Essay: Ideals of 17th Century Writers

Here is an essay I wrote in the 12th grade. It is a comparison essay looking at different pieces of literature and the values they embody, and it is a very strong essay as far as understanding how to write this type of essay. There may be some historical mistakes. This essay was written for the AP English Literature class. Some of the authors/works referenced include: Macbeth, the Cavalier Poets, Petrach, Spenser, Jonson, Paradise Lost, John Donne. There is no citation page of these references because we read using an anthology, and were not required to do so because of this. I received an A on this essay.

17 September 2012

The Creation of Everlasting Values: Ideals of 17th Century Writers

            “Love is madness.” “The King is power.” “God is universal.” Today, these three statements sound familiar and common enough. However, it was only through the hard work of writers in the 17th century that such ideas were first introduced and pressed into the minds of the everyday people. Early writers of “English Renaissance” were living in changing, tumultuous times. Using the themes and ideals most important to them, these writers reflected their thoughts on such subjects in their poems, plays, essays, and more. As demonstrated in many prominent pieces of literature, writers of the 17th century most valued the prestige of the monarchy, the varying concept of love, and the importance of the church.

Queen Elizabeth I came to be one of the most able and prestigious rulers in English history. It was during her reign that the people of England began to highly value the righteous power of the monarchy once more, a theme reflected in much of the literature of the same period. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth is very hesitant to murder the King and lists his reasons for feeling that way. He states first that he is “his kinsman and subject” and praises Duncan’s rule as “so clear in his great office” (357). Macbeth is afraid to kill Duncan mostly because he is the rightful King and Macbeth would be betraying his role a loyal subject. As Shakespeare demonstrated through Macbeth’s values, loyalty to the throne was seen as an obvious quality of a good, renaissance man. Citizens and writers alike strove to be as full of class and prestige as the royals were. This is seen in Ben Jonson’s rules that governed his tribe of Ben, when he asks only for “learned, civil, and merry men b’invited” (Jonson). The importance of prestige and sophistication likened to that of Queen Elizabeth is demonstrated here and in other works of the Cavalier poets, who believed very much in class and loyalty to the throne. It is clear that many writers of the English Renaissance both valued and respected their country’s monarchy.

17th century writers, particularly poets, explored the complex topic of love. Edmund Spenser wrote about a painful but powerful love in “Sonnet 30”, saying “such is the pow’r of love in the gentle mind, that it can alter the course of kind” (Spenser 312). He used themes such as “fire” and “ice.” To these poets, love was seen as something as powerful and complex as that which God had made—nature. William Shakespeare also took use of nature in his sonnets when he discussed a blind love. In Sonnet 18, he compared his love to “a summer’s day” and said his love was “more lovely and more temperate” (318). However, it was likely Francesco Petrarch that wrote about the most breathtaking love. He described the beauty of his love as “a heavenly spirit, a living sun” (Petrarch 328). Although the love explored in the 17th century sonnets was diverse and varied, it was undeniably an important ideal of their literature.

Despite changing ideas and new philosophies concerning God, 17th century writers still emphasized the importance of the church. In John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” the author sought to “justify the ways of God to men” (488). Milton spoke of the “infinite goodness, grace, and mercy” that can be brought forth by the followers of God and enemies of Satan (493). He pleaded that the church and its ideas were still important to every aspect of living. Milton’s famous piece was not the only to express this lament. In his Meditation 17, John Donne, a metaphysical poet, spoke of an all-encompassing church. He writes that “the church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all (514).” He goes on to say that all things are connected through the church, and that all actions the church does affects each one of its members. The idea of a dominant and essential church is a significant ideal in the writing of the English Renaissance.

The writers of the English Renaissance and 17th century looked at the world around themselves to find inspiration for their writing. They looked to their queen, their lovers, and their God and created not just pieces of literature but values and ideals. The ideas that the writers and poets first established are still discussed and debated in today’s time. It is through their writing that alluded so apparently to the prestige of their royals, the diverse and complex concept of love, and the ever powerful church that the 17th century writers laid the foundation for the values and topics that still affect people today.

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