Pre-Classical and Classical Periods (Greek & Roman) 1200BC-455 AD
Overview-Homeric Period/Pre-Classical (1200-800 BC): Period before classical Greece, marked by two epic poems by Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey Greek legends were passed along orally. Classical Greek Period (800-200 BC): 5th century was The Golden Age of Greece: sophisticated period of the polis (city-state) and early democracy – Some of the world’s finest art, poetry, drama, architecture, philosophy originate in Athens Augustan (Roman) Age (31 BC-AD 14): Age of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (first Roman emperor, aka Octavian) during which art and literature flourished. Golden Age of Latin literature (Also used to characterize the work of 18th-century writers who adopted the style, themes, and structure of classical texts.) -Patristic Period (70-455 AD): Early Christian writings Christianity spreads across Europe Rome falls to barbarian attack in 455
Pre-Classical and Classical Periods (Greek & Roman) 1200BC-455 AD Themes/Authors
The Iliad: tragedy about the Trojan War; centers on Achilles, who embodied the Greek heroic ideal The Odyssey (tragedy and comedy) Story of Odysseus, returning from Troy to his homeland; during 10 year voyage, he loses his comrades and ships and makes his way home disguised as beggar Iliad and Odyssey were developed out of older legends – among the great works of Western literature – these two poems together constitute the prototype for all subsequent Western epic poetry Epic poem: poem using formal verse, celebrating the achievements of heroes and gods Themes: life/death, morality, seasonal change, political commentary, satire Poetry, Drama (Tragedies, Comedies) Greek Drama was rooted in Athenian festivals of the 7th century, honoring the Greek god Dionysius Authors: Sophocles, Euripedes, Aristophanes, Aesop Philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle Latin Literature: Virgil (Aeneid), Horace (Ars Poetica); Ovid (Metamorphoses) Saint Jerome first compiles the Bible
The Medieval Period/Middle Ages 455 AD-1485 AD
Overview-Old English Period/Dark Ages(428-1066): Rome falls and barbarian tribes move into Europe – Goths, Angles, Saxons migrate to Britain. Medieval Period (1066-1485): In 1066, Norman French armies invade and conquer England under William I.
This marks end of Anglo-Saxon hierarchy and emergence of 12th Century Renaissance. French chivalric romances and fables spread in popularity.
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The Medieval Period/Middle Ages 455 AD-1485 AD Themes/Authors
Beowulf (first major work in Old English, heroic poem, epic hero, pagan and Christian imagery, oral tradition) Latin is dominant written language Themes: religious devotion, chivalric code/honor Epic poetry: important form for recording legends that had been handed down by word of mouth Romances: narrative stories of adventure, fantasy, chivalry, knightly love Lyric poetry: wandering minstrels composed songs of love to entertain noblemen Authors: Marie de France (themes: love and chivalry) The Humanists (Petrarch) Geoffrey Chaucer, ?Canterbury Tales? (in English vernacular) Dante’s Inferno (w/Virgil – see Augustan Age – as guide)
The Renaissance 1485-1660
Early Tudor Period: War of the Roses ends in England w/Henry Tudor (Henry VII) on the throne. Martin Luther’s split w/Rome marks the emergence of Protestantism; Henry VIII creates first Protestant church in England. Elizabethan Period (1550-1603): Elizabeth saves England from both Spanish invasion and internal squabbles at home. During reign of Elizabeth and her successor James I, England saw a flowering of culture with development of the printing press, rise of the middle class, and revival of scholarship, science.
The Renaissance 1485-1660 Themes/Authors
Rejection of medieval form of Christianity, interest in order and hierarchy; study of the cosmos; age of idealism Themes: Universe is an orderly whole, where every element has its proper role – Order among people, Church and nation (symmetry, proportion) Monarch replaces Church as head of state, emphasis on central authority to unify political fragmentation Golden age of theater – plays of Shakespeare Authors: Edmund Spenser -The Fairie Queene (1586) honors Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Thomas More -friend of Henry VIII (til Henry had him beheaded) – wrote Utopia, a satire describing an ideal island in the New World – included social criticism of England (chop!) Playwrights: William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson (headed the first literary school, ?Sons of Ben?) John Donne -portrayed extremes of humanity (The Flea about sexuality) John Milton Paradise Lost, Andrew Marvell ?To His Coy Mistress?
Neoclassical Age /The Enlightenment /The Age of Reason 1660-1785 (18th Century)
Reaction to religious battleground of 16th and 17th centuries – World would be a better place if people guided by reason Development of natural science (Newton worked out motion of the planets and gravity = God increasingly unnecessary) The Restoration (1660-1700): – Reestablishment of the house of Tudor through King Charles II; Period of modern English prose and witty comedies The Augustan Age/Neoclassicism (1700-1750): imitation of Virgil and Horace (Ceasar Augustus – Ancient Rome 65 BC- writings of both were graceful elevated, concerned w/truth) The Age of Johnson (1750-1790) (in America, called The Colonial Period): transition toward Romanticism
Neoclassical Age /The Enlightenment /The Age of Reason 1660-1785 (18th Century)Themes/Authors
Return to virtues of classical literature: elegance, correctness, simplicity, restraint, order; Imitation of Homer, Virgil, Horace Movement away from imaginative style of the Renaissance Themes: reason, logic, harmony, stability, wisdom – rational order in the universe demonstrates God’s design Rousseau – 1750’s ?noble savage? Passion over Reason Voltaire – 1750’s Reason over Passion Dryden’s Essay on Dramatic Poesy – many of Dryden’s poems are occasional, commemorating formal, public events Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock – poetry, satire Dr. Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Robert Burns
The Colonial Period/ Colonialism (in America) 1600-1800 (17th-18th Centuries)
Explorers and colonists wrote about their experiences, both as advertisement for prospective pilgrims, and as journalistic therapy, to ward off intense boredom of life in the New World Rise of Puritanism – humans are ?corrupt and prone to evil,? original sin, predestination (Puritans are God’s chosen people), American idealism, tradition of preaching
The Colonial Period/ Colonialism 1600-1800 (17th-18th Centuries) Themes/Authors
John Smith: ?The Generall Historie of Virginia? – heroic accounts of non-Puritans and native Americans, e.
g. Pocahontas John Calvin: ?Bay Psalm Book?- Puritan beliefs Johnathan Edwards: ?Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? – Puritan theologian Cotton Mather: – 1685 Witchcraft & Possession, supported Salem witch trials, promoted inoculation against smallpox Thomas Jefferson: Declaration of Independence (3rd U.S.
president) Thomas Paine: ?The Pennsylvania Magazine,? – helped promote the revolution
The Neoclassical Age (in America) 18th Century
Politics and religion move away from theism of Jonathan Edwards (God involved in our everyday lives) to deism of Jefferson and Paine (God as watchmaker – creates universe then retreats) Common man now master of his own fate Movement from poetry to non-fiction, from religious idealism to pragmatism – nonfiction written in plain language
The Neoclassical Age (in America) 18th Century Themes/Authors
Benjamin Franklin ?Poor Richard’s Almanac? – inventor and great neoclassical thinker Phillip Freneau ?The Jersey Chronicle? – the first professional journalist in America – his poetry and political writings helped inspire the movement for American independence
The Romantic Period (England) 1785-1830 (Late 18th Century)
Influenced by French Revolution Emotional reaction to rational, neo-classical standards of 18th century Augustan poetry and prose. Rejection of 18th century rigidity. Themes: imagination, magic, nature, chivalry, adventure, intuition, idealistic love. This period also included Gothic writings (precursor to horror novels) which continued into the Victorian Period.
