We explain what a prologue is, how it is classified and what it is for. Also, what are its general characteristics, structure and examples.
What is a prologue?
A prologue is a more or less short text that is at the beginning of a literary work , and that gives the reader an introduction to its content. They are always located at the beginning of the work, because if they are at the end of it, they are called epilogues, although they fulfill the same functions.
It is generally written by someone who is not the author of the book , but who knows it thoroughly and is able to provide the reader with information that improves their reading experience or helps them understand the context of the work, among other things. Whoever writes a prologue is called a prologue .
It is possible that a work brings together several different prologues in the same edition, which may or may not be by the same prologue writer. In these cases, they are usually kept with a clarification of which edition they belong to (“prologue to the second edition”, for example) to document the historical way in which said work was perceived over time.
Works with several prologues are usually the classic works with many editions , reprints and that occupy a central place in the culture . But even when it is only one, several previous parts of the work tend to go along with the prologue, such as dedications , epigraphs and other initial or explanatory texts, such as letters to the reader or prefaces.
Prologues are part of literary criticism . On rare occasions they can be even more important than the preface itself.
Meaning of “prologue”
The word “prologue” comes from the Greek Pro , “before” or “in favor of”, and logos , “word” or “speech” .
Its origin comes from the Greek theater , especially comedy, in which one of the actors came forward before the start of the play to utter a few words to the audience.
In them he slightly detailed the argument and the initial situation of the facts . That preamble was known as prologues .
There are not really prologue types as such, but you can differentiate prologues by their context and their intentions. For example:
- Literary prologue. It forms in itself a literary piece .
- Analytical foreword. It offers technical, academic or specialized information.
- Personal prologue. Rather intimate or confessional in nature.
In that sense, there could be as many types of prologue as the prologue’s intentions have. There may even be prologues made by the author of the work himself (author prologue).
Purpose of a prologue
The prologues, in general line, fulfill the function of providing additional information to the prologue work . It is an explanatory text, optional reading and that can be read separately from the work, since it generally constitutes a contribution in itself.
It can help the reader to fully understand the work or to know how to interpret its difficult or dark moments. On the other hand, you can report on its origins or point out its virtues, why it was written and for what purpose.
In certain musical works, there is also an initial phase called the prologue , which fulfills a less clear introductory role, and which belongs to the composer himself. It is also often called “prelude”.
Structure of a prologue
The prologues are generally pieces of sole authorship, which obey the criteria of the prologue and do not usually have a fixed or unique structure, nor mandatory parts . However, as it is an essay- style text , in prose, it usually consists of the ordinary structure of any writing of this nature:
- Introduction . In which the reader is given prior information, necessary to continue reading the rest of the prologue. For example: where did you meet the author, how did you get to the work, why the work is important, how was your first contact with it, etc.
- Developing. The middle part of the writing, where the prologue writes his arguments to support his appreciation of the work, generally going to verbatim quotations or comments from third parties.
- Closing . Where the prologue ends his presentation, often with the ideas , comments or images with which he wants the reader to start the work, or with some kind of encouragement to start reading.
Elements of a prologue
Prologues can use practically anything, but the most common elements in them are:
- Verbatim quotes. Fragments extracted from the work to be read, which show what was said or serve as “proof” for an explanation of the work.
- Third party references. Comments made by other critics, authors, opinion makers or authorities on the matter, on the prologue work.
- Personal appraisals. The prologue writer can comment, make judgments or judge elements of the work that he considers interesting, controversial or curious.
- Chronologies. It is not unusual for the prologues to contain chronologies of the author’s career, the composition of the work or its publishing history, whether it is a classic or a controversial book, such as the forbidden books.
How to make a prologue?
To make a prologue, some essential conditions:
- Read the entire work. It seems obvious, but something that is unknown cannot be prolonged. If you are going to write a foreword, you must be clear about what the work is about.
- Research about the work and the author. A prologue cannot not know important elements about the author’s life, about the publication of the work, about its critical reception, especially if it is a classic or an important work.
- Choose the relevant information. To make the prologue it is essential to have what to say, and for this you must assume a position in front of the work. What contextual details were important for us to know when reading the work? What information would we have been grateful to have before reading it? What parts of it were the most significant to us?
- Choose the critical endorsement. Once the position is decided, we can go to the work and the criticism or history to obtain evidence that supports our point of view, choosing quotes, references and other elements that come to hand to begin to say what we have to say about the construction site.
- Start writing . The prologue works like any other text, so it must be well written, it must be clear, friendly and it must satisfy the expectations it generates in the reader.
How to start a prologue?
If the dilemma is how to start the prologue, it is advisable to review the steps detailed in the previous point and make sure first of all that none are missing.
Once this is done, it is a good idea to review the chosen material , the appointments taken, and order everything according to the importance it has, to know what the center, the axis, of what we have to say will be. All this will serve as an orientation to start.
A technique that many prologues use is to start with something anecdotal : a memory of your friendship with the author, the first time you heard about him, your first reading of the work, or why the subject is particularly important to you. . These are effective methods for creating a personal introduction to the work.
Works that are usually extended
All kinds of works tend to preface : novels , short stories, books of poems , anthologies (by the same author or by several authors), essay theses, chronicle books , correspondence compilations, film scripts , academic books, scientific studies … any type of text that can be considered and that requires some kind of presentation.
Epilogues are comments and reflections that are offered to the reader after they have read the work . They work as a conclusion, closing, taking advantage of the fact that it has just been completed and there is no risk of anticipating anything and ruining a surprise. They can be considered prologues located at the end of the work.
Some examples of a prologue are:
- Cervantes’s own prologue to his work Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605) (fragment):
“Idle reader: without an oath, you can believe me that I would like this book, as a child of understanding, to be the most beautiful, the most graceful and the most discreet that could be imagined. But I have not been able to contravene the order of nature, which in it each thing engenders its similar. And, thus, what could my sterile and badly cultivated ingenuity engender, if not the story of a dry, countersunk, whimsical son full of various and never imagined thoughts of any other, as well as one who was engendered in a prison, where all discomfort is your seat and where all sad noise makes your room? (…)
- Prologue by José Martí to the “Poema del Niagara” by Juan Antonio Pérez Bonalde (1882) (fragment):
Passenger, stop! This one that I bring by the hand is not a darning rhyme, nor a repeater of old masters, -which they are because they did not repeat to anyone, – nor a decider of love , like those who turned into magical zither the dark bosom of the treacherous gondolas of Italy! nor a moan by trade, like so many who force honest men to hide their sorrows as guilt, and their sacred laments as childish futileities! This one who comes with me is great, although it is not from Spain , and it comes covered: it is Juan Antonio Pérez Bonalde, who has written the Poem of Niagara (…).
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