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The social significance of “The Canterbury Tales” :
In “The Canterbury Tales”, Chaucer gives us a true-to-life picture of the society of his time. Taking the stand of the rising bourgeoisie, he affirms men and opposes the dogma of asceticism preached by the church. As a forerunner of humanism, he praised man’s energy, intellect, quick wit and love of life. His tales expose and satirize the evils of his time. They attack the degeneration of the noble, and the corruption of the Church and so on.

The English Renaissance
The Renaissance marks a transition from the medieval to the modern world. Generally, it refers to the period between 14th and mid-17th centuries. It first started in Italy, with the flowering of painting, sculpture and literature. From Italy the movement then spread through the rest of Europe. The Renaissance, which means rebirth or revival, is actually a movement stimulated by a series of historical events, such as the rediscovery of ancient Roman and Greek culture, the new discoveries in geography and astrology, the religious reformation and the economic expansion.

The Renaissance, therefore, in essence, is a historical period in which the European humanist thinkers and scholars made attempts 1)to get rid of those old feudalist ideas in medieval Europe, 2)to introduce new ideas that expressed the interests of the rising bourgeoisie, 3)and to recover the purity of the early church from the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Humanism
Humanism was a literary and philosophic system of thought which attempted to place the affairs of mankind at the center of its concerns. It took as a major interest the life of man in the present and, unlike medieval philosophy, which postulated a CITY of God in the hereafter, it attempted to lay the foundations for a life of justice, nobility, and goodness on earth. In pursuing this program, the argument goes, the humanists literally created the European Renaissance and paved the way for the modern, secular world.

Literature in this period:
The English Renaissance was England’s first Golden Age in literature. Among the literary giants were More, Sidney ,Spenser, Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare and Bacon. I. The Beginning of the English Renaissance (1485-1558) Thomas More (1478-1535) ---a great humanistic leader ---his masterpiece Utopia, published in1516 in Latin. (Utopia means “nowhere land”)

II. The Elizabethan Age (1558-1603) The Renaissance developed into a flowering of literature in this period and England became “a nest of singing birds”. The vigor of the age found better expression in the sphere of poetry and plays. A. Poetry: ---The sonnet was introduced to England from Italy by Thomas Wyatt (怀亚特). ---The blank verse was introduced by Henry Howard (霍华德) to English poetry.

? An exact form of poetry in 14 lines of iambic pentameter intricately rhymed. Sonnet vary in structure and rhyme scheme, but are generally of two types : the Petrarchan or Italian sonnet and the Elizabethan or Shakespearean sonnet. ? Shakespearean sonnet: consists of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, with rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg. (see sonnet 18) ? Petrarchan sonnet: abbaabba cdecde

iambic pentameter
Iambic= a two syllable foot of one unstressed and one stressed syllable, as in the word “begin”. Pentameter= five feet. ? Thus, iambic pentameter has ten syllables, five feet of two syllable iambs.
Heroic Couplet: Two lines of rhyming iambic pentameter.

Blank Verse Verse written unrhymed iambic pentameter. Blank verse is the verse form used in some of the greatest English poetry and drama, including that of William Shakespeare and John Milton.
If you can look into the seeds of time, And say which grain will grow and which will not, Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear

-----Shakespeare’s Macbeth

1) Philip Sidney (1554-1599) : is well-known as a poet and critic of poetry. --- Apology for Poetry 《诗辩》is one of the earliest English literary critical essays. 2) Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) ---the greatest poet of the Elizabethan Age, he was called “poets’ poet”. ---works: The Shepherd’s Calender 《牧羊人日记》 The Amoretti 《爱情小唱》 Faerie Queene 《仙后》

Spenserian Stanza
A nine-line stanza, with the first eight lines in iambic pentameter and the last line in iambic hexameter. The rhyme scheme is A-B-A-B B-C-B-C C. Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene is written in Spenserian stanzas. hexameter: six feet

B. Drama
英国戏剧起源于中世纪教堂的宗教仪式,取材于圣经 故事的奇迹剧(miracle play)和神秘剧(mystery play) 。在14、15世纪英国舞台上占有主导地位,随 后出现了以抽象概念作为剧中人物的道德剧 (morality play)。到了16世纪末戏剧进入了全盛时 期。

1) Christopher Marlowe(1564-1595) ---was the greatest predecessor of Shakespeare and the greatest pioneer of English drama. ---works: Tamburlaine the Great 《帖木儿大帝》 The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus 《浮士德博士的悲剧》 The Jew of Malta 《马耳他的犹太人》

---contributions: 1. He first made blank verse the principal instrument of English drama. 2.He replaced the stilted heroes of previous drama by men of vitality and passion——he created the Renaissance hero for the English drama. 2)Ben Jonson (1562-1637) ---the greatest writer of comedy after Shakespeare the founder of the Comedy of Manners. ---The Alchemist 《炼金术士》(1610) Volpone 《伏尔蓬涅》(1606)

Miracle play also called Saint's Play, a miracle play presents a real or fictitious account of the life, miracles, or martyrdom of a saint.

