My Literature Log eros masserut

Why we study literature?

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

Nelson Mandela

I also want to share this last quotation:

“Literature allows us to visit places and times and encounter cultures that we would otherwise never experience. Such literary travel can be profoundly life-enhancing.”

Is English really a Germanic language?

English is a very complicated language. Indeed, it has profound roots which go from Latin to the Anglo-Saxon.

Modern English shares many similar words with Latin and derived romance languages, like French and Italian, however, most of those words were no originally part of it. As a matter of fact, they started coming into the language with the battle of Hastings.

In 1066 (after the battle of Hastings) the French conquered England and they become the ruling class. They brought their language adding a massive amount of French and Latin words.

Do you ever wonder about words which indicate living animals and dead animals?

When you are talking of a pig you assume the animal is still living, but if you are talking of pork you are referring to a kind of food.

So, is English really a Germanic language?

Well, let’s see this graphic:

According to the diagram, about a half of the total English vocabulary comes from romance languages.

Nevertheless, English is still considered to be a Germanic language.

Geoffrey Chaucer a cheater?

We spoke about Geoffrey Chaucer because of his masterpiece: The Canterbury Tales. He was born in 1343 and he became interested in writing. At the time writers did not earn anything thus, they needed to have a patron or a job. But in 1389 he was appointed Clerk of the King’s Works at Westminster by king Richard II (his patron).

Chaucer’s works are usually divided into three periods: the French, the Italian and the English period. He learned mainly from many famous French and Italian authors. As a matter of fact, during the Italian period he wrote Troilus and Criseyde, this was a poem adapted from Bocaccio.

The English period includes his most famous masterpiece. The Canterbury Tales is a long narrative poem like the previous poem written by Bocaccio between 1349 and 1351: the Decameron. Their plots are very similar and it seems that Chaucer had cheated. We can presume that Chaucer was inspired by Bocaccio. However, the Decameron and The Canterbury Tales have very different aims. The Italian poem wants to focus on destiny that could be good or bad. Instead, The Canterbury Tales is a poem which deals with religion, wealth, pleasure and lust.

However, I think that Chaucer was not a cheater.

William Shakespeare, the power of literature

I am very surprised that Shakespeare has coined lots of words we still use today. Now, when I am talking in English, I always wonder whether the words I am using were coined by Shakespeare. And there are plenty of funny expressions like “Brave new world” (Macbeth) or “Devil incarnate” (Titus Andronicus / Henry V) that he coined.

Someone says he invented 1700 words, that is something extraordinary! And of course everyday, we are quoting Shakespeare but we do not know it.

SHALL I COMAPRE TO THEE

I was fascinated by the powerful meaning of this little poem. This sonnet deals with the immortality of art and the beauty of literature.

It was probably a eulogy written for Hamnet. He was one of Shakespeare’s children. When Shakespeare was in London he got word that Hamnet was very sick. But when he arrived home he found out that his son was dead. He was desperate and there was nothing left to do. So, he did what he could do best of all: he wrote this little sonnet.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are our most powerful weapons” (Malala) this is what Shakespeare would say nowadays. Shakespeare played with words, I like to imagine him working at his desk and instead of using colours he used words to represent what was happening.

When we see the Primavera by Botticelli we are always astonished. This is what Shakespeare wants to teach. Poetry, literature, painting, sculpture, photography and cinematography are some ways to make our culture and our history immortal.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Queen Elisabeth I

Queen Elisabeth was called the Virgin Queen because she received many proposals but she regarded marriage as dangerous. She thought that a husband would create confusion in England. As a matter of fact, when the Parliament pressed her to marry she said she would “rule and die a virgin”.

Elisabeth I is very famous because of her strong personality and her motivational speech. This is the most famous sentence she mentioned during her speech at Tilbury:

“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too”.

Sure enough, Elisabeth I’s reign is considered England’s golden age. It was an age of political and economic stability and religious turmoil.

Hamlet

Hamlet is the first Shakespeare’s tragedy we studied. Hamlet is the son of the King of Denmark.

His father has been dead for two months and his mother, Queen Gertrude, has married her brother-in-law, Claudius. Some sentries and Horatio, a friend of Hamlet, have already seen the ghost at castle Elsinore. Hamlet and Horatio arrange a night meeting to see if the ghost will appear. Fortunately, the ghost of the King of Denmark appears to Hamlet and he says he was murdered by his brother Claudius, who poured some poison in his ears. The ghost asks Hamlet to avenge him. Hamlet is stunned. The day after, he pretends to be mad so that he can plan his revenge more easily. The king’s counsellor, whose name is Polonius, thinks that Hamlet is mad because of Hamlet’s love for his daughter Ophelia.

Hamlet wants to verify whether Claudius is culprit. So, he decides to arrange a troupe of actors to perform The Murder of Gonzago, a play whose story is very similar to the real murder of the king. As a matter of fact, Claudius goes out during the play. Now, Hamlet wants to persuade his mother to divorce Claudius. He uses a very strong and arrogant language, for example he says that Gertrude is just driven by lust:

“In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,

Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love

Over the nasty sty.”

In her bedroom there are two portraits, one represents the King and the other represents Claudius. Furthermore, Hamlet points out that Claudius is a villain and a cutpurse.

“Look here, upon this picture, and on this,

The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.

See, what a grace was seated on this brow;

Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself;

An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;

A station like the herald Mercury”

We can notice in these two small lines that Shakespeare describes a revolutionary relationship between the mother and her son. Indeed, in the past children used to have profound respect for their parents.

Then the ghost says to Hamlet not to continue reprimanding his mother. Thus, Hamlet suddenly mentions:

“How is it with you, lady?

Do you imagine what kind of effect it creates? It is a way to make the audience laugh, otherwise the tragedy would be very boring. However, Shakespeare does not want to make a usual tragedy, he wants to make people reflect upon the plot and the personality of the characters.

To be, or not to be: that is the question

Shakespeare presents Hamlet as a round character. He is a reflective man, probably he thinks too much. Hamlet reflect on the meaning of life. Life is full of injustice, sadness and sorrow.

Hamlet perform his brilliant skills of philosophy, he argues for life and for death. It is a monologue where the protagonist change very quickly his ideas, it seems he is constantly contradicting himself.

I think that his personality is like a violin. The violin is an extraordinary instrument which can be used singularly and despite its dimensions it has a strong sound. Moreover, it allows to modify the rhythm in a very short period of time.

I must confess that I was not interested in Hamlet at first. But I have started to appreciate his way of thinking and above all the way Shakespeare writes.

Created By
Eros Masserut
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