English 201 British Literature
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framing narrative
ubi sunt formula
three estates
courtly love
culture text
carpe diem
in medias res
Study Guide, Exam 1

Know the basic plot or subject of each of the course texts you've read during this portion of the course and be prepared to answer the following questions.

Taliesin, "The Battle of Argoed Llwyfain" (101-2)
  • Why are we not told the source of the conflict between the armies?
  • What values do the characters depicted in this poem embody? What does this suggest about the culture of the Celtic Britons during the Dark Ages?

    "The Wanderer" (105-6)
  • In what sense do the voice of the framing narrative and the voice of the Wanderer seem to be at odds?
  • Why does the Wanderer lament the loss of his "gold-friend" so much? What did that person represent?
  • What is the symbolic significance of the "mead-hall" in this poem? What was its cultural significance in Anglo-Saxon Britain?
  • What is the poem's attitude toward fate?

    Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain (112-22)
  • What is the purpose of this text? Why is its narrative connected with events and characters in Virgil's Æneid? What is this text's intended audience?
  • Why does Geoffrey begin by making reference to a "very ancient book written in the British language"? What reasons do we have for suspecting that this book really existed?
  • What sort of person is Utherpendragon? To what ends does he employ Merlin? How do his actions affect his society?
  • How is Arthur different from Uther?

    Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (220-40, 256-83)
  • Who was Thomas Becket? What actions led to his canonization? How is this significant in light of the themes of this text?
  • Which characters represent which of the three estates?
  • What does Chaucer's general attitude toward the clergy seem to be? How is this borne out in his depictions of individual characters? Which, if any, members of the clergy does he treat differently? Why?
  • What was the relationship between wealth and class during the medieval era? How does this play out in Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims?
  • What does the Wife of Bath establish at the outset of her prologue is the purpose of her tale? How does she subsequently modify that purpose?
  • What did the culture of the medieval period see as the differences between marriage and courtly love?
  • What is the purpose of the Wife of Bath's "pure whete seed" and "barly breed" metaphor? What does she see as her role in society?
  • In what sense do the Wife of Bath's prologue and tale invert traditional medieval political systems regarding sex, society, and sin?
  • According to the Wife of Bath's tale, what is it that every woman wants? How does the answer to this question uphold the ideas the Wife of Bath sets forth in her prologue?

    Wyatt, "Whoso List to Hunt" (383)
  • What is the relationship between the courtly love tradition of medieval narratives and that employed by Renaissance sonnet-writers?
  • In a sonnet, what is the typical relationship between octave and sestet? How is that pattern used here?
  • What is the source of the persona's pain?

    Sidney, sonnet 39 (433)
  • Who are Astrophil and Stella? What is the source of their names?
  • To whom does the persona address this apostrophe? What does the persona seek? Why?
  • What is the purpose of the appositives in the sonnet's octave? How do they make use of paradox?

    Sidney, "The Apology for Poetry" (435-43)
  • How does Sidney establish his poetic theory with regard to Plato? How does he differ?
  • According to Sidney, what is the relationship between the poet, the philosopher, and the historiographer? How are their goals similar? How are their methods distinct?

    Marlowe, Dr. Faustus (501-49)
  • Why is magic so important to Faustus? What does it provide him that other types of knowledge or methods of inquiry have not? What does Faustus do with his newfound powers? How are his action at odds with his initial plans?
  • According to Mephostophilis, what is hell? Why does his explanation of the nature of hell and heaven change?
  • What aspects of earlier drama (notably classical and medieval) does the play employ? Why are these present in a Renaissance play?
  • What is the purpose of the contract between Faustus and Lucifer? Why is it necessary? How does it function symbolically?
  • Why does the play contain so many secondary plots? How do they illuminate one's understanding of Faustus's character?
  • What parellels does the text provide between Faustus and Christ? What is the purpose of these parallels?
  • What purpose does Helen of Troy serve in the play? What does she represent to Faustus? How can she make him "immortal with a kiss"?

    Shakespeare, sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"—553)
  • How does the persona distinguish between beauty and "fair[ness]"?
  • What is the source of the auditor's "eternal summer"? What does the persona say will make this person immortal?

    Shakespeare, sonnet 29 ("When, in disgarce with fortune and men's eyes"—553-54)
  • What has put the persona in such a downcast mood?
  • What would cause the persona to "scorn to change my state with kings"?

    Shakespeare, sonnet 55 ("Not marble nor the gilded monuments"—554)
  • What is the source of the auditor's immortality?
  • What does the persona suggest is the difference between poetry and other forms of art? Why is poetry more powerful?

    Shakespeare, sonnet 73 ("That time of year thou mayst in me behold"—554-55)
  • What cyclical images does the persona invoke to suggest age? What is the persona's stage of life?
  • How does this poem employ the carpe diem motif?

    Shakespeare, sonnet 130 ("My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"—556)
  • What is the persona's attitude toward his mistress?
  • What is this poem's attitude toward romantic platitudes regarding beauty? How does it distinguish between beauty and love?

    Donne, "The Flea" (667-68)
  • What does the persona want from the auditor? What is the dramatic situation?
  • What does the persona mean by suggesting that he and the auditor "more than married are"?
  • What three sins are involved when the auditor kills the flea?
  • How does the persona turn around his apparent defeat in the final stanza?

    Donne, "Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" (668-69)—not sufficiently covered in class

    Herrick, "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" (679)
  • What do the rosebuds represent?
  • Why does the persona insist that the sun in constantly "nearer...to setting"?
  • Why should the virgins addressed in this poem "be not coy"? What does the persona suggest is the potential danger of not heeding this advice?

    Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress" (687-88)
  • What does the persona suggest and the auditor might do if they had "world enough, and time"?
  • What is "times wingèd chariot"?
  • What does the persona say will happen to the auditor if she does not submit to his will?
  • Why can the persona and auditor make the sun run but not stand still?

    Milton, Paradise Lost (book I, 785-805; book 4, 832-50)
  • How does Milton employ characteristics of the classical epic genre in this poem? Why does he do this?
  • How is hell described? How does it compare with Mephostophilis's description in Dr. Faustus?
  • Why does Satan not immediately recognize Beëlzebub? How have they changed since they were last together?
  • What is the motivating aspect of Satan's personality?
  • What does Satan suggest about the nature of being God? How does his understanding of the position of God differ from ours? How would Satan's submission "deify his [God's] power"? In what sense is God's rule a "Tyranny of Heav'n"?
  • For Satan, what is the power of the mind when the individual is confronted by undesirable situations?
  • In what sense are Satan and his minions free in hell?
  • What is Milton's explanation for pagan pre-Judeo-Christian deities?
  • How does Satan's public persona differ from his private persona? How does he change when not in the presence of other devils?
  • Why does Satan not repent his actions?
  • What could Milton's purpose have been for having Satan appear like a cormorant on the Tree of Life upon first entering the Garden of Eden?
  • What is Satan's explanation for God's prohibiting Adam and Eve from eating of the Tree of Knowledge?