A tetralogy (from Greek τετρα- tetra-, "four" and -λογία -logia, "discourse") is a compound work that is made up of four distinct works. The name comes from the Attic theater, in which a tetralogy was a group of three tragedies followed by a satyr play, all by one author, to be played in one sitting at the Dionysia as part of a competition.
Antiphon of Rhamnus, an orator, taught his students with Tetralogies, each one consisting of four speeches: the prosecutor's opening speech, the first speech for the defence, the prosecutor's reply, and the defendant's conclusion. Three of Antiphon's tetralogies survive. In more recent times, Shakespeare wrote two tetralogies, the first consisting of the three Henry VI plays and Richard III, and the second consisting of Richard II, the two Henry IV plays, and Henry V. Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen ("The Ring of the Nibelung" or "The Ring Cycle") is also referred to as a tetralogy.
As an alternative to "tetralogy", "quartet" is sometimes used, particularly for series of four books. The term "quadrilogy", basing the prefix on Latin prefix quadri- instead of the Greek prefix, and first recorded in 1865, has also been used for marketing series of movies, such as the Alien series.
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Examples of works which have been described as tetralogies are as follows:
- Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers
- Yukio Mishima's The Sea of Fertility tetralogy, comprising the novels Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, The Temple of Dawn, and The Decay of the Angel.
- David Markson's Notecard Quartet (Reader's Block, This Is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel)
- Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle
- William Shakespeare's sequence of history plays:
- Sigrid Undset's The Master of Hestviken tetralogy, "The Axe", "The Snake Pit", "In the Wilderness", "The Son Avenger", published in 1925 and 1927.
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- Rush Rehm. Greek Tragic Theater. Routledge, 1994, p. 16.
- C. M. Bowra. Landmarks in Greek Literature. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1966, pp. 236–7.
- Victor L. Cahn. Shakespeare the playwright: a companion to the complete tragedies, histories, comedies, and romances. Greenwood, 1991.
- Hans von Wolzogen. Guide to the music of Richard Wagner's tetralogy: The ring of the Nibelung. A thematic key. Translated by Nathan Haskell Dole. G. Schirmer, New York, 1895.
- Simpson, J.A., and Weiner, E.S.C. (eds.) The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. Oxford. Clarendon Press. "quadri-"
- Heuman, Fred S. (Spring 1982). "Some Major Biblical Sources in Thomas Mann's Joseph Tetralogy". Notre Dame English Journal 14 (2): 87–112. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
- ReadingMarksonReading: David Markson Marginalia Website:
"Markson’s writing was so informed by his reading—especially his late tetralogy (The Notecard Quartet, as those last four novels have been called) which is filled wholly with the cultural detritus he'd pick up from his voracious reading."
- Shakespeare in Performance: Film
- Discussion of this Nobel laureate's two major works, this tetralogy and the trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter