Repetition is a common storytelling technique that is still used to this day. It is primarily an oral tradition entity. We hear it a lot in narrative jokes. In fairy tales, repetition happened in the form of a person having to do a series of actions or a set of dialog several times until some outcome occurs.
Here is an example of repetition: A young maiden awaits her lover to come home from war. She fears for his life. A bird was conscripted to keep watch over him, and every morning, the bird flies to her home and alights on a tree outside her window. When the maiden awakens, she opens the window and says, "Oh, beautiful bird up in the tree, will my lover come back to me?"
To which the bird will reply, "Your lover is well. I've seen him today. Any more than that, I cannot say."
This little ritual could go on many times throughout the story. The maiden may see her lover again, and she may not. But the point of repetition is that on each day, she must say those lines exactly in the same way with no deviation, and the bird must follow along as well unless her lover has actually died.
Repetition can also surface as a spell. A good example would be the evil queen of the famous story "Snow White." Remember what she said to the magic mirror? "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" The reason this qualifies as repetition is because she says it several times throughout the story. The reader pretty much expects it by the last time she does it. Verbal spells in stories do not require repetition. However, it is something that occasionally happens, and the rhythm it creates becomes a memorable aspect of the story as a whole.
Repetition also helped making stories easier to remember for the purposes of oral tradition. A complicated story that is always changing is much harder to tell from memory than one that has a repeating mechanic to it. In fact, it's part of the fun of telling it. It winds the listener up into the narrative and they will likely stick around to see where it is going.
Next time someone tells you a joke where a repetition is present, keep in mind that that person is utilizing an ancient storytelling gimmick that really works. Human beings pretty much invented storytelling. We're damn good at it! Repetition is only one of many techniques that proves we were made for this sort of thing.
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