Brit. Lit. Anglo-Saxon Period-Romantic Period
Terms in this set (30)
From our point of view, it is appropriate to think of the language and literature of Anglo-Saxon England as "Old English," because the language is the remote ancestor of the English spoken today. Yet for the inhabitants of Anglo-Saxon England, the language was, of course, not old, and did not come to be referred to generally as "English" until fairly late in the period. The earliest reference given in the Oxford English Dictionary is 890. Bede's Latin Ecclesiastical History of the English People refers collectively to the people as gens Anglorum, which in the vernacular translation becomes angel-cynne (English-race). However, in Bede's time the England of today was divided into a number of petty kingdoms. Language, the Roman Church, and monastic institutions lent these kingdoms a certain cultural identity, but a political identity began to emerge only during the ninth century in response to the Danish invasions, and through King Alfred's efforts to revive learning and to make Latin religious and historical works, such as Bede's History, available in vernacular translations.
Most of the surviving vernacular poetry of Anglo-Saxon England consists of free translations or adaptations of Latin saints' lives and books of the Bible, such as Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel. But with the exception of The Battle of Maldon about the defeat of Earl Byrhtnoth and his men by Viking raiders and The Battle of Brunanburh, a poem celebrating an English victory over the invaders, secular heroic poetry has little or nothing to do with England or English people. Beowulf is set in Scandinavia; its principal characters are Danes, Geats, Swedes, and there are brief references to other pagan Germanic tribes such as the Frisians, Jutes, and Franks.
When did "English Literature" begin? Any answer to that question must be problematic, for the very concept of English literature is a construction of literary history, a concept that changed over time. There are no "English" characters in Beowulf, and English scholars and authors had no knowledge of the poem before it was discovered and edited in the nineteenth century. Although written in the language called "Anglo-Saxon," the poem was claimed by Danish and German scholars as their earliest national epic before it came to be thought of as an "Old English" poem. One of the results of the Norman Conquest was that the structure and vocabulary of the English language changed to such an extent that Chaucer, even if he had come across a manuscript of Old English poetry, would have experienced far more difficulty construing the language than with medieval Latin, French, or Italian. If a King Arthur had actually lived, he would have spoken a Celtic language possibly still intelligible to native speakers of Middle Welsh but not to Middle English speakers.
Medieval Literature (Middle Ages)
Drama was never a popular medieval genre but gained a certain following in the later centuries of the era. Developing from a religious tradition centered around dramatizing the resurrection of Christ, short plays were performed on Christian feast days. Anonymously written plays such as Everyman focused on morality or were dramatic enactments of homilies and sermons.
The literary culture of the Middle Ages was far more international than national and was divided more by lines of class and audience than by language. Latin was the language of the Church and of learning. After the eleventh century, French became the dominant language of secular European literary culture. Edward, the Prince of Wales, who took the king of France prisoner at the battle of Poitiers in 1356, had culturally more in common with his royal captive than with the common people of England. And the legendary King Arthur was an international figure. Stories about him and his knights originated in Celtic poems and tales and were adapted and greatly expanded in Latin chronicles and French romances even before Arthur became an English hero.
Nevertheless, Chaucer and his contemporaries Gower, William Langland, and the Gawain poet — all writing in the latter third of the fourteenth century — are heirs to classical and medieval cultures that had been evolving for many centuries. Cultures is put in the plural deliberately, for there is a tendency, even on the part of medievalists, to think of the Middle Ages as a single culture epitomized by the Great Gothic cathedrals in which architecture, art, music, and liturgy seem to join in magnificent expressions of a unified faith — an approach one recent scholar has referred to as "cathedralism." Such a view overlooks the diversity of medieval cultures and the social, political, religious, economic, and technological changes that took place over this vastly long period.
The texts included here from "The Middle Ages" attempt to convey that diversity. They date from the sixth to the late- fifteenth century. Eight were originally in Old French, six in Latin, five in English, two in Old Saxon, two in Old Icelandic, and one each in Catalan, Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic.
• During the Renaissance, notions of Europe's and of humankind's centrality in the world were challenged and partially discredited by advances in scientific theory, a rediscovery of Greco-Roman culture, and the so-called discovery of the Americas. Such revolutionary changes, however, did not come without certain resistance. Scientific findings by Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei met with opposition from the Catholic Church, which plotted to maintain its political and military control over an increasingly secular society. The explorations of navigators such as Christopher Columbus prompted radical revisions of European conceptions of world geography. In Italy, humanists developed new standards of scholarship that allowed for greater access to the cultural legacy of Greece and Rome and a greater sense of their own position in history. Whereas medieval Europe was preoccupied with the afterlife, Europe in the Renaissance was primarily concerned with life—the immediate, the tangible, the earthly, and the aesthetic.
• Literally meaning "rebirth," the Renaissance is much more than a singular impulse toward the intellectual, artistic, and political achievements of ancient Greece and Rome. The term perhaps more accurately refers to a generalized notion of artistic creativity, an extraordinary zest for life and knowledge, a sensory delight in opulence and magnificence, and an appreciation for individual achievement. Not only does the usefulness of the term Renaissance require a certain degree of elasticity with regard to its impulses, it also requires elasticity when it is used to describe a "movement." The Renaissance reached its peak at different times in different cultures, beginning in Italy with the visual arts and, nearly two centuries later, working its way as far as England, where its achievements are most recognized in drama.
The period between 1660 and 1785 was a time of amazing expansion for England — or for "Great Britain," as the nation came to be called after an Act of Union in 1707 joined Scotland to England and Wales. Britain became a world power, an empire on which the sun never set. But it also changed internally. The world seemed different in 1785. A sense of new, expanding possibilities — as well as modern problems — transformed the daily life of the British people, and offered them fresh ways of thinking about their relations to nature and to each other. Hence literature had to adapt to circumstances for which there was no precedent. The topics in this Restoration and Eighteenth Century section of Norton Topics Online review crucial departures from the past — alterations that have helped to shape our own world.
One lasting change was a shift in population from the country to the town. "A Day in Eighteenth-Century London" shows the variety of diversions available to city-dwellers. At the same time, it reveals how far the life of the city, where every daily newspaper brought new sources of interest, had moved from traditional values. Formerly the tastes of the court had dominated the arts. In the film Shakespeare in Love, when Queen Elizabeth's nod decides by itself the issue of what can be allowed on the stage, the exaggeration reflects an underlying truth: the monarch stands for the nation. But the eighteenth century witnessed a turn from palaces to pleasure gardens that were open to anyone with the price of admission. New standards of taste were set by what the people of London wanted, and art joined with commerce to satisfy those desires. Artist William Hogarth made his living not, as earlier painters had done, through portraits of royal and noble patrons, but by selling his prints to a large and appreciative public. London itself — its beauty and horror, its ever-changing moods — became a favorite subject of writers.
