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Periods Of English Literature Essay, Research Paper

Question: Show how the voices of writers through many centuries of literature have depicted a variety of mentalities and lifestyles. .

Centuries could pass, and not many changes could be easily perceived by the common man, as those changes came gradually. Yet those changes can be readily discerned when looking at England as a whole, not looking at parts of history individually. The alterations of life, when looked at from a certain literary viewpoint, can be explained when one looks at the different periods in English literature, seeing the depictions of a certain era through writings that unintentionally convey great varieties in the mentality and lifestyles of the people who lived during that time. From war and violence to the more genteel inclinations of love and peace, English literature has evolved throughout the centuries, most especially if one considers the differences between the Old English, Renaissance and Romantic periods.

The Anglo-Saxon history is undoubtedly very interesting to study, as the period spans several centuries and several different inhabitants of the land now known as England. The main characteristic of this time was the heroic ideal, which was the attempt by a hero to do things such as sailing a ship through a storm and taming a horse better than anyone else. The hero s first priority, however, was to always be ready to fight. The Angles were a heathen race, worshipping old Nordic gods and Wyrd (fate). It is very important to remember that it was the Anglo-Saxons who determined the basic language and culture of the English race, therefore it was them that were the foundation upon which literature would stand. The first literature found in the history of this period was during the reign of the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. It was not really literature, in that it was written down by anybody, in mass-produced copies. The literature back then consisted of songs, sang by bards, who embellished the story with every telling. It was only in later years that the tales were written down. This came about during the reign of Christianity, where the monks had tried to write down all of the tales that the bards sang, the ancient folk tales of the Anglo-Saxons. The monks also tried to infuse the Anglo-Saxons with a love for Christianity, where the heroes were Christ and his Apostles, by writing poetry such as Cinewulf , The Dream of the Rood and Elene .

It was a monk, in fact, who wrote down the tale of Beowulf , the most celebrated tale of the period. Beowulf is a folk epic that is representative of the Old English period, in both life and character. Beowulf can be summarized as the tale of a brave and heroic warrior, who has superhuman strength and all the important values of a fighter. He saves King Hrothgar s people from two evil creatures, Grendel and the Sea Hag, and is rewarded with many great treasures. Later, he becomes King in his own country, and is a very wise and generous ruler. He dies very honorably, while battling with another supernatural creature to save his kingdom. King Alfred, of the West Saxons, is the veritable Father of English Prose . During the Viking invasions, it was Alfred who saved the Anglo-Saxon culture. He was a great leader and, along with his scholars, translated many Latin works into the language of the West Saxons. Alfred established schools, rebuilt the country, and attracted scholars and learned men. It was after this period of wars and fighting that England really began to develop itself, moulded into the country that it was to remain for several centuries.

Probably one of the most studied periods out of all the periods in English literature, the Renaissance in Elizabethan England counts among its poets and play-wrights some of the best writers of all times. The Renaissance period is host to immortalized words from many a great poet, such as Shakespeare s To be or not to be sonnet, and many others. The men of the period wrote about their lives in their poetry, with its many hues of passion, emotion, tragedy and triumph. The main characteristic of the Renaissance period is the Renaissance humanism, a claim of the dignity of man against hatred. Shakespeare had an image of man as he was before the Fall, and as he is still capable of being. Shakespeare also placed man between the angels and the beasts in the chain of Being that was an important concept in the Medieval mentality. Also important was society s creation of the Renaissance man. The Renaissance man was refined, elegant, dressed splendidly, danced well, wrote poetry, and was an ornament at court, to name but a few. This idea of the perfect man contrasted greatly to the heroic ideal popular in the Anglo-Saxon period. Though the Renaissance man still had to excel in all areas of human endeavour, even soldiering and commandeering, importance was not placed as highly on these factors of the Renaissance man. Examples of such a man can be found in Sir Philip Sidney, John Donne and Sir Walter Raleigh.

A few of the most celebrated writers of all times come from this period, such as Kit Marlowe and William Shakespeare. The latter is undoubtedly the most famous out of all writers and play-wrights, as his plays and his life are still being studied to a great extent. Shakespeare wrote on a wide array of subjects, writing plays with themes of history, comedy and tragedy, as well as writing sonnets. He wrote such famous plays as Romeo and Juliet , A Midsummer Night s Dream , Macbeth , and Richard II . Other famous writings from the Renaissance period include Sir Philip Sidney s Astrophil and Stella , Christopher Marlowe s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love , Sir Walter Raleigh s The Nymph s Reply to the Shepherd , and John Milton s Paradise Lost . Most of these names no doubt seem very familiar, as their works are still studied, and highly praised for their high degree of poetic refinement.

In sharp contrast to the glorified wars of Anglo-Saxon times, the Romantics embraced pantheism, which involves seeing God in nature. Seen as a literary response against political and social organizations of the 18th century, romanticism sought to change the world of literature that was, with the passing of the Neo-Classical Age, rather conservative and controlled. It probed into the heart of its readers with its newly-infused passion and imagination. The poetic imagery of these Romantic works links human thoughts and emotions intimately with the external world, and tries to appeal to its readers feelings rather than their reason. A list of clear characteristics can be drawn when considering the Romantic works. Included in this list are hatred of hypocrisy and outward show, belief in the brotherhood of man, sympathy for the downtrodden and a rebellion against all things which limit or hamper the individual. The Romantics were searching for an ideal aesthetic world, and tried to communicate this search throughout their respective works.

The Romantic poets, also known as the Lake Poets, included such famous names as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Lord Byron s extraordinary tale of The Prisoner of Chillon is a very moving story about a man who, thrown into prison along with his two brothers, must then face the death of those brothers and his own loneliness. This compelling tale was sure to move its readers into sympathy for Fran+ ois de Bonnivard, the actual prisoner of Chillon, whose life was the basis for Byron s work. Publications such as this were Byron s, along with the other Lake poets who probably wrote such tales, way of protesting against such injustices, a protest of man s inhumanity to his fellow human beings. Other great works of the times include Wordsworth s Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood , Shelley s Love s Philosophy , and Keats On the Grasshopper and Cricket . All three tales discuss either nature or love, two key themes during the Romantic period. One poem in particular may stand out among its contemporaries. This poem, by John Keats, is simply named Ozymandias , after a king who had demanded that a statue be made in his honour. In this poem, Keats mocks the Institution, by comparing the deteriorating statue to the decline of the monarchy. All poets of the Romantic Age are remembered for their pantheism, their expression of their innermost feelings and their cry for the bettering of humanity.

As is evident when studying English literary periods, several marked differences appear in the mentalities and lifestyles of the times. The Anglo-Saxon, Renaissance and Romantic Ages give scholars several different perspectives of literature in England throughout the span of several centuries. In later centuries, love and peace came to have just as great an influence as the wars which were so honoured in earlier times, times that included great battles and long periods of discord that forever changed the lives of the English people.

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