Definition of "Antecedent Action" in Literature

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"Antecedent action" is a literary term that refers to an element of the plot in a work of fiction. The exposition of a story generally occurs at the beginning and introduces the setting and characters to the audience. Part of the exposition may include the antecedent action, which gives the reader or audience insight to any events that occurred before the beginning of the story and are necessary for understanding the conflict.

Examples of Antecedent Action

Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible" contains antecedent action in its exposition, providing background information for the initial conflict. The antecedent action includes the affair between Abigail and John Proctor. In this case, the antecedent action creates an already-established conflict in relationships between characters. William Shakespeare also used antecedent action to develop conflict in "Romeo and Juliet." The exposition reveals that the families of Romeo and Juliet have a long-lasting feud, Romeo is in love with Rosalind, and a man named Paris has developed an interest in Juliet. The reader also learns that the Prince of Verona has declared that the next member of either family who begins a quarrel will receive the death penalty.


About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.

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