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The Classical Writers' Society

The golden age of literature was when authors like William Shakespeare and John Milton wielded their pens. Be it poems or plays or novels, the classical writers set the standards and even centuries after their deaths, their ways are religiously followed. Let’s take a walk through time and understand these masterminds.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

The Bard, as he is adoringly called, spoke straight to the human psyche through his writings. With 38 plays, 154 sonnets and an innumerable number of poems, Shakespeare made the world his stage. He wove poetry into prose and blended Anglo-Saxon words with modern usages to create a language that flowed according to his wish.

The Bard is considered the soul of the Elizabethan Era and his plays such as The Tempest, Othello and Hamlet prove why

Life is but a mere play: All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances (As you like it)

The lengthy woes of Hamlet: Shakespeare’s longest play is Hamlet. It takes about four hours to perform completely.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

Unlike his contemporary Shakespeare, Marlowe was a thorn in the side of England’s powerful. But that will not erase his contribution to literature. Marlowe modified blank verse to create poetry that exuded passion and raw talent. His short, yet brilliant career saw radical changes in the literary field.

Dido, Queen of Carthage is believed to be the first of his plays. His masterpiece Doctor Faustus made waves in Elizabethan society when it was released and still continues to be one of the most controversial works ever written.

Poetical genius: Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,

And burnt the topless towers of Ilium

The mystery: Marlowe was murdered at the age of 29 by Ingram Frizer. Why the stabbing happened has still not been established.

John Milton (1608-1674)

A man of letters, a poet, a critic, a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England – the caps that Milton donned were many. He helped blank verse gain popularity through his magnum opus Paradise Lost and this was imitated widely by other poets of the 18th century. Milton saw success as a writer during his lifetime and his other important works include Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes and Lycidas.

The nature of man: All is not lost, the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and the courage never to submit or yield. (Paradise Lost)

A blind man’s tale: In 1652, Milton went completely blind. The entire Paradise Lost was dictated to his daughter who transcribed it for him.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

The transcendental effect nature soothes both mind and body. William Wordsworth was an author who understood this and expressed it in the most impressive manner. He embraced the beauty of nature to pen poems that were an explosion of creativity. Most scholars believe that Wordsworth ushered in the era of Romanticism in English Literature with works such as Lyrical Ballads. His most famous works include The Excursion, The Prelude and The Solitary Reaper.

Poetry that sways: I wandered lonely as a cloudThat floats on high o'er vales and hills,When all at once I saw a crowd,A host of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. (Daffodils)

Human enough: Wordsworth was not an expert at punctuation. He once wrote to chemist Humphry Davy to help him edit his poem.

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

This fiery lady picked up her pen and changed the face of literature. Jane Austen wrote what she knew best – society around her. Her heroines are not epitomes of human sacrifice and suffering. They take charge of situations, give it right back to the men who spite them and are in control of their future. Her major novels were Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park.

Lines that bring forth a smile: She has the reputation of being remarkably sensible and clever; but I rather believe she derives part of her abilities from her rank and fortune, part from her authoritative manner, and the rest from the pride of her nephew, who chooses that every one connected with him should have an understanding of the first class (Pride and Prejudice)

From the heart: Jane Austen thought of her books as her children. She never married as she believed that marital responsibilities would not allow her to write.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

The Victorian era novelist is known for his insightful takes on how 19th century English society, complete with corruption, evil and backwardness, worked. Dickens breathed life into characters such as Scrooge, David, Oliver, Fagin and made them immortal through his writing. His prominent works include David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, Nicholas Nickelby, etc.

The best of words: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief…(A Tale of Two Cities)

A sense of direction: It is said that Dickens always made sure his head was pointed north when he slept as he believed this would help him improve his writing.

Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855)

This English author made us cry with the story of Villette and inspired us through Shirley. The passion, with which she wrote and diligence with which she expressed her love for life, is evident in her books. She was a narrator from whom we couldn’t get a clue as to what lay before us. Bronte wrote under the penname Currer Bell as she recognised that society was male dominated. Her works include Jane Eyre, Villette and Shirley.

An inspiration: I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself (Jane Eyre)

All about teeth: Bronte spent much of her earnings from Jane Eyre on dentistry.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Ernest Hemingway once said “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn … There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since”. Such was the influence of Twain. His witty, dry humour runs through all his books, even as they highlight social conditions such as racism and social justice. In clear language and biting words, Mark Twain, a pen name adopted by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, developed his style of writing. His masterpieces include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Prince and the Pauper.

Social customs: While there was little ground to justify a traditional practice, it was harder to eradicate it. (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer)

The inspiration: Huckleberry Finn was based on Tom Blankenship, a boy the author knew while growing up.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

This Irish playwright was not bothered about heavy symbolism or metaphors. He was straightforward, witty and so were his writings. His received the Nobel Prize in 1925. Among his major plays that have stood the test of time are Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma, Caesar and Cleopatra, and Arms and the Man.

The ultimate man: The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. (Man and Superman)

A man of honour: Shaw never accepted the money that came with the Nobel Prize.

Robert Frost (1873-1963)

The American poet once remarked that he wouldn’t write about something he couldn't see. So whenever we read a Frost poem, we can imagine him pondering over which path to take or poring over ice and fire.

The poet’s works earned him four Pulitzers and helped him become America’s rare public literary, then. Frost’s works include The Road Not Taken, Mending Wall, The Death of the Hired Man, and After Apple-Picking.

The poetry that made a difference: I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference (The Road not Taken)

A day to remember: In 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy invited Frost to read a poem at his inauguration. Since he was facing a blinding sun, he could not read and so recited a poem he wrote 20 years ago.

A day to remember: In 1961 U.S. President John F. Kennedy invited Frost to read a poem at his inauguration. Since he was facing a blinding sun, he could not read and recited a poem he wrote 20 years ago.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 2:30:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/in-school/signpost/The-Classical-Writers-Society/article14553164.ece

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