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Anticlimax

A climax would be the high point of action, energy, and emotion within a narrative work; therefore, an anticlimax refers to a scene that one would imagine to have these features, but which is instead just dull and relatively nondescript. Anticlimax usually implies that a narrative arc was developed somewhat poorly, or that the action peaked too quickly or too early. The word does not generally have a positive connotation.

Anticlimax explained

Anticlimax is an event, occurrence, time period, or outcome that is much less exciting or dramatic than it was expected to be. It can also refer to a disappointing result to a situation or a disappointing ending. Anticlimax may refer to a sudden discourse transition from an important or significant idea to one considered trivial or ludicrous. Anticlimax is a rhetorical or literary device used in literature or speaking to convey a disappointing situation. At a specific point in the narrative, expectations are raised and built-up to a crescendo until the expected exciting and positive conclusion is derailed by a dull, disappointing, or non-event. The two types of anti-climax are used respectively as plot devices in literature which serve as a less-than-satisfactory ending to a narrative and as a figures of speech which could occur at any point throughout a narrative, oration, or piece of writing.

Anticlimax’s first known use was in 1696.

How anticlimax is used

Poets and playwrights often use anticlimax to convey a tragic or ridiculous situation that is a result of human action. For example, in William Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, Don Pedro destroys the audience’s and Hero’s hopes for a splendid and virtuous wedding day when he tells her fiancé Claudio of her false infidelity: “Upon mine honor, myself, my brother, and this grieved count did see her, hear her, at that hour last night talk with a ruffian at her chamber window.”

Charles Dickens uses anticlimax in A Tale of Two Cities, as well: “In a moment, the whole company was on their feet. That somebody was assassinated by somebody vindicating a difference of opinion was the likeliest occurrence. Everybody looked to see somebody fall, but only saw a man and a woman standing staring at each other…” The expected thrilling circumstance of murder or death was not fulfilled in Dickens’ narrative, but merely a circumstance of two people looking at each other – much less exciting to both the audience in the book and the audience of readers. Here anticlimax destroys the expectations of both audiences, which actually serves to draw attention to the scene by changing up its expected ending.

Examples

Anticlimax usually has a comedic effect in literature or speech, and is often used in satire, both in film and in literature. Anticlimax is used frequently in comic “roastings” of celebrated personalities in society, as jokes are made about the person’s inadequacy or lack of importance in the world. It is in this same manner that Shakespeare uses anticlimax throughout his works to demote or comment slyly upon famous historical figures in politics.

Bathos is related to anticlimax; merely a more in-depth and absurd version of it. It is derived from the Greek word for depth, and is used to describe an author or poet’s descent into ridiculous and inconsequential metaphors. These descriptions or ideas are meant to convey an increase in emotion or passion, but more often result in the disgust of the writer’s audience, who fails to see the point of such metaphors. The term “bathos” was coined by Alexander Pope, an 18th century English poet known for his satirical verse and his translation of Homer. Pope used the term in relation to writing errors made by greenhorns or unskilled poets and writers. Comedic use of bathos is created through a sequence of items or ideas that begin as worthy, but become silly or ludicrous.

Jane Austen, generally a serious writer, makes use of Catherine’s imaginative ideas to create a parody of the gothic novel in Northanger Abbey. Bathos and anticlimax can be used to help build a comedic scene in literature or poetry. Although not easy to accomplish well, anticlimax and bathos can bring humanity and humor into a serious situation.

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