There has always been a place for valuable objects in people’s minds; indeed, the material assets of the human world have allowed to define the value of a number of things, finally leading to the invention of money. Being one of the most important material elements in the human world, valuable objects, therefore, have been mentioned or referred to in a number of human creations and works of art, one of which is literature.
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Despite the fact that the representations of valuable or treasured objects in Beowulf, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Spencer’s Faerie Queene, and Pope’s Rape of the Lock are completely different from each other, the three still offer a common idea about the place which these valuable or treasured objects take in people’s lives, which makes a common thread in all three poems.
To start with, the representation of the treasured and valuable objects in Beowulf is rather obvious from the very start of the poem; it is obvious that the characters focus on the secular values. The latter can be considered the result of paganism, the belief which all characters of Beowulf hold to from the very start of the poem.
However, as the novel progresses, the beliefs of the character change in a rather radical manner; as Hill explains, the characters are gradually converted from pagans to Christians, which causes a drastic change in the assessment of their values.
However, as Hill explains, the characters of Beowulf are not to be judged harshly because of the fact that low values were a standard for them: “We look back, then, to days when kings of the Spear-Danes were great, when one could say that they were good, rather than to a time when inadequate values were embraced” (Hill 5).
Therefore, it can be considered that Hill discusses moral values of the time in which Beowulf was written than the actual valuable items (McMillen). Moreover, Hill actually makes a connection between time and timeless values in his argument:
Without breaking the past-tense framework of his narrative, the poet repeatedly asserts the continuity of time and values between his present and a heroic past that steadily moves from a deep past to those bleak anticipations of a violent future near poem’s end. (Hill 7)
To be more exact, in the heroic past, which can be also referred to as the pagan times, the characters of the poem attributed all their deeds either to themselves and their strength, skills, power, intelligence, etc.: “the poet places a Ruler and a Judge of the deeds of each man” (Hill 10), or to the hand of doom.
Meanwhile, in the period referred to as the Christian one, the characters start attributing the major events to the power of God: “Happy events testify to God’s benign rule. When referred to God, fateful events are signatures of his judgment.
God’s dom cannot be changed by men now any more than it could then” (Hill 8). Hence, the hero ethics dissolves into the appraisal of the supernatural powers, making the characters plunge into the realm of Christianity and its specific humble ethics.
It is quite different with the ideas offered by Milton in his Paradise Lost. However, before developing an argument about Milton’s poem and the interpretation of valuable objects that it offers to the readers, it is necessary to consider some of the issues raised on Odell’s article concerning the understanding of the eulogy which Dryden wrote addressing Milton’s untimely death.
Odell’s article on Milton revolves around a different reading of the epigram, which, as the author emphasizes, makes even more sense than the original interpretation. According to Odell, the fact that the eulogy which Dryden created and which honored Milton is aimed at wiping the latter from people’s memory as a writer who belonged to a particular period in time and establishing him as a transhistorical writer can and must be argued.
As Milton explains, there is not a single trace of an attempt to make Milton a timeless classic in Dryden’s eulogy; hence, Odell suggests a different reading of the eulogy. As Odell explains, “he was canonized authoritatively by John Dryden (poet laureate of Great Britain, 1668–88), in his eulogy often entitled ‘Epigram on Milton’” (Odell 159).
Even from the very start of the article, one can see evidently that Odell prefers to interpret the epigram in a slightly different way from the original one; the very word “canonized”, with its irony, rings certain dissatisfaction about the current opinion on the eulogy and its meaning.
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In addition, Odell clarifies that the existing interpretation of Dryden’s eulogy is not the only one possible and by far not the most sensible one. As Odell states,
Marcie Frank offers a new but out of context reading of “Epigram” as partial evidence that, for Dryden, “criticism” is “an identification in which one has to efface the historical individual in order to make an ‘author’—a figure with whom one can identify in order to be a critic” (Odell 159)
Hence, Odell makes it clear that the eulogy which Dryden wrote to honor Milton might aim not at making the latter a transhistorical author, but to compare Milton to such ancient authors as Virgil and Homer.
Again, the above-0mentioned асеdoes not mean that Dryden places Milton together with these two; the entire eulogy is only about the comparison between these authors and showing that there are certain common things in their writing.
When it comes to discussing the major theme that is raised in Lewis’s The Faerie Queene, Lewis’s article is the first thing that comes to one’s mind. Offering rather original ideas concerning the poem’s interpretation and the ideas implied in the poem context in a very subtle way, Lewis makes an interesting statement concerning the poem and the author:
“The moralizing poems to his cantos, which sounds so characteristically Spenserian, are in accordance with the regular practice of Boiardo and Ariosto” (60). Hence, Lewis defines the moral and the philosophical in the allegories created by Spenser in his poem.
It is essential that Lewis specifies the two key virtues which Spenser emphasizes most in his poem; to be more exact, Lewis pays a lot of attention to the way in which Lewis describes such issues as the Holiness and the Chastity. However, Lewis makes it clear that the focus of the poem is still on Love, while Holiness and Chastity complete the former, making it worth fighting for:
The subjects of these two books are respectively Chastity and Friendship, but we are justified in treating them as a single book on the subject of love. Chastity, in the person of Britomart, turns out to mean not virginity but virtuous love: and friends are found to be merely “another sort of lovers” in the Temple of Venus. (Lewis 90)
Back to the issue of the morality and philosophical dilemmas which Spenser discussed in his poem, according to Lewis’s opinion, one must mention that Spenser’s poem offers “popular, homely, patriotic associations” (Lewis 60) to the readers, therefore, creating the realm of family values and the idea of hearth and home in the poem. In the given context, Lewis’s interpretation of Spenser’s Queene Faire sounds more than reasonable.
