Older Than the NES | Before 1985
Older Than Cable TV | 1939 — 1980
Older Than Television | 1890 — 1939
Older Than Radio | 1698 — 1890
Older Than Steam | 1439 — 1698
Older Than Print | 476 — 1439
Older Than Feudalism | ~800 BC — 476 AD
Older Than Dirt | Before ~800 BC
From printing to the steam engine (1439-1698), a time also generally known as the Early Modern Era. The arrival of movable type printing in Europe made books plentiful, and helped standardize the languages that used it. Much more survives from this period than from earlier.
Please note, that when we say steam engine we mean useful steam engine. Not Heron's first century toy, not the store, and definitely not the gaseous form of water (which predates mankind by hundreds of millions of years).
Notable works and authors from this time period include:
- The Renaissance
- Allegory of the Four Seasons, by Bartolomeo Manfredi
- Hieronymus Bosch
- Sandro Botticelli
- Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- Michelangelo Buonarroti
- Hubert And Jan Van Eyck
- Raphael Sanzio
- Sistine Chapel
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Don Quixote by Cervantes.
- Journey to the West, the great Chinese epic.
- Leviathan (Thomas Hobbes)
- Paradise Lost by John Milton.
- The works of Jonathan Swift.
- William Shakespeare (see The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples), Christopher Marlowe and other authors of Elizabethan/Jacobean drama.
- The plays of Molière.
- Le Morte d'Arthur, the codifier of Arthurian Legend
- The Italian Commedia dell'Arte farces, establishing many comedy-related tropes we enjoy to this day.
- The plays of Tāng Xiǎnzǔ (see The Peony Pavilion)
Tropes that originated in this time period:
- Adaptation Displacement: Some of Shakespeare's plays, such as Romeo and Juliet, displaced older versions of the same stories.
- Adaptation Expansion: Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper adds details not mentioned in The Four Gospels, such the appearances of the Disciples and Jesus and their reactions to him announcing that one of them would betray him.
- Affably Evil: Hamlet, speaking of his uncle Claudius who murdered his father, laments that "one may smile, and smile, and be a villain."
- All That Glitters:
- Anti-Hero: Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare's Falstaff, Hamlet, and Cervantes' Don Quixote are all contenders for the first deliberate example of This Very Wiki's definition as "they are good guys, but has flaws to work out."
- Argument of Contradictions: May date back as far as Commedia dell'Arte.
- Aside Comment: Shakespeare and contemporaries. (Since live theater was the main mode of entertainment during this era, Aside Comments were helpful in telling the audience what characters were thinking.)
- AstroTurf: Fictional example dating back to Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
- Atlas Pose: The, um, Atlas.
- Badass Bystander: The servant who challenges Cornwall in King Lear
- Balcony Wooing Scene: Romeo courts Juliet (at her window) from the garden in the Balcony Scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
- Black-Tie Infiltration: Romeo and Juliet has Romeo and some friends gate-crash a party at the Capulet estate, which is where he meets Juliet.
- The Bluebeard: European literary folktale recorded by Charles Perrault, 1697.
- Befriending the Enemy At least as old as Arthurian Legend when Sir Lancelot befriends Prince Galehaut to end a war over disputed territories.
- Bluffing the Murderer: The play within the play in Hamlet.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Polonius's list of genres in Hamlet.
- Bromantic Foil: Mercutio of Romeo and Juliet.
- The Burlesque of Venus: The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli was created in 1486. Botticelli himself is seen as a lesser-known contributor to the Italian Renaissance.
- The Captivity Narrative: Popular in colonial America, now a Forgotten Trope
- Cargo Envy: In a famous line from Romeo and Juliet, Romeo sees Juliet resting her head on her hand, and wishes he was a glove on that hand.
- Celebrity Paradox: In Molière's 1673 play The Imaginary Invalid, the main character and his brother argue about Moliére.
- The Chessmaster (using actual chess motifs): Iago in Othello.
- Chessmaster Sidekick: The literary folktale Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault, 1695.
- Contrived Coincidence: The Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare.
- Counter Zany: Commedia dell'Arte, and William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
- Cult Classic: Scots poet Robert Burns and his annual supper.
- Deal with the Devil: Historia von D. Johan. Fausten dem weitbeschreyten Zauberer und Schwartzkünstler, 1587; may be older.
- Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Macbeth.
- Detect Evil: Shakespeare's Macbeth.
