Example research essay topic: Evolution Of British Literature – 1,677 words

The historical events and mentality of a time
period are a major influence on the context and
style of that particular times literature. British
Literature experienced many metamorphoses through
the years 449-1660. The literature traveled
through four distinct periods. Beginning with the
Anglo-Saxons moving through the medieval and
Renaissance periods and ending with the writings
of the 17th century. The Anglo-Saxons were the
beginning of British Literature. The Anglo-Saxons
began the year 440 by advancing on what is today

The Angles and the Saxons were known as
ferocious, they didnt wage war on the British
heartland out of mere spite. They conquered and
won over territory enabling them to construct caps
which later turned into towns and cities. Weapons
werent the only things the invading people brought
with them. They used a highly organiz4ed system of
tribal units each led by a king. Gradually, these
units merged together forming seven large bands.
The amalgamation of different tribes produced a
new language, Anglo-Saxon or Old English to
distinguish it from our modern form (Bowler 3).
The Anglo-Saxons also brought with them their
pagan beliefs. The people looked at the world
through a very depressing window.

It was believed
that all human life was in the hand of fate and
all the gods they worshiped were Germanic. These
beliefs shine strongly though in the oral epics
and stories of the period. The next major event of
the Anglo-Saxon era was the coming of
Christianity. Romans had previously taken
Christianity as their belief of choice and aimed
at spreading their newfound faith. The Christians
views and beliefs of the world spread quickly
through the land and King Ethelbert of Kent was
soon after converted making Christianity the
religion of his realm (Bowler 6). Again
Anglo-Saxon life was changed, the belief in
Germanic gods was no longer accepted and Warlords
could no longer consider themselves descendants of
pagan gods.

Christianity also brought education
and written literature to the land. The monks of
the church are given the credit for pre serving
the oral traditions of the Anglo-Saxon period in
written form. It is very easy to see the pagan
Christian beliefs in the monks writings. Take
Beowulf. A long epic poem written in narrative
form. The epic has an epic hero who displays many
different traits such as loyalty valor,
selflessness, and a sense of justice, the most
admired traits a human can posses then and now.
Beowulf, the epic hero, makes references such as
by on death was my errand and the fate (Beowulf

Alluding to the pagan belief that every life
was controlled by fate. Also, Christianity crept
into the writing as seen in statements like God
must decide who will be given to deaths cold grip
(Beowulf 269), as well as they gave thanks to God
for their easy crossings (Beowulf 143). The
Anglo-Saxon literature reflects both the
historical setting and the mentality of the time
period. The literature satisfies all the aspects
of life and the beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons whose
traditions lasted until 1066. It was in 1066 that
descendants of the Vikings, the Normans, landed in
France and began to invade the lands. Gradually,
over approximately a five year period, the
Anglo-Saxon nobility was suppressed and their
lands taken from them by the Normans.

The Normans
not only brought plundering and war, but also a
new system of power to the region. Feudalism, a
system that had taken root on European Continent
at a time when no central government was strong
enough to keep order (Bowler 70), was implemented
by the invaders. The system was a strict hierarchy
of land and power. A king would grant some land to
the Church and then parcel out manors to his
knights who agreed to defend and serve the king
and his property. The lowest persons in the
hierarchy were the serfs who had to work the lands
they did not own and had no power or say in
anything. After almost two centuries of the
feudalism, there was wide spread corruption
throughout the Church as well as unfair laws and
taxes imposed on the lower class of society.
Revolt and public disapproval of the unfair
treatment began to spread.

Many people, including
the authors of the time, sided with the public
opinion that religion had traveled far from its
roots (Bowler 75), and the Church was portrayed as
only interested in making a buck. One such writer
of the Later Middle Ages was Geoffrey Chaucer. He
wrote many poems, humorous, satiric and religious.
His greatest work, second only to Shakespeare, was
the Canterbury Tales. The Tales are a social
commentary of the late Middle Ages. Chaucer uses
the journey motif of a pilgrimage to describe the
social hierarchy and to show how corrupt and
astray the leaders had become. The Canterbury
Tales gives a very accurate description from a
knight, a most distinguished man .

