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The Anglo-Saxon Period

Three conquests: Roman conquest in 43 AD; Anglo-Saxon conquest in 449; Norman conquest in 1066

43 AD, Roman conquered Britain, making the latter a province of Roman Empire; the withdrawal of Roman troops, the Teutonic tribes, esp., the Anglos conquered the island and called it Angle-land, then England, their language is Anglo-Saxon old English.

2. literature

1): pagan: oral sagas: the Song of Beowulf

2): Christian: copied by the monk.

The influence of the Christianity upon language and culture.

Two ecclesiastic poets: Caedmon and Cynewulf

3. the Song of Beowulf—-England’s national epic

1) creation time: written in 10-th century

2).plot and theme:

fight with Grendel

fight with Grendel’s mother

fight with firedrake

death and funeral

3). Characteristics of “Beowulf”

a. the mixture of pagan elements with Christian coloring. The most outstanding example is the frequent reference in the epic to “Wyrd” (fate) as the decisive factor in human affaires, while on other occasions “God” or “Lord” is also mentioned as the omniscient/ almighty, having infinite insight and knowledge/ having infinite power and authority God, the Creator/ and omnipotent// having infinite power and authority / being that rules over the whole universe.

b. the frequent use of metaphors and understatements. “Ring giver” is used for king, “Swan road”, “whale-path” or “seal bath” for the sea, “wave-traveler” or “sea-wood” for ship, “shield-bearer”, “battle-hero” or “spear-fighter” for soldier.

c. Beowulf is written in alliterative verse. Its rhythm depends upon accent and alliteration. That is, the beginning of two or more words in the same line with the same sound or letter. The lines are made up of two short halves, separated by a pause. No rhyme is used; but a musical effect is produced by giving each half line two strongly accented syllables. Each full line, therefore, has four accents, three of which usually begin with the same sound or letter.

Beowulf towers above all other Anglo-Saxon literature, not only because it is a powerful poem about people’s hero written in true epic style, but also because it tells in artistic form the tale in a leisurely way, full of elaborations in legendary details, and the verse rises at places to heights of poetic grandeur.

Examples from Beowulf are as follows:

Cunningly creeping, a spectral stalker

Hot-hearted Beowulf was bent upon battle

He had often haunted Hrothgar’s house

How glutted with gore he would guzzle his fill

4).The significance of Beowulf¼š

a. This glorious epic presents us a vivid picture of the life of Anglo-Saxon people and highly praises the brave and courageous spirit of the fighting against the elemental forces.

b. The epic reflects the situations the epoch of pagan tribalism and of the era of the Christianized feudal society.

c. The epic gives the vivid portrayal of a great national hero, strong and courageous people and his kinfolk.

Part II: the Anglo-Norman period (1066-1350) = Middle English Period 1066-1500/1350/1485)

Historical background

Norman Conquest of Anglo-Saxon England, under William, Duke of Normandy after the battle of Hastings in 1066, accelerated the development of feudalism in England.

The middle ages: the dark age (449-16-th century)

2.literature—–romance: 1). three chief effects of the Conquest.

2). Four kinds.

a. Geoffrey’s history: a source book of literature

b. the work of the French Writers: Arthurian legends

c. Riming/rhythmic chronicles: history in doggerel verse

d. metrical romances, or tales in verse.

Three major themes

a. the matter of France: about Charlemagne and his peers/knights

b. the matter of Greece and Rome: about Alexander the great and the Trojan War and the fall of Troy

c. the matter of Britain: king Arthur and his Round Table knight

3.Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

a. the plot

1). Feast in the palace

2) journey for the green chapel

3) test in the castle

4). blow in the chapel

b. characteristics and theme

the bravest of knights

a test of his virtue and truth

one of the best told stories in all the medieval literature of Europe

Motif: the tests of faith, courage and purity—-nobility of hero

the human weakness for self-preservation—–humanness

romance: the heroic adventure for adventures’ sake

Beowulf: to help the hero’s kinsfolk out of the distress or to protect them from disaster

Geoffrey Chaucer


1.his life

born in a wine merchant family,page to Elizabeth

he had broad and intimate acquaintance with persons high and low in all walks of life and knew well the whole social life of his time.