The Romantic Period (England)1785-1830 (Late 18th Century) Themes/Authors
Romantics: Jane Austen Sense and Sensibility, Emma – subtle complexities of the ?ordinary? lives of England’s gentry, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre(theme: intense personal integrity) and her sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Blake ?Songs of Innocence? mystical beauty, biblical imagery, Keats (poetry about sensuality and conflict between life and art), Shelley ?Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,? Wordsworth (imagery, the sublime good in nature and man) Gothic writers: Bram Stoker (in Britain) focused on violence, terror, aberrant psychological states, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
American Romantic Period (later called Transcendentalism) 19th Century
American Renaissance (1850-1855): Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville Transcendentalism began in Far East – man’s relation to the natural world – incorporated in writings of young intellectuals in Boston area – movement centers on mysticism and pantheism (God in nature) and involved the Unitarian church Primivitism (subbranch of Romanticism): natural or early conditions of society are best situations for human life – living close to nature – noble savage – evil influences of urban society – primitive life as theme of many romantic fictions (Melville’s Typee) Children are closer to perfection – Pearl in Scarlet Letter
American Romantic Period (later called Transcendentalism) 19th Century Themes/Authors
Transcendentalists: Emerson, ?Ode to Beauty? ?Self Reliance? Thoreau ?Civil Disobedience? – rights of the individual and self-education through extensive reading Belief that God is in each person and in nature Gothic writers: Poe and Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter, House of the Seven Gables Harriet Beecher Stowe Uncle Tom’s Cabin – idealization of childhood
The Victorian Age (England) 1830-mid 19th Century
Began and ended w/reign of Queen Victoria – rise of middle class, industrialization, urbanization, pseudoscience, the rise of the novel – examined relationship between people and society, the ?self? – influenced by Freud’s research in the 1890’s Inspired by Industrial Revolution – swift social/economic changes, expansion of newspapers
The Victorian Age (England) 1830-mid 19th Century Themes/Authors
Realistic portrayal of social life – lots of characters, realistic descriptions, thick plots Themes: working conditions in sweatshops and urban areas, country vs. city life, conflicts between those in power and working poor Elizabeth Barrett Browning – poet, position of women in society, Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – children’s books which, beneath the surface, satirize celebrities and morals of the time, Charles Dickens – novels deal with psycho-social aspects of Victorian society, dark side of industrialization, David Copperfield A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations ,Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes captures mindset of Victorian England (dark, city setting)
Realism (America) Post-Civil War (Early 20th Century)
Verisimilitude – Less idealism after civil war (600,000+ fatalities) Writers wrote about everyday life after the civil war – common many in America’s urban centers – dark skepticism about future, accuracy of background info and settings – photographic details
Realism (America) Post-Civil War (Early 20th Century) Themes/Authors
Kate Chopin – The Awakening – one of the earliest feminist writers, wrote about marital disharmony and infidelity Walt Whitman – celebrated the common man Mark Twain – dark comic view of a hypocritical world Emily Dickinson – skepticism of blind faith Stephen Crane – The Red Badge of Courage William Golding – Lord of the Flies
Naturalism (England, America, France, Prussia, Norway) First half of 20th Century
Extreme form of realism – deny the supernatural or miraculous Pessimistic – humans are victims of instincts, passions, economic, social environment Foreshadows existentialism
Naturalism (England, America, France, Prussia, Norway) First half of 20th Century Themes/Authors
Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner
Existentialism Post WWII
Literary/philosophical movement: Human beings are totally free and responsible for their actions – novels about free will at work in a meaningless or absurd world – heartless bureaucratic systems
Existentialism Post WWII Themes/Authors
Hemingway, Camus, The Stranger Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis Paul Sartre No Exit (Hell is other people) Fyodor Dostoevski Crime and Punishment
WW I – Movement away from Realism and Naturalism Rejection of immediate past, tradition, 19th century optimism, Victorian morality Experiments with narrative structure (stream of consciousness, multiple points of view); concerned with sound rather than meaning – how readers will react to text – foreshadows ?reader-response? movement years later Characters confront ethical problems, alienation, isolation
Modernism 1900-1950 Themes/Authors
Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Kafka Theme: isolation of the individual In America: Robert Frost, Flannery O’Connor (Southern Gothic) The “Lost Generation” (disillusioned) writers: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner; “Harlem Renaissance” writers: Langston Hughes, Paul Dunbar, Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Post-Modernism 1960’s- Present
Concepts introduced during Modernism, pushed to extreme Poets and playwrights experiment with fragmented poetry Rejection of plot and character; meaning itself is illusory In Modernism, fragmentation of human experience is lamented; in Postmodernism: fragmentation and incoherence of modern life is celebrated, or at least made fun of as nonsensical
Post-Modernism 1960’s- Present Themes/Authors
Theme: Cultural schizophrenia Authors: Thomas Pynchon, T.S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett – Waiting for Godot
World Literature 1960’s-Present
Increasing acceptance (canonization) of non-Caucasian writers
Strong teen character, often narrated in first person Exploration of societal issues: family life, conflict, ethical decision, violence, ecological issues Emphasis on promoting sensitivity to cultural, economic, and class diversity
Adolescent/Young Adult Literature Themes/Authors
Forms: picture books, chapter books, middle grade and young adult novels Authors: E. B.
White, Madeleine L’Engle, J.D. Salinger, S.E. Hinton, Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, Gary Paulsen, Harper Lee
Pre-Classical Period/Homeric Age
-1100 B.C. – a golden age – the cultural and religious traditions of classical Greece began to take form. This is the Homeric Age. The culture and values of this period are embodied in the Homeric poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The fall of this age is often credited with the Dorian Invasion which is believed to have happened around 1100 B.C. This was the time of the famous Trojan War.
Homer did not live during the time period which is named after him. He is believed to have lived three hundred years after the Homeric Age, which he wrote about in his epic poems. He is our most important literary source for knowledge of this period. The ancient Greeks regarded Homer as divine and respected his work as a source of wisdom and model of heroic conduct. His influence on later literature is too extensive to be assessed.At the beginning of Greek literature stand the two monumental works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Homer told the story of a heroic past. The Iliad is the famous story about the Trojan War. It centers on the person of Achilles, who embodied the Greek heroic ideal. While the Iliad is pure tragedy, the Odyssey is a mixture of tragedy and comedy. It is the story of Odysseus, one of the warriors at Troy. After ten years fighting the war, he spends another ten years sailing back home to his wife and family. During his ten-year voyage, he loses all of his comrades and ships and makes his way home to Ithaca disguised as a beggar.
Both of these works were based on ancient legends. The stories are told in language that is simple, direct, and eloquent. Both are as fascinatingly readable today as they were in ancient Greece.
Classical (Ancient Greek) Period
Ancient Greek literature refers to literature written in the Greek language until 4th century AD.
The Greeks invented the epic and lyric forms and used them skillfully.
They also invented drama and produced masterpieces that are still reckoned as drama’s crowning achievement. Of the hundreds of dramas written and performed during the classical age, only a limited number of plays by three authors have survived: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
The earliest of the three was Aeschylus, who was born in 525 BC.
He wrote between 70 and 90 plays, of which only seven remain. Many of his dramas were arranged as trilogies, groups of three plays on a single theme. The Oresteia consisting of Agamemnon, Choephoroi, and Eumenides is the only surviving trilogy. The Persai is a song of triumph for the defeat of the Persians. Prometheus Bound is a retelling of the legend of the Titan Prometheus, a superhuman who stole fire from heaven and gave it to mankind.
For about 16 years, between 484 and 468 BC, Aeschylus carried off prize after prize.
But in 468 his place was taken by a new favorite, Sophocles. Sophocles’ life covered nearly the whole period of Athens’ “golden age.” His drama Antigone is typical of his work: its heroine is a model of womanly self-sacrifice. He is probably better known, though, for Oedipus Rex and its sequel, Oedipus at Colonus.
The third of the great tragic writers was Euripides. He wrote at least 92 plays.
Sixty-seven of these are known in the 20th century some just in part or by name only. Only 19 still exist in full. His tragedies are about real men and women instead of idealized figures. The philosopher Aristotle called Euripides the most tragic of the poets because his plays were the most moving.
His best-known work is Medea. He also wrote: ‘Alcestis’, ‘Hippolytus’, ‘Trojan Women’, ‘Orestes’, and ‘Electra’.