. . to ride
abroad and had followed chivalry (Chaucer 43-45)
to the Monk there was of the finest sort who rode
the country and hunting was his sport (Chaucer
169-170). All the while in his descriptions making
subtle accusations against the power abusing noble
men. His writing was an excellent description of
the feudalistic society in which he lived. He
reflected the majority of the peoples views in his
works and carried English literature into its next
stage, the Renaissance.

The Renaissance began with
the end of the War of Roses and the founding of
the Tudor dynasty. The crusaded sparked an
influence of art and scholarship of ancient Rome
and Greece. The devotion to religion inspired
people to ponder on why man was on Earth and
learning became increasingly deeper and people
wanted to know more about life and the way things
worked. This thirst for knowledge forced people to
think more about themselves rather than the Church
and to express their true feelings through writing
rather than writing about the Church and the
ethical standards of society. Thus it was a
liberal era with a liberal style of writing. The
greatest literary developments during the
Renaissance were that of poetry and drama.

evolved from long and narrative epics to short and
tightly structured lyrics, more specifically
sonnets. Dramas were known for their beautiful
language and complex characters and themes They
generally revealed insights of human nature and
focused primarily on man rather than religion as
in the medieval era. Hamlet, written by William
Shakespeare, is an example of such a drama.
Shakespeare wrote Hamlet as a tragedy with the
main character, Hamlet, the tragic hero. Hamlet
focuses on the actions of man when dealing with
events that occur in his life. To be or not to be
— that is the question (Shakespeare: Act 3,
Scene 1, line 64). Hamlet begins one of his
soliloquies by asking himself this question.

He is
dealing with his mothers hasty remarriage to his
uncle, who murdered Hamlets father and is being
asked to take revenge on his uncle by his fathers
ghost. This is just one example of many that shows
how Hamlet deals with the events in his life.
Also, as a tragic hero, Hamlet must be destroyed
in the end through his own character flaws. Hamlet
is a procrastinator and puts off killing his
Uncle, Claudius. No, up sword, and know thou a
more horrid rent. When he is drunk asleep or in
his range . .

. this physic but prolongs thy
sickly days (Shakespeare: act 3, Scene 4, line
92-101). Because of his procrastination, Hamlet is
killed in the end. O, I die, Horatio! That potent
poison quite oer crows my spirit (Shakespeare: Act
5, Scene 2, lines 389-390). Hamlet, being the main
character and knowing how only he is feeling
inside, is the hero of the play and because he
dies as a result of not overcoming the events that
occur in his life, he is a tragic figure. Thus,
Hamlet is a tragedy.

This liberal writing style of
the Renaissance lasted until 1625. It explored the
nature of humans and how they dealt with lifes
lemons. Not once did Shakespeare mention God or
religion in Hamlet and his sonnets dealt mainly
with love and the feelings of people in general.
Because of their eloquent language and their depth
and complexity, Shakespeares plays have retained
their popularity for centuries along with many
other literary works of the Renaissance time
period (Bowler 199). The last evolution of British
Literature occurred in 1625, the period known as
the 17th Century. This was a period filled with
political and religious unrest. Charles I took the
throne from his father in the same year.

With the
throne he took all the problems that his father
had created. The Parliament and Charles did not
get along well, so the King had the lawmaking body
dissolved. This increased the agitation of the
people. The Church stood behind the King, but the
Puritans held a loud voice against the power-
wielding ruler. The hostilities intensified
resulting in a civil war that began in 1642 and
brought about the temporary downfall of the
monarchy in 1649 (Bowler 356). The major literary
figure of the 17th Century was John Milton.

also wrote a long epic poem called Paradise Lost.
The work is an allegory about the truths of the
world and of God. Miltons purpose in writing
Paradise Lost was to explore the question of why
God does what He does and why bad things happen to
good people. This was a deeply emotional story for
Milton to write for he now had major difficulty
doing what he love, writing, because of his
impending blindness. Milton could have been hanged
for publishing the manuscripts because of the
anti-monarchical passages in the manuscript
(Bowler 410), but Milton pushed ahead and had the
manuscripts published. The different kinds of
literature portrayed during the years 440-1660
evolved from long, narrative, oral poetry to
tightly structured sonnets and allegories that
have more than one primitive meaning. With the
pendulum swinging back and forth from liberal to
conservative, the peoples mind frame was depicted.
The history greatly influenced the way authors
wrote and how people felt due to the events of the
specific time periods.


Research essay sample on Evolution Of British Literature