The sense that everything was changing was also sparked by a revolution in science. In earlier periods, the universe had often seemed a small place, less than six thousand years old, where a single sun moved about the earth, the center of the cosmos. Now time and space exploded, the microscope and telescope opened new fields of vision, and the "plurality of worlds," as this topic is called, became a doctrine endlessly repeated. The authority of Aristotle and Ptolemy was broken; their systems could not explain what Galileo and Kepler saw in the heavens or what Hooke and Leeuwenhoek saw in the eye of a fly. As discoveries multiplied, it became clear that the moderns knew things of which the ancients had been ignorant. This challenge to received opinion was thrilling as well as disturbing. In Paradise Lost, Book 8, the angel Raphael warns Adam to think about what concerns him, not to dream about other worlds. Yet, despite the warning voiced by Milton through Raphael, many later writers found the new science inspiring. It gave them new images to conjure with and new possibilities of fact and fiction to explore.
Meanwhile, other explorers roamed the earth, where they discovered hitherto unknown countries and ways of life. These encounters with other peoples often proved vicious. The trade and conquests that made European powers like Spain and Portugal immensely rich also brought the scourge of racism and colonial exploitation. In the eighteenth century, Britain's expansion into an empire was fueled by slavery and the slave trade, a source of profit that belied the national self-image as a haven of liberty and turned British people against one another. Rising prosperity at home had been built on inhumanity across the seas. This topic, "Slavery and the Slave Trade in Britain," looks at the experiences of African slaves as well as at British reactions to their suffering and cries for freedom. At the end of the eighteenth century, as many writers joined the abolitionist campaign, a new humanitarian ideal was forged. The modern world invented by the eighteenth century brought suffering along with progress. We still live with its legacies today.
Interregnum=time of puritanical writing and little theater--restricted, when Charles II regained the throne in 1660, he reopened the theaters and authors went in two different ways literary-wise: The general first reaction to Charles's return was for authors to move in two directions. On the one hand, there was an attempt at recovering the English literature of the Jacobean period, as if there had been no disruption, but, on the other, there was a powerful sense of novelty, and authors approached Gallic models of literature and elevated the literature of wit (particularly satire and parody). The novelty would show in the literature of skeptical inquiry, and the Gallicism would show in the introduction of Neo-classicism into English writing and criticism.
It became a time of poetry (not necessarily lyric poetry) Formally, the Restoration period had a preferred rhyme scheme. Rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter was by far the most popular structure for poetry of all types.
Refinement meets burlesque in Restoration comedy. In this scene from George Etherege's Love in a Tub, musicians and well-bred ladies surround a man who is wearing a tub because he has lost his pants.
Restoration comedy is the name given to English comedies written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1700. After public stage performances had been banned for 18 years by the Puritan regime, the re-opening of the theatres in 1660 signalled a rebirth of English drama. Restoration comedy is famous or notorious for its sexual explicitness, a quality encouraged by Charles II (1660-1685) personally and by the rakish aristocratic ethos of his court. Socially diverse audiences were attracted to the comedies by up-to-the-minute topical writing, by crowded and bustling plots, by the introduction of the first professional actresses, and by the rise of the first celebrity actors. This period saw the first professional woman playwright, Aphra Behn.
Centered on tensions between the accepted social codes of behavior toward sex and marriage, and the rather more direct behavioral prerogatives of human lust and social ambition
"war between the sexes" is a common theme
THESE PLAYS ARE NOT WRITTEN IN VERSE
Examples of Restoration comedy include:
William Wycherley: The Country Wife (1675)
Featuring Mr. Horner, Mr. Pinchwife, Sir Jasper Fidget, Mrs.
Squeamish, and Mrs. Dainty Fidget
George Etherege's The Man of Mode (1676)
Featuring Mr. Dorimant, Sir Fopling Flutter, and Mrs. Loveit
William Congreve: The Way of the World (1700), and Irish dramatist
Featuring Millamant (a woman), Mirabell (a man), Mr. Fainall, Lady Wishfort,
Foible (a woman), and Mincing (a woman)
Richard Sheridan: The School for Scandal (1777)
Featuring Sir Peter Teazle, Maria, Lady Sneerwell, Sir Benjamin Backbite, and
George Farquhar: The Beaux Stratagem (1707)
The medieval period also saw a revival of classical poetry as performance, especially the lyric. The most common theme is love—or courtly love, as it is often called by scholars. As the term lyric implies, values were derived from noble society. Beginning in Provence around 1100, the love lyric spread to Sicily, Italy, France, Germany, and eventually England. Some lyrics were written in Latin to express religious devotion.
Locating authority in the self rather than in the collective is a distinctive feature of Romanticism. Belief in the supposed universality of human experience was replaced by a stronger belief in the uniqueness of human experiences. Breaking with the Christian belief that the self is essentially "evil" and fallible, Romantic poets and authors often explored the "good" inherent in human beings. In addition, authors explored and portrayed the grotesque and deviant aspects of human behavior. French author Victor Hugo deals with the psychic nature of Satan, and Russian author Alexander Pushkin writes about the human obsession with money. The interest in the nature of feelings lead to a thematic focus on intense emotions. Continental and British poets such as Giacomo Leopardi, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Friedrich H-lderlin, RosalÌa de Castro, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and William Blake explored the painful and pleasurable dimensions of emotions in their poetry.
Emerging in the late eighteenth century and extending until the late nineteenth century, Romanticism broke with earlier models of thinking that were guided by rationalism and empiricism.
After the American and French revolutions, faith in social institutions declined considerably; no longer were systems that were organized around hierarchy and the separation of classes considered superior.
As manufacturing and industrialization developed, resulting in a decline in the agricultural economy, a "middle class" began to emerge in England and other parts of Europe.
Breaking with the Christian belief that the self is essentially "evil" and fallible, Romantic poets and authors often explored the "good" inherent in human beings.
As the middle class rose to ascendancy in the nineteenth century, new approaches to science, biology, class, and race began to shake middle-class society's values.
Imagination was seen as a way for the soul to link with the eternal.
The new thematic emphases of poetry—belief in the virtues of nature, the "primitive," and the past—engendered a form of alienation that was described in the "social protest" poetry of Romantic poets.