Like tragedy, comedy arose from a ritual in honor of Dionysus, but in this case the plays were full of frank obscenity, abuse, and insult. As with the tragedians, few works still remain of the great comedic writers. Of the works of earlier writers, only some plays by Aristophanes exist. He poked fun at everyone and every institution.
In The Birds he held up Athenian democracy to ridicule. In The Clouds he attacked the philosopher Socrates. In Lysistrata he denounced war. Only 11 of his plays have survived.During the 4th century BC, there developed what was called the New Comedy. Menander is considered the best of its writers. Nothing remains from his competitors, however, so it is difficult to make comparisons. The plays of Menander, of which only the Dyscolus (Misanthrope) now exists, did not deal with the great public themes about which Aristophanes wrote.
He concentrated instead on fictitious characters from everyday life stern fathers, young lovers, intriguing slaves, and others. In spite of his narrower focus, the plays of Menander influenced later generations. They were freely adapted by Roman poets.
Greek (Aristotelian) Tragedy
Aristotle’s The Poetics (4th century B.C.
) set out the elements of a tragedy. For Aristotle, the most important element of tragic drama was the unique experience of CATHARSIS, the arousing of the emotions of pity and fear so as to dispel or purge them in the spectator. Thus tragedy is defined by its emotional effect on the audience.
The ideal plot of a tragedy
should contain the following elements:
1) Unity of time, place and action
– action extends over no more than a day or two – occurs in no more than one city and its surrounding countryside.
This concentration of an action within a relatively small location and time period produced a stronger emotional response, according to Aristotle.
2) Reversal (change of fortune)
The plot is structured on principles which strengthen the emotions of “pity” and “fear”. This occurs through reversal, which can be – Simple: character experiences a turn of fortune from happiness to misery or vice versa or: – Complex: the hero, seeking happiness, brings about his own destruction (ironic reversal)
3) Discovery (or recognition)
a. of someone’s identity or true nature (Lear’s children, Gloucester’s children) b. of one’s own identity or true character (Cordelia, Edgar, Edmund, etc.
) c. of the nature of the gods and the universe (Lear’s or Gloucester’s belief that the gods “kill us for their sport”.)
The ideal climax (turning point) combines ironic reversal and discovery in a single action.
5) Tragic Hero: The tragic hero should contain the following characteristics:
– He or she must be of noble blood. This provides the story with dignity. It also generates the feeling in the audience that if tragedy can happen to the advantaged, it can happen to anyone. This is an example of how tragedy produces “fear”.
– Identifiability: Initially, the hero must be neither better or worse morally than most people. This produces “fear” because the hero is imperfect like us, and we can identify with him. It also produces “pity” because if the hero were perfect or totally good, we would be outraged by his fate. If he were completely evil, we would feel like he had gotten what he deserved. – The tragic hero meets his fate because of a “tragic flaw”. The tragic flaw is not a defect in character, but an error in judgment of the kind we all make.
This generates “pity” because we do not blame the hero for his tragic fate.
6) Catharsis, or purgation:
– “Pity” is aroused for the hero as he meets his fate. – “Fear” is aroused since we may meet a similar fate as the hero. We sympathize with the hero and his tragic circumstances, but we are not overcome with pity or fear for him. We learn a lesson from the story, our pity and fear disappear, and that is a cathartic experience.
Ancient Greek Philosophy
The world’s first democracy was established in 507 B.
C. Athens had 300,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the world. About half were free, one third were slaves, and one sixth were foreigners.
Socrates (470-399) was the son of a sculptor, and served with distinction in the Athenian army. He married, but had a tendency to fall in love with handsome young men. He was short and stout, not given to good grooming, and a lover of wine and conversation. His famous student, Plato, called him ?the wisest, and justest, and best of all men whom I have ever known?.
Philosophy, the love of wisdom, was for Socrates a holy quest.
He believed in the reincarnation of an eternal soul which contained all knowledge. We unfortunately lose touch with that knowledge at every birth, and so we need to be reminded of what we already know (rather than learning something new). He said that he did not teach, but rather served as a midwife to truth that is already in us. He made use of questions and answers to remind his students of knowledge is called maieutics (midwifery), or the Socratic method.
Socrates himself never wrote any of his ideas down, but rather engaged his students — wealthy young men of Athens — in endless conversations. In exchange for his teaching, they in turn made sure that he was taken care of. Plato reconstructed these discussions in a great set of writings known as the Dialogs.
Socrates wasn’t loved by everyone. His unorthodox religious views (that there was only one god behind the variety of Greek gods) gave the leading citizens of Athens the excuse they needed to sentence him to death for corrupting the morals of the youth of the city.
In 399, he was ordered to drink hemlock, which he did in the company of his students.
Plato (437-347) was Socrates’ prized student. When he was about twenty, he came under Socrates’ spell and decided to devote himself to philosophy. Devastated by Socrates’ death, he wandered around Greece and was taken by pirates.
His friends raised money to ransom him from slavery, but when he was released without it, they bought him a small property called Academus to start a school — the Academy, founded in 386.
was a sort of quasi-religious fraternity, where rich young men studied mathematics, astronomy, law, and, of course, philosophy. It was free, depending entirely on donations.
True to his ideals, Plato also permitted women to attend! The Academy would become the center of Greek learning for almost a millennium.
Plato divides reality into two: On the one hand we have the idea or ideal. This is ultimate reality, permanent, eternal, spiritual. On the other hand, there’s phenomena.
Phenomena are appearances — things as they seem to us — and are associated with matter, time, and space.Plato applies the same dichotomy to human beings: There’s the body, which is material, mortal. Then there’s the soul, which is ideal, immortal. Phenomena are illusions which decay and die. Ideals are unchanging, perfect. Phenomena are inferior. The law of gravity, 1+1=2, E=mc2, and so on — these are universals, not true for one day in one small location, but true forever and everywhere.
They are ideas. Ideas are available to us through thought, while phenomena are available to us through our senses. So, naturally, thought is a vastly superior means to get to the truth. This is what makes Plato a rationalist.
Plato identifies the ideal with God and perfect goodness. God creates the world out of materia (raw material, matter) and shapes it according to his ?plan? or ?blueprint? — ideas or the ideal. If the world is not perfect, it is not because of God or the ideals, but because the raw materials were not perfect. (The early Christian church made Plato an honorary Christian, even though he died three and a half centuries before Christ)
Plato says the soul will always choose to do good, if it recognizes what is good. This is a similar conception of good and bad as the Buddhists have: Rather than bad being sin, it is considered a matter of ignorance.
So, someone who does something bad requires education, not punishment. Plato talks about three levels of pleasure. First is sensual or physical pleasure, of which sex is a great example.
A second level is sensuous or esthetic pleasure, such as admiring someone’s beauty, or enjoying one’s relationship in marriage. But the highest level is ideal pleasure, the pleasures of the mind. Here the example would be Platonic love, intellectual love for another person unsullied by physical involvement.
In Plato’s greatest work, The Republic, he compares elements of his society to the three levels of pleasure: The peasants are the foundation of the society.
They till the soil and produce goods, i.e. take care of society’s basic appetites. The warriors represent the spirit and courage of the society.
And the philosopher kings guide the society, as reason guides our lives.
Aristotle (384-322) was Plato’s prize student, even though he disagreed with him on many points. Aristotle was as much a scientist as a philosopher.
He was fascinated with nature, and went a long way towards classifying the plants and animals of Greece. He was equally interested in studying the anatomies of animals and their behavior in the wild. Aristotle pretty much invented modern logic; it is essentially the same today.29Aristotle wrote the first book on psychology. It was called, appropriately, Para Psyche, Greek for ?about the mind or soul.? It is better known in the Latin form, De Anima.
In this book are the first mentions of many ideas that are basic to psychology today, such as the laws of association. He foreshadowed many of the concepts that would become popular only two thousand years later. Libido, for example: ?In all animals… it is the most natural function to beget another being similar to itself..? And the struggle of the id and ego: ?There are two powers in the soul which appear to be moving forces — desire and reason.
