Term Paper: How English Literature Has Evolved and Changed From Medieval Times to Romantic Era

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English Literature

When surveying the chronological evolution of English Literature over the centuries, one can readily trace the development of a style that shifts over time from a concern with collective endeavor to increasingly individualized forms of expression, which would culminate in the Romantic Movement. Whereas secular texts of the medieval period such as the Canterbury Tales were complicated works, filled with multiple characters and narrators, the Renaissance began to pave the way towards the exploration of singular consciousnesses. It was in the Romantic period, however, that poets ultimately sought out new ways of capturing something of the essence of man's inherent nature through the exploration of highly subjective modes of being. In this essay, we will trace the development of this strain through three representative works from three different periods - the Canterbury Tales, Hamlet, and the Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Geoffrey Chaucer's the Canterbury Tales is considered by many to be the key English text of the medieval period. Greatly influenced by the famous Italian work the Decameron, the Canterbury Tales is credited with popularizing the usage of vernacular English in literature. It is one of the few great masterpieces of secular literature from the medieval period. The work takes the form of a collection of stories, each told by a different pilgrim on a pilgrimage from Southwark to Canterbury, where they intend to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. With its rich lyrical inventiveness, the Canterbury Tales paved the way towards the Renaissance - the first Modern period in English literature. Most of the tales were concerned with expressing universal traits of human nature. Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in Middle English, an example of which, from the Wife of Bath's Tale, appears below:

We wommen han, if that I shal nat lye,

In this matere a queynte fantasye:

Wayte what thyng we may nat lightly have,

Therafter wol we crie al day and crave.

Forbede us thyng, and that desiren we;

Preesse on us faste, and thanne wol we fle.

During the Renaissance, the vernacular language that Chaucer and other Medieval poets had advocated finally enjoyed widespread popularity, with the advent of the printing press. Hamlet is considered to be the most famous literary work in the English language. It is William Shakespeare's longest play, and was composed at the height of the Elizabethan Era of the English Renaissance, sometime between the years of 1599 and 1601. The Elizabethan Era saw the flourishing of drama - it enabled Shakespeare to become the playwright he is known as today. Shakespeare's most beloved tragedy is set in Denmark and tells the story of Prince Hamlet, who is driven to near insanity in plotting to get revenge against his Uncle, who has killed his father, married his mother, and taken the throne. Hamlet in many ways posed a challenge to previous conceptions of drama - namely, the play focused on character, rather than action. In this sense, it paved the way for Romantic literature, with its focus on the psychological development of individual characters. This is perhaps most evident in a now-famous speech by the play's protagonist.

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them? To die:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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How English Literature Has Evolved and Changed From Medieval Times to Romantic Era.  (2008, April 22).  Retrieved July 24, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/english-literature-evolved-changed/43612

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"How English Literature Has Evolved and Changed From Medieval Times to Romantic Era."  22 April 2008.  Web.  24 July 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/english-literature-evolved-changed/43612>.

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"How English Literature Has Evolved and Changed From Medieval Times to Romantic Era."  Essaytown.com.  April 22, 2008.  Accessed July 24, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/english-literature-evolved-changed/43612.