A. What is Classical Literature?

Classical literature begins in middle ages. It’s related to period from 449 until before restoration. Classical literature as subject study is the study of literary work which happened in classical period between middle age until puritan age.

B.     The Middle Ages

The middle ages lie between 449-1485. The middle age includes the Anglo-Saxon period. In this period, the Germanic invasions were happened. The invading Germanic tribes brought a common language, called old English or Anglo-Saxon. During the Anglo-Saxon period, England was not the unified country.

Anglo Saxon civilization:

–          Belief of many gods

–          The society is unstable

–          The society loyal to the king, whatever tribe he came from

–          In meeting, they can openly express what they thought and felt (democratic)

Characteristic of literary work:

–          Only an oral art

–          A song, or sing a song

–          Heroic / epic

Most popular literary work in this period is Beowulf. Beowulf is England’s heroic epic, the author is unknown. It’s about a hero who is leader of his people. The diction is stately and many of its scenes are traditional. Beowulf is about 30.000 lines. It’s an oral poem and finally written by venerable Bede.

The other literary work in this period was the seafarer. It tells about the condition in the sea that describes loneliness. The theme of the seafarer is alienation. The poem gives the idea that the eternal power is the power of God.

C.    The Medieval Period

The medieval period begins in 1066 with the battle of Hastings. He king of England was defeated by William the conqueror, duke of Normandy. In this period, there is the feudal system. Feudalism was a complicated system of landholding. Nobody owned land independently.

One significant law during this period was law of primogeniture. It’s the law that the right of inheritance is only for the firstborn son.

The form of literary work in medieval period was the romance. The specific theme of literary work was reality. The great poet in this period is Geoffrey Chaucer. He is called the father of English poetry because his effect to the society is great, he has much skill. Chaucer died in 1400 and was buried in Westminster abbey.

The most famous literary work was Canterbury tales. It’s about the journey to Canterbury. The Canterbury tales is a reflection of society at the time.

D.    The Renaissance

Renaissance means “rebirth”, the rebirth of intellectual and artistic energies that characterized ancient Greek and Roman civilization and with this the awakening of a whole range of new interests in human beings.

The renaissance began in Italy. The renaissance was not only a period of new artistic and intellectual enterprise but also a time of territorial exploration and discovery.

The renaissance happened twice:

  • Happened in Italy → humanism, during the fourteenth century
  • Happened in England → romantic, the middle of seventeenth century

The real / great of renaissance in England happened in the Elizabethan period.

  1. The Elizabethan Ages

The Elizabethan ages are the period of England that led by Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). Elizabeth had a sharp intellect and an excellent renaissance education. She was also a clever diplomat. Elizabeth encourages literary and artistic developments that would finally allow the renaissance in England to grow and flourish.

The greatest and most distinctive achievement of Elizabethan literature is the drama. There was a strong tradition of popular religious drama in medieval England: mystery, miracle plays, and morality plays.

The greatest dramatist poet in Elizabethan period is William Shakespeare. Shakespeare became a member of the most successful company of actors in London, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. In 1599 Shakespeare’s company built the famous Globe Theaters, where most of his best known plays were performed. Queen Elizabeth often summoned the lord chamberlain’s men to put on private performances for her at court.

Romeo and Juliet is most famous literary work by William Shakespeare in Elizabethan ages until present. The other literary work is Macbeth. Macbeth offers us a timeless image of the human will struggling against forces, including those of the mind itself, which are beyond its ultimate control.

The Elizabethan’s theatres are unique. There was an open enclosure where the groundlings could stand for a penny, surrounded by roofed galleries on all sides. The stage, a raised platform projecting into the enclosure, would have been at least partially covered with a roof supported by two pillars at the front. Two doors on either side of the stage led back to a dressing room. Below the stage was an area used by musicians and sound –effects men, and occasionally by actors laying the parts of ghosts or spirits who would ascend or descend by means of trap doors. Directly behind the main stage was a recessed inner stage, called the inner below. Above the main stage was area known as the upper stage or the inner above. Sometimes spectators occupied this area, but more often than not it was used as part of the stage-as Juliet’s bedroom, perhaps, or as the wall of Macbeth’s castle. A balcony probably extended out for a few feet from this upper stage.

2. The Jacobean Ages

Jacobean comes from jacobacus, a Latin form of the name James. James I ruled his kingdom of Scotland together with that of England until 1625, and the period of his reign is known as the Jacobean era. The reign of James I initiated a time of deep religious and political unrest in England.

The literature in Jacobean ages is the Elizabethan literary heritage. In Jacobean drama, a darker and more disturbing image of life appears: themes of violence, madness, and corruption come to the fore.

The most famous literary work in this period is poetry, and the most famous writer is john Donne. John Donne and the seventeenth century poets who wrote in a style inspired by metaphysical poets. This term was coined by Samuel Johnson to refer to these writers’ use of difficult, highly intellectualized images of ten drawn from scholastic philosophy or metaphysics. The metaphysical poem is more argumentative in tone, its language is more colloquial, and its meter is usually varied, irregular, eve rough and harsh.

The themes of literary wok in this period were love and religious. The metaphysical poets wrote both love poems and religious or meditative lyrics.


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