But desire prompts actions in violation of reason… desire..
. may be wrong.?
Classical Greek Drama: OLD, MIDDLE, and NEW COMEDY
Scholars established the categorization of Athenian Comedy into three stages: Old, Middle and New. Three great comic poets in the fifth and early fourth century were: Cratinus, Eupolis and Aristophanes. No plays by the first two comedians have survived, but eleven of approximately 40 comedies by Aristophanes survive and represent the only examples of the genre called Old Comedy.Slapstick action, scatological and sexual jokes are found in Old Comedy. Political and social satire along with literary parody are also characteristic of Old Comedy.
For example, political and intellectual figures from the contemporary Athenian scene such as Pericles, Socrates and Euripides are targets of harsh comic parody. The Athenian people themselves are sometimes the objects of criticism. For example, in Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, a group of Athenian women decide to persuade their husbands to make a truce with Sparta by refusing to have sex with them. One important basis of distinction among Old, Middle and New Comedy is the prominence of the chorus. In Old Comedy the chorus plays an integral part in the drama. Middle Comedy, which first appears in the early fourth century, is characterized by a marked decline in the importance of the chorus and the absence of political satire. In the late fourth century New Comedy the absence of the chorus is notable. This form of comedy focused on family matters such as complications in love relationships, with no interest in the concerns of the polis, which were central to Old Comedy.
Of the three stages of Athenian Comedy, New Comedy has had the greatest influence on modern comedy. The universality of human relationships which formed the subject matter of New Comedy allowed this form of comedy to translate well, first to Rome, and then to Renaissance Italy and England and eventually to our stages, movie and television screens. Old Comedy, on the other hand, was tied to the political and social conditions of fifth century Athens and therefore could not be as easily transplanted. But the spirit of Old Comedy still survives, for example, in modern political cartoons, occasional musical comedies, and comedy skits on television which satirize political figures and current trends.
Parabasis and Debate
There are two elements which are regular structural features of Old Comedy: the parabasis and the debate. The parabasis, a long choral passage both recited and sung, is a direct address to the audience representing the views of the poet during which the action of the play is suspended. In debate, dialogue often takes the form of a debate between two characters, in a combination of speech and song. Old Comedy has a typical pattern of action. In the beginning of the play the main character conceives an outrageous solution to some problem. Opposition to his plan is overcome in the debate. The parabasis, since it has no organic role in the development of the plot, can come either before or after the debate. The plan then is put into action and the results are dramatized.
Age of the Roman emperor Augustus (31 BC-AD 14), during which art and literature flourished. It is also used to characterize the work of 18th-century writers who adopted the style, themes, and structure of classical texts.Let’s look more closely at three Augustan poets, Virgil, Horace, and Ovid.Virgil: Publius Vergilius Maro (October 15, 70 BC-19 BC), is a Latin poet, the author of The Aeneid, an epic poem of twelve books that became the Roman Empire’s national epic.
Composition of the Aeneid
The first six books of the epic are modeled on Homer’s Odyssey, and tell how the Trojan hero Aeneas escapes from the sacking of Troy and makes his way to Italy. On the voyage, a storm drives him to the coast of Carthage, where the queen, Dido, welcomes him, and before long Aeneas falls in love.
But Jupiter recalls Aeneas to his duty and he slips away from Carthage, leaving Dido to commit suicide, cursing Aeneas as revenge. On reaching Italy, Aeneas consults the a Sibyl, who conducts him through the Underworld and reveals his destiny to him. Aeneas is reborn as the creator of Imperial Rome.The last six books of the Aeneid are the Roman answer to the Iliad.
Aeneas is betrothed to Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus, but Lavinia had already been promised to Turnus, the king of the Rutulians. The Aeneid ends with a single combat between Aeneas and Turnus, whom Aeneas defeats and kills, denying his plea for mercy.Aeneas was considered to exemplify virtue and pietas (roughly translated as piety), duty to one’s gods, family and homeland. Aeneas struggles between doing what he wants to do as a man, and doing what he must as a virtuous hero.
Aeneas’ inner turmoil and shortcomings make him a more realistic character than the heroes of older poems, such as Odysseus.Dante made Virgil his guide to Hell and Purgatory in The Divine Comedy. Virgil is still considered one of the greatest of the Latin poets, and the Aeneid is a fixture of most classical studies programs.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, (December 8, 65 BC – November 27, 8 BC), known in the English-speaking world as Horace, is generally considered to be, along with Virgil, the greatest of the Latin poets. He wrote many Latin phrases that remain in use, including carpe diem, “seize the day.? Outstanding Latin lyric poet and satirist. The most frequent themes in Horace’s ODES and verses are love, pleasures of friendship and simple life, and the art of poetry.
When writings of a number of other Roman poets disappeared after the fall of the Roman empire, Horace’s survived and influenced deeply Western literature. In Ars Poetica, dated to 17-13 B.C., Horace discusses with informality and humor such topics as the importance of decorum (which is fitting in language, style and subject matter), and the necessity for a writer to have both innate ability and adequate training.
Ars Poetica had much influence on Western poetry. His works were copied throughout the dark ages and quoted by early Christian writers, among them St. Jerome.
The Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid is a poem in fifteen books that describes the creation and history of the world in terms of Greek and Roman mythology. It has remained one of the most popular works of mythology, being the work best known to medieval writers and thus having a great deal of influence on medieval poetry.Ovid takes as his theme tales of transformation so often found in myths, in which often a person or lesser deity is permanently transformed into an animal or plant. The poem begins with the transformations of creation and Prometheus metamorphizing earth into Man and ends with the transformation of the spirit of Julius Caesar into a star.
The poem is often called a mock-epic. The entire poem is written in dactylic hexameter meter, the form of the great heroic and epic poems both of the ancient tradition (the Iliad and Odyssey) and of Ovid’s own day (the Aeneid). It begins with the ritual “invocation of the muse.? But instead of following the deeds of a human hero, it leaps from story to story with only token attention to the epic themes of great deeds, national glory, and religious observance.Instead, the recurring theme, as with nearly all of Ovid’s work, is that of love — personal love or love personified as Amor (Cupid). The gods, and Apollo in particular are ridiculed as Ovid shows how irrational love can confound pure reason. While few individual stories are outright sacrilegious, the work as a whole inverts the accepted order, elevating humans and human passions while making the gods and their desires and conquests objects of low humor.
Middle Ages: Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of 24 stories in a frame story, in around 1400.
It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England) to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury. According to the General Prologue, Chaucer intended that each pilgrim should tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two tales on the way back (120 total). However, he never finished his enormous project. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts. The Canterbury Tales are written in Middle English.The themes of the tales vary, and include topics such as courtly love, treachery, and avarice.
The genres also vary, and include romance, sermon, and fable. Though there is an overall frame, there is no single poetic structure to the work; Chaucer utilizes a variety of rhyme schemes and metrical patterns, and there are as well two prose tales.Some of the tales are serious and others comical; however, all are highly accurate in describing the traits and faults of human nature. Religious malpractice is a major theme as well as focusing on the division of the three estates. (In several regions of medieval Europe, the estates of the realm were broad divisions of society, usually distinguishing nobility, clergy, and commoners.) Most of the tales are interlinked with similar themes running through them and some are told in retaliation for other tales in the form of an argument.
It is sometimes argued that the greatest contribution that this work made to English literature was in popularising the literary use of the vernacular language, English. In Western Europe up until the 17th century, most scholarly work was written in Latin, so works written in a native language, such as English, Italian or German, were said to be in the vernacular.The Tales include: The General Prologue ,The Knight’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale, The Cook’s Tale, The Man of Law’s Tale, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, The Friar’s Tale, The Summoner’s Tale, The Clerk’s Tale, The Merchant’s Tale, The Squire’s Tale, The Pardoner’s Tale, The Shipman’s Tale, The Monk’s Tale.
(Excerpted from) The Wife of Bath’s Tale Heere bigynneth the Tale of the Wyf of Bathe.
