The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Prologue: An introductory statement that precedes or serves as the first part of a literary work. The prologue often provides information that sets the stage for the story that follows; it may establish the setting, introduce the characters, or indicate a theme or moral. In a play, the prologue is usually a monologue delivered by one of the actors. Most prologues are written by the author of the work; some, however, are written by another person, often a well-known writer who has agreed to introduce and thereby commend the work.

EXAMPLES: Marie de France’s “Prologue” to her collection of twelfth-century lais, ends with the following words:

In your honour, noble king, you who are so worthy and courtly, you to whom all joy pays homage and in whose heart all true virtue has taken root, did I set myself to assemble lays, to compose and to relate them in rhyme. In my heart, lord, I thought and decided that I should present them to you, so if it pleased you to accept them, you would bring me great happiness and I should rejoice evermore. Do not consider me presumptuous if I make so bold as to offer you this gift. Now hear the beginning.

In Plain and Simple (1989), Sue Bender began her account of her journey to the Amish with the following prologue: “I had an obsession with the Amish. Plain and simple. Objectively it made no sense. I, who worked hard at being special, fell in love with a people who valued being ordinary.” In the prologue to Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (1998; adapted to film 2002), Virginia Woolf wades into a river to drown herself even as her husband Leonard discovers her suicide note and rushes off to try and save her.