Exploring the later Early Modern Period

Compare and contrast Don Quixote and The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber). Identify the cultural differences reflected by the stories. If there are any similarities, speculate as to what aspects of shared common human experience they repre

In this unit we will be exploring the later Early Modern Period. This is the time frame following the Renaissance in Europe through the 18th century. Even though this is a time frame marked by circumstances in Europe, it is also a period when certain changes were happening in the world of literature. Generally, the literature of this period reflects the continued Renaissance trait of exploring the world, particularly the world of nature. However, it also shifts from looking outward with a sense of expansion, to an inward looking more reflective, analytical assessment of the past and of the individual.

We will be focusing our look at the Early Modern period with readings from Spanish, French, English, Chinese, and Japanese. We will look at literature in three different genres: fiction, drama, and poetry. Another element of this unit will be to look at the socio-political contexts and intellectual foundations that influenced and defined the Early Modern Period. We will also look at the sonnet as a particular form and structure of poetry.

Early Modern Period

The Early Modern Period stretches from the Middle Ages until the late 18th century. We will be covering only the later part of this period with a focus on the period of time that reflects a transition from the Renaissance up to the Enlightenment. Transition is a key to the later Early Modern Period. It was a time of change – sometimes rapid and significant changes. It had upheavals in religion, politics, international relations, and society. Trade grew; industries and merchandising opportunities grew; cities grew; scientific knowledge and technology grew, and empires grew. Much of what we can point to in our world as being “modern” had its earliest versions arise in this period.

One major aspect of this period was a general sense of expansion – a literal and metaphysical looking outward from the self. The Renaissance had opened up an age of exploration of ideas as well as of geography. In the later Early Modern Period, people were taking advantage of the discoveries of the Renaissance and expanding their understanding of the world of nature, the geography of different places, and the examination of new ideas about society and cultures. This was a period that saw the rise of contact (through trade and conquest) between previously isolated parts of the globe. The still relatively new middle class had a huge impact on world economies and institutions, and they became more sophisticated and globally articulated. It also saw the European colonization of the Americas, Asia, and Africa during the 15th to 19th centuries, which spread Christianity around the world. The early modern trends in various regions of the world represented a shift away from medieval modes of organization, politically and other-times economically. This period in Europe saw new forms of government take shape; the power of monarchies grew as regional differences melted away with the loss of isolation. Seafaring countries found riches and fought over the results leading to piracy and small wars. The interest in nature and natural phenomena, along with the new ideas arising out of the new concepts of “scientific enquiry” led to new ideas in science as well as in applied science. This is the age in which the foundations of the industrial age were laid. Travel improvements associated with development of trade made the world easier to connect to and new experiences and products abounded. During the Renaissance, the Church had lost its tight hold on most governments and this continued into the later Early Modern Period.

One element of this unit is a look at the cultures of the Orient, specifically China and Japan. While these may seem like completely foreign cultures at first glance, we will focus on the elements of commonality. Basically, though their governments were different and their world views were different. The people of China and Japan shared, and still do, many common human outlooks as they transitioned from a medieval culture into the Early Modern Period in their own parts of the world.
Don Quixote: Miguel de Cervantes published the first part of Don Quixote in 1605. It was such a success that his characters became well-known throughout Spain. As a result, when a sequel to his book was published by someone else, he wanted to be sure that the characters remained true to his vision, so he wrote his own “authorized” sequel (part 2), which was published in 1615. Often considered the first novel, Don Quixote, is a literary work that uses fiction to call into question many of the accepted truths in his own society.

Cervantes’ life was full of adventure: He was a student, a soldier, a captive, and a tax-collector for the king. He was able to see royalty close at hand, but he was relatively poor, and so he had a different perspective than most of the nobility in Early Modern Spain.

At the time, Spain had a lot of influence in the world. During the Renaissance, Spain had established trade routes and territorial possessions throughout the New World, Africa, and Asia, as well as Europe. However, near the end of the 16th century, Spain’s greatness was waning. The defeat of eth Spanish Armada in 1588 by the English, and a monarchy that was nearly bankrupt by war had resulted in an upheaval in social conditions. There was also a growing challenge to Spain’s orthodox Catholicism as a backlash to the Church’s Counter-Reformation.

The assigned readings in Don Quixote reveal Cervantes’ intention to parody (an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect) the romantic books of chivalry. They also reflect the questioning that Cervantes does about the changing situations in Spain: the increasing levels of poverty in Spain, including the nobility; fighting wars that seemed to have no purpose directly for Spain; anxiety about political and religious struggles and persecution.

Now, read the following selections from Don Quixote:

Part I (Chapters 1 – 8) – https://www.gutenberg.org/files/35993/35993-h/35993-h.htm#CHAPTER_I
Part 2 (Chapters 64 – 65) – https://www.gutenberg.org/files/35993/35993-h/35993-h.htm#CHAPTER_LXIV
Part 2 (Chapters 73 – 74) – https://www.gutenberg.org/files/35993/35993-h/35993-h.htm#CHAPTER_LXXIII

As you read, look for the way that Cervantes places the ideas of reason against the moral conviction of Quixote. On one side of Quixote’s quests lies the world of chivalric right versus wrong, but on the other side is the constantly intruding world of reason and reality
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