In th’olde dayes of the Kyng Arthour, Of which that Britons speken greet honour,All was this land fulfild of fayerye.
The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye,Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede.And so bifel it that this kyng ArthourHadde in his hous a lusty bacheler, That on a day cam ridynge fro ryver;And happed that, allone as she was born,He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn,Of whiche mayde anon, maugree hir heed,By verray force he rafte hir maydenhed;For which oppressioun was swich clamourAnd swich pursute unto the kyng Arthour,That dampned was this knyght for to be deed,By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed –
Renaissance (1485-1600) Poetry
Ben Jonson (1572-1637): If his friend, William Shakespeare had never existed, Jonson would be regarded as the chief dramatist of his age. He was a playwright and actor. In 1616, he published plays and poems under the (controversial!) title, Works, a title traditionally reserved for more intellectual subjects, such as history and theology. But Jonson believed that poems and plays are serious works of art, and as worthy of high regard. At the height of his career, he was admired by many younger writers, who became known as the ?sons of Ben.
? They defended him, when his blunt and forthright manner made him enemies. The poem below was published in Epigrams (1616), a classical form Jonson preferred to Elizabethan romanticism. The epigram was written to give permanence to an even; it was like an engraving on a monument. It is witty, brief and pointed. This epigram is about Jonson’s son, Benjamin, who died of the plague on his seventh birthday. In Elizabethan times, large loans were made for a term of seven years – Through metaphor, he compares his son to a loan from God that came due after seven years. This poem is an epigram because its language is pointed and brief; its essence is witty.
On My First Son
(Terms: Epigram, Metaphor, Eye Rhyme, Iambic Pentameter) Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy; My sin was too much hope of thee loved boy: Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay, Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now! for why Will man lament the state he should envy – To have so soon ?scaped world’s and flesh’s rage, And if no other misery, yet age? Rest in soft peace, and asked, say, ?Here doth lie Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry; For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such As what he loves may never like too much.?
Robert Herrick (1591-1674 )
was a member of Ben Jonson’s circle of young friends. He was a priest, and many of his poems refer to Biblical characters and events.
He was so steeped in classical antiquity that he imposed Roman rituals and customs on his own household. He imitated the Roman tradition of addressing poems to beautiful women. A carpe diem poem is one that follows an ancient Roman theme (?seize the day?). It is a call to live life to the fullest right now. The Roman poet Horace wrote, ?Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
(Terms: Carpe Diem, Classical Allusion, Metaphor, Personification, Iambic Meter) Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying; And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying. The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun, The higher he’s a-getting, The sooner will his race be run, And nearer he’s to setting. The age is best which is the first, When youth and blood are warmer; But being spent, the worse, and worst Times till Succeed the former. Then be not coy, but use your time; And while ye may, go marry; For having lost but once your prime, you may forever tarry. * The second stanza is a classical allusion to the story of the sun god Helios, who crossed the heavens each day in a fiery chariot.
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
was well read in the Greek and Latin classics. He was assistant to John Milton, politician, and member of Parliament. Marvel published satirical poems against his political opponents, but his lyric poems are the most famous. Styles in poetry changed after 1660, so Marvel’s witty, ingenious metaphors seemed old-fashioned to readers who now admired rational poems of the Restoration writers. Today he is better appreciated. His poems sum up the best traits of Renaissance lyric poetry: deep and thoughtful under a light, graceful surfaces.
To His Coy Mistress
(Terms: Hyperbole, Biblical Allusion, Iambic Tetrameter) Had we but world enough, and time, This coyness, Lady, were no crime. We would sit down, and think which way To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide Of Humber would complain. I would Love you ten years before the Flood, And you should, if you please, refuse Till the conversion of the Jews. My vegetable love should grow Vaster than empires and more slow; An hundred years should go to praise Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze; Two hundred to adore each breast, But thirty thousand to the rest; An age at least to every part, And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state, Nor would I love at lower rate. But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near; And yonder all before us lie Deserts of vast eternity…
The eighteenth century in English literature has been called the Augustan Age, the Neoclassical Age, and the Age of Reason. The term ‘the Augustan Age’ comes from the imitation of the original Augustan writers, Virgil and Horace, by many of the writers of the period. Specifically, the Augustan Age was the period after the Restoration era to the death of Alexander Pope (~1690 – 1744).
The major writers of the age were Pope and John Dryden in poetry, and Jonathan Swift and Joseph Addison in prose. But more than any other the name of Alexander Pope is associated with the Augustan Age. The literature of this period is distinguished by its striving for harmony and precision, and its imitation of classical models such as Homer, Cicero, Virgil, and Horace. In verse, the tight heroic couplet was common, and prose essay and satire were the predominant forms.
Major Works of Neoclassicism
The works of Dryden, Pope, Swift, Addison and John Gay, as well as many of their contemporaries, exhibit order, clarity, and stylistic decorum. Dryden’s An Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668), and Pope’s Essay on Criticism (1711) form the basis for modern English literary criticism, insist that ‘nature’ is the true model and standard of writing.
This ‘nature’ of the Augustans, however, was not the wild, spiritual nature the romantic poets would later idealize, but nature as derived from classical theory: a rational and comprehensible moral order in the universe, demonstrating God’s design. Thus, many of the important genres of this period were adaptations of classical forms: mock epic, translation, and imitation. A large part of Pope’s work belongs to this last category. Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, an elegant satire about the battle between the sexes. Pope’s poem recounts the story of a young woman, Belinda, who is preoccupied with exotic cosmetics and beauty aids.
She plays cards, flirts, drinks coffee, and has a lock of hair stolen by an admiring young man. “From the fair head, forever, and forever! / Then flashed the living lightning from her eyes, / And screams of horror rend th’ affrighted skies.” Pope gives this trivial event a mock heroic treatment, and at the same time comments ironically on the contemporary social world, high-society preoccupations, and perhaps suggests a reform. Although not a mock epic, the satiric impulse is also the driving force behind Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), one of the masterpieces of the period. The four parts describe different journeys of Lemuel Gulliver; to Lilliput, where the pompous activities of the diminutive inhabitants is satirized; to a land of giants who laugh at Gulliver’s tales of the greatness of England; and to a land where horses are civilized and men (Yahoos) behave like beasts. Swift is recognized as a master of understated irony, and his name has become practically synonymous with the type of satire in which outrageous statements are offered in a straight-faced manner.
The Rise of the Novel
The most important figure in terms of lasting literary influence during this period was Daniel Defoe. The works of fiction for which Defoe is remembered, particularly Moll Flanders (1722) and Robinson Crusoe (1719), owe less to the satirical and refined impulse of the Augustan tradition, and more to the tradition of early prose narrative by women, particularly Aphra Behn, Mary Delariviere Manley and Jane Barker. Literary historians have considered Robinson Crusoe the first successful English novel and Defoe as one of the originators of realistic fiction in the eighteenth century, but he was deeply indebted to his female precursors and probably would never have attempted prose narrative if they had not created an audience for it in the first place.
The Enlightenment: Voltaire, The “Voice of Reason” (Enlightenment Philosopher/Writer)
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. —VoltaireFrancois Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 (pen name Voltaire) was born on November 21, 1694 in Paris. Voltaire’s intelligence, wit and style made him one of France’s greatest writers and philosophers.
Young Francois Marie received his education at “Louis-le-Grand,” a Jesuit college in Paris where he said he learned nothing but “Latin and the Stupidities.” He left school at 17 and soon made friends among the Parisian aristocrats. His humorous verses made him a favorite in society circles. In 1717, his sharp wit got him into trouble with the authorities.
He was imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven months for writing a scathing satire of the French government. During his time in prison Francois Marie wrote “Oedipe” which was to become his first theatrical success and adopted his pen name “Voltaire.” In 1726, Voltaire insulted the powerful young nobleman, “Chevalier De Rohan,” and was given two options: imprisonment or exile. He chose exile and from 1726 to 1729 lived in England. While in England Voltaire was attracted to the philosophy of John Locke and ideas of mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton. He studied England’s Constitutional Monarchy and its religious tolerance. Voltaire was particularly interested in the philosophical rationalism of the time, and in the study of the natural sciences.
