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Write an essay in which you analyze the changes in the literary selections you have read thus far, beginning with the Anglo-Saxon period and going through the seventeenth century. What differences do you notice in the topics, themes and writing styles? What similarities are evident? Use selections from each unit and cite specific examples to support your opinions.
Answer: The canon of literature starting from the Anglo- Saxon period to the seventeenth century is differentiated among each other based on several points that take into account the cultural history, the political environment, the religious ideology, the position of the common man versus the courtly aura, the advent of science as well as change in thinking of the intelligentsia. In simple words, the differences crop out of historical postulates that changed over the years.
In terms of topics, the genre of literature belonging to the Anglo- Saxon age to the period immediately afterward dealt with such that highlighted the concept of heroism. The main agenda was to showcase the importance of kingdom formation and consolidation. As such, texts like 'Beowulf' or 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' dealt with sagas of kinship and loyalty with the context set within the framework of royal grandeur. The principal characters, like Beowulf, were those who overcame difficult odds to establish the rule of the king and also keep a keen eye on the honor of decrees, like Sir Gawain, who fights on behalf of his king. In the literature of the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries, the topics that were chosen were basically dealt with religious contexts with an attempt to validate the vitality of the church and its teaching. The agenda of such texts were mainly moralistic, with an idea to spread the message that people had a fore established obligation to work towards salvation. These topics changes dramatically in the period of the English renaissance, where the topics now dealt with the importance of the present life of human beings, where humans were now the centre of the universe rather than religious determinism. The topics of such literature borrowed from the humanist philosophies of the Italian, the French and the German renaissance, the best example being a text like Marlow's 'Doctor Faustus', though its subversive content is a matter of debate. The importance of the shift of topic to humanism was realized in the later period, in and around the time of Shakespeare, where the topics dealt primarily with human emotions. Shakespeare's sonnets and the poetry of Sidney and Spencer give primary importance to human relationships as well as professional relations in times of the courtly culture. Later, the poets of the seventeenth century gave a new angle to such topics by introducing topics of metaphysics, blended with a touch of religious symbology.
The themes have also differed along with the topics based on the cultural and historical politics of a particular period. In the Anglo- Saxon period, the thematic structures of texts were such that a divine influence worked on the action of the principal character and events that helped to restore the rule of law. The basic themes were that of supernatural adversaries and tasks that had to be overcome or completed before the rule of the 'good would be restored. Religion was a principal theme that offered a differentiation between the pagan and the Christian way of life. In the medieval period, such themes attained a distinct Christian perspective, with the contract between devotion and blasphemy being the chief theme, and what happened to blasphemers a key concern of texts. The Miller's tale in 'Canterbury Tales' is a good example of such morality. In the period of the renaissance, the political consciousness of the people had changed with the confluence of ideas from beyond Britain and hence the themes were predominantly subversive. By the time of the Shakespearean age, the intermingling of the social classes was such that the courtly theme became the word of the day. Individual importance, which gained such importance in this age, that the poetry of someone like John Donne in the puritan age was thematically individualistic. Poems like 'The Flea' explicitly dealt with the narrowed consciousness of one thinking and imaginative individual. It is also important to note here the crucial role played by the advancements in science and explorations that challenged the authority of the church to promote a change in the thematic content of literature.
The writing styles also changed with the change in themes and topics. In the very first period the content of the texts were interwoven in a matrix of symbolic representation that had to be deciphered to be interpreted correctly. Later, in the medieval period, the writing styles became more explicit as authors like Chaucer came to terms with the extended nobility and intermingling of social classes. It is also noteworthy that the authors themselves belonged to the non- nobility to represent correctly the issues of the day. By the time of renaissance, theatre had set in as a common medium of communication, thanks to the morality and miracle plays of the Church in the earlier period and drama now became a principal writing style. Poetry in this age assumed a status of the language of the elite with limited circulation. The advent of the printing press around the same time was to show its effect predominantly in the age of Shakespeare, where extended circulation made authors and poets concentrate more on the language of the common man. Plays like 'Othello' and 'Hamlet' now reached a larger audience with their contemporary content. Later, the writing style was to undergo a major change as prose and poetry were now widely established among the common masses and literature became a matter of patronization, public debate, political weapon and public propaganda; Milton's works on the Christian ideology and marriages and divorce as well as his involvement in the Revolution of 1640 stand as evidence to such changes in the writing styles and use of literature.
In spite of such basic changes, some similarities are also evident in the literature of these periods. The first similarity that can be noticed is the relationship of the literature of each period with the concurrent culture of that particular period. In other words, the basic work of representation through literature had not changed. If 'Beowulf' dealt with consolidation of a kingdom, evident in the Anglo- Saxon period, 'Othello' highlights the racial tension that was a predominant concern of the post renaissance period (Gilbert). Secondly, literature through these periods has retained the value of social change and criticism that is regarded as the prime function of a work of art. Even if the times changed and the contemporary context changed, the social and political function had been retained.
Gilbert, Anthony. "Othello, the Baroque, and Religious Mentalities." Early Modern Literary Studies (2001).
Thanks to PsyDAG for the following:
In the future, if nobody is available to proofread your work, you can do this yourself. After writing your material, put it aside for a day — at least several hours. (This breaks mental sets you might have that keep you from noticing problems.) Then read it aloud as if you were reading someone else's work. (Reading aloud slows down your reading, so you are less likely to skip over problems.)
[You can either read it aloud to someone else or have someone else read it aloud to you! (The latter works really well!)]
If your reading goes smoothly, that is fine. However, wherever you "stumble" in your reading, other persons are likely to have a problem in reading your material. Those "stumbles" indicate areas that need revising.
Once you have made your revisions, repeat the process above. Good papers often require many drafts.
And here are a couple of really good websites that will help, too.
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