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The Popularity of The Theme of Death in The Literature of The 17th-19th Centuries

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English Literature during the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s focused mainly on death. This paper discusses how death and dying are presented in the literature. “A wide range of texts, principally but not exclusively from the English language tradition, is used to illustrate themes. Broad categories are suggested for the study of death: some authors give personal accounts of their impending death or their sense of bereavement; some use literature to structure and order our thoughts about death; and some treat death as a literary device, using it, for example, as a symbolic representation of the decay of society”. Romance and tragic stories were really popular at the time. William Shakespeare, born in 1564, wrote more interesting plays and outplayed everyone during his time. He had everyone interested in his work. From peasants to queens, he had everyone going to his plays because his theatres included everyone. Even though all actors were male, he used the younger ones to play females. “As the title page of the play’s 1597 edition tells us, Romeo and Juliet was a popular success in its day: ‘…it hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely’. Shakespeare designed it to be played in daylight on the simple thrust stage of an Elizabethan playhouse, where the rear balcony provided Juliet’s bedroom window and a trapdoor in the stage was her tomb,”. His stories made him a successful writer. He was an expert on romance and tragic stories, usually combining the two to make sad stories of a loved one dying or committing suicide. Shakespeare’s thought on love was so heavy that it caught people’s attention, and they had to see his work. He often included the fact that one cannot live without another.

Another Shakespearean play that includes death is Macbeth. A quote from the play Macbeth that provides a great example, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing”. Macbeth is a tragic story about a noble hero who turns bad just to have power. He is eventually seized, but he changes some things before that happens. The story is set in Scotland, in the 11th century. Hamlet is another story where death is common. It starts out with the death of Hamlet’s father. We later find out that it is Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. A good-sized group of Hamlet’s friends and families are killed in the story. In the end, his friends, family, and Hamlet himself died. Fortinbras sees that there is a family feud, and comes over as soon as he gets the word that there is no ruler in Denmark. He takes over Denmark, and he continues to rule his homeland, Norway.

During the 1700s, Alexander Pope wrote a few heroic couplets. He was a successful writer, but he had some troubles with tuberculosis. That pushed Alexander to grow to be 4’6 inches. This affected the way he thought of himself, and it was one of the reasons why he started writing. The poem An Essay On Man, written by Pope, makes you really think about what the meaning of life really is. He mentions that we live, and we die, but no one comes back to tell about the afterlife once you die. Everyone is afraid of death because no one knows what’ll happen after you die. Pope, on the other hand, sounds like a man who is not as afraid of death like other people. In An Essay On Man, “Born but to die” and “Created half to rise, and a half to fall”. It tells the reader that there are successful people, and there aren’t. There are people that will live a full life, and you have those that will not. So the moral of his story is to live life to the fullest because you never know when you are going to die. Pope is a wise man that points out the fact that “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.

In the 1800s, Charles Dickens came out with his stories and books. He was a good worker and a better writer. The French Revolution had a large impact on English writing during Dickens’s lifetime. As you read stories from the early 1800s, The French Revolution is mentioned in each book, or the book itself is about the French Revolution. The French Revolution occurred in 1789 and ended in 1799. “The French Revolution was a period of time in France when the people overthrew the monarchy and took control of the government.” “It began on July 14, 1789, when revolutionaries stormed a prison called the Bastille”. Even though Charles Dickens was born in 1812, the French Revolution affected his writing, due to the stories he was told, the research he had done, and the rebuilding of towns around him. The French Revolution involved wealthy aristocrats and severely poor people who battled each other. Most aristocrats went to prison, and the poor killed them off. The poor were just looking for equality in their bank accounts, but the aristocrats did not want that. The poor had to take action for what was right, and after 10 years, they got the victory they were looking for. The Reign of Terror brought the French Revolution to an end. The Reign of Terror was lead by Napoleon, killing 15,000 people in France, then he crowned himself as King of France.

In the 1800s, the most common machine that was used quite often for murder or the death penalty was the guillotine. A guillotine is a killing machine with a heavy blade sliding up and down in grooves, used for beheading people. In Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, the guillotine is used quite often to behead aristocrats. From there, their heads were placed on pikes for the town to see. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens wrote ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death’. This saying represents the guillotine on the spot because if you don’t have liberty, equality, or fraternity, you will have died. The guillotine was beginning to be found on every street. In A Tale of Two Cities, dickens writes, “One hideous figure grew as familiar as if it had been before the general gaze from the foundations of the world- the figure of the sharp female called La Guillotine. It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for a headache, it infallibly prevented the hair from turning gray, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: Who kissed La Guillotine looked through the little window and sneezed in the sack”. The Guillotine was often taken as a joke to people who weren’t going to die. People made sick jokes about the death of strangers, and even if they know them. Death became so common that it didn’t faze anyone to see someone die or be murdered. “During the Reign of Terror, at least 300,000 suspects were arrested; 17,000 were officially executed, and perhaps 10,000 died in prison or without trial” (“Reign”).