After returning to Paris he wrote a book praising English customs and institutions. It was interpreted as criticism of the French government and in 1734, Voltaire was forced to leave Paris again. Voltaire worked continuously throughout the years, producing a constant flow of books, plays and other publications. He wrote hundreds of letters to his circle of friends. He was always a voice of reason. Voltaire was often an outspoken critic of religious intolerance and persecution.
No other intellectual/artistic movement has had comparable variety, reach, and staying power since the end of the Middle Ages.
Beginning in the last decades of the 18th century, it transformed poetry, the novel, drama, painting, sculpture, all forms of concert music (especially opera), and ballet. It was deeply connected with the politics of the time, echoing people’s fears, hopes, and aspirations. It was the voice of revolution at the beginning of the 19th century.
Some of the earliest stirrings of the Romantic movement are traced back to the mid-18th-century interest in folklore which arose in Germany– with the belief that works of imagination could equal or even surpass those of educated poets and composers. Whereas during much of the 17th and 18th centuries, complexity and grandiosity were prized, the new romantic taste favored simplicity and naturalness; and these were thought to flow most clearly and abundantly from the “spontaneous” untutored common people.
One of the early effects of this interest in the folk arts was the rise and spread of the reputation of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was a popular playwright who wrote for the commercial theater in London. He was not college-educated, and although his company had the sponsorship of King James, his work was not entirely “respectable.” Academic critics at first scorned his indiscipline, his rejection of their concepts of drama which were derived from ancient Roman and Greek patterns. A good play should not mix comedy with tragedy, not proliferate plots and subplots, nor ramble through a wide variety of settings or drag out its story over months or years of dramatic time; but Shakespeare’s plays did all these things. A proper serious drama should always be divided neatly into five acts, but Shakespeare’s plays simply flowed from one scene to the next, with no attention paid to the academic rules of dramatic architecture (the act divisions we are familiar with today were imposed on his plays by editors after his death). Because Shakespeare was a popular rather than a courtly writer, the Romantics exaggerated his simple origins. In fact he had received an excellent education which, although it fell short of what a university could offer, went far beyond what the typical college student learns today about the classics.
To the Romantics, however, he was the essence of folk poetry, the ultimate vindication of their faith in spontaneous creativity. Much of the drama of the European 19th century is influenced by him, painters illustrated scenes from his plays, and composers based orchestral tone poems and operas on his narratives.
The Gothic Romance
Another quite distinct contribution to the Romantic movement was the Gothic romance. The first was Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1765), set in a haunted castle and containing various mysterious apparitions.
This sort of thing was popularized by writers like Ann Radcliffe and M. L. Lewis (The Monk) and eventually spread abroad to influence writers like Eugène Sue (France) and Edgar Allan Poe (the U.S.). Rejecting the Enlightenment ideal of balance and rationalism, readers sought out the hysterical, mystical, passionate adventures of terrified heroes and heroines in the clutches of frightening, mysterious forces. The modern horror novel and woman’s romance are both descendants of the Gothic romance, as translated through such masterworks as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and her sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Another classic Gothic work, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is often cited as a forerunner of modern science fiction.
The Gothic novel embraced the Medieval culture so disdained by the early 18th century. Whereas classical art looked back constantly to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Romantics celebrated the wilder aspects of the Western Europeans from the 12th through the 14th centuries: stained glass in soaring cathedrals, tales of Robin Hood and his merry men, and-the old tales of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. This influence was to spread far beyond the Gothic romance to all artistic forms in Europe, and lives on in the38popular fantasy novels of today. Fairies, witches, angels–all the fantastic creatures of the Medieval popular imagination came flooding back into the European arts in the Romantic period.
The other influential characteristic of the Gothic romance was its evocation of strong, irrational emotions–particularly horror. Whereas Voltaire and his comrades had abhorred “enthusiasm” and strove to dispel superstition, Gothic writers evoked irrational scenes designed to horrify and amaze. The great minds of the 20th century have generally rejected sentimentalism, defining it as false, exaggerated emotion, and we tend to find comical much that the Romantic age prized as moving and beautiful. Yet its proponents argued that one could be morally uplifted by cultivating a greater sensitivity to feelings. The cultivation of empathy for the sufferings of others could even be a vehicle for social change, as in the works of Charles Dickens.
Another important aspect of Romanticism is the exotic. Just as Romantics responded to the longing of people for a distant past, so they provided images of distant places. The distances need not be terribly great: Spain was a favorite “exotic” setting for French Romantics, for instance.
Such exoticism consisted largely of simple stereotypes endlessly repeated. Most “natives” were depicted as lazy and unable to govern themselves while those who aspired to European sophistication were considered “spoiled.” Many male travelers viewed the women of almost any foreign land as more sexually desirable and available than the women at home, and so they are depicted in fiction, drama, art, and opera.
During the Romantic era many writers were drawn to religious imagery in the same way they were drawn to Arthurian or other ancient traditions in which they no longer believed.
Writers felt free to draw on Biblical themes with the same freedom as their predecessors had drawn on classical mythology, and with as little reverence.
One of the most important developments of this period is the rise in the importance of individualism. Before the 18th Century, few Europeans concerned themselves with discovering their own individual identities. They were what they had been born: nobles, peasants, or merchants. As mercantalism and capitalism gradually transformed Europe, however, it destablized the old patterns. The new industrialists naturally liked to credit themselves for having built their large fortunes and rejected the right of society to regulate and tax their enterprises.
It may seem paradoxical that it was just at the moment when the industrial revolution was destroying large tracts of woods and fields and creating an artificial environment in Europe that this taste arose. But it is precisely people in urban environments who romanticize nature.
They are attracted to it precisely because they are no longer part of it.
Scholars of English literature are prone to make much of the distinction between the Romantic and Victorian Ages, but for our purposes the latter is best viewed as merely a later stage of the former. The prudish attitudes popularly associated with Queen Victoria’s reign are manifest in Germany and–to a lesser extent–in France as well. Victoria did not create Victorianism, she merely exemplified the temper of the time. But throughout the Victorian period the wild, passionate, erotic, even destructive aspects of Romanticism continue in all the arts.
Modernism, Postmodernism, and Deconstruction Modernism
Modernism is the movement in visual arts, music, literature, and drama which rejected the old Victorian standards of how art should be made and what it should mean. In the period of “high modernism,” from around 1910 to 1930, the major figures of modernist literature helped radically to redefine what poetry and fiction could be and do: Woolf, Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Proust, Mallarme, Kafka, and Rilke are considered the founders of twentieth-century modernism.
The main characteristics of modernism include:
emphasis on impressionism and subjectivity in writing (and in visual arts); an emphasis on HOW seeing (or reading or perception) takes place, rather than on WHAT is perceived. An example is stream-of-consciousness writing. 2. movement away from the objectivity of omniscient third-person narrators, fixed narrative points of view, and clear-cut moral positions. Faulkner’s multiply-narrated stories are an example of this aspect of modernism. 3. blurring of distinctions between genres, so that poetry seems more documentary (as in T.S.
Eliot or ee cummings) and prose seems more poetic (as in Woolf or Joyce). 4. emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous narratives, and random-seeming collages of different materials. 5. tendency toward reflexivity, or self-consciousness, about the production of the work of art, so that each piece calls attention to its own status as a production, as something constructed and consumed in particular ways.
like modernism, follows most of these same ideas, rejecting rigid genre distinctions, emphasizing parody, irony, and playfulness. Postmodern art (and thought) favors reflexivity and self-consciousness, fragmentation and discontinuity (especially in narrative structures), ambiguity, and an emphasis on the destructured, decentered, dehumanized subject. But–while postmodernism seems very much like modernism, it differs from modernism in its attitude.