Composed around 850, the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf speaks about the warring lifestyle of the Germanic and Scandinavian groups that conquered the Roman empire. Exploring how heroism becomes intimately connected with violence, Beowulf asks why violence is so integrally linked to the edification of societies. Emerging from an oral tradition, it has been argued that the poet of Beowulf distinguishes between his Christian present and the pagan past of pre-Christian Germanic Europe in a nonjudgmental manner. Grendel and his mother, the nemesis of the hero Beowulf, are however, also interpreted to be descendants of Cain, who was condemned by God to wander the earth for murdering his brother, Abel. It is perhaps for this reason that being a wanderer or outlaw, or being without a home is considered by Westerners to be one of the worst conditions of the human world.
"The Linguistic and Literary Contexts of Beowulf" demonstrates the kinship of the Anglo-Saxon poem with the versification and literature of other early branches of the Germanic language group. An Anglo-Saxon poet who was writing an epic based on the book of Genesis was able to insert into his work the episodes of the fall of the angels and the fall of man that he adapted with relatively minor changes from an Old Saxon poem thought to have been lost until a fragment from it was found late in the nineteenth century in the Vatican Library. Germanic mythology and legend preserved in Old Icelandic literature centuries later than Beowulf provide us with better insights into stories known to the poet than anything in ancient Greek and Roman epic poetry.
The tenth-century English Benedictine monk Aelfric gives one of the earliest formulations of the theory of three estates — clergy, nobles, and commoners — working harmoniously together. But the deep- seated resentment between the upper and lower estates flared up dramatically in the Uprising of 1381 and is revealed by the slogans of the rebels, which are cited here in selections from the chronicles of Henry Knighton and Thomas Walsingham, and by the attack of the poet John Gower on the rebels in his Vox Clamantis. In the late-medieval genre of estates satire, all three estates are portrayed as selfishly corrupting and disrupting a mythical social order believed to have prevailed in a past happier age.
Certainly Beowulf is a remarkable survivor, in the Anglo-Saxon or Old English language, of a great literary tradition, but one that is by no means exclusively English. The Norman Conquest disrupted the literary culture of Anglo-Saxon England. The practice of alliterative verse continued until the fifteenth century, primarily in the north- and southwest corners of the island. But Beowulf disappeared from English literature until the manuscript, already singed by the fire that consumed so much of Sir Robert Cotton's library, was first noticed in the eighteenth century and was not transcribed and published until 1815 by an Icelander, Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin, at the time Royal Archivist of Denmark, under the Latin title De Danorum Rebus Gestis: Poema Danicum Dialecto Anglosaxonica (About the Deeds of the Danes: a Danish Poem in the Anglo-Saxon Dialect). Thorkelin believed that the poem was a Danish epic, its hero a Danish warrior, and its poet a contemporary witness of these events who was present at Beowulf's funeral. Subsequently, German scholars claimed that the poem had been originally composed in northern Germany in the homeland of the Angles, who invaded Britain in the fifth century.
Although we may dismiss these nationalistic attempts to appropriate the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf for other national literatures, they do point to the fact that Beowulf did not begin to play a role in the history of English literature before the nineteenth century. Beowulf along with most other Anglo-Saxon poetry was effectively lost to Chaucer and the English poets who succeeded him. They responded primarily to French, Italian, and classical literature to create an English literature rivaling these great precursors.
Therefore it is helpful for students, as it is for scholars, to see Beowulf and its place in literary history in the context of early Germanic literature that was little known before nineteenth-century philologists, editors, and translators, eager to establish their native traditions, made the poem available once more. Beowulf thus became a major text in a European revival of ancient Germanic literature, which includes, besides Anglo-Saxon, works in Old Saxon, Old and Middle High German, and Old Icelandic. We provide excerpts from several of these works, which illuminate the world of Beowulf and its pagan characters as well as its Christian poet and his original audience.
The Gawain poet
King arthur stories=creation of the romance: The new genre of romance focused not only on the exploits of knights fighting in wars and tournaments or battling against monstrous foes but also on the trials and fortunes of love, and romances addressed mixed audiences of men and women.
0Crafted in an alliterative style by an anonymous author near Birmingham, England, circa 1380, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an atypical Arthurian romance. Centering on a single knight, the poem tells the story of a fallible hero who ultimately proves to be human and not a picture of perfect human virtue. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight revives the "native" Anglo-Saxon tradition first seen in Beowulf that had apparently been submerged between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries following the Norman Conquest.
The poem is written in verse stanzas that end with the "bob and the wheel." The "bob" is a very short line, and the wheel is a trimeter quatrain. The five lines together rhyme ABABA. This is an obscure poetic device, but if you see it on the GRE, you'll know that you're looking at Gawain.
Hounds hasten by the score
To maul him, hide and head;
Men drag him in to shore
And dogs pronounce him dead.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th century alliterative romance recorded in a single manuscript, which also contains three other pieces of an altogether more Christian orientation.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is written in the style that linguists have termed the Alliterative Revival of the fourteenth century. Instead of focusing on a metrical syllabic count and rhyme, the alliterative form relied on the agreement of (usually a pair of) stressed syllables at the beginning of the line with (usually) a third and fourth at the end of the line. The line always finds a "breath-point" at some point after the first two stresses, dividing the line into two half-lines, separated by the pause called a caesura.
Geoffrey Chaucer has often been considered the greatest English poet, and his Canterbury Tales have been a centerpiece of English literature. Chaucer's awareness of literary traditions from continental Europe, the Middle East, and Asia is apparent in the structure of the Canterbury Tales. Though the collection itself is incomplete, it incorporates tale-telling traditions from non-English traditions. Although Chaucer's Canterbury Tales does not appear to be overtly political, it was written during a period of considerable political and religious turmoil that would eventually give rise to the Protestant Reformation.
Chaucer was certainly familiar with poetry that had its roots in the Old English period. He read popular romances in Middle English, most of which derive from more sophisticated French and Italian sources. But when he began writing in the 1360s and 1370s, he turned directly to French and Italian models as well as to classical poets (especially Ovid). English poets in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries looked upon Chaucer and his contemporary John Gower as founders of English literature, as those who made English a language fit for cultivated readers. In the Renaissance, Chaucer was referred to as the "English Homer." Spenser called him the "well of English undefiled."
Sir Thomas Malory
(1405-1471) Malory is important because he wrote the first major Arthurian romance, which continues to be rewritten up to the current day. I don't see the summary here being very important; I would remember, however, that this is a work of prose. Many questions on the GRE can be answered if simply rember whether a work is prose or verse. A good GRE question would try to trick you into identifying Malory as the author a verse Arthurian romance.
