Definition of Anti-Climax

Anti-climax is a rhetorical device which can be defined as a disappointing situation or a sudden transition in discourse from an important idea to a ludicrous or trivial one. It is when at a specific point, expectations are raised, everything is built-up and then suddenly something boring or disappointing happens; this is an anti-climax. Besides that, the order of statements gradually descends in anti-climax.

Types of Anti-Climax

There are two types of anti-climax. The first is used in narrations such as the anti-climax about the overall plot of the story. However, the second one is a figure of speech which could occur anywhere in the story.

Examples of Anti-Climax from Literature

In literature, there are lots of examples of anti-climax, whether narrative or as a figure of speech. Let us consider a few of them:

Example #1

“Here thou, great Anna, whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take, and sometimes tea….”

(The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope)

In the extract, it is used as a figure of speech. Pope is drawing the attention of the readers to the falseness. Anna is Queen of England, who holds meetings and indulges also in afternoon tea customs. Ludicrous effect is created by using the anti-climax.

Example #2

Come away: for Life and Thought
Here no longer dwell;
But in a city glorious—
A great and distant city—have bought
A mansion incorruptible.
Would they could have stayed with us…!

(The Deserted House by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Here the last line of poem presents anti-climax, as the poet is describing issues associated with life on earth. Here, heaven is referred as “city glorious”. He asks whether people could come and live in heaven, which is a change in discourse from an important note to trivial.

Example #3

Well, hurry up and confess. Be quick about it.
I’ll wait over here.
I don’t want to kill you before you’ve readied your soul.
No, I don’t want to send your soul to hell when I kill you….
Send me away, my lord, but don’t kill me….
It’s too late….

(Othello by William Shakespeare)

This is one of the narrative anti-climax examples from Shakespeare’s works. Here, a sudden transformation can be seen, when Othello stabs Desdemona. It is creating a disappointing and thrilling effect in the end.

Example #4

Why, then are you no maiden.— Leonato,
I am sorry you must hear. Upon mine honor,
Myself, my brother, and this grievèd count
Did see her, hear her, at that hour last night
Talk with a ruffian at her chamber window
Who hath indeed, most like a liberal villain,
Confessed the vile encounters they have had
A thousand times in secret.

(Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare)

This is a best example of anti-climax, when Hero is publically denounced and humiliated at her wedding occasion. Her chastity is challenged by her fiancé Claudio. Here climax turns into anti-climax.

Example #5

Nay! Let me have one book more,
and then I have done, wherein I might see all plants, herbs, and trees that grow upon the earth.
Here they be.
O thou art deceived…

(Dr.Fautus by Christopher Marlowe)

This is an example of anti-climax as a figure of speech, which has taken place in the final line of this excerpt. Marlowe uses it as a warning to the audience not to follow the ways of Faustus, because it could bring shallow reward and superficial happiness only.

Example #6

“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 man with all the outward aspect of a Frenchman and a thorough Republican; the woman, evidently English…..”

(A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

In this excerpt, everybody is expecting that somebody has been killed or someone has fallen down dead. However, there is only a man and woman standing there, staring at each other. This is a disappointing anti-climax.

Function of Anti-Climax

Generally ludicrous or comic effect is produced by anti-climax. When employed intentionally, it devalues the subject. Therefore, it is frequently used for satirical and humorous composition in literature and movies. However, sometimes it is used unintentionally – then it is known as bathos.

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