- Diamonds in the Buff: Popular in 16th Century French art.
- Disorganized Outline Speech: Much Ado About Nothing.
- The Eeyore: Jacques in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Some critics consider Hamlet to be another example.
- Epistolary Novel: Prison of Love (Cárcel de amor) by Diego de San Pedro, 1485.
- Et Tu, Brute?: Julius Caesar is the Trope Namer, obviously.
- Evil Lawyer Joke: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."—Dick the revolutionary from Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 2.
- Eviler than Thou: Edmund in King Lear.
- Exact Eavesdropping: Appears to be at least this old; Shakespeare subverted it in Hamlet and Othello, and invoked it twice in Much Ado About Nothing.
- Exit, Pursued by a Bear: The Winter's Tale
- Eye of Providence: Supper at Emmaus by Jacopo "Pontormo" Carucci.
- The Fate of the Princes in the Tower: Shakespeare's Richard III is the Trope Maker, codifying The House of Tudor's accusation against Henry VII's rival for the throne in its most remembered form. The Ur-Example is the Tudors' own propaganda on which the play was based.
- Feminist Fantasy: The Faerie Queene.
- Flying Broomstick: In 1453 a man suspected of witchcraft confessed to flying a broom—the first such mention of the practice in recorded history.
- Forgotten Framing Device: The Taming of the Shrew, 1592
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Has its roots in the 16th Century theory of 'humours', and formed the backbone of a whole genre called the "comedy of humours" (although this related to any comedy where everyone is based on a single Fatal Flaw each).
- Friendly Local Chinatown: The first-ever recorded Chinatown (outside of China of course) was Binondo, in Manila (Philippines), founded in 1594. The Chinatowns in Nagasaki (Japan) and Hoi An (Vietnam) also date from the 16th century, while Mexico City's arguably dates from the early 17th.
- The Ghost: Rosaline in Romeo and Juliet, Angelo and Marcus Luccios in Othello, and Dulcinea in Don Quixote.
- Godiva Hair: Botticelli's 1486 painting The Birth of Venus, if not earlier with Lady Godiva herself.
- Good is Not Nice: Don Quixote causes unwarranted harm to others despite being positive that he's doing the right thing.
- Hand of Glory: The legend of this macabre candelabra can be traced to circa 1440, but the name only dates to 1707.
- Haunting the Guilty: William Shakespeare used this in several plays, but one of the more archetypical ones is when the murdered Banquo appears to his killer Macbeth to taunt him.
- Heartbroken Badass: Sir Pelleas over Ettarde in Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, c. 1450-1470.
- Hedge Maze: Earliest examples date from the Elizabethan era (mid-1500s).
- He Who Fights Monsters: Vindice in The Revenger's Tragedy, 1606
- Hobbes Was Right: Leviathan (Thomas Hobbes), 1651
- Holding Both Sides of the Conversation: Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
- Honor Among Thieves: Cervantes' Don Quixote
- Hourglass Plot: Don Quixote and Sancho in Don Quixote.
- Humble Pie: Called umble pie in the 15th and 16th century.
- I Am Spartacus: Fuenteovejuna by Lope de Vega
- I Banged Your Mom: Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus
Demetrius: Villain, what hast thou done?
Aaron: That which thou canst not undo.
Chiron: Thou hast undone our mother.
Aaron: Villain, I have done thy mother.
- I Call It "Vera": The bombard now called "Mons Meg" was first named "Muckle Meg" in 1650 (or in the 16th century, if "Monce" counts as a name instead of an identification of origin).
- Impeded Messenger: Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
- In Another Man's Shoes: Shakespeare's Henry V.
- In My Language, That Sounds Like...: Shakespeare's Henry V, when Princess Katherine is trying to learn "English" from her maid. The English words "foot" and "gown" sound a lot like the French for "fuck" (foutre) and "cunt" (con). (Helped along by poor pronunciation in the second case.)
- I've Come Too Far: Richard III, early 1590s
- Joker Jury: In Vanity Fair in The Pilgrim's Progress
- Jossed: Cervantes disproved all the non-canonical novels written by other author(s) featuring his character Don Quixote, going as far as to have the characters in the canonical book read the others and prove them as inaccurate.
- Just Following Orders: One of the first recorded attempts at using this as a legal defense occurred in 1474 at the trial of German governor Peter von Hagenbach for crimes in office. Von Hagenbach tried to pin it on his superior, the Duke of Burgundy, with the line "Is it not known that soldiers owe absolute obedience to their superiors?" The court ruled this was not, in fact, known, and von Hagenbach was convicted and executed.
