Secondary plot

Article

October 20, 2021

The secondary plot or secondary plot, also known with the English terms of subplot or underplot, is the subplot of a text, a part of the narrative line underlying the main plot. Often populated with secondary characters, it can also be totally disconnected from the general context of the play, providing a parallel story to follow. Particularly used in the texts of the English theater of the Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline periods (respectively: 1576-1603, 1603-1625, 1625-1642), and in particular in almost all Scespirian texts, it often has the function of mirroring the main plot. For example, in Shakespeare's King Lear the plot of the old king mocked and mistreated by his eldest daughters receives echo and expansion in the secondary plot which concerns the Duke of Gloucester, the "good" son Edgar and the "bad" son Edmund, who becomes accomplice of those who will blind him. Gloucester's physical blindness also has a metaphorical relationship with old Lear's spiritual blindness, and they both come out of it thanks to their children and the acceptance ("ripeness is all") of their human limitations. In Much Ado About Nothing, by the same author, the stories of the geezer Carruba, captain of the guards, and of his henchman Sorba, constitute a secondary plot in their own right with respect to the tragicomedy. In the texts cited, the sub-plot often acts as a comic relief. The eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century criticism aimed at evaluating these secondary plots negatively, considering the comedy that animated them crude; contemporary criticism, starting with T.S. Eliot, has re-evaluated them, underlining the relationship of enrichment and expansion with respect to the main plot.

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Bibliography

Viola Papetti and Giorgio Melchiori (edited by), The forms of the theater, Rome, Editions of History and Literature, 1997, ISBN 88-87114-03-X.

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