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BAYLOR UNIVERSITY / English / ENG 2301 / Why study shakespeare?

Why study shakespeare?

Why study shakespeare?


School: Baylor University
Department: English
Course: British Literature
Professor: Rachel webster
Term: Fall 2016
Cost: 50
Name: Brit Lit test 1 review
Description: Middle Ages, Renaissance, Shakespeare and 17th century poetry
Uploaded: 09/23/2016
6 Pages 35 Views 2 Unlocks

British Literature Test 1 Study Guide

Why study shakespeare?

Middle Ages 

- English literature in the Middle Ages can be divided into three major time  periods: “Anglo-Saxon Literature,” “Anglo-Norman Literature” and “Middle  English Literature of the 14th and 15th centuries.”

o Difference between the writing of these time periods?

- Most writing during this time was done by monks and therefore religious in  nature

- There was great death in the Middle Ages, especially during the time of the  Black Plague which effected how people thought and what they wrote about

Anglo-Saxon Literature

- used kennings- compounds of 2 words used to represent another word e.i  “cup-bearer”- wife

- Beowulf- epic hero, royal generosity

How did shakespeare play with conventions used by other sonnet writers?

- “The Ecclesiastical History of the Anglo-Saxons”

- “The Dream of the Rood”- alliteration, kennings, portrayal of Christ on the  cross, imagery

Mystery Plays

- Put on by town guild and based on stories from the Bible

- “The York Play of the Crucifixion”

o Enactment of soldiers trying to get Jesus on the cross

o Jesus is shown to be a hero to everyone, even the soldiers

What different portrayals of Christ do we get?

- “Dream of the Rood”- epic hero, actively going to death

- “York Play of the Crucifixion- passive sufferer, hero for all people Renaissance 

- Tudor dynasty (1485-1603)

Why does hamlet choose to act mad?

- There were more books and reading during this time

- Royal court was the center of culture and therefore literature - Reformation- brought about religious changes

o Confusion in England as the monarchs switched them back and forth  between Catholic and Protestant We also discuss several other topics like . what are the levels at which we study life?

 “The Passionate Shepard to his Love” (Marlowe) and “The Nymph’s Reply” (Sir  Walter Raleigh)

- “pastoral”- idealistic view of life in the country

- “The Passionate Shepard” uses fancy language even though he probably just  wants to hook up with her, he also has a very unrealistic view of life in the  country Don't forget about the age old question of What is self awareness and why is it important?

- In “The Nymph’s Reply,” Raleigh is kind of poking fun at Marlowe by pointing  out how unrealistic it is, he is also “one-upping” Marlowe in a sense by taking  his language and doing something different with it

- There is a parallel between the rhythm and words of the two poems - Use the concept of time in connection with four seasons Don't forget about the age old question of What do you mean by hydrogenation?

Poets used seasons to symbolize seasons of life:

- Spring= youth and love

- Summer= middle of life

- Fall= old age  

- Winter= death


- Songs, usually directed to an object of love  

- There were Italian (Petrarchan) Sonnets, English (Shakespearean) Sonnets  and Spenserian Sonnets

- Characteristics of Petrarchan and Spenserian Sonnets

o Petrarch- unrequited love, conceits, followed “sonnet rules” such as  being 14 lines

o Spenser- used archaic language and multiple spellings of words,  sometimes used elements from Petrarchan Sonnets but changed them  up

 Sonnet 75:

∙ Differs from Italian Sonnets because he has his love and  

the woman is actually part of the dialogue

 Sonnet 79:

∙ He uses the word “fair” in three different ways


- Why study Shakespeare?

o He was the first to use phrases which we still use today Don't forget about the age old question of How matter is constructed?
Don't forget about the age old question of How do we diagnose cancer?

o He used the language in creative and new ways

- Who did Shakespeare write to? Don't forget about the age old question of When does group decision making make sense?

o He wrote many poems to a man known as “the fair youth”

o Some were written to a rival poet

o He also mentions writing to a “dark lady”

- He worked as an actor and a playwright but was not wealthy or particularly  famous during his lifetime and many of his plays were not published until  after his death.  

How did Shakespeare play with conventions used by other Sonnet writers?

- Sonnet 18:  

o “Summer’s day” was commonly used to represent love and prime of  life, but he points out that he prefers his love because she is more  temperate than summer.  

- Sonnet 130:  

o He is not mocking a woman, but the conventions used by other poets  to talk about love

o He points out that saying a woman has “eyes like the sun” and “lips as  red as coral” is actually a very unrealistic way to describe her.

Other notable Shakespearean Sonnets:

- Sonnet 73

o Shakespeare uses the season analogies- fall becoming winter means  he is old and moving towards death

- Sonnet 138

o Written to his “dark lady

o The word “lie” used at the end has a double meaning


Act 1 scene iv l.90- “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”

- In this line, “state” has multiple meanings. The word can refer to the country of Denmark, the current condition of Denmark and the King of Denmark. Not  only is something wrong with Denmark, but with Claudius.

- How does this relate to England at the time? (“There is something rotten in  the state of England.”)

- Queen Elizabeth had been refusing to appoint an heir so that she could hold  on to her power, which left a lot of uncertainty as to the future of England.  He used this to criticize the queen’s actions in a way that is subtle.  - This idea comes back throughout the play.  

Act 3 scene i- l. 57-91 “To be or not to be, that is the question…”

- This monologue is one of the most famous pieces of Shakespeare’s writing.  - Different film adaptations of Hamlet have shown this scene in different ways  depending on how to directors and actors interpreted the character of Hamlet (crazy? Angry? Suicidal?). He has been portrayed by Ethan Hawke, Mel  Gibson, David Tennant and Kenneth Branagh.  

- Is Hamlet actually suicidal? Or is he simply struggling with his situation or  being philosophical?

Hamlet’s madness:

Why does Hamlet choose to act mad?

- Could be to take people by surprise or to take responsibility off of himself - Could be a sign of actual madness

Is Hamlet actually mad?

- Three possibilities: Hamlet may have been mad from the beginning, never  have been mad at all or be driven to madness over time.  

- There are certain scenes which make him out to be mad more so than the  rest of the play:

o Scene in Gertrude’s room- kills Polonius suddenly and sees the ghost  which no one else can see

o Scene at Ophelia’s grave- Why would he jump in the grave and fight  Laertes?

- However, his ability to meticulously plan and think through things throughout  the play points toward him being sane.  

How does the question of his madness change how we see the play?

- It determines how much control he has over his actions.

- This may change how we think of the character when he kills people, treats  Ophelia poorly and sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be killed.

Other important questions and themes:

How much of a choice do the characters have in their own destiny? Are there things  that anyone could do differently that could change the course of this play?

- Hamlet is stuck with no good moral choice to make. If he does not kill  Claudius, he is a bad son. If he does kill Claudius, he is committing a sin.  - When Hamlet kills Polonius, he cannot come back from it and it sets things in  to motion later on in the play.

- The ending- Because “something was rotten in the state of Denmark,” the  play ended almost the only way it could. Was this destiny?

What is Hamlet’s tragic flaw?

- The tragic flaw in this Shakespeare play is less clear.  

- His tragic flaw is probably more of what we see as a virtue. He is not rash,  thinks through things and is logical. We consider these things to be good, but  they kept Hamlet from acting and ultimately led to his downfall.

Hamlet’s thoughts on death?

- “To be or not to be” speech- he says that people would want death except  that they are afraid of what awaits them

- Graveyard scene with skull of Yorick- he is upset because when you die you  become nothing and it happens to everyone no matter who they were in life

Significance of Polonius’ death:

- It determines things that will happen later on, such as Ophelia’s death,  Laertes’ feud with Hamlet and the ending

- Is it a sign of Hamlet’s madness?

- Begins to set up the contrast between Laertes and Hamlet

Hamlet suggests Fortinbras as king:

- “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” maybe an outside leader  would lead to a new era and purge all the evil.

o Perhaps the story ended the way it did because the royal people in  Denmark were “rotten” and things needed to start over.  

- Fortinbras is also different from Hamlet and may be seen as what Hamlet  “could have been.”

o Fortinbras is more of an action-taker, but also listens to his uncle when  he is told not to invade Denmark.

o Fortinbras made clear decisions and they were usually better than the  ones Hamlet made.

Why is Hamlet seen as a hero and not a villain?  

- Avenging his father would probably have been seen as a good thing to  Shakespeare’s audience.

- Hamlet is a witty and intelligent character who sees through everyone.  - Hamlet wants to do the right thing, but doesn’t always know what it is.

Seventeenth Century Poetry 

John Donne:

- Anglican preacher, wrote many religious poems, but also wrote about love - His religious poems include the Holy Sonnets and the Mediations while his  non-religious works include “The Sun Rising,” The Canonization” and “A  Valediction Forbidding Mourning.”


- Love- struggled with how to reconcile physical desires and love with matters  of faith, his love poems are more scientific and relate to spiritual life o “The Canonization”- his desire to love

- Relationship between physical and spiritual

o Holy Sonnet 14- he wants to know God in a physical way

- Repentance- it should be done and should be done now

o Holy Sonnet 7

- Mortality- we never know when it will happen, but no reason to fear it o Holy Sonnet 10- death has no power

o Meditation 17

o Holy Sonnet 1- Why are we born to die?

- Paradoxes:

o Holy Sonnet 10- death can die

o Holy Sonnet 14- our capture leads to our freedom

George Herbert:

- Wrote spiritual poems  

- Conflict for him is more how does he serve God when he is “imprisoned” by  his physical life. This contrasts with Donne’s struggle of wanting the physical

“The Altar”

- The altar is broken because the physical is corrupted

- He purposefully creates the shape of an altar and bolds the words “altar,”  “heart,” “sacrifice” and “altar” (at the end)

o Sacrifice and heart are at the center

“The Collar”

- Multiple possible meanings for the word “collar” (priest’s collar, shackle,  anger, “caller”)

- Deals with having to put off worldly pursuits to serve God

“Love (3)”

- “love” describes Jesus

- Christ is portrayed as a host and an active servant

o How does this contrast with how he portrayed in “Dream of the Rood”  and “York Play of the Crucifixion?”

Andrew Marvell:

- Poetry is more political rather than spiritual

“To his Coy Mistress”

- Mocks the conventions used by other poets. If they really just want to sleep  with a woman, why so much flowery language?

- Talks about time and age as do many other poets

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