- "Kick Me" Prank: Cervantes' Don Quixote
- Last Villain Stand: Shakespeare's Macbeth, with the protagonist's last stand.
- Liberty Over Prosperity: First found in Paradise Lost: Satan would rather reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
- Loan Shark: Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
- Lord Error-Prone: Don Quixote
- Loser Has Your Back: Happens to the protagonist in the morality play Everyman.
- Love Across Battlelines: The title characters of Romeo and Juliet, scions of the violently feuding Montagues and Capulets.
- Love Dodecahedron: Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night
- Macross Missile Massacre: The earliest known multiple rocket launcher is the hwacha, invented and refined in Korea in the 15th century. It consisted of a wooden wheeled cart that could fire up to 200 projectiles at once. These projectiles, singijeon, were arrows with gunpowder at the bottom for propulsion and some more at the tip to explode on impact—missiles, in short. True to the trope, a hwacha attack typically made short work of invading armies, particularly the Japanese samurai who liked to travel in closely-packed formations, though at the expense of being very slow and expensive to reload.
- Mad Alchemist: The precursor to the modern mad scientist.
- Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter (The "mad scientist is good" variant): Shakespeare's The Tempest, 1611, even though Prospero is a sorcerer, not a scientist.
- Magically-Binding Contract: Faust's contract with Mephistopheles has to be signed with blood, and can't be broken.
- Malaproper: Several Shakespheare comedies.
- Mega-Corp: The various European East India Companies, with the first founded in England in 1600 and the second in the Netherlands in 1602.
- Mistimed Revival: Romeo and Juliet
- Mobile Shrubbery: Macbeth. "I look'd toward Birnam, and anon, methought, / The wood began to move.
- Monster in the Moat: Probably goes back to a Neapolitan legend of a giant crocodile living in the moat of Castle Maschio Angioino and eating prisoners from the castigate in the 15th century. Actual castle moats usually weren't even deliberately flooded: they were just a ditch.
- Monumental Damage: The Venetians destroyed the Parthenon while invading Greece in 1687 after the Turks filled the entire temple with stores of gunpowder and explosives.
- Moral Myopia: Shakespearean characters, such as Queen Margaret in Henry VI and Richard III, and Tamara in Titus Andronicus.
- More than Mind Control: The Faerie Queene, The Pilgrim's Progress
- MST3K Mantra: Puck's final speech in A Midsummer Night's Dream starts with "If we shadows have offended / Think but this and all is mended..." The speech can essentially be compressed into "It's just a play; cool it, willya?"
- Mythology Gag: The Sistine Chapel, the physical building itself, has the same dimensions (40.9 meters long by 13.4 meters wide) as the Temple of Solomon does in The Bible. This reinforces one of the main theses of the Chapel: to demonstrate that the Christian tradition flows directly from the teachings of Judaism.
- New England Puritan: It was during this time period that the Puritans first set out to settle what is now know as New England, resulting in the region's reputation as a hot bed for religious fundamentalism.
- Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: One of the oldest and most famous examples is the 16th-century handscroll Hyakki Yagyō Zu (百鬼夜行図), erroneously attributed to Tosa Mitsunobu, located in the Shinju-an of Daitoku-ji, Kyoto.
- No Fourth Wall: Many of Shakespeare's plays, if not earlier.
- Not His Blood: Macbeth, 1606
- Numbered Sequels: Shakespeare's Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3.
- Oh, Crap, There Are Fanfics of Us!: Don Quixote and his fellow characters read Don Quixote fanfiction novels written by authors other than Cervantes, and complained about whichever parts Cervantes disliked.
- Ominous Fog: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair/Hover through the fog and filthy air."—Macbeth.
- Overly-Long Gag: Gratiano's repeated ironic echoes of Shylock at the climax of the court scene in The Merchant of Venice.
- Pascal's Wager: The original wager appeared in Pensées, a collection of Blaise Pascal's notes for an unfinished Christian apologetic piece which were published posthumously in 1670.
- The Peeping Tom: The folk legend of Lady Godiva, in a version from the 17th century.
- Pineal Weirdness: Descartes' Treatise Of Man, 1629
- Poe's Law: Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum, 1515-1517
- Pose of Silence: Shakespearean stage production technique.
- Potty Emergency: Don Quixote features this joke.
