English Literature Chaucer & Shakespeare  Term Paper

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For the poet, Christianity must be devoid of the cultures of corruption and hypocrisy that prevailed during his time. Ideally, a religion, in order to be respected and followed by the people, must maintain a clean image -- that is, an image that reflects the truth of its teachings, wherein its religious principles are embodied by the people who make up the Church.

It is also through "Canterbury" that Chaucer was able to portray the theme of idealism as mirrored in the lives of the people of his times. With the pilgrims representing people from all walks of life in 15th century English society, "Canterbury" acts as a mouthpiece to every member of Chaucer's society, giving the readers a look into the kind of society that existed during that period. Thus, each tale narrated in "Canterbury," like the Pardoner's tale, was Chaucer's way of putting reality (i.e., each tale) against the ideals of what a learned and religious society should be like -- that is, by portraying what a society should not be when governed -- economically, socially, and politically -- by a religious institution like the Church.

While Chaucer's method of illustrating the theme of idealism is through social criticism and mirroring the realities in English society during his time, Shakespeare demonstrated the theme through Romanticism, and adhering to the purest sense of expressing idealism. In his illustration of feelings of love and of love itself, Shakespeare used effective imagery in showing how love can remain pure and untainted, mainly by showing romantic imagery and expressing his thoughts on what love and loving should be.

The most famous among Shakespeare's sonnets, Sonnet 18 is an example of an individual's pure expression of love for a woman. In this sonnet, Shakespeare used nature as the agent of his imagery, centering primarily on how the woman's qualities is likened so much like "a summer's day." The poet goes further in expressing his love for the woman, idealizing her in such a way that makes her more "lasting" and beautiful than nature can be: "...everything that is beautiful will lose its beauty, By chance or by nature's planned out course; But your youth shall not fade, Nor lose the beauty that you possess..." In Sonnet 18, idealism is demonstrated by depicting the woman as ideal and more perfect than Nature itself -- and this perceived perfection is the result of the poet's love for the woman. The poem becomes a vehicle through which idealized love and romanticism dominates and are illustrated explicitly by a poet-lover.

Sonnet 116 retains the same loving tone assumed in Shakespeare's Sonnet 18; however, Sonnet 116 differs from Sonnet 18 in that the former compares love not against Nature, but against life's philosophies and life itself. Love, when compared to life, does appear to 'conquer all,' as the poet had expressed in the following lines: "...Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds...O no! It is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempest and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark..." This idealized look at love shows how the influence of Romanticism is once again at work, in effect allowing Shakespeare to create an imagery and idea of love at its 'purest', untainted form.

Sonnet 130, while still a love sonnet, is radically different with Sonnets 18 and 116. Sonnet 130 portrays love on a more realistic setting, but not so much realistic that it loses the idealism found in the first two love sonnets discussed. In this Sonnet, Shakespeare retains the theme of idealism in love by depicting love as imperfect, yet prevalent and powerful in his life. In this sonnet, the woman is depicted as imperfect by describing her as not every beautiful thing in the world is: "Coral is much more red than her lips," "her breasts are certainly not white as snow," and "music has a more pleasing sound than her voice." Despite all these imperfections or lack of idealism in her qualities, the poet still loves her, and it is through his self-confessed love for an imperfect woman that the sonnet achieves its theme…

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