Finally, the argument in Pope’s Rape of the Lock is worth another close consideration. One of Pope’s most famous works, it is also the most sophisticated one and the one that is filled with a lot of hidden innuendoes. Analyzing his work, Kathleen McConnell has come across a range of peculiar facts which are truly worth being presented to the public.
According to McConnell, there is a common thread that links the given work and such famous stories as the tales about Pygmalion and the movie Artificial Intelligence. As McConnell explains, the thing that links these pieces of art is the idea of redemption.
Judging by the fact that McConnell makes examples of three works one of which belongs to the sphere of classic literature, another one to the realm of myths, and the last one belongs to the popular culture, one must assert that the key idea of McConnell’s article is that Pope’s poem is nowadays ranked as something belonging to popular culture as well and is consumed as a mass product.
On the one hand, the idea that something as timeless as Pope’s poems can be considered a product of mass consumption and an element of the present-day popular culture must seem absurd.
However, as McConnell’s argument cadence continues, one starts realizing that there is actually a strong point that Kathleen makes in the course of the argument, and, to one’s sheer amazement, McConnell’s idea proves completely right: “the stories of Pygmalion, ‘The Rape of the Lock,’ and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have the social redemption of an outcast in common, though the nature of the outcast is different in each” (McConnell 683).
However, it is not the fact of Pope’s poem being a mass product for the popular culture that makes McConnell’s argument so enticing; it is rather the string of arguments that the author provides to prove her pint that thrills and makes one hyped for a debate.
Indeed, even though it is highly unlikable for something as grandeur as Pope’s poems to become an element of popular culture, it is rather peculiar to understand what an average reader, the adept of pop culture, can possibly find for his/her mind in such a poem as, for example, Pope’s Rape of the Lock. McConnell’s detailed analysis of the given fact is what makes the article a really thrilling read.
According to McConnell, the fact of objectification, which exists both in The Rape of the Lock and AI, makes both a peculiar artwork for the audience to be thrilled with: “The two situations – the uncanny humanizing of an object and the canny objectification of a human – exist side by side in the relationship of ‘‘child’’ David and its ‘mother’ Monica in AI.” (McConnell 684). Indeed, there is a fact of objectification in The Rape of the Lock:
Though not an object per se, Arabella Fermor, the historical inspiration for Pope’s satirized heroine “Belinda,” was objectified, in that she was appreciated as an item of exchange value; far from re-humanizing Arabella, Pope’s caricature craftily objectifies her. (McConnell 684)
In addition, the idea of gambling in the poem can be considered as an interpretation of the object value in The Rape of the Lock (Walls).
Analyzing the arguments introduced above, one must admit that there are certain similarities between the four articles in question. Both touch upon certain values and the way people interpret them.
However, while in Rape of the Lock, the value of a human personality is considered through objectification, in Faerie Queene, moral values are the focus of the work. Likewise, Paradise Lost offers some food for thoughts about morality, along with Beowulf, which focuses on honor of a warrior in particular.
Hence, it can be concluded that there are considerable differences between the ways in which the treasured or valuable objects are represented in Beowulf, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Spencer’s Faerie Queene, and Pope’s Rape of the Lock. Since each of the poems conveys a specific and unique idea, the representation of valuable objects in each appears to be quite different from the other ones.
However, when it comes to discovering the key message which these representations convey, one will inevitably figure out that all of the three representations serve to convey the same idea. To be more exact, the three poems make it clear that valuable objects in people’s lives actually worth nothing.
While these objects have no intrinsic value of their own, people endow the ostensibly treasured things with all the values possible, which all the three poems address at certain points. Once again making it clear that aesthetic and moral values are much more important than the monetary ones, the authors offer peculiar and surprisingly non-preachy works, which makes them pretty timeless.
Hill, John M. “Beowulf, Value, and the Frame of Time.” Modern Language Quarterly 40.1 (1979): 3-18. Print.
Lewis, C. S. “The Faerie Queene.” In Spenser’s Critics: Changing Currents in Literary Taste. Ed. William R. Mueller. New York, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1959. 206-232. Print.
McConnell, Kathleen. “Creating People for Popular Consumption: Echoes Of Pope’s ‘The Rape of the Lock’ in Artificial Intelligence: AI.” Journal Of Popular Culture 40.4 (2007): 683-699. Print.
McMillen 14 May 2007, A Bloody Enterprise: The Power of Treasure over Men in Beowulf. Web.
Odell, David. “Dryden’s ‘Epigram on Milton’: A New Reading Questioned.” Explicator 68.3 (2010): 159-168. Print.
Walls, Kathryn. “A Question of Competence: The Card Game in Pope’s ‘The Rape of the Lock’. A Response to Oliver R.Baker.” Connotations. 19.1-3 (2009/2010): 229-237. Print.