- Rapid-Fire Comedy: Shakespeare's comedies, though many of the jokes go unnoticed, due to culture (and linguistic) changes, without the body-language context of live performance.
- Rash Equilibrium: Shakespeare's Measure for Measure
- Reality Has No Subtitles: Shakespeare's Henry V (an entire scene in French)
- Recursive Crossdressing: Shakespearean comedy, especially As You Like It.
- Recursive Canon: Hamlet refers to Julius Caesar as a play.
- Red Herring: Actual red herrings used in hunting.
- Returning the Handkerchief: Shakespheare's Othello
- Russian Reversal: In Shakespeare's Richard II the title character, reflecting on his reign, laments that "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me."
- Scrubbing Off the Trauma: Macbeth is the likely Trope Codifier.
- Secondary Character Title: Julius Caesar (Caesar's only in three scenes; the protagonist is Brutus)
- Shoo Out the Clowns: Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and Henry V
- Show Within a Show:
- Simple Solution Won't Work: In Hamlet, the title character initially doesn't start plotting to kill King Claudius on the grounds that he needs absolute proof of Claudius's guilt first: the ghost claiming to be Hamlet's late father might be lying. Later in the play, he has Claudius dead to rights but holds himself back because Claudius is praying at the time, so Hamlet thinks Claudius might go to Heaven instead of Hell if he assassinates him right then.
- Skeletal Musician: Appear in fifteen century "Dance of Death" art.
- Spontaneous Human Combustion: The oldest known report of such an incident allegedly occurring dates back to 1654, briefly detailing an incident believed to have occurred sometime between 1468 and 1503.
- A Storm Is Coming: Macbeth
- Stumbling Upon the Lost Wizard: The Tempest with Prospero as the wizard in question.
- Surrogate Soliloquy: Hamlet
- Switched at Birth: Shakespeare's Henry IV wishes out loud that his wayward son Hal had been switched at birth with the honorable rebel Hotspur.
- Technobabble: The Alchemist contains rather a lot of baffling alchemical jargon. Some uses it straight to confuse the audience with the cleverness of the characters who understand alchemy, and some is in-universe technobabble employed by charlatans pretending to be actual alchemists.
- That Cloud Looks Like...: Hamlet
- Those Two Guys: Braggadocchio and Trompart in The Faerie Queene; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet
- Thread of Prophecy, Severed: During the Thirty Years' War, King Gustaf II of Sweden claimed to be the "Lion from the North", a world-altering figure prophesied by the 16th century Swiss mystic Paracelsus. Unfortunately for those who believed in the prophecy, Gustavus Adolphus was killed in a mishap at the Battle of Lützen in 1632.
- Threatening Mediator: In the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet the Prince of Verona tries to shut down the Montague/Capulet feud by decreeing that any more swordplay in public will result in the combatants being stripped of their titles and exiled.
- Throne Made of X: In Journey to the West, the goddess Guanyin makes a throne out of swords and later halbeards to imprison the Red Boy.
- Too Smart for Strangers: Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault, 1697:
Moral: Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say "wolf," but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.
- Torture Is Ineffective: Cautio Criminalis, published in 1631 by a Jesuit priest named Friedrich Spee, sharply criticizes the use of torture to elicit confessions (specifically of witchcraft): "Torture has the power to create witches where none exist." This book helped end European and American witch scares and helped lead to the end of torture as a generally accepted practice.
- 21-Gun Salute: The naval tradition of firing your guns to render yourself unarmed appears to date to the Middle Ages/Renaissance. Probably not Older Than Print.
- Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Someone falls in love with the Sweet Polly Oliver in both Twelfth Night and As You Like It.
- Viewers in Mourning: Remarked upon by Richard Barber in The Knight And Chivalry.
- When the Clock Strikes Twelve: "Cinderella", amongst others.
- Why Don't You Marry It?: A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1595-6
- Woolseyism: The King James translation of The Bible uses this method in many passages. More modern translations such as the New International Version have preserved the most famous ones in only slightly modernized form.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: The eponymous character of Don Quixote.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Gunpowder Plot, 1605 (famously referenced in the V for Vendetta franchise). Also became a common charge on all sides in the incredibly violent European Wars of Religion, which mostly began in this era as sparked by the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation.
- Zany Scheme: Much Ado About Nothing — it's one long ping-pong match of schemery.
- Zany Scheme Chicken: William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and The Merry Wives of Windsor