His literary career

a. French period(1360-1372) in French ” Romance of the rose”

b. Italian period(1372-1385) in Latin “the legend of Good Women”

English period(1386-1400) in English ” The Canterbury Tales”

3. The Canterbury Tales

It is one of the most famous works in all literature. It begins with a general prologue that explains the occasion for the narration of the tales and gives a description of the pilgrims who narrate the tales, and then follow the twenty-four tales that make up the bulk of the book, plus the separate prologues and the “links that accompany some of” the tales.

5. Chaucer’s contributions to English Literature and Language

a. a master of realism

b.founder of English literary language

c.Chaucer’s English: London dialect

d.Father of English poetry : heroic couplet(The heroic couplet is an iambic pentameter heaving the lines rhyming in pairs.

e. the first occupant of the Poets’ Corner

Popular Ballads

1. Definition: anonymous narrative songs that have been preserved by oral transmission.

2. Classification of Popular Ballads

a. the reflection of the historical events

b. the reflection of myths and legends

c. the adaptation of some literary works.

Another classification:

a.border ballads: age-long struggle between Scots and English

b. the ballads of Robin Hood

c. the humorous ballads

the characteristics of Robin Hood

a. his hatred for the cruel oppressors and his love for the poor and down-trodden

b.strong, brave and clever

c.tender-hearted and affectionate for the poor and down-trodden

d.his pure love for Marian

e.his simple loyalty to the monarchy

4.Varieties of themes:

a. matters of class struggle

b.the border wars between England and Scotland

c.conflict between love and wealth

d.the cruel effect of jealousy and treachery

e.the struggle of young lovers against their feudal families

f.of humors

g.some about supernatural ghost and spirits

The characteristic features of the popular ballads

a. the extensive use of dialogue

b.the refrain

c.the ballad meter

d.the repetition of words or phrase

Part III. The Renaissance 1485-1660

This is a greatest and most advanced revolution in the human history. This is the age the giants are needed and produced.

1.the renaissance in the world(1)

It originated in Italy in the 14-th century when the art, literature and ideas of ancient Greece and Rome were discovered and widely studied and came to a flowery in the 15-th century and later spread to France, Germany, Spain, Holland and Belgium and England in the 16-th century.

The Renaissance period is markedly by the rediscovery and study of the classics of ancient Greece and Rome, by challenge feudal obscurantism and religious dogmas, by opposing the tyranny of feudal rules. It is characterized with the growth of a more scientific outlook, major development in art and literature, new invention and overseas discoveries and a general assertion of human value and emancipation of the human intellect and power.

Humanism was the keynote of the renaissance, reflecting the new outlook of the rising bourgeois class. The humanists advocated the emancipation of man, and they tried to have the new evaluation of man and his powers and fought for equality and justice, opposed feudal tyranny and obscurantism and religious obstinacy.

2. The renaissance in England

1). Some major historic events:

a.The War of Roses (1455-1488) and the establishment of the dynasties of Henry VII and VIII-the centralized monarchy.

b. The Enclosure movement ” sheep devoured Men”

c.The religious reformation, establishment of the Anglican Church

d. Flourishing in the Elizabethan Age (1558-1603)

e.defeating the Spanish Invincible fleet” Armada” in 1588 and the establishment of the hegemony on the seas.

f. The geographical exploration and trade expansion brought about the growth of the cities and the development of the capitalist textile industry.

2). The division of the English renaissance

a. Beginning: the last years of the 15-th century—first half of the 16-th century

b. Flourishing: the Elizabethan Age (1558-1603)

c.Declining: the period of James I (1603-1625) early 17-th century

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angle in apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world; the paragon of animals; and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?

—- William Shakespeare

1.his life

2.divisions of his literary career.

