pi·​ca·​resque | \ ˌpi-kə-ˈresk How to pronounce picaresque (audio) , ˌpē-\

Definition of picaresque

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: of or relating to rogues or rascals also : of, relating to, suggesting, or being a type of fiction dealing with the episodic adventures of a usually roguish protagonist a picaresque novel



Definition of picaresque (Entry 2 of 2)

: one that is picaresque

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What is a picaresque novel?


Picaresque derives from Spanish picaresco, which means "of or relating to a picaro." What is a picaro? This word, which also derives from Spanish, means "rogue" or "bohemian." "Picaro" describes a type of character that has long been a popular subject for fictional narrative. Typically, the picaresque novel centers around a wandering individual of low standing who happens into a series of adventures among people of various higher classes, often relying on his wits and a little dishonesty to get by. The first known novel in this style is Lazarillo de Tormes (ca. 1554), an irreverent work about a poor boy who works for a series of masters of dubious character. The novel has been attributed to Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, but his authorship is disputable.

Examples of picaresque in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Its astonishing energy comes from the contrast between its perky, picaresque structure and its muscular, high-flying prose. Jesse Green, New York Times, "In Chicago’s Vibrant Theater Scene, Two Tales of One City," 7 June 2019 Predictably, Armbruster's picaresque plot eventually finds a way of thawing the frosty impasse between the two men, but the road to reconciliation is pleasingly bumpy and steep. Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter, "'End of Sentence': Film Review | Edinburgh 2019," 30 June 2019 Two lithographs from 1827 by European visitors to Rio, capital of the new empire of Brazil, depict picaresque street scenes crowded with traders, monks, hawkers and slaves. Jason Farago, New York Times, "How Latin America Was Built, Before Modernism Came Along," 18 Apr. 2018 Which is a shame, because this picaresque novel’s most memorable scenes rival Gone With the Wind (and Cold Mountain) for sheer jaw-dropping Dixie drama. Jocelyn Mcclurg, USA TODAY, "Who is 'Varina'? Novelist Charles Frazier makes the Confederacy's first lady a star," 3 Apr. 2018 Cinema will seemingly never run out of stories in which sons go in search of their missing/lost fathers, but if the results were always as charming as Joao Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis' ambling picaresque Djon Africa few audiences would complain. Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Djon Africa': Film Review | Rotterdam 2018," 7 Feb. 2018 The result was a picaresque romp that happened to coincide with a bout of subzero weather that killed the TV crew’s drone midflight and froze my iPhone during an attempt to do a Facebook Live. Washington Post Staff, Washington Post, "Long journeys and unforgettable encounters: Foreign correspondents share their most memorable tales," 20 Dec. 2017 Elements of picaresque comedy blended with pop culture references to create one of the most soul-satisfying shows of the year. Kerry Reid, chicagotribune.com, "Bumppo to Haven, the top-10 best in off-Loop theater of 2017," 18 Dec. 2017 Some critics accused him of recycling his picaresque plots and ideas, which at times seemed to verge on the nihilistic. Harrison Smith, Washington Post, "J.P. Donleavy, best-selling author of ‘The Ginger Man,’ dies at 91," 14 Sep. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Ibsen’s next work, Peer Gynt (1867), a stunning picaresque that lampoons Norwegian peasant life, provincialism, and greed, was also enthusiastically received. Andrew Katzenstein, Harper's magazine, "The Radical Conservative," 16 Sep. 2019 Ralph Breaks the Internet, like all good picaresques, meanders a bit during its journey, stopping to take several little detours that aren’t strictly necessary. Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "Ralph Breaks the Internet is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but for the internet," 21 Nov. 2018 With intricacy and humor, Van der Vliet Oloomi relays Zebra’s brainy, benighted struggles as a tragicomic picaresque whose fervid logic and cerebral whimsy recall the work of Bolaño and Borges. Liesl Schillinger, New York Times, "Brainy and Benighted, Lost in the Books of Bolaño and Borges," 29 Mar. 2018 Can a 21st-century writer of topical take-no-prisoners satires find happiness in the quaint but rollicking form of the 18th-century picaresque? Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: A Boisterous ‘Low Road’ Finds the Potholes in Capitalism," 7 Mar. 2018 At his or her best, a serial impostor lives out a real-life picaresque, a thrillingly disjointed string of dramatic episodes. Sadie Stein, Town & Country, "Why Are Rich People So Easily Fooled?," 26 Feb. 2017 For the first time, women were at the center of the picaresque. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, "The 45 Best Travel Films of All Time," 11 May 2018 Berger's philosophically dense picaresque is a prime opportunity for a gifted solo performer. F. Kathleen Foley, latimes.com, "A librarian's obsession with a book that's 113 years overdue in 'Underneath the Lintel'," 3 Nov. 2017 This comic picaresque, which opened on Monday night at Playwrights Horizons under the direction of Robert O’Hara, follows Bella (Ashley D. Kelley), who is celebrated in her hometown, Tupelo, Miss., for her shape. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: In ‘Bella,’ an Indomitable Heroine Goes West," 12 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'picaresque.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of picaresque


1810, in the meaning defined above


1895, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for picaresque


Spanish picaresco, from pícaro

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picardy third






Statistics for picaresque

Last Updated

8 Oct 2019

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Time Traveler for picaresque

The first known use of picaresque was in 1810

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More Definitions for picaresque



English Language Learners Definition of picaresque

: telling a story about the adventures of a usually playful and dishonest character

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with picaresque

Spanish Central: Translation of picaresque

Nglish: Translation of picaresque for Spanish Speakers

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