There are also times when the guillotine was not used. One prime example is when Miss Pross kills Madame Defarge and saved Lucie’s life. “ All this was in a second. As the smoke cleared, leaving an awful stillness, it passed out on the air, like the soul of the furious woman whose body lays lifeless on the ground. Miss Pross new the damage Madame Defarge has caused to the family, and she knew she had to end it. Without a problem, Miss Pross, who is bigger and stronger, threw Madame Defarge on the ground and choked her to death. The chapter is called The Knitting Done because Madame Defarge had a blanket full of names to kill in a code that only she knew. The knitting is done, and so is the fight between the two families.

Another problem that was killing a lot of people during the French Revolution in Paris France was sickness. “Many more people (up to 50,000) were shot, or died of sickness in the prisons”. With the harsh conditions of the prisons and the lack of money outside of prisons, natural death was all around. Many people died from starvation, others died from dehydration, and with the lack of regular necessities, it was easy to catch a sickness and die. An example of people being needy for natural necessities would be when the cask of wine is accidentally broken on the street and people rushed to get a drink or to soak up some of the wine into their clothes so they could save it. One other way of death was the inmates were shot. Shooting the inmates was a faster way to kill the inmates, without using the guillotine for a public show. They killed the popular inmates in front of the townspeople as a rebellious act. A lot of families fled and are still fleeing their home countries during civil wars. America is a place where people fled to. They fled here to get away from all the problems happening in their home countries. America was a land of the free, and people were excited to come and live, or even visit America. ”On his first visit to America in 1842, English novelist Charles Dickens was greeted like a modern rock star. On Valentine’s Day, 1842, New York hosted one of the grandest events the city had ever seen – a ball in honor of the English novelist Charles Dickens. Dickens was only 30, but works such as Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers had already made him the most famous writer in the world”.

There is no comparison between death now, and death from the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s. Today, death is way more serious, life is looked at as precious. There was always someone dying back then, whether it was from sickness, old age, or murder. There weren’t equal rights, and there weren’t strong laws to help limit murder. Now, equal rights are everywhere, and there are cameras, and people watching. That means getting away with murder is much harder than what it used to be. According to Charles Dickens, in the story A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens says, “In the moonlight which is always sad, as the light of the sun itself is—as the light called human life is—at its coming and it’s going”. This shows a good example of how death was thought of in the 1800s. It shows how death was common, and how it was not a big deal. It was hard to be sad because there was always someone you knew that was dying. A lot of the deaths were murders or executions. Your typical sentence to death today is more humane than what it used to be. Now, we give a shot that puts the inmate to sleep. They used to behead the inmates, and even shock them to death. Be glad that you live in the era you do because if you didn’t, you would be lucky to make 60. As you look at any story before the 1900s, you will realize that death is the main part in almost every story. From Macbeth to A Tale of Two Cities, death is the main character. He creeps up on the main characters, or the main character’s close friends and family. Death always changes the characters in the story to. Whether they are changing to be scared, to be a hero, or to help other people, death is a turning point in one’s life. Reading stories on death and how some people cope with death will help you find a good way on how to cope with death yourself. As you read these stories, think about how death has changed you.    

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The Popularity Of The Theme Of Death In The Literature Of The 17th-19th Centuries. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-popularity-of-the-theme-of-death-in-the-literature-of-the-17th-19th-centuries/
“The Popularity Of The Theme Of Death In The Literature Of The 17th-19th Centuries.” GradesFixer, 29 Apr. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-popularity-of-the-theme-of-death-in-the-literature-of-the-17th-19th-centuries/
The Popularity Of The Theme Of Death In The Literature Of The 17th-19th Centuries. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-popularity-of-the-theme-of-death-in-the-literature-of-the-17th-19th-centuries/> [Accessed 17 May 2022].
The Popularity Of The Theme Of Death In The Literature Of The 17th-19th Centuries [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 29 [cited 2022 May 17]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-popularity-of-the-theme-of-death-in-the-literature-of-the-17th-19th-centuries/
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