Here's a brief history of the man and the work:
Few facts are certain in Malory's history. From his own words he is known to have been a knight and prisoner, and his description of himself as "a servant of Jesu both day and night" has led to the inference that he might have been a priest . It is believed that he was knighted in 1442 and entered the British Parliament representing Warwickshire in 1445 .
In 1450, it appears that he turned towards a life of crime, being accused of murder, robbery, stealing, poaching, and rape. However, the validity of these charges are the subject of much controversy given Malory's unclear political affiliations. False charges were common amidst the political strife of the War of the Roses. Supposedly while imprisoned for most of the 1450s (mostly in London 's Newgate Prison ), he began writing an Arthurian legend that he called The Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table. His work was first published posthumously by William Caxton as Le Morte d'Arthur in 1485.
Malory is believed to have obtained the material for his work from many French sources in addition to earlier English Arthurian Romances, most notably the stanzaic Morte Arthur and the alliterative Morte Arthure. In the preface to the first edition of the Le Morte D'Arthur , William Caxton speaks of the work as printed by himself "after a copy unto me delivered, which copy Sir Thomas Malory did take out of certain books of French, and reduced it into English." Malory himself tells us that he finished the book in the ninth year of King Edward IV of England (about 1470 ). Le Morte D'Arthur brought together the various strands of the legend in a prose romance which many critics reckon the best of its kind.
The legendary king of the Celtic Britons and his nephew were eventually adopted as national heroes by the English, against whose ancestors Arthur and Gawain had fought, and that is how they are presented by William Caxton in the Preface to his edition of Malory's Morte Darthur in 1485, the same year in which Henry Tudor, who thanks to his Welsh ancestry made political capital of King Arthur, became Henry VII of England. Caxton valiantly, and perhaps somewhat disingenuously, seeks to refute the notion, "that there was no such Arthur and that all such books as been made of him been but feigned and fables." Yet even after Arthur's historicity had been discredited, his legend continued to fuel English nationalism and the imagination of epic poets. Spenser made Prince Arthur the destined but never-to-be consort of Gloriana, the Faerie Queene (NAEL 8, 1.808-12, Canto 9.1-153); the young Milton had contemplated Arthur as a possible epic subject (NAEL 8, 1.1813, note 2).
(1564-1593) As you probably know, Marlowe was the most famous dramatist in Shakespeare's day, and died young, a few years before Shakespeare's rise to fame. English poet and playwright who introduced blank verse as a form of dramatic expression. In Tauberlaine the Great he established blank verse as the staple medium for later Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatic writing. Also famous for "Hero and Leander", "Doctor Faustus" (plays off or the real-life fear of sorcery at the time and the tumult between the Protestant and the Catholic church about matters of the soul and the Lord's supper, etc.), and "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" (cited by Donne, Herrick, Ralegh, and C. Day Lewis". Sir Walter Ralegh wrote a response to this poem called "The Nymph: Reply to the Shepherd"
"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the rocks,
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of th purest gold;
A belt of straw and ivy buds,
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.
The shepherds' swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
Works from the English tradition, including Paradise Lost, Hamlet, and Othello, question the values of the Renaissance. William Shakespeare's plays are considered to be among the most important works of dramatic art in the modern Western world. Originally performed at the Globe Theatre, Shakespeare's plays were frequented by persons of all classes. Following the commercial success of his plays, Shakespeare purchased a title for his father, allowing himself to officially become known as a "gentleman born." Like other Renaissance works, Hamlet and Othello present worlds in which the culture of the courts and kings has been destroyed. In both plays, Shakespeare presents a protagonist who, like other Renaissance heroes, must ask whether personal and individual codes of conduct can stand up against degraded communal practices.
(1572-1631) John Donne was a Jacobean metaphysical poet. His works include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, and sermons. Famous for "The Canonization", "THE FLEA", "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning",
"The Sun Rising" (This poem is an aubade, or a poem or song of or about lovers separating at dawn), "Air and Angels",
Holy Sonnets: XIV, *"The Bait" (first few lines from Christopher Marlowe's 'The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"
First writings were the verse of a "courtier playboy" and then he became very religious and wrote the "Holy Sonnets" (marked by passionate, original, and searching thought regarding the Divinity and Christian faith); All of Donne's poetry is remarkable for the quality of its language. Whether playful and sensual as in the earlier poems, or struggling with difficult questions of faith as in the latter poems, the language manages to remain direct, clear, and forthright without sacrificing beauty and originality of phrase.
Bridging the Renaissance interest in classical antiquity and the Reformation interest in the Bible, John Milton's Paradise Lost is an important work of Christian humanism in England. By attempting to disrupt the so-called wisdom of the classics and the Bible, Milton's work asks important questions about the role of literature in the pursuit of knowledge and ways of knowing.
Although today he is studied separately from the Restoration, John Milton's Paradise Lost was published during the Restoration. Milton no less than Davenant wished to write the English epic. He chose blank verse as his form. However, Milton rejected the cause of English exceptionalism. His Paradise Lost seeks to tell the story of all mankind, and his pride is in Christianity rather than Englishness.
Significantly, Milton began with an attempt at writing an epic on King Arthur, for that was the matter of English national founding. While Milton rejected that subject, in the end, others made the attempt. Richard Blackmore wrote both a Prince Arthur and King Arthur. Both attempts were long, soporific, and failed both critically and popularly. Indeed, the poetry was so slow that the author became known as "Never-ending Blackmore" (see Alexander Pope's lambasting of Blackmore in The Dunciad).Lyric poetry, pastoral poetry, ariel verse, and odes
Obviously famous for Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes (contemplates his own blindness)
Milton's poem also draws on such repositories of classical myth as Ovid's Metamorphoses (NAEL 8, 1.704-05) and other literary analogues. Ovid's narrative of the myth of Narcissus resonates throughout the story told by Milton's Eve about her first coming to consciousness (NAEL 8, 1.1897). Two allegorical interpretations of the Narcissus myth — by Milton's contemporary George Sandys, the translator of Ovid, and by Sigmund Freud — may highlight how Milton reworks that myth. The poetic version of the Fall story in Guillaume Du Bartas's hexameral poem The Divine Weeks and Works provides another kind of literary analogue. In Joshua Sylvester's translation that work was extremely popular, and Milton certainly knew it. Finally, the epic tradition itself was a major literary resource for Milton: it is sampled here through the opening passages — propositions and invocations — of four epics central to Milton's idea of that genre: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered. Milton's epic proposition and invocation (NAEL 8, 1.1832-33) may be compared to these, and also Milton's defense of his better kind of tragic epic (NAEL 8, 1.1973-74). Homer and Virgil did not use rhyme, and Milton scorned it in heroic poems as a "troublesome and modern bondage"; accordingly, the classical epics are represented here by modern unrhymed translations. Tasso did employ rhyme, as did his Elizabethan translator Edward Fairfax.
