Literary Context

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Medieval Era (1066-1377)

  • Women occupied the role of wife, mother, peasant, artisan or nun
  • After the Black Death, women's role of 'child bearers' and increasing the population was essential
  • The Black Death was estimated to have killed over 50% of the European population
  • On average, grooms were much older than their brides
  • More than 3/4 were married before they reached 19 years old
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Renaissance (1501-1600) (16th century)

  • The Elizabethans
  • Time period following the Middle Ages
  • Major breakthroughs in art and science discoveries, and living standards drastically improved
  • Many tried to flaunt their love interest in another through fashion
  • Dress codes were worn to express social staus and wealth
  • 'Peacocking' was used where a man would present himslef in admirable ways to impress women (e.g. men's 'ruffs' around their necks)
  • Women mainly dressed in jewels and accessories to express wealth
  • Women had clothing restrictions, e.g. the length of her dress
  • Literature consisted of many contributions to stage production and poetry writing
  • William Shakespeare's writing became more recognised during the English Renaissance
  • Poets included the work of John Donne
  • A great period for love poetry in many different forms (e.g. ode, lyric, song and sonnet)
  • OTHELLO (1602)
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Metaphysical (1601-1700) (17th century)

  • Metaphysics is a type of philosophy reating to the nature of being and the outside world
  • Science became more profound and there was an outbreak of certain groups in relation to religion
  • Metaphysical poems are characterized by striking use of wit, irony and wordplay 
  • They combine explorations of passionate feelings with clever intellectual arguements
  • Use of elaborate and extended similes and images - called a conceit
  • JOHN DONNE, ANDREW MARVELL
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Romantic Period (1775-1840) (18th century)

  • People expressed their own beliefs, rather than those of society
  • Women's rights were beginning to be introduced
  • Education was seen as key to self-respect and the majority of the public that read were female
  • A new emphasis was placed on emotions such as apprehension, horror, terror and awe
  • The influence of the gothic can be traced in characters, events and settings
  • The key charachteristics of writing during this period are the worship of nature and the foregrounding of passion and imagination
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Victorian Era (1837-1901) (19th century)

  • The Victorian Society was extremely stratified in terms of race, class and gender
  • Rapid industrialisation led to a vast increase in a typically working class urban population 
  • An emphasis on privacy and abiding to a strict Christian moral code
  • Many children were in child labour and child mortality remained high
  • The rise of the novel
  • Poetry was viewed as the highest form of literature
  • Relationships outside of social class were frowned upon and strict courtship rules had to be obeyed
  • Affairs were considered acceptable for husbands but scandalous for wives
  • Suffrage was not yet achieved
  • Social convention often dictated who would marry
  • WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1847)
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Contemporary (20th century to now)

  • The acceptance of the woman's natural body and beauty
  • The perception of women changed through the media by the celebration of curvier women, e.g. Marilyn Monroe
  • In 1967, the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men aged 21 and over
  • Homosexuality is more widely accepted within society
  • In 1961, the 'pill' was introduced to prevent unwanted pregnancies
  • in the 1970's, the 'hippie' lifestyle introduced the attitude of 'free love', promoting sex before marriage and discouraging contraception
  • Women are still viewed as the main household figure for cooking, cleaning and acting as both a mother and a wife
  • The roles men play in society are still rather dominant 
  • In the 1930's, equality for women and equal pay was fought for
  • In 1918, women over 30 got the vote, and in 1928, women over 21 got the vote
  • WW1 had a great impact on the literature at the time
  • A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1949) and CAROL ANN DUFFY
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