Define the epic as a literary genre, and discuss the characteristics of the Old English epic. Explain the difference in structure between the Italian and English sonnets.

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In the literary sense, an epic is a lengthy poem delivered as a narrative. The term derives from the Greek word epikos. Often in an epic, a hero undertakes a quest that demonstrates his courage and tenacity as he learns or imparts valuable lessons.

The Old English epic in particular is perhaps best understood through Beowulf, a medieval poem thought to have been composed between 975 and 1025. The titular character is a hero who is called to help a Danish king rid his mead hall of Grendel, a monster. As is traditional in an epic, Beowulf leaves his home country and travels afar to confront a powerful enemy. He enters the conflict in medias res, another convention of the epic, because Grendel's attacks have been an ongoing phenomenon. The enemy is formidable because it is not human, and even after Beowulf kills it, he has to contend with its fearsome mother. He prevails in the end and is lauded for his bravery. But because Beowulf is mortal, he eventually meets his end after reigning for years as king of the Geats. He successfully slays the dragon, but in doing so he gives his life.

While both English and Italian sonnets are constructed of fourteen lines, they are organized differently.

The English sonnet is read as three sets of four lines, known as quatrains, and ends with a two-line set called a couplet. It's rhyme scheme is a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg.

The Italian sonnets consists of a set of eight lines, known as the octet, followed by the sestet, or six lines. The octet usually presents a problem or observes a conflict, while the sestet offers a solution to the problem or resolution of the conflict. The rhyme scheme can vary.

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