What Is a Diptych?

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“It is clear that this point is the ‘peripety’ or reversal of the action, and that the play falls into the form of a diptych, the first half tragic in direction and the second half comic.”

-From Northrop Frye’s “Shakespeare’s The Tempest” in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism page 300.

There are two words, “peripety” and “diptych,” here that I have never heard before.  Both are, however, defined within this sentence, which was very helpful.  Although, the definitions were there, I wanted to find more about what diptych means, mainly because this word made me wonder whether or not there was a certain classification for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juiliet, where the first portion of the play is comedic and the second portion is tragic.  Neither word was defined in Hamilton, but what I found was that all of the online dictionaries, even ones for literary terms, defined it more generally as something that has one fold and two parts, both literally and figuratively.  I wonder whether or not Romeo and Juliet would also be a diptych play then, or is Frye’s definition the only correct one?


Take a look at some of the other literary words my classmates found in our readings.


Greta Carroll said:

Erica, I thought it was good that Frye defined that terms for the reader right there in the sentence. I know that many people will vehemently argue that we should just assume that our reader knows what things mean and that if they don’t they can look them up, and to some degree I agree with this. It would be really annoying if every couple sentences the author was defining things for us. But, if the author realizes that the word they are using is not a commonly known one (such as diptych), I think it is useful for them to briefly explain what it means, like Frye did. After all, how many of us actually look up every single word we don’t know? I mean, I often do look up words I don’t know, but then there are also the times were I tell myself that I’ll look it up later and then never do. If the author wants to be sure his reader understands, I think doing what Frye did is a good idea.

I think your question over whether Romeo and Juliet is a diptych or not is an interesting question. Personally, I don’t think it is since Mercutio is killed and if I remember correctly that is in the first half of the play.

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