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poetic justice


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The morally reassuring allocation of happy and unhappy fates to the virtuous and the vicious characters respectively, usually at the end of a narrative or dramatic work. The term was coined by the critic Thomas Rymer in his The Tragedies of the Last Age Consider'd (1678) with reference to Elizabethan poetic drama: such justice is ‘poetic’, then, in the sense that it occurs more often in the fictional plots of plays than in real life. As Miss Prism explains in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, ‘The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.’ In a slightly different but commonly used sense, the term may also refer to a strikingly appropriate reward or punishment, usually a ‘fitting retribution’ by which a villain is ruined by some process of his own making. See also nemesis.

Subjects: Literature.


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