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Sunday, August 29, 2021

Climax and Anticlimax – Literary terms

Climax and Anticlimax, Literary terms

Climax and Anticlimax – Literary terms


The moment of highest intensity and interest in a DRAMA or story. The climax is usually also the crisis or TURNING POINT of the fortunes of the PROTAGONIST, the peak of the RISING ACTION. In some works, the climax follows closely upon the turning point. The murder of Desdemona is the climax of William Shakespeare's Othello; the turning point is Othello's vow to kill her.

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 An effect that spoils a CLIMAX. Used deliberately, anticlimax is a stylistic device involving a witty descent from something serious or lofty to something frivolous or trivial. Anticlimax is especially effective if a sudden descent follows a gradual ascent, as in William M. Thackeray's Vanity Fair, when the NARRATOR tells what Becky Sharp has to put up with in taking care of the ailing Miss Crawley:

Picture her to yourself, oh fair young reader, a worldly, selfish, graceless, thankless, religionless old woman, writhing in pain and fear, and without her wig.

Unintentional anticlimax, known as BATHOS, can result if, in trying to be sublime, a writer ends up sounding absurd, a fault of these lines from Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho:

But, if between some hideous chasm yawn,

Where the cleft pine a doubtful bridge displays,

In dreadful silence, on the brink, forlorn

He stands, and views in the faint rays

Far, far below, the torrent's rising surge,

And listens to the wild impetuous roar;

Still eyes the depth, still shudders on the verge,

Fears to return, nor dares to venture o'er.

Desperate, at length the tottering plank he tries,

His weak steps slide, he shrieks, he sinks-he dies!


In DRAMA or other FICTION, a weak or unnecessary conclusion following a strong climax is another form of unintentional anticlimax. In a murder mystery that builds toward a climax in which the murderer is finally revealed, a SCENE showing the murderer being routinely sentenced and sent to prison would be anticlimactic.


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