Chapter 5: The 17th century (The period of revolution)
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Chapter 5 The 17th century I (The period of revolution) Metaphysicals John Donne and his The Flea
1. 2. 3.
Historical Background Literary features in this period Metaphysicals John Donne Life experience Literary career Major works and Artistic features His creations in poetry Appreciayion if his The Flea
Conflicts between the king and the Parliament The outburst of the civil war (the revolution) Restoration and the Glorious Revolution The changes of values and thoughts of people and the society
Conflicts between the king and the Parliament The religious aspect of the chaos 1. King James I came to power in 1603 and began to impose his will upon religious matters as well as on Parliament. 2. But an extreme Protestant sect would like to see the church more free of the control of the state and restored to the purity of the first century church of Jesus Christ.
The political aspect of the chaos The King saw Parliament as his servant, but Parliament refused to take his orders without good reason. The King then decided to dissolve it and ruled the country in his own for seven years (1614 – 1621). His successor Charles I claimed his rule as a divine right, but Parliament saw him as a human being. This led to the dissolution of the first three parliaments and also the fourth .The dead lock was not to be addressed except the war.
The outburst of the civil war (the revolution)
The civil war broke out. For a few years (1642 – 1648) it raged between Parliament with its army of the “Roundabouts” on one side and the King with his Cavaliers on the other, ended with the capture and the beheading of Charles I and the founding of the commonwealth in 1649. Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) and his ironsides moved in, and England became a Protectorate with Cromwell as its Protector.
Restoration and the Glorious Revolution
With the death of Cromwell, the Parliament asked Charles II, Charles I’s son to the throne. Thus began the Restoration in 1660. The country again fell into the anarchy. But he was clever enough to agree act as a figurehead and not to enrage Parliament. The James II, his brother, tried once more to rule absolutely and restore the Roman Catholic religion.
Parliament felt insecure and invited his brother-in-law, William Orange, in 1688 to come with an army to protect the English people. This was the “Glorious Revolution”, glorious because bloodless. The Bill of Rights which the new king signed with Parliament endowed Parliament as the de facto ruler of the nation and the king became a titular head. Now the struggle between king and Parliament came to an end, and no king or queen has ever again thought of competing with Parliament.
The changes of values and thoughts of people and the society
The old value system was on its way out; the new values were taking shape. People and the society all had the attempt to seek certainty and intellectual harmony, and to address the question of values through violence and sexuality. These incidentally constituted the features of the period.
Literary features in this period
The literary mood: a mood of gloom, pessimism, decadence, and frivolity. The literary scene: not prolific; and because there was no accepted standard in government and religion, there was no fixed standard of literary criticism; and some of the literary works were influenced by French culture. So there appeared an influential school of literature, Mataphisicals in this period.
Metaphysicals (a literary term): It is a school of poets in England, appearing in the 17th century. The Metaphysical poets tended to emphasize their personalities and the complexity of their intellect. Their works are just a mixture of poet’s emotions and intellect. Generally speaking, their works are characterized by mysticism in content and fantasticality in form.
Founder of Metaphysical poetry: John Donne is regarded as the founder of Metaphysical poetry Representatives of Metaphysical poets (read P75): George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Richard Crashaw etc.. The basic features of Metaphysical poetry: Wits Or conceits(p76)
John Donne (1571 – 1631)
Life experience: (P74) His literary career: Donne’s literary career can be divided into two periods. 1. 1st period: Most of The Elegies and Satires and a good many of the Songs and Sonnets were written. 2. In the later period: he mainly wrote religious poems and prose works, esp. sermons, which reveal his spiritual devotion to God as a passionate preacher.
His major works, 1. Two categories of his poetry 1.1 The youthful love lyrics: The Songs and Sonnets (1633), by which Donne is probably the best known, contains most of his early lyrics. Love is the basic theme. Donne holds that the nature of love is the union of soul and body. These poems are very good examples of Metaphysical poetry. What is more, idealism and cynicism about love coexist in Donne’s love poetry. (read p77 -78) 1.2 The sacred verses (religious poems): published in 1624 as Devotion Upon Emergent Occasions.
2. Major artistic features: 2.1 In his poetry, he frequently applies conceits, i.e. extended metaphors involving dramatic contrasts. His conceits may be divided into two kinds; easy ones and difficult ones. 2.2 His poetry involves a certain kind of argument with the direct, simple, sharp and heart-searching language. It begins with a certain idea but ends in quite a contrary one. 2.3 His great prose works are both rich and imaginative, exhibiting the same kind of physical vigor and scholastic complexity as his poetry. 2.4 His best work is uneven in quality (p79): some are of highest order with noble themes, but some are mere doggerel expressions of trivialities. Its imagery and thoughts can be licentious, and its form rugged and lacking in smoothness. 2.5 His writing style: frank and penetrating realism.
His creations in poetry: 1. He abandons the traditional form of sonnets, and gives a verse or a stanza a flexible form according to the peculiar theme. 2. He gives up the traditional skill of illustrating the theme in the poem, but has his own ways of fantastic metaphors and extravagant hyperboles to express his theme or ideas.