"Paradise Lost in Context," the second topic for this period, surrounds that radically revisionist epic with texts that invite readers to examine how it engages with the interpretative traditions surrounding the Genesis story, how it uses classical myth, how it challenges orthodox notions of Edenic innocence, and how it is positioned within but also against the epic tradition from Homer to Virgil to Du Bartas. The protagonists here are not martial heroes but a domestic couple who must, both before and after their Fall, deal with questions hotly contested in the seventeenth century but also perennial: how to build a good marital relationship; how to think about science, astronomy, and the nature of things; what constitutes tyranny, servitude, and liberty; what history teaches; how to meet the daily challenges of love, work, education, change, temptation, and deceptive rhetoric; how to reconcile free will and divine providence; and how to understand and respond to God's ways.
(1709-1784) English author who made lasting contributions to English language as a poet, author of essays, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor, and lexicographer. His dictionary compiled during the 18th century was far beyond those that had been created before. Success came late with Jonson, and he struggled with poverty into his forties but is considered the best English literary mind of the eighteenth century. Important works include "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (a poem), The Lives of the English Poets (biography), essays for the journal The Rambler, the first English Dictionary. James Boswell (1740-1795) wrote a gushing biography about Johnson.
(1688-1744) Pope is one of the major figures of the Restoration, and his poem "The Rape of the Lock" is very famous. Note that Pope wrote almost exclusively in heroic couplets, like many Restoration poets. In "The Rape of the Lock", Pope satirizes a petty squabble by comparing it to the epic world of the gods.Pope is criticizing the over-reaction of contemporary society to trivial things. (it is the most famous and most perfectly executed mock epic in English letters)
"Essay on Man" is an attempt to justify, as Milton had attempted to vindicate, the ways of God to Man, and a warning that man himself is not, as, in his pride, he seems to believe, the center of all things.
"To a Lady"
Although the target of the satire appears at first to be aristocratic and wealthy women, the venom that Pope expends upon them clearly spreads to encompass women as a sex. For readers today Pope's text, like Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, presents serious problems of interpretation. Whereas in his other satires Pope targets either particular vices, or particular individuals, in An Epistle To A Lady he attacks the entire female sex. Paradoxically his misogyny weakens rather than strengthens his satire.
(1667-1745) Swift is considered the foremost prose satirist in the English language, although he is also well known for his poetry and essays. Known for Gulliver's Travels and A Modest Proposal.
Gulliver's Travels: The book presents itself as a simple traveller's narrative with the disingenuous title Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, its authorship assigned only to "Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, then a captain of several ships".
Gulliver's Travels has been called a lot of things from Mennipean Satire to a children's story, from proto-Science Fiction to a forerunner of the modern novel. Possibly one of the reasons for the book's classic status is that it can be seen as many things to many people. It is even funny. Broadly the book has three themes:
~a satirical view of the state of European government
~an inquiry into whether man is inherently corrupt or whether men are corrupted
~a restatement of the older "ancients v. moderns" controversy previously addressed by Swift in the Battle of the Books.
**Names to remember
Lilliputians: the very small
Brobdignags: the very large
Houyhnhnms: very smart horses who rule over the human Yahoos. They have cancelled all feeling in favor of reason.
Yahoos: brutish subhumans
Laputa: a flying island
The Struldburgs: unhappy immortals who would like to die
Blefuscu - rival country of Lilliput
A Modest Proposal
The play may account for a question or two on your exam, but the sheer ridiculousness of the argument should tip you off to Swift's satire.
The author (who is not to be confused with Swift himself, but is merely a persona) argues, through economic reasoning as well as a self-righteous moral stance, for a way to turn the problem of squalor among the Catholics in Ireland into its own solution. His proposal is to fatten up the undernourished children and feed them to Ireland's rich land-owners. Children of the poor could be sold into a meat market at the age of one thus combating overpopulation and unemployment, sparing families the expense of child-bearing while providing them with a little extra income, improving the culinary experience of the wealthy, and contributing to the overall economic well-being of the nation.
He offers statistical support for his assertions and gives specific data about the number of children to be sold, their weight and price, and the projected consumption patterns. He suggests some recipes for preparing this delicious new meat, and he feels sure that innovative cooks will be quick to generate more. He also anticipates that the practice of selling and eating children will have positive effects on family morality: husbands will treat their wives with more respect, and parents will value their children in ways hitherto unknown. His conclusion is that the implementation of this project will do more to solve Ireland's complex social, political, and economic problems than any other measure that has been proposed.
This is widely believed to be the greatest example of sustained irony in the history of the English language.
(1759-1796) was a Scottish poet and a lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, and is celebrated worldwide. He is the best known of the poets who have written in the Scots language, although much of his writing is also in English and a "light" Scots dialect, accessible to an audience beyond Scotland. He also wrote in standard English, and in these his political or civil commentary is often at its most blunt. Considered a Pioneer of the Romantic movement. As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His poem (and song) Auld Lang Syne is often sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year), and Scots Wha Hae served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country. Other poems and songs of Burns that remain well-known across the world today include A Red, Red Rose; A Man's A Man for A' That; To a Louse; To a Mouse; The Battle of Sherramuir; Tam o' Shanter, and Ae Fond Kiss.
Burns' style is marked by spontaneity, directness and sincerity, and ranges from the tender intensity of some of his lyrics through the rollicking humour and blazing wit of Tam o' Shanter and the blistering satire of Holy Willie's Prayer and The Holy Fair.
(1757-1827) Famous for "Songs of Innocence", "the Lamb", "The Tyger", "mock on, Mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau", "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", "Visions of the Daughters of Albion," and "London".
he produced a diverse and symbolically rich corpus, which embraced the imagination as "the body of God", or "Human existence itself". Writings are part of the Romantic movement--mystical
Blake illustrated Original Stories from Real Life (1788; 1791) by Mary Wollstonecraft. They seem to have shared some views on sexual equality and the institution of marriage, but there is no evidence proving without doubt that they actually met. In 1793's Visions of the Daughters of Albion, Blake condemned the cruel absurdity of enforced chastity and marriage without love and defended the right of women to complete self-fulfillment.