Modernism, for example, tends to present a fragmented view of human subjectivity and history (The Wasteland, or Woolf’s To the Lighthouse), but presents that fragmentation as something tragic, something to be lamented and mourned as a loss. Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn’t lament the idea of fragmentation, or incoherence, but rather celebrates that. The world is meaningless? Let’s not pretend that art can make meaning then, let’s just play with nonsense. Postmodernism then, is the awareness that instabilities that are inherent in any social organization or practice. In other words, every attempt to create “order” always demands the creation of an equal amount of “disorder.? Postmodernism, favors “mini-narratives,” stories that explain small practices, local events, rather than large-scale universal or global concepts. Postmodern “mini-narratives” are always situational, provisional, and temporary, making no claim to universality, truth, reason, or stability.
How Postmodernism Relates to Deconstruction
Deconstruction is a term which is used to denote the application of post-modern ideas of criticism, or theory, to a text. A deconstruction is meant to undermine the frame of reference and assumptions that underpin the text.
Postmodernism and Cyberpunk
As with all stylistic eras, no definite dates exist for the rise and fall of postmodernism’s popularity. 1941, the year Irish novelist James Joyce and British novelist Virginia Woolf both died, is sometimes used as a rough boundary for postmodernism’s start.
Another common divide is the end of the second world war, which saw a critical assessment of human rights in the wake of the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Holocaust, and Japanese American internment. It also coincides with the beginning of the Cold War, the American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968). Finally, it reflects the influence of the computer which garnered new importance during the war.
During this time, computers became integrated within postmodern fiction often referred to as Cyberpunk. Indeed, the book Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology, in section VI, “Technoculture” discusses cyberpunk as a form of postmodern literature. “Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992) is an exemplar of ‘cyberpunk’ science fiction. Cyberpunk represents a fast-forward vision, as in contemporary science fiction.
William Gibson’s…1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer is widely regarded as one of the most influential futuristic visions in American literary history”.Other sub-genres which developed in conjunction with this area include Electronic literature and Hypertext fiction.
Also of note is the recent emergence of Neo-Existential literature, which combined elements of Post-Modern and Existential thought. The term was first used to explain the shift away from individual being-towards-death, which was characteristic of traditional existentialism, to society as a whole recognizing its own being towards death. This creates a new angst for which there is no relief, no possible escape, only at first confusion, then surrender and at the end perhaps joy in accepting what must be.Neo-Existential writers have also focused more on the post-modern end of Neo-Existentialism, creating stream of consciousness narratives that depict the confusion of post-modern, neo existential angst, as well as the bitter resignation to a blind, uncaring corporate world.
Novels such as Fight Club deal with these themes.
“Postcolonial Literature” is a hot commodity these days. Writers like Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy are best-selling authors, and no college English department worth its salt wants to be without a scholar who can knowledgeably discourse about postcolonial theory. Postcolonial theory functions as a subdivision within the field of “cultural studies.? People who call themselves postcolonial scholars generally see themselves as part of a large movement to expose and struggle against the influence of large, rich nations (mostly European, plus the U.
S.) on poorer nations (mostly in the southern hemisphere). Taken literally, the term “postcolonial literature” is a label for literature written by people living in countries formerly colonized by other nations. Literal colonization is not the exclusive object of postcolonial study. Also relevant is “hegemony” which refers to dominance through ideas and culture (what many critics of American influence call the “Coca-Colanization” of the world).
Sixties thinkers developed the concept neo-imperialism to label relationships like that between the U.S. and many Latin American countries which, while nominally independent, had economies dominated by American business interests, often backed up by American military forces. Among the works commonly studied under this label are novels like Claude McKay’s Banjo and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart which were written while the nations in question (Jamaica and Nigeria) were still colonies. Nigerian writers Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, after writing powerful indictments of the British in their country, turned to exposing the deeds of native-born dictators and corrupt officials within their independent homeland. Postcolonial scholars would explain this corruption as a by-product of colonialism. “Postcolonial” writers often move to England or North America (because they have been exiled, or because they find a more receptive audience there, or simply in search of a more comfortable mode of living) and even sometimes–like Soyinka–call upon the governments of these “neocolonialist” nations to come to the aid of freedom movements seeking to overthrow native tyrants.
Although postcolonial theory generally confines itself to the past half-century, it can be argued that everyone has been colonized at some time or other. Rushdie likes to point out that England itself is a postcolonial nation, having been conquered by Romans and Normans, among others. “Postcolonial” is also a troublesome term because it draws some very arbitrary lines. South African writers Athol Fugard and Nadine Gordimer are often excluded from postcolonial courses, although their works were powerful protests against apartheid and they have lived and worked far more in Africa than, say, Buchi Emicheta, who emigrated to England as a very young woman and has done all of her writing there–because they are white.
Many Caribbean-born writers living in England are now classed as “Black British.” What determines when you are too acculturated to be counted as postcolonial: where you were born? how long you’ve lived abroad? your subject matter? These questions are the object of constant debate.44It can even be asked whether the entire premise of postcolonial studies is valid.
This is the question asked by Gayatri Spivak in her famous essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” She points out that anyone who has achieved enough literacy and sophistication to produce a widely-read piece of fiction is by that very fact disqualified from speaking for the people he or she is supposed to represent. Whenever writers from the postcolonial world like Soyinka, Derek Walcott, or Rushdie receive wide recognition they are denounced as unrepresentative and inferior to other, more obscure but more “legitimate” spokespeople. However, those unwilling to adopt the label “postcolonial” are hard put to find an appropriate term. “Third-world” makes no sense since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist “second world.” “Literature of developing nations” buys into an economic label which most “postcolonial” scholars reject. The more it is examined, the more the postcolonial sphere crumbles. Though Jamaican, Nigerian, and Indian writers have much to say to each other; it is not clear that they should be lumped
Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, is the seminal African novel in English. Although there were earlier examples, notably by Achebe’s fellow Nigerian, Amos Tutuola, none has been so influential, not only on African literature, but on literature around the world.
Its most striking feature is that it creates a complex and sympathetic portrait of a traditional village culture in Africa. Achebe is trying not only to inform the outside world about Ibo cultural traditions, but to remind his own people of their past and to assert that it had contained much of value. All too many Africans in his time were ready to accept the European judgment that Africa had no history or culture worth considering. He also fiercely resents the stereotype of Africa as an undifferentiated “primitive” land, the “heart of darkness,” as Conrad calls it. Throughout the novel he shows how African cultures vary among themselves and how they change over time.As a young boy, the “African literature” he was taught consisted entirely of works by Europeans about Africa, such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson, which portrays a comic African who slavishly adores his white colonist boss, to the point of gladly being shot to death by him. Achebe has said that it was his indignation at this latter novel that inspired the writing of Things Fall Apart. The language of the novel is simple but dignified.
When the characters speak, they use an elevated diction which is meant to convey the sense of Ibo speech. This choice of language was a brilliant and innovative stroke, given that most earlier writers had relegated African characters to pidgin or inarticulate gibberish.Achebe went on to write two sequels to Things Fall Apart.
In The Arrow of God (1964) he further explores the failure of the British to understand traditional beliefs and values, and in No Longer at Ease (1967) he shows how postcolonial Nigeria became corrupted by a government which was not the organic creation of its people, but an alien structure imposed upon them. He has also published several other novels, a volume of short stories, and many poems and essays, and currently teaches at Bard College in New York. Like many Nigerian authors, he was an exile from his homeland where a military dictatorship was in power until he was able to return for a brief visit in 1998.
Major African Authors ACEBE
Chinua Achebe (1930- ) Nigeria.
Chinua Achebe is one of the most well known African authors of his generation. He was born in 1930 in Eastern Nigeria to religious Christian parents. His first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958) has received wide acclaim.
It deals with the colonial impact on Igbo culture. Igbo society, as well as the book’s main character, Okonkwo, are unable to adapt to the arrival of the British, who impose a cash economy and Christianity on them. Eventually, this vibrant, functioning society collapses and disintegrates under these new pressures, as does Okonkwo. A later novel, A Man Of the People (1966) describes an unnamed post-colonial African country. It deals with the problems of political representation in a corrupt nation. It also deals with the problems of finding a collective will in an ethnically diverse, economically stratified nation.