Analysis and appreciation of The Flea The Title: Donne’s “The Flea” is a seduction poem in which the author presents the title insect to his lover as a symbol of the potential consummation of their relationship. Stanza I Lines 1-2: The speaker tells his beloved to look at the flea before them “Take note of this.” With the word “but,” he seems to discount the worthiness of the flea, it is just an insect. Continuing on, he mentions, “mark in this,” which draws the reader’s attention from the body of the flea to the interior of the flea and to note "how little" is that thing that she denies him (refusing his wooing love/his proposing sex with her)
Lines 3-4: For the flea, he says, has sucked first his blood, then her blood, so that now, inside the flea, they are mingled; By diminishing the importance of the flea, and then the blood inside the flea, Donne diminishes the importance of his lover’s virginity. (Although you have refused my wooing love, our blood has finally mixed together in the flea. We are together in another way. Your virginity is not kept.) “blood” here is a symbol of “sex” and “virginity”.
Lines 5-6: That mingling cannot be called "sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead." (why?) Most religions consider premarital sex a sin and society shames those that are known to have participated in that act. Premarital sex is equivalent to the “loss of maidenhead” since “maidenhead” is an archaic word for the hymen. The word “or” is problematic. It implies that the tryst that Donne is suggesting would be considered one of those three possibilities, instead of being all three at the same time, as it is commonly viewed. In fact, it would be impossible for one of the other two choices to occur without the “loss of maidenhead.” Donne seems to be supplementing his argument by making the consequences of sex with him appear less severe.
Lines 7-8: He is asking why the flea can partake of the sweetness of his lover while he cannot. Since the flea receives this prize with no effort, it is therefore “pampered”. Donne says that the flea “swells” with pride. (Here “swells” implies after sex with someone and then “to be pregnant”with their mingled blood.) Line 9: Donne ends the first section of the poem with a cry of regret. “Alas” shows his true dismay at knowing that he cannot enjoy the same privilege as the flea, and that he and his lover cannot consummate their relationship. This stanza pave the way to the second stanza, the most famous stanza of “conceits”.
Stanza II Line 1-2: As his beloved moves to kill the flea, the speaker stays her hand, asking her to spare the three lives in the flea: his life, her life, and the flea's own life. When he writes, “three lives in one flea spare,” he is saying that the fluid inside the flea is not just blood, but also he and his lover. Their lives are contained within the flea. The flea is the first life, and they are the additional two(an insect, spare it, please). Here “three lives in one flea” is a metaphor.
Lines 3-4: Here is Donne’s second metaphor of this stanza comparing the flea to a “marriage bed and marriage temple”. This emphasizes the intimate nature of the mingling of blood presented earlier. The flea is a place where the two lovers can have a marital relationship. In fact, they “more than married are”. In the flea, he says, where their blood is mingled, they are almost married-no, more than married--and the flea is their marriage bed and marriage temple mixed into one. Here “conceits”: Flea>Church/marriage temple>Flea Flea>marriage bed>Flea
Lines 5-6: Donne presents the idea of social conventions when he says that “parents grudge, and you”. The parents are representative of the society that says that premarital sex is a sin. Though their parents grudge their romance and though she will not make love to him, they are nevertheless united and cloistered in the living walls of the flea. Lines 7-9: She is apt to kill him, he says, but he asks that she not kill herself by killing the flea that contains her blood; he says that to kill the flea would be sacrilege, "three sins in killing three."(What does “three” make you think of according to The Bible? Here understanding it as the holy religious images: trinity.)
Stanza III "Cruel and sudden," the speaker calls his lover, who has now killed the flea, "purpling" her fingernail with the "blood of innocence." The speaker asks his lover what the flea's sin was, other than having sucked from each of them a drop of blood. He says that his lover replies that neither of them is less noble for having killed the flea. It is true, he says, and it is this very fact that proves that her fears are false: If she were to accept his wooing ("yield to me"), she would lose no more honor than she lost when she killed the flea.
The structure of the poem: This poem alternates metrically between lines in iambic tetrameter and lines in iambic pentameter, a 4-5 stress pattern ending with two pentameter lines at the end of each stanza. Thus, the stress pattern in each of the nineline stanzas is 454545455. The rhyme scheme in each stanza is similarly regular, in couplets, with the final line rhyming with the final couplet: AABBCCDDD. The poem is organized into three stanzas of nine lines each. Each of these stanzas deals with a different aspect of Donne’s argument.
Assignments Written work 1. Define the term: Metaphysicals 2. Tell the two categories of John Donne’s potery and his masterworks. 3. In The Flea by John Donne, there are religious images. List them out. 4. In The Flea by John Donne, What is “blood” symbolized? 5. In the second stanza of The Flea by John Donne, there are two big metaphors. What are they? What do they mean? What are the most famous conceits? 6. Who are the three lives in the flea? Topics for discussion 1. What are the literary features in the 17th century? 2. What are the major artistic features of John Donne? 3. Discuss John Donne’s literary carrer. *Oral work Memorizing John Donne’s The Flea.
Love ends with nothing (a song inserted)