I am writing a textbook, in where, just for fun, I would like to present the concepts as if I were telling a story. Again, just for fun, I would like for the writing to sort of emulate an ancient way of writing. Not necessarily using old English, but to give the feeling to the reader that they are reading from an old text.

Does referring to the reader in writing have a name? If so, would referring to the reader help create this effect?

I have searched for examples of medieval writing, for example, and I have not seen any of these in where they refer to the reader.

  • 4
    Welcome to Writing.SE Eduardo, glad you found us. Please check out our tour and help center. Could you please edit the question to define your terms? What is "Ancient English?" English didn't even exist in the time period generally referred to as Ancient. Do you mean "Old English?"
    – Cyn
    Sep 2, 2019 at 0:07
  • Thanks for editing. We ask also that questioners wait a full 1-2 days before choosing a "best answer." You can (and should) upvote every answer you think is good (and/or downvote if you prefer) but please hold off on choosing an accepted answer until the community has had a chance to submit answers. This will give you more answers, which is of course what you want. There's no time limit on accepting and you'll always get your 2 points. I notice that you didn't upvote (because the sole upvote on the answer is mine) so I wonder if you just hit the wrong button?
    – Cyn
    Sep 2, 2019 at 14:53
  • Is it specifically medieval English you are after? Because there is a lot of historical precedent for many different periods.
    – Weckar E.
    Sep 6, 2019 at 16:36

1 Answer 1


This answer is written on the assumption that you are looking for medieval or Middle English (11th to 15th century) examples of what is often referred to as 'breaking the fourth wall'. Breaking the fourth wall is when the narrator, author, or even a character within a work, address the reader of the story directly. For example:

Roy, the hero of this tale, was indeed an idiot. But you know that by now, don't you dear reader?

In the above example, the narrator is clearly addressing the reader. It can give the reader the feeling that they aren't reading the story as from a first hand point of view, but rather second hand. It reminds me of the way there was a fad for writing novels in the form of a series of letters or diary entries for a while. It feels more intimate, and I quite enjoy it when it's done well.

I've also often seen this tool used for comedic effect or in children's novels, but that isn't always the case. Sometimes it can be used as a kind of content warning where the narrator, author, or a character warns the reader that something unpleasant is about to happen and that they should skip ahead if they should wish to avoid it, or even stop reading at that point. I know that Stephen King used something similar in the end of his Dark Tower series, for example.

As for whether breaking the fourth wall was common in medieval literature, I can think of two examples off the top of my head, and that's The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, and The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. I can't remember which tale of The Canterbury Tales it was, but I believe Chaucer used this trope as a content warning, telling the reader to choose another story to read if they felt unhappy with the upcoming one. For The Divine Comedy, there's too many examples to list. Because Dante himself was the main character, he often addressed the reader directly about what was happening. So, while I can't say whether it was a commonly used writing technique, it at least existed as one.

So, to sum up, there are some examples of this trope being used in medieval literature, and is still used somewhat today. I, personally, think it can give the work an intimate feeling that some readers I'm sure would enjoy (if done well).

  • "fourth", surely
    – Chris H
    Sep 3, 2019 at 13:45
  • 1
    @ChrisH and that is why you should always proofread. Thanks!
    – s.anne.w
    Sep 3, 2019 at 23:49

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