Mystery play The mystery plays, usually representing biblical subjects, developed from plays presented in Latin by churchmen on church premises and depicted such subjects as the Creation, Adam and Eve, the murder of Abel, and the Last Judgment.

Morality play also called Morality, an allegorical drama popular in Europe especially during the 15th and 16th centuries, in which the characters personify moral qualities (such as charity or vice) or abstractions (as death or youth) and in which moral lessons are taught.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
The greatest of all English authors, William Shakespeare belongs to those are geniuses of mankind who have become landmarks in the history of world literature. He was one of the first founders of realism, a masterhand at realistic portrayal of human characters and relations.

No wonder that Shakespeare’s works were so fondly cherished by the greatest minds of mankind, and among them by Karl Marx, who regarded Aeschylus(埃斯库罗斯) and Shakespeare as “the two greatest dramatic geniuses the world has ever known.” It is well known in what high esteem Shakespeare was held by such giants of world literature as Milton, Goethe, Stendhal, and Pushkin.

Shakespeare’s Life
William Shakespeare was born on the 23rd of April, 1564, in Stratford-on-Avon. His father, John Shakespeare, the son of a small farmer, settled in Stratford and entered into trade. At the age of seven Shakespeare was sent to the local grammar school which he attended for six years. Besides reading and writing he was taught Latin and Greek. In 1577 he was taken from the school and for some time had to help his father in the trade.

There are reasons to believe that Shakespeare distinguished himself at school for that he, in his young years, was a schoolmaster in the country. On the other hand, there is a legend according to which Shakespeare had poached upon the lands of a certain Sir Thomas Lucy, a rich landlord. Once was caught by Lucy’s keepers and severely punished Shakespeare avenged himself by composing a satirical ballad; very soon it became so popular throughout the countryside that wherever the landlord appeared he was met with the strains of the ballad. Sir Thomas was angry and redoubled his persecution to such a degree that Shakespeare was compelled to leave Stratford and seek refuge in London.

In 1582 Shakespeare married a farmer’s daughter Anne Hathaway. When in the year 1585 a son was born to William Shakespeare, the boy was named Hamnet, obviously after Hamlet, the hero of the tragedy written by Thomas Kyd, a gifted playwright and predecessor of Shakespeare. When still at Stratford, Shakespeare became well acquainted with theatrical performances. Stratford was often visited by travelling companies of players.

Shakespeare arrived in London in the year 1586 or 1587. At that time the drama was rapidly gaining popularity among the people. During the first years of Shakespeare’s life in London he had to go through many hardships. In one way or another he became acquainted with certain theatrical companies. By the end of the 1580 Shakespeare is known to have been an actor and playwright in one of the leading companies of players—— “Lord Chamberlaine’s Company”.

Later on he became a shareholder of the theatre and having proved himself to be a practical and just man, he soon won the respect and love of his fellows. Shakespeare’s activities as a dramatist, poet, actor and proprietor, lasted till the year 1612 when he retired from the stage and returned to Stratford. Shakespeare died on the 23rd of April, 1616.

Works of Shakespeare
Four different periods of work corresponding with the growth and experience of the poet’s life.
1) the experimental period (1590-1594) 2) the period of comedies and histories (1595-1600) 3) the period of the tragedies (1601-1609) 4) the period of romantic drama (1601-1612)

1) the experimental period (1590-1594) A period of Shakespeare’s apprenticeship in playwriting. As a newcomer to London, he made experiments in a number of dramatic forms: ---historical play: Henry VI (parts 2-3-1) Richard III ---varieties of comedy: The Comedy of Errors The Taming of the Shrew The Two Gentlemen of Verona Love’s Labour’s Lost ---revenge tragedy: Titus Andronicus ---romantic tragedy/ tragic-comedy: Romeo and Juliet

2) the period of comedies and histories (1595-1600) ---6 comedies: A Midsummer Night’s Dream The Merchant of Venice The Merry Wives of Windsor Much Ado about Nothing As You Like It Twelfth Night ---5 historical plays: Richard II Henry IV (Part 1and 2) Henry V King John ---Roman tragedy: Julius Caesar ---Sonnets

3) the period of the tragedies (1601-1609) ---5 tragedies: Hamlet Othello King Lear Macbeth Timon of Athens ---3 comedies: Troilus and Cressida All’s Well That End’s Well Measure for Measure ---2 Roman tragedies: Antony and Cleopatra Coriolanus

4) the period of romantic drama (1601-1612)

---4 romances: Pericles Cymbeline The Winter’s Tale Tempest ---1 historical play: Henry VIII

? During the twenty-two years of his literary work he produced 37 plays, two narrative poems and 154 sonnets.


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