Frame Story

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Related to Frame tale: Framing narrative
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The poem has already linked Alcyone's nudity in the frame tale with overwhelming grief, so that when the poem turns to the Man in Black, who also mourns a loss, his nakedness evokes this same loss and sorrow.
The king just wants to please his wife, whose sadness is clearly derived from that of the princess in Basile's frame tale. Even the queen's act of eating the heart is violent, with blood covering her face and dripping all over the white tablecloth, a disgusting as well as gruesome scene.
To me the significance of this strong frame tale is its centripetal and centrifugal power.
In this way, the consistent appearance of diversions in the Wife's prologue and tale lends verisimilitude to the reader's experience of a virtual oral society within the frame tale. Such verisimilitude greatly increases the entertainment value of the work.
Chapter Five, "Home Sweet Home," configures Baum's frame tale as a frontier fantasy furnishing both a surrogate American West for a vanishing frontier's children and its necessary contrary: a safe, comforting domestic home.
Margaret Greer considers de Zayas's use of the frame tale in her two volumes of stories, comparing it with similar frames in an eighth-century Indian collection of tales, Boccaccio's Decameron, and a Hollywood film, The Princess Bride.
This frame tale, with its obvious echoes of Boccaccio and Chaucer, is used as a device on which to hang twenty-four narrative poems.
Based on extensive interviews with many of the early key players, it managed to forge the template for most subsequent histories, in the sense of providing them both the time line and the larger frame tale. The time line consisted of an extended prehistory, encompassing isolated attempts to mechanize thought and construct various automata, all treated with bemused condescension; a turning point located with pinpoint precision at the Dartmouth summer conference of 1956; and then an upward trend, punctuated by periodic bouts of soul searching.
He continually flirts with the rich matter of romance in the opening scene of King Cambyuskan's birthday festival at court, apparently intending this introduction to provide a framing device for a series of embedded tales about the royal family, yet he never develops what he begins, even in the frame tale. For example, he implies that in the beauty of Cambyuskan's daughter, Canacee, there is a tale unto itself, but he cannot tell it because he is incapable of the necessary rhetoric (34-41).(4) Nor can he relate the fine trappings of Cambyuskan's court because he hasn't the time (63-75).
Job is identified as a 'tenson'; more specifically it is a 'frame tale'.