The reconciliation of opposites is one of the cornerstones of Blake's philosophy
(1770-1850) Romantic poet who launched the Romantic age with Samuel Taylor Coleridge by their joint publication Lyrical Ballads
Preface to Lyrical Ballads* (published with Coleridge)
Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey came to be known as the "Lake Poets".Through this period, many of his poems revolve around themes of death, endurance, separation and grief.
The Preface to "Lyrical Ballads" is considered a central work of Romantic literary theory. In the Preface, Wordsworth discusses what he sees as the constituents of a new type of poetry, one based on the "real language of men" and which avoids the poetic diction of much eighteenth-century poetry. Wordsworth also gives his famous definition of poetry in the Preface as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility."
The topic "Tintern Abbey, Tourism, and Romantic Landscape" represents a very different mode, but one that is equally prominent in the remarkably diverse spectrum of Romantic literature. Tintern Abbey, written in 1798, is Wordsworth's initial attempt, in the short compass of a lyric poem, at a form he later expanded into the epic-length narrative of The Prelude. That is, it is a poem on the growth of the poet's mind, told primarily in terms of an evolving encounter between subject and object, mind and nature, which turns on an anguished spiritual crisis (identified in The Prelude as occasioned by the failure of the French Revolution) and culminates in the achievement of an integral and assured maturity (specified in The Prelude as the recognition by Wordsworth of his vocation as a poet for his crisis-ridden era). In this aspect, Tintern Abbey can be considered the succinct precursor, in English literature, of the genre known by the German term Bildungsgeschichte — the development of an individual from infancy through psychological stresses and breaks to a coherent maturity. This genre came to include such major achievements as Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh in verse (NAEL 8, 2.1092-1106) and James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in prose.
However innovative, in historical retrospect, the content and organization of Tintern Abbey may be, a contemporary reader would have approached it as simply one of a great number of descriptive poems that, in the 1790s, undertook to record a tour of picturesque scenes and ruins. There is good evidence, in fact, that, on the walking tour of the Wye valley during which Wordsworth composed Tintern Abbey, the poet and his sister carried with them William Gilpin's best-selling tour guide, Observations on the River Wye . . . Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty. As Gilpin and other travelers point out, the ruined abbey, however picturesque, served as a habitat for beggars and the wretchedly poor; also the Wye, in the tidal portion downstream from the abbey, had noisy and smoky iron-smelting furnaces along its banks, while in some places the water was oozy and discolored. These facts, together with the observation that Wordsworth dated his poem July 13, 1798, one day before the anniversary of the Fall of the Bastille, have generated vigorous controversy about Tintern Abbey. Some critics read it as a great and moving meditation on the human condition and its inescapable experience of aging, loss, and suffering. (Keats read it this way — as a wrestling with "the Burden of the Mystery," an attempt to develop a rationale for the fact that "the World is full of Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression"; see NAEL 8, 2.945-47.) Others, however, contend that in the poem, Wordsworth suppresses any reference to his earlier enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and also that — by locating his vantage point in the pristine upper reaches of the Wye and out of sight of the abbey — he avoids acknowledging the spoliation of the environment by industry, and evades a concern with the social realities of unemployment, homelessness, and destitution.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(1772 - 1834) English Romantic poet and very good friends with William Wodsworth. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, Biographia Literaria.
Essentially, Coleridge's thesis is that the imagination is the supreme faculty of the human intellect, and its cultivation is both the prerequisite and the aim of poetry. Coleridge understands imagination to be more than the operation of mere fantasy; it is the process of keenly perceiving the phenomena of the world and the self, and then re-expressing phenomena through the creative faculties of the poet's whole being, the mind and the soul, the rational and the irrational.
"The Time of the Ancient Mariner"
'Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink."
*"On Donne's Poetry"
With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,
Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots ;
Rhyme's sturdy cripple, fancy's maze and clue,
Wit's forge and fire-blast, meaning's press and screw.
(1775-1817) Jane Austen is noted for her understated ironic treatment of character. , English novelist noted for her insightful portrayals of middle-class families.
Known for writing "the gothic novel" for Northanger Abbey
Sense and Sensibility
Names to know: Marianne Dashwood,Elinor Dashwood, Lucy Steel, John Willoughby, Colonel Brandon
Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice is essentially the story of a mother attempting to marry off her daughters. Names to know: Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Chrles Bingley, George Wickham
IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
``My dear Mr. Bennet,'' said his lady to him one day, ``have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?''
Names to know: the Bertrams of Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, Mrs. Norris
Names to know: Emma Woodhouse, Mr. Knightley, Miss Bates, Frank Churchill, Harriet Smit, Jane Fairfax
Names to know: Sir Walter, Elizabeth Elliot, Anne Elliot, Frederick Wentworth
Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822), Englishman and Romantic poet , wrote "Prometheus Unbound," "Ode to the West Wind," and "To A Skylark", "Mont Blanc," "To Wordsworth." Atheist - excommunicated. He drowned. Wife, Mary Percy Shelley wrote Frankenstein, Englishman and Romantic poet. Expelled from school for advocating atheism and set out to reform the world. Wrote Prometheus Unbound - a portrait of the revolt of human beings against the laws and customs that oppressed them.
was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron. The novelist Mary Shelley (née Godwin) was his second wife.
Because of his self-proclaimed "uncompromising idealism" and disapproving voice, He became an idol of the next three or four generations of poets, including important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets. He was admired by Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, William Butler Yeats, Upton Sinclair and Isadora Duncan. Henry David Thoreau's civil disobedience and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's passive resistance were apparently influenced and inspired by Shelley's non-violence in protest and political action.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
English writer who created Frankenstein's monster and married Percy Bysshe Shelley (1797-1851)
was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
In 1816, the couple famously spent a summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland, where Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley's works often argue that cooperation and sympathy, particularly as practised by women in the family, were the ways to reform civil society. This view was a direct challenge to the individualistic Romantic ethos promoted by Percy Shelley and the Enlightenment political theories articulated by her father, William Godwin.
The Last Man and Frankenstein demonstrate the individual's lack of control over history.
Shelley uses the historical novel to comment on gender relations; for example, Valperga is a feminist version of Scott's masculinist genre. Introducing women into the story who are not part of the historical record, Shelley uses their narratives to question established theological and political institutions.
(1788-1824) Was an important British Romantic poet. His works include "She walks in Beauty" and the unfinished "Don Juan." Many consider him to embody the spirit of Romanticism. He died from an illness contracted while in Greece, where he was supporting their independence movement (fighting the Ottomans).