His most recent novel, Anthills of the Savannah (1987), deals with the problem of military regimes in contemporary Africa. It centers on a dictator, Sam, the ruler of this fictional African country. As Sam becomes more megalomaniacal, his limited ability to rule diminishes even further. He eventually destroys even his boyhood friends, and is finally overthrown. Much of Achebe’s work is politicized. His novels are not “art for its own sake”. In addition to his famous novels, he has written numerous essays, as well as several children’s stories.
Major African AuthorsEMECHETA
Buchi Emecheta (1944- ) Nigeria. Buchi Emecheta was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1944. When she was 16, she married a student, and moved to London with him. The couple had five children together before she left him in 1966. In 1970, she enrolled at the University of London, where she received an honors degree in sociology in 1974. She began writing after her marriage ended. Most of her fiction is autobiographical (The Rape of Shavi (1983) being the most notable exception). Her first book, In the Ditch (1972), and her second, Second-Class Citizen (1974) describe the life of Adah, a woman from Nigeria who has emigrated to England with her student husband, Francis. Francis is a dreadful husband who is lazy and selfish, and considerably less intelligent than the woman he mistreats. She struggles in her marriage, both financially and sexually, and gains the will to leave her husband only after he burns the manuscript she has been writing. After she leaves him, she discovers the depth of her own intelligence and character, and begins to climb out of the ditch she had been confined to. Emecheta’s most critically acclaimed work is remarkably different from her earlier work. The Rape of Shavi (1983) is a “philosophical novel” about the encounter between Africa and the West. In it, the residents of Shavi, a fictional African country, are visited by a group of whites who survive a plane crash. The passengers were fleeing what they believed was an imminent nuclear holocaust. When they arrive in Shavi, they discover a world which is undisturbed by external political disputes or Western influence. Initially, the Shavians are not convinced that these crash victims are human. However, they give the refugees food, shelter and medical attention. Eventually, most of the new arrivals gain respect for their hosts. Unfortunately, things take a bad turn when one of the Europeans rapes Ayoko, a girl who is betrothed to the king, and gives her syphilis. Later, one of the Shavians named Asogba goes to Europe with the whites after they repair their plane. He returns power-hungry and intent on conquering nearby tribes using technology he acquired while abroad. Eventually, he marries Ayoko, who unknowingly gives him syphilis. He passes it on to his other wives, and dies childless. Shavi is initially devastated by this encounter, but its residents ultimately come away from it with an ability to understand the implications of westernization and technological advances.Emecheta’s most recent book Gwendolen (1989) describes the life of a young West Indian girl who emigrates to London with her family. It is thematically similar to her earlier novels. Some readers46apparently had hoped that The Rape of Shavi had signaled a new direction in her writing, and greeted this novel with little enthusiasm.
Major African AuthorsSOYINKA
Wole Soyinka (1934- ) Nigeria. The first African to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (in 1986), Wole Soyinka has established himself as one of the most compelling literary forces on the continent. Born in Nigeria, in 1934, he is often regarded as a universal man: poet, playwright, novelist, critic, lecturer, teacher, actor, translator, politician, and publisher. Soyinka’s writing “blends African with European cultural traditions, the high seriousness of modernist elite literature, and the topicality of African popular theater.” His early poetry resulted from his imprisonment during the Nigerian Civil War. His powerful prison diary, The Man Died (1972) was published after his release. Soyinka is actively committed to social justice and he has been an outspoken, daring public figure deeply engaged in the main political issues of his country and Africa, and he has become a symbol for humane values throughout the continent. Soyinka’s hallmark is his dramatic work: “His plays are shaped by myth and imagery and the narratives move back and forth in time. The events are powerful, the language filled with puns and witty wordplay, references, and allusions.
Major African AuthorsGORDIMER
Nadine Gordimer (1923- ) South Africa. A novelist, short story writer, critic, essayist, and editor, Nadine Gordimer is one of South Africa’s preeminent authors, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991. Born in South Africa in 1923 she was raised in a segregated town outside Johannesburg and has remained in South Africa throughout her career. Drawing on South African political conditions for her works’ themes, Gordimer focuses principally on the complex human tensions that result from apartheid. Praised for her authentic portrayals of black African culture, she is also recognized for using precise details to “evoke both the physical landscape of South Africa and the human predicaments of a racially polarized society.” One of her most compelling achievements has been to give the world an understanding of the terrible cost and effect of racism in her country, going beyond what journalism and the media can relate. In1987 she helped found the Congress of South African Writers, ninety percent of whose members are black. Three of her books were banned in South Africa. A Guest of Honour (1970), perhaps her finest work, received the James Toit Black Memorial Prize, while The Conservationist (1974)was awarded the Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction. More recent works include the critically acclaimed A Sport of Nature (1987) and My Son’s Story (1990). Her short stories, of equal merit, portray “individuals who struggle to avoid, confront, or change the conditions under which they live.” Not for Publication and Other Stories (1965) and Livingstone’s Companions (1971) portray common people defying apartheid in their everyday lives. In her most recent Jump and Other Stories (1991) Gordimer “continues her exploration of how apartheid insulates the daily lives of ordinary blacks and whites.”
Major Caribbean AuthorsALVAREZ
Julia Alvarez was born in New York City in 1950. Her family moved to the Dominican Republic shortly after her birth, and it was there that she spent the majority of her childhood. In 1960, when Alvarez was ten years old, her family emigrated to the United States, fleeing the Dominican Republic because of Alvarez’s father’s involvement with an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Trujillo dictatorship. Having spent the majority of her life in the United States, Alvarez considers herself an American, yet her writing bridges Latina and American culture. Through the stories of her characters’ lives, she unveils such powerful issues as the male chauvinism characteristic of Hispanic families, the role of women under dictatorships, and the misogyny manifested in political structures.
Major Caribbean AuthorsARENAS
Reinaldo Arenas was born in Cuba in 1943. Due to his opposition to the political regime and his open homosexuality, he was deported. Arenas settled in New York where he lived until his death from AIDS ten years later. His fiction includes his autobiography Before Night Falls and Farewell to the Sea. Arenas’ books are known for their blasphemy, abuse, political contempt and denunciation of the Cuban government. His first novel, Singing from the Well (1967) was celebrated internationally, but Arenas was persecuted when Cuban officials denounced and attacked homosexual writers. All of his works following Singing from the Well were banned from publication in Cuba. Arenas was imprisoned and banished from Cuba in 1980. Arenas’ novels have been published throughout the world and have won numerous literary awards. He is one of the most notable Cuban writers.
Major Caribbean AuthorsBRATHWAITE
Kamau Brathwaite (b. 1930) Poet, playwright, critic, and historian, who has examined in his works the complex Caribbean heritage and its African roots. Brathwaite has been a major proponent of the use of “nation language” which is closely allied to the African experience in the Caribbean: “the kind of English spoken by the people who were brought to the Caribbean, not the official English, but the language of slaves and laborers, the servants who were brought in”. Never seen a man travel more seen more lands than this poor path- less harbourless spade. (from Rights of Passage, 1967)In his poetry Brathwaite has infused European and African influences. He combines spoken word with modernist techniques, and new spellings, and uses rhythms from jazz and folk music. His poetry is part of the collective search of Caribbean identity and racial wholeness. Feelings of rootlessness emerge from Brathwaite’s poems. He normally uses the computer in his writing. In the poem ?Stone? from Middle Passages, dedicated to Mickey Smith, who was stoned to death on Stony Hill, Kingston, he combined basic word processing techniques with deliberate mispellings, onomatopoeia, graphic rendition of the rhythm and syntax of agitated everyday speech: “murderrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr / & i throat like dem tie. like dem tie. like dem tie a tight tie a. / round it. twist. in my name quick crick . quick crick . / & a nevva wear neck. tie yet .” (from Middle Passages, 1992)