Weeper:

And now where e’er He Strays,

Among the Galilean Mountains,

Or more unwelcome ways,

He’s followed by two faithful fountains;

Two walking baths, two weeping motions;

Portable & compendious oceans.”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.

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