A theme that pervades much of Byron's work is that of the Byronic hero, an idealised but flawed character whose attributes include:
* being a rebel
* having a distaste for social institutions
* being an exile
* expressing a lack of respect for rank and privilege
* having great talent
* hiding an unsavoury past
* being highly passionate
* ultimately, being self-destructive
Not only is the character a frequent part of his work, Byron's own life could cast him as a Byronic hero. The literary history of the Byronic hero in English can be traced from Milton, especially Milton's interpretation of Lucifer as having justified complaint against God. One of Byron's most popular works in his lifetime, the closet play "Manfred," was loosely modeled on Goethe's anti-hero, Faust. Byron's influence was manifested by many authors and artists of the Romantic movement during the 19th century and beyond. An example of such a hero is Heathcliff from Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.
(1795-1821) Englishman and Romantic poet; Keep in mind that Keats wrote a lot of odes, so if you see one, chaces are good that you're looking at Keats; John Keats was one of the principal poets in the English Romantic movement. During his short life, his work was the subject of constant critical attacks, and it was not until much later that the significance of the cultural change which his work both presaged and helped to form was fully appreciated. Keats's poetry is characterised by an exuberant love of the language and a rich, sensuous imagination; he often felt that he was working in the shadow of past poets, and only towards the end of his life was he able to produce his most original and most memorable poems.
Really famous for "Ode on a Grecian Urn", "Ode on melancholy", "Ode to a Nightingale"; **"On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer"
"Ode on a Grecian Urn"
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme :
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these ? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit ? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels ? What wild ecstasy?
Heroism and the Romantic period
"The Satanic and Byronic Hero," another topic for this period, considers a cast of characters whose titanic ambition and outcast state made them important to the Romantic Age's thinking about individualism, revolution, the relationship of the author—the author of genius especially—to society, and the relationship of poetical power to political power. The fallen archangel Satan, as depicted in Milton's Paradise Lost; Napoleon Bonaparte, self-anointed Emperor of the French, Europe's "greatest man" or perhaps, as Coleridge insisted, "the greatest proficient in human destruction that has ever lived"; Lord Byron, or at least Lord Byron in the disguised form in which he presented himself in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Manfred, and his Orientalist romances; these figures were consistently grouped together in the public imagination of the Romantic Age. Prompted by radical changes in their systems of political authority and by their experience of a long, drawn-out war in which many of the victories felt like pyrrhic ones, British people during this period felt compelled to rethink the nature of heroism. One way that they pursued this project was to ponder the powers of fascination exerted by these figures whose self-assertion and love of power could appear both demonic and heroic, and who managed both to incite beholders' hatred and horror and to prompt their intense identifications. In the representations surveyed by this topic the ground is laid, as well, for the satanic strain of nineteenth-century literature and so for some of literary history's most compelling protagonists, from Mary Shelley's creature in Frankenstein to Emily Brontë's Heathcliff, to Herman Melville's Captain Ahab.
The Canterbury Tales
Main Characters: The Knight's Tale is the first tale.
The Knights tale is about two knights, Arcite and Palamon, who are imprisoned by Theseus, duke of Athens. In prison they see and fall in love with the sister of Hippolyta, Emily (Emelye). They variously get out of prison and end up in a tournament over Emily arranged by Theseus. Arcite wins, but dies before he can claim Emily as his prize and so Palamon marries her. It introduces many typical aspects of knighthood such as courtly love and ethical dilemmas, etc. The story is in the form of poetry.
The Knight and his tale both embody the ideas of chivalry. The following tale, by the Miller, is a direct antithesis to the Knight's with none of the nobility or heritage of classical mythology, but is instead rollicking, bawdy, comedic and designed to annoy the Knight.
The Miller's Tale
The Miller's tale is about a carpenter/landlord and his wife. The Reeve, another of the travellers, happens to be a carpenter, and urges the Miller not to joke about his profession; the Miller replies that he does not mean to insult carpenters in general, or portray them as cuckolds, and tells his tale anyway. Thus, The Reeve's Tale follows, which 'quites' the Miller with a tale in which some students make a fool out of a dishonest and greedy miller.)
The story is of a student (Nicholas) who persuades his jealous old landlord's much younger wife (Alisoun/Alison) to spend the night with him, making that possible through an elaborate scheme in which he convinces the landlord that he has found, through his astrology, that a flood of Biblical proportions is imminent. The solution, says Nicholas, is for each of them to wait silently overnight for it in separate tubs suspended from the rafters, and to cut their tubs from the roof when the water has risen. He adds that if the landlord tells anyone else, he'll become insane. This comic prank allows Nicholas and Alison the opportunity to sneak down after the landlord falls asleep and be together.
While Nicholas and Alison lie together, another hopeful suitor, the foppish Absolon, appears and asks Alison for a kiss. She quietly tells Nicholas to watch and get a good laugh. She sticks her "hole" out the window, and he kisses it "full savorly," pausing only when he feels bristly hair and considers that no woman has a beard. He realizes the prank and, hearing them laughing at him, becomes enraged. He disappears to borrow a red hot colter (a plow part) from the early-rising blacksmith. Returning, he asks for another kiss. This time Nicholas, who had risen from bed to "piss" (urinate), sticks his "ers" (arse) out the window. When Absolon say "speak sweet bird, I know not where thou art", Nicholas almost blinds him with an enormous fart, shocking Absolon, who then brands Nicholas in the rear, searing off the skin. Nicholas cries for water, awakening the landlord, who hears someone screaming "water, water" and thinks that the Second Flood is come at last. He panics and cuts himself down, falling clean through the floor and breaking his arm; the rest of the town awakens to find him lying in the tub in the cellar. He tries to explain what he's doing in the tub, and sure enough in accordance with Nicholas'prophesy, he is considered a madman (and a cuckold, too) by the whole town.
The Wife of Bath
Her tale begins with an allusion to the absence of fairies in modern day, and their prevalence in King Arthur's time, then begins her tale, though she interrupts and is interrupted several times, creating several digressions. A knight in King Arthur's Court rapes a woman. By law, his punishment is death, but the queen intercedes on his behalf, and the king turns the knight over to her for judgement. The queen punishes the knight by sending him out on a quest to find out what women want, giving him a year and a day to discover it and having his word that he will return. If he fails to satisfy the queen with his answer, he forfeits his life. He searches but every woman he finds says something different, from riches to flattery.