3. analysis of “hamlet” and “the Merchant of Venice”

Main features of Shakespeare

Part IV The Restoration Period and the 18th Century (1660-1785)

Part IV: the 17-th century

1.Historical background

the contradictions between the feudal system and bourgeoisie

a. Elizabeth: 1558-1603

b. James I: 1603-1625 political and religious tyranny

c. Charles I: 1625-1649

d. Cromwell: 1649-1660 commonwealth protector: 1653-1658

e. Charles II: 1660-1688 restoration

f. James II: 1685-1688

g. William of Orange: 1688-1702

2. Literary characteristics

1). the puritan age/influence: gloom age

Poem: John Milton, metaphysical poets

Prose: john Bunyan

2). Restoration/French influence

drama: rimed couplet

literature: witty and clever, immoral and cynical on the whole

Part V: the 18-th century

1. historical background

1): the glorious revolution in 1688

a. the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy ruled the country together

b. Enclosure movement-commercial expansion-colonial expansion-a big industrial and colonial capitalist power

2) American war of Independence (1775-1783)

3) French bourgeoisie revolution in 1789

clear the mind of man for the coming revolution

2.The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a progressive intellectual movement throughout Western Europe in the 18th century and in Russia in the 19th century. It was a European movement as if prevailed not only over England but also over Russia and Germany and esp. France where there were such giants as Montesquieu, Pidero, Voltaire and Rousseau, writing on the eve of the French Revolution in 1789. The Enlightenment in England was different from that in other European countries. Appeared in an epoch not preceding but after the bourgeois revolution. They did not call for the launching of a revolution but urged the carrying on of the revolution to system, at the foundation of which was the compromise between the upper strata of the old ruling class the aristocrats and upper strata of the new ruling class the bourgeoisie and the English Enlightenment come after this compromise. The enlighteners considered the chief means for the betterment of the society was “enlightenment” or “education” for the people. They believed in the power of reason. Reason served as the yardstick for the measure of all human activities and social relations. Superstition and injustice; Privilege and oppression were to yield place to “eternal truth”, “eternal justice” natural equality and inalienable sight of man. But this right of reason is nothing other than the idealized reign of the bourgeoisie. Preceding the bourgeois revolution esp. France while in English, after it, in Russia,19-th century, the 18-th century was called the age of reason, which served as the yardstick for the measure of all human activities and social relations.

3. Enlightenment in England

1): moderate group and radical group

2): three major periods: 1688-1730s, 1740s-1750s, 1760s-1790s

4. Sentimentalism: Lawrence, Sterne

5. Preromanticism: gothic novel

Daniel Defoe

1.his life -a legendary man

2. Robinson Crusoe

a. plot

b. Character analysis

The character Robinson is not common sailor. He is a businessman who takes overseas business as his cause.

Robinson is a bourgeoisie with adventurous spirit

Robinson is a bourgeoisie of practical spirit.

Robinson is bourgeoisie of colonizing character.

A. The artistic character of the novel: the concreters of the description and vividness. The author does not express the character with his words but let the character show himself in his own action. The complements of comments and diaries,

C. Limitation:

1. simple structure b. loose and repletion c. minor characters lack much impression

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) 1. his life

the most powerful satirist of the age(his pamphlets)

have no equal at pamphlet writing

Gulliver’s Travel

1): plot

a. in Lilliput

b. in Brobdingnag

c. in flying island of laputa

d. Houyhnhnms (horses) Yahoos

2): its theme

Joseph Addison(1672-1719)

1. his life

coffee house life and his friendships with Dick Steele

1. The Tatler and the Spectator: periodical

The character of Sir Roger

2. his writing style

Dr. Johnson’s comment

Henry Fielding (1707-1754)

1. his life

2. the history of Tom Jones, a Foundling

plot and characters

Thomas Gray (1716-1771) 1. his life

unhappy childhood, shy and scholarly life, the early romantic poet.

2. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Literature of melancholy

The theme of death

Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)

1. his life

essayist, poet,dramatist

2. The Vicar of Wakefield

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816)

1. the drama of the 18-th century

Oliver Goldsmith ” The Good-natured Man”,” She Strops to Conquer”

2. his life

3. “the Rival”

“the School for Scandal”

“the Critic”

William Blake (1757-1827) The most independent and original romantic poet of 18-th century

1. his life

2. his works

“London”, “The Tiger”, The Song of Experience”

“The Chimney Sweeper”

Robert Burns (1759-1796) The greatest of Scottish poet

1. his life

2. his works

” Poems Chiefly in Scottish Dialect”

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