Christianity: An Important Theme inLiterature Workswe have read this semester such as Beowulf,The Flea, Sir Gawain and the GreenKnight, and especially Paradise Lost show that Christianity always has been a significanttheme in literature. Christianity is a difficult topic in Beowulf because it attempts to balance its Christian creation withits pagan setting.
There is a constant awkward strain as the God’s commandmentsare referred to vaguely, but Jesus and Christian doctrines are never explicitlydiscussed. There is only one mention of the the Bible when the author writes afew lines about the Old testament tale of two brothers, Cain and Abel: “Forthat bitter murder, the killing of Abel, all-ruling Father. The kindred of Caincrushed with His vengeance…” and “…the cold-flowing currents, after Cain hadbecome a slayer with edges to his one only brother, the son of his sire, he setout then banished, marked as a murderer, man joys avoiding, lived in thedesert” (Anonymous). There is a reason that this is the only explicit Biblicalreference—the violent nature of Cain and Abel’s relationship can be compared tothe barbaric actions of medieval warriors and the bad blood betweencommunities. Some would argue that the religionof Christianity is founded upon the set of rules created in the book of Exoduscalled the Ten Commandments. Followers of Christ must live their livesaccording to these regulations, in order to be a good and moral human being.This same rigidness is seen in Sir Gawainand the Green Knight where everyone’s life is consumed with rules becauseabiding by customs is considered an honorable trait.
However, rather than therules focusing on morality, they focus on the hunt and festivities of thesociety. For example, in the poem butchers are required to tediously slice thedead animal in a very specific way. This reminds me of the practice of animalsacrifice in the Old Testament Bible. Also, the detailed seating arrangement atthe feast made me think of the Last Supper shared between Jesus and hisdisciples just before Jesus’ death. In John Donne’s The Flea, the Christian belief of refraining of having sex beforemarriage is an underlying theme. The poem is set in time period before sexualawakening when premarital sex was still viewed as a major wrongdoing, andmaintaining virginity was put on the tallest pedestal: “The flea is you and I,and this our marriage bed, and marriage temple is…” (Donne). Therefore, herfamily would have been expected to marry an upstanding man—not get involvedwith a sleazy writer: “Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met, andcloister’d in these living walls of jet” (Donne).
However, it was known thatwomen commonly had affairs and, as long as they were kept behind closed doors,it was accepted. In this literary work, readers see an interesting collaborationof these two drastically different viewpoints being joined together in thesetting and dialogue of one poem. ParadiseLost by John Milton is the most Christianity-filled poem that we have readthis semester. And what is the most important aspect of Christianity? Fateversus free will.
Seeing as though ParadiseLost is kind of an adaptation of stories in the Bible, this poem is packedwith dialogue that displays this Christian sentiment: “Sowill fall, He and his faithless progeny. Whose fault? Whose but his own?Ingrate, he had of Me all he could have; I made him just and right, sufficientto have stood, though free to fall” (Milton). God knows the choices that hiscreations, Adam and Even, will make, but at the same time he firmly rejectsthat fate exists. God knows everything that will happen before it happens, soit appears that Adam and Eve wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make thingsright even if they wanted to, but Milton’s disagrees. The Sonnet Cycles of Wyatt, Sidney, andShakespeare A sonnet cycle is a collection ofsonnets, which are poems with fourteen lines, a formal rhyme scheme, andusually ten syllables in each line. The sonnets discuss one specific person ortheme, the most common being unreturned affection. A sonnet cycle is meant tobe read as one complete work, but it is written in a way that allows each poemto be read individually, as well.
Their organization is intentional, sometimesprogressing linearly, while other times moving in a cycle like the seasons.Sonnets can discuss true or untrue happenings, but usually they are notnarrative. If narrative components are involved, they are typically anunderlying way to introduce the background; they are not a major aspect of thework. Famous poets who have written sonnet cycles include Petrarch, EdmundSpenser, William Shakespeare, John Donne, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and more.Petrarch, a melancholy poet, is referred to as the Renaissance’s very firstwriter.
He was followed by Wyatt, Sidney, and Shakespeare whose works includedthemes commonly seen in sonnets such as unrequited love, time, and beauty. Sir Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt” seemsto be a poem about, as the title states, hunting. The speaker tirelessly triesto catch a certain female deer, although it’s making him go crazy. He knowsthat it is an unsafe feat and that he will never catch her, but still he willnot stop hunting. I believe this sonnet contains more meaning than what meetsthe eye. As I was reading, it became apparent that the hind, or female deer, isrepresentative of an actual woman. Knowing this brings a very creepy anduncomfortable vibe to the poem.
It is still about hunting, but not animalhunting—a sexual and scandalous hunt filled with frustration and lust. This canbe seen when the speaker compares his hunt to tossing a net over wind: “I leaveoff, therefore, since in a net I seek to hold the wind” (Wyatt). It becomeseven more evident later when the speaker says: “And graven with diamonds inletters plain there is written, her fair neck round about, “Noli me tangere,for Caesar’s I am, and wild for to hold, though I seem tame” (Wyatt). “Noli metangere” is a Latin phrase that translates to “do not cling to me” or “do nottouch me” in English (Noli Me Tangere). This clearly displays unrequited loveas the speaker loves a woman, though only sexually, and she does not feel thesame way—she won’t even allow him to touch her.
The end goal of a hunt is tocatch, dominate, and kill your prey, which leaves the reader wondering what thespeaker will end up doing to the woman. `Sir Philip Sidney’s thirty-ninthsonnet in Astrophil and Stella, oftencalled “Come Sleep! Oh Sleep,” is apoem in which the speaker is very tired, but not tired in that he needs a longnap—tired in the way that he is weary of this life and is ready to pass on intowhatever happens after this life. Despair has hit the speaker so hard that hehas surpassed sadness and is now truly suffering. He endlessly longs for Sleep(with a capital S) to befall him, so it will all be over. Just like Sleep,Despair is written with a capital D, which shows that the speaker doesn’t viewthem as things or feelings, but as characters. This is similar to Death in JohnDonne’s “Death, Be Not Proud” in regards to the capitalization and in that thecharacters of Despair and Sleep are symbolic of dying. All of these factors tieinto the theme of time as the speaker is waiting (wasting time) to die (histime on earth to end): “Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed, a chamberdeath to noise and blind to light, a rosy garland and a weary head…” (Sidney).William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” is thecomplete opposite of a love poem.
Rather than doting on his beautiful lover,the speaker criticizes everything about her looks until the final lines when hedoes a 180 and professes his love for her. For example, in lines one and two hesays, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; coral is far more red thanher lips’ red…” but lines 13 and 14 read, “And yet, by heaven, I think my loveas rare as any she bellied with false compare” (Shakespeare). This entire poemis about the expectancies regarding the appearance and beauty of women. Thequalities that make up an acceptable and attractive woman are unrealistic formost women, though they are still held to that standard. The speaker raises theidea that love poems act in the same way by presenting ladies as goddesses,rather than actual humans, and so the norms of beauty ae merely fantasy: “Igrant I never saw a goddess go; my mistress when she walks treads on theground” (Shakespeare). The speaker is arguing that a woman does not have to fitthis mold in order to be beautiful.
Isn’t it crazy that points that were madehundreds of years ago are still applicable today?