On his way back to the queen after failing to find the truth, he sees four and twenty ladies dancing. They disappear suddenly, leaving behind an old hag and he asks for her help. She says she'll tell him what to tell to the queen and save him if he promises to grant her request at a time she chooses. He agrees and they go back to the court and he is pardoned after he tells them that what women want most is "to have the sovereignty as well upon their husband as their love, and to have mastery their man above". The old woman cries out to him before the court that she saved him and that her reward will be that he takes her as his wife and loves her. He protests, but to no avail, and the marriage takes place the next day.
The old woman and the knight converse about the knight's happiness in their marriage bed and discuss that he is unhappy because she is ugly and low-born. She discourses upon the origins of gentility, as told by Jesus and Dante and reflects on the origins of poverty. She says he can choose between her being ugly and faithful or beautiful and unfaithful. He gives the choice to her to become whatever would bring the most honour and happiness to them both and she, pleased with her mastery of her husband, becomes fair and faithful to live with him happily until the end of their days.
The Nun's Priest's Tale
The tale of Chanticleer and the Fox is a beast fable popularised by the 14th century Middle English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer's 625 line poem comprises the Nun's Priest's Tale, one of his Canterbury Tales.
The tale follows the monk's depressing accounts of despots and fallen heroes and, as well as sharing these themes, the tale also parodies them. It also has ideas in common with earlier tales with the marriage between Chanticleer and Pertelote echoing the domestic lives depicted in tales like Franklin's and The Tale of Melibee. These different themes help to unify several tales and offers a lively story from a previously almost invisible character.
The tale concerns a world of talking animals who reflect both human insight and error. Its protagonist is Chanticleer, a proud rooster who dreams of his approaching doom in the form of a hound. Frightened, he awakens his "wife" Pertelote, who assures him he only suffers from indigestion and chides him for paying heed to a simple dream. After recounting stories of other prophets who foresaw their deaths, Chanticleer is comforted by Pertelote and proceeds to greet a new day.
Unfortunately for Chanticleer, he predicted his doom correctly. A sly fox who has tricked Chanticleer's father and mother to their downfall now awaits Chanticleer's inflated ego. When the fox insists upon hearing the cock crow, Chanticleer sticks out his neck just a little too far and is promptly snatched from the yard. As the fox is chased through the forest, Chanticleer (all the while dangling from the fox's jaws) suggests that the fox should pause to tell his pursuers to give up their chase.
Now the fox's haughtiness rears its ugly head, and as the fox complies, the rooster falls out and proceeds to fly up the nearest tree. The fox tries in vain to convince the wary Chanticleer, who now prefers the safety of the tree and fails to fall for the same trick a second time.
Troilus and Criseyde
Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde is a work on another scale altogether, 8239 lines of rhyme-royal (seven-line stanzas rhyming ababbcc) in five books, the first major work of English literature and sometimes called the first English novel on account of its concern with the characters' psychology. Shakespeare also composed a version of Troilus.
The story comes from Boccaccio's Il Filostrato, and it is most intriguing that Chaucer nowhere mentions the name Boccaccio. Instead, in Troilus, he claims to be simply translating a work by a certain Lollius, wrongly assumed in the Middle Ages to have written about Troy, whereas he is in fact radically altering Boccaccio's story to make it deeper and more poetic.
When he began to write Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer was already fully aware of the need to make the English language into a poetic diction that would be as powerful in expressing emotion and reflexion as the other literary languages he knew. He was familiar with the writings of Ovid, Cicero, Virgil, Macrobius, Boethius, and Alain de Lisle in Latin, with Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio in Italian, with the Romance of the Rose and other French works, as well as with the native English romances. He had travelled, too, his mind was European. The opening lines of Troilus and Criseyde show why John Dryden called Chaucer the "father of English poetry" (in the Preface to his Fables Ancient and Modern of 1700):
The double sorwe of Troilus to tellen,
That was the king Priamus sone of Troye,
In lovinge, how his aventures fellen
Fro woe to wele, and after out of joie,
My purpos is, er that I parte fro ye.
Thesiphone, thou help me for t'endite
These woful vers, that wepen as I write.
To thee clepe I, thou goddess of torment,
Thou cruel Furie, sorwing ever in peyne,
Help me, that am the sorwful instrument,
That helpeth loveres, as I can, to pleyne.
For wel sit it, the sothe for to seyne,
A woful wight to han a drery feere,
And to a sorwful tale, a sory chere.
Chaucer was following in the footsteps of Dante in his attempt to form vernacular English into a poetic language able to stand beside the language of Virgil and the classics.
Troilus and Criseyde is set inside Troy during the Trojan War. In Book 1 of Chaucer's version, one of Priam's sons, Troilus, appears as a young warrior scornful of love, until he glimpses Criseyde in a temple. Love's arrow having wounded him, Troilus suddenly finds himself deeply in love with her. He withdraws to complain alone, but a friend of his, Pandare, overhears him and he admits he is in love with Criseyde. Pandare offers to help Troilus meet her.
Much time elapses as they slowly establish a relationship, until at last Pandare skillfully arranges for them to spend a night together. This represents the first movement, 'from woe to wele' a rise to happiness. Suddenly Criseyde learns that her father, a prophet who has fled to the Greeks, is arranging for her to leave Troy and join him. The lovers are separated by blind destiny. Once in the Greek camp, Criseyde soon turns for protection to a Greek Diomede and although she and Troilus exchange letters, soon she seems to forget him. One day Troilus finds a brooch he gave her fixed in a cloak he has torn from Diomede during the fighting, and knows that she has betrayed him. He tries to kill Diomede, but cannot. Suddenly the book seems to be over, since the love-tale is at an end:
Go, little book, go, little myn tragedye,
Ther God thy makere yet, er that he dye,
So sende might to make in some comedye!
But little book, no making thou n'envie,
But subgit be to alle poesye;
And kiss the steppes, whereas thou seest pace
Virgile, Ovide, Omer, Lucan, Stace.
And down from thennes faste he gan avyse
This littel spot of erthe, that with the se
Embraced is, and fully gan despise
This wrecched world, and held al vanite
To respect of the pleyn felicite
That is in hevene above; and at the laste,
There he was slayn, his lokyng down he caste.
And in hymself he lough right at the wo
Of hem that wepten for his deth so faste;
And dampned al oure werk that foloweth so
The blynde lust, the which that may not laste,M
And shoulden al oure herte on heven caste.
And forth he wente, shortly for to telle,
Ther as Mercurye sorted hym to dwelle.
The remaining stanzas seem to suggest Christian and moralizing readings of the story at odds with the main narratorial tone. Finally comes an invitation to "moral Gower, philosophical Strode" (Chaucer's friends) to correct the work if necessary, and a final prayer translated from Dante's Divine Comedy.