Archaism Examples in Literature | Sentimental Archaism & Subversive Archaism

Archaism is a literary device that involves the deliberate use of outdated words, phrases, or structures to create a sense of nostalgia or historical context. By using different types of archaism i.e. lexical, syntactic, and morphological archaisms, writers can add depth and richness to their work to make it more engaging and memorable. Examples of archaism are found in poetry, prose, and drama.

What is Archaism?

Archaism refers to the deliberate use of old-fashioned or antiquated words, phrases, or grammatical structures in speech or writing. This literary device aims to create a sense of nostalgia, historical context, or artistic effect. Archaism can be found in various forms of writing, especially in literature, where it adds depth and richness to the text.

Types of Archaism

There are three types of archaism: lexical, syntactic, and morphological. Each type can create a unique effect in a literary work.

Lexical Archaism

In lexical archaism, outdated words or phrases are used that have fallen out of common usage. These words and expressions are often utilized to create a connection to the past or to add an air of sophistication to the literary work. Examples of lexical archaism are “thee” and “thou,”. These words are antiquated forms of word “you.”

Syntactic Archaism

Syntactic archaism refers to the use of outdated grammatical structures or word orders. With the help of archaic syntax, writers can create a sense of historical context. An example of syntactic archaism is the inversion of subject and verb, such as “Saw I an angel” instead of “I saw an angel.”

Morphological Archaism

Morphological archaism uses the outdated word forms, such as inflections or conjugations, which are no longer used in modern language. This type of archaism can add a unique flavor to a literary work and create a sense of historical authenticity. For instance, using “spake” instead of “spoke” is an example of morphological archaism.

Sentimental Archaism

Sentimental archaism refers to a nostalgic or sentimental attachment to things, ideas, or customs from the past that are no longer practiced. It can be language, fashion, music, art, or social norms.

For example, someone might feel a sentimental attachment to the clothing styles of the 1950s, even though those styles are no longer in fashion.

Someone might have a nostalgic attachment to a particular type of music that was popular in the 1980s.

Subversive Archaism

Subversive archaism is a term used to describe the deliberate use of old-fashioned or outdated ideas or aesthetics as a means of challenging or subverting contemporary norms. It uses appropriating elements from the past in a way that undermines their original meaning.

For example, a filmmaker might use black-and-white cinematography and old-fashioned costumes and sets in a contemporary film to create a sense of nostalgia and evoke a bygone era, while at the same time using these elements to comment on current social issues or challenge modern sensibilities.

Subversive archaism can be seen as a form of cultural critique or resistance.

Archaism Examples in Literature

Archaism has been used in different forms of literature. Here are some notable examples of arachaism.


One of the most famous examples of archaism in poetry is in the work of William Shakespeare. In his sonnets, Shakespeare often used archaic language to evoke a sense of timelessness and beauty.

For example, in Sonnet 18, he writes:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

Here, “thee” is an example of lexical archaism.


In prose, archaism can be used to create a sense of historical context or add depth to a narrative. For example, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,”, the writer used archaic language to evoke the Puritan era:

“On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A.”

In this passage, the intricate and antiquated description helps situate the story within its historical context.


Archaism is also found in drama to create a sense of historical authenticity or to enhance the dialogue’s poetic quality. A famous example is Christopher Marlowe’s play “Doctor Faustus,” where he used archaic language to contribute to the play’s Elizabethan atmosphere:

“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?”

In this quote, the archaic language adds depth and richness to the dialogue, emphasizing the play’s historical context.

The Appeal of Archaism in Literature

The use of archaism in literature evokes a sense of nostalgia, creates a connection to the past, and add artistic depth to the work. By using antiquated language and structures, writers can transport readers to a different time and place that enhances engagement of readers with the text. Archaism can also provide a unique stylistic flavor to set a work apart from others and make it memorable.

What is Archaism? Archaism Examples in Literature
What is Archaism? Archaism Examples in Literature

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