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Let's see some of the most crucial characteristics of the most important literary periods:
Middle Ages: The literary writings are in Old English. The Norman Conquest of England in 1
066 is the beginning of 200 years of the French domination in English letters.Chaucer's "Th
e General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales" has long been recognized as one of the great
est masterpieces of English literature, certainly the finest and most influential work of fiction
from the Middle Ages. For most literary historians, English literature begins well before Chau
cer's greatest poem, but this particular work marks the start of the tradition which is still rea
dily accessible in the original language to the diligent reader, even though Chaucer's Middle
English requires the constant help of a glossary.

Renaissance: A cultural movement which began in Italy during the 15th century and spread
around Europe during the 17th century. Education was not offered for girls, except for daug
hters of the nobility and Puritans, and even then subjects were focused on chastity and hou
sewifery.The period is characterized by the influence of the classics (in literature, language,
and philosophy), as well as an optimistic forward-thinking approach to the potential of huma
ns (known as Renaissance humanism. The spread of Protestantism was influential in literatu
re. The English poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, who flourished during this period,
is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon".

Neoclassical Period: Neoclassical Literature was written in a period where social order was
undergoing tremendous changes. In the so called Enlightenmemt Period, people believed th
at natural passions aren't necessarily good; natural passions must be subordinated to social
needs and be strictly controlled. Authors believed that reason was the primary basis of auth
ority. They believed that social needs are more important than individual needs and that ma
n could find meaning in order - religious, social, the order of nature, government and literary
forms. Neo-Classical Style was a style in art, architecture, and the decorative arts that flour
ished in Europe and North America from about 1750 to the early 1800s, marked by the em
ulation of Graeco-Roman forms.

Romantic Period: While literature from the Classical period was based on reason, order and
rules, literature and art from the Romantic period was based on emotion, adventure and ima
gination. The name "romantic" itself comes from the term "romance" which is a genre of pro
se or poetic heroic narrative originating in medieval literature. Romanticism reached beyond
the rational and Classicist ideal models to elevate medievalism and elements of art and narr
ative perceived to be authentically medieval. Gothic fiction is a genre that combines element
s of both romance and terror. Prominent features of this genre are: terror, the supernatural ,
Gothic architecture, castles, doubles, death and secrets.

Modern Period: The early modern period is a term initially used by historians to refer mainly
to the period roughly from 1500 to 1750 in Western Europe. Theatrical power flourishes thi
s period.

Post-Modern Period: The term Postmodern literature is used to describe certain tendencies i
n post-World War II literature. Although it is a continuation of modernist period (paradoxes a
nd fragmentation), modernist literature seeks meaning in a chaotic world whereas postmoder
nist literature is not only avoiding the possibility of meaning, at the same time it is parodyin
g it.
The Cognitive Psychology of the Tragic and Comic Visions


Simplicity: Tragic heroes tend to approach proble Complex: Comic heroes tend to be more flexible.
ms and situations in a fairly straight-forward mann Life tends to be messier, full of diversity and u
er. Life can be understood in simple binaries -- nexpected twists and turns. It is more difficult to
good/bad; just/unjust; beautiful/ugly. classify experience.

Low Tolerance for Disorder: Tragic plots tend t High Tolerance for Disorder: Comic plots tend t
o stress order and process -- the end follows fro o be more random; they seem to be improvised, l
m the beginning. eaving a number of loose ends.

Preference for the Familiar: Tragic heroes and

Seeking out the Unfamiliar: Comic heroes and
plots have "a low tolerance for cognitive dissonan
plots tend to see the unexpected and surprising a
ce." The violation of the norm is what brings abo
s an opportunity rather than a norm-violation.
ut a tragic fall.

Low Tolerance for Ambiguity: In tragedy, things High Tolerance for Ambiguity: In comedy, ambi
should have one meaning and have clear-cut ap guity is what makes humor possible. Equally, not
plication to problems. everything has to make sense in comedy.

