English 215

Middle Ages
“Medieval Period”. The period of literature and language including Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman and Middle English. From Departure of Romans (420) to when the the Tudors took throne (1485)

(beginning in 450 with the A-S invasion): written in Old English (similar to other Germanic languages); tradition of oral poetry; focus on heroic and Christian stories

Anglo Saxon Texts
the Venerable Bede (673-735) provides “Caedmon’s Hymn” and Bede’s own Ecclesiastical History of the English People; “The Dream of the Rood” (probably written in 8th century); Beowulf; “The Wanderer”

Anglo-Saxon Authors
Bede, Caedmon, many anonymous writers

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Exeter Book
Contains largest surviving collection of Anglo-Saxon poetry

Anglo-Saxon Religion
Britain is Christian under the Romans, pagan influence with invasion of Anglo-Saxons, and then Christian again.

Anglo-Saxon Formal Qualities
Caesura (strong phrasal pause)large space in the middle of the line; Alliteration (repetition of sounds -i.

e. around, around, the rugged rock) used to organize lines; Epithet (an adjective or adjectival phrase used to describe a distinctive quality), kenning (descriptive compound words – i.e. “whale-road” for sea), and other descriptive language; use of half-lines, broken by the caesura

Anglo-Saxon ideals/focus
-Christian and Pagan themes in texts and focus on religion and values dealing with religion (i.e. Christian ideals).

Importance of monasteries as site of writing/research/collection of manuscripts-Oral tradition-Focus on the heroic and on loyalty to liege lord and kinship-Pagan kings and warriors-Exile figures (i.e. “The Wanderer”) and elegiac mood-Ubi Sunt- (latin) Where are they now? (sense of elegiac)-Animals used to show moral or Human vices

The Middle Ages designates the time span from the collapse of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance.

The adjective “medieval” refers to whatever was made, written, or thought during the Middle Ages.

Conquest and migrations tend to create sudden transformations of a language, as we see in the history of the development of the English language and its literature.

The organizing device of a line of verse in Anglo-Saxon poetry is alliteration.


The large space in the middle of a line of verse, which indicates a pause, is called a kenning.

An elegiac tone runs through much of Anglo-Saxon poetry, creating a sense of melancholy.

We refer to the language used in poems such as “The Wanderer” and “The Dream of the Rood” as “Old English.”

Although most Anglo-Saxon poetry was written by lettered poets, they continued to use the oral-formulaic style derived from earlier sources, such as pagan heroic verse.

The Norton anthology organizes the period of the Middle Ages into 3 