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Medieval and Renaissance Literature Comparative Essay

In: English and Literature

Submitted By KathrynW99
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Assess the ways canonical texts provide insights into different contexts.
In your response, discuss TWO texts from TWO different eras covered in Masters in Pieces.

Beowulf, composed by an unknown author between the eight and the tenth centuries AD was an epic poem from the Medieval Era. Faustus was a play written in verse by Christopher Marlowe during the Renaissance Era between 1564-1593, both reflecting the dominant ideas and values of the context. The Medieval Era was a politically unstable time predominantly influenced by Christian culture and storytelling, where heroic tales of the noble were highly valued and as a result reflect religious ideas. The Renaissance era marked a major cultural turning point for British Culture as the philosophy of humanism emerged, which engendered literature to become increasingly vibrant and free- thinking. Both canonical texts provide significant insight into both the Medieval and Renaissance era. These concepts are explored through the principals of Christianity and the prevailing conflict during each context time.

The importance of religion were relevant in both contexts, Beowulf reinforcing the beliefs of the time while Faustus indicates Britain's shift to humanist values and intensified the assertion of personal independence and individual expression. Beowulf demonstrates his trust in God easily into Christian context and repeatedly acknowledges God as his protector. “The captain of evil discovered himself in a grip harder than anything he had ever encountered in any man on the face of the earth.” Allusion to supernatural powers and biblical allusions allow emphasis how Grendel is inherently evil and therefore is destined to lose the battle, especially as God is not on his side but in fact Grendel's. Additionally, the constant reference to God’s decrees encourages the reader to place reliance in God. “Then he who had harrowed the hearts of men with pain and affliction in former time.” Alliteration and imagery accentuates that Grendel is associated with the devil and suggests he is ‘evil’ because he is ‘outside God’. Contrastingly, Faustus yearns for happiness and wisdom on earth and not just in the afterlife. ““I’ll burn my books - ah, mephastophilis!” This creates a motif of the book and uses symbolism to show that God and institutionalised religion repented those who seek knowledge beyond religion. Again Marlowe uses the symbolism of an animal to show the safety for Faustus as it is his way of wanting to escape the impacts religion has on his fate. “All beasts are happy, for when they die, Their souls are soon dissolved in elements; But mine must live still plagued in hell.” Additionally biblical allusion emphasis the strong effect religion had on society so that one would compare themselves to an animal so that they would not experience the downfall of religion. Comparing the two poems highlights the transition between the Medieval era which demanded implicit faith and unquestioning obedience, however as supernaturalism began to diminish, secular and human interests became more prominent.

Beowulf, however, represents the very different problems during the Medieval Era.
Conflict is consistently shown in Beowulf and fortifies the concept through violence while In Beowulf, violence and brutality is a way of life in the Scandinavian warrior culture, it delivered a kingdom, made a hero and created a legacy. “A God-cursed scream and strain of catastrophe, the howl of the loser, the lament of the hell-serf keening his wound.” Allusion to supernatural power and metaphors, display emphasis on the beastial element where Grendel is not human and that it is a fatal conflict between God and the devil. Powerful sound imagery displayed in the quote catches the reader off guard by drawing in a new sense as well as heighten the prominence of Grendel’s defeat. “Sinews split and the bone-lappings burst,” illustrating the techniques of sibilance and onomatopoeia emphasizes the brutal defeat of Beowulf over Grendel, and reiterates the pain and suffering that Grendel had faced. The evident change from protecting ‘god’ through violence and imagination from the Industrial Revolution shows the Romantics questioning of Medieval Values.

The increased appreciation for Humanistic perceptions and the potential of individuals and beauty of nature challenges the Values of social and religious structure, and questions the glorification of violence in solving conflict. Therefore Canonical texts are valuable to a great extent more for the questions they pose than the certainties they offer.

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