Frame Story

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Frame Story


a medieval literary genre that made use of a connecting narrative “frame” to unite diverse short stories, folktales, or fables. The entertaining, narrative approach of the various stories was usually combined with a didactic orientation in the overall narrative framework, lending the collection compositional and artistic wholeness.

The sources for the frame story can be discovered in the narrative literature and folklore of the ancient East and of European antiquity. The frame story evidently took definitive shape as a genre in India during the first half of the first millennium A.D. Models of the genre are considered to be Gunadhya’s The Great Tale, which has come down in late revisions, and the Panchatantra, in which some of the individual stories are related directly to the frame and the rest are connected to one another, forming a multistep system of subordination.

The didactic tendency of the overall frame structure of the Panchatantra is considerably weaker in other medieval Sanskrit collections, such as The Twenty-five Stories of a Demon, Seventy Tales of the Parrot, and Thirty-two Stories of the Throne of Vikrama, where the frame merely serves as a formal device for connecting the various episodes.

The composition of the frame story allowed the addition of new stories and replacement of old ones. This resulted in numerous versions of one and the same original work and contributed to the spread of the frame story genre to the folklore and literatures of the East and West. Using translations from the languages of India and compilations of local and foreign folklore, frame-story works arose in Persian, Arabic, Mongolian, Hebrew, Greek, and the Turkic, Slavic, and Romance languages (including Kalila and Dimna, The Book of Sindbad, The Thousand and One Nights, and The Book of the Parrot).

In Europe, early and relatively independent examples of the genre were the medieval didactic collections called exempla, including the Disciplina clericalis (Art of the Clerks) of Pedro Alfonso (1062–1140) and The Book of Count Lucanor by Juan Manuel (1282–1348). Subsequently, the compositional structure of the frame narrative can be seen in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Heptaméron of Marguerite d’Angoulême, and the Italian novellas of the Renaissance, especially Boccaccio’s Decameron.


Shklovskii, V. O teorii prozy. Moscow, 1929.
Grintser, P. A. Drevneindiiskaia proza: Obramlennaia povest’. Moscow, 1963.
Benfey, T. Panchatantra: Fünf Bücher indischer Fabeln, Märchen, und Erzählungen, vols. 1–2. Leipzig, 1859. Jolles, A. Einfache Formen. Halle, 1956.


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