Convergent Thinking: Tragedy stresses what is Divergent Thinking: Comedy is more imaginative
past and what is real. It tends to be more inform , stressing playfulness. It tends to look for a vari
ation-gathering based, wanting to find and resolve ety of answers and doesn't need to solve everythi
nagging problems. ng.

Uncritical Thinking: Tragedy tends not to call int Critical Thinking: Comedy tends to call attention
o question the accepted order of things. To do s to the incongruities in the order of things, be it po
o is to suffer the consequences. litical, social, religious.

Emotional Disengagement: Comic heroes are of

Emotional Engagement: Tragic heroes tend to r
ten ironic and disengaged from the situation; they
espond with strong, overpowering emotions--pride,
tend to respond with wit, imagination, or cynicism.
lust, grief, rage. This often results in extremist a
They tend to abstract themselves from their mis
ttitudes and reactions. In the same way, the audi
fortunes. The audience is expected to react in m
ence is expected to respond with cathartic involve
uch the same way to what the characters underg

Stubbornness: Tragic heroes tend to stick with Adaptable: Comic heroes are more willing to cha
a course of action and follow it to their doom. T nge. Or if they are not, we as the audience find
hey are firm and committed. this funny rather than tragic.

Idealistic: The tragic vision longs for a clear-cut Pragmatic: The comic vision is more aware of co
world driven by principle. It tends to value ethical ncrete realities. Comic heroes seek how to make
abstractions, such as Truth, Justice, and Beauty it from day-to-day.

Reversal: At least for the clever, comic actions al

Finality: Tragic actions lead to inevitable consequ
low one to escape the consequences, to have a
second chance.

Spirit: The tragic vision tends to value the human

Body: The comic vision is very concerned with th
spirit. It can often be dualistic, prizing the spirit/
e human body--its sexual desires, bodily functions
soul above the body. Tragic heroes often long f
, craving for food. Suffering is often slap-stick. C
or some higher, greater level of life than common
omic heroes seem comfortable in such a world.
human existence.
Seriousness: The tragic vision takes its character Playfulness: Even if it has its serious side, the c
s and plots seriously. They are treated as import omic vision tends to treat large portions of life as
ant and make demands upon us. not quite so serious.

The Social Differences between the Tragic and Comic Visions

Antiheroism: Characters tend to be normal, dow

Heroism: Characters tend to be "superhuman, se
n-to-earth individuals. Comedies tend to parody a
midivine, larger-than-life" beings.

Militarism: Tragedies often arise in warrior cultur Pacifism: Comedies tend to call into question wa
es. And its values are those of the good soldier- rrior values: Better to lose your dignity and save
-duty, honor, commitment. your life.

Vengeance: Offending a tragic hero often results Forgiveness: In comedies, forgiveness, even frie
in a cycle of vengeance. ndship among former enemies, happens.

Equality: Comedies tend to include all classes of

Hierarchy: Tragedies tend to stress the upper-cla people. The lower classes are often the butt of t
ss, the noble few, royalty, and leaders. he jokes, but they also tend to triumph in unexpe
cted ways.

More Sexual Equality: Comedies, while often se

Less Sexual Equality: Tragedies are often male-
xist too, are sometimes less so. Women play a l
arger, more active role.

Respect for Tradition: Tragic heroes often uphol

Questions Authority: Comic heroes more often
d the accepted order or champion one tradition a
question tradition and those in authority.
gainst another.

Rule-based Ethics: The tragic vision tends to str Situation-based Ethics: Comic heroes tend to m
ess the consequences of disobeying the accepted ake up the rules as they go along or at least be
order of things. wary of generalizations.

Social Isolation: Tragedies tend to stress the ind Social Integration: Comedies tend to focus on th
ividual and the consequences of the individual's a e larger community and spend more time paying
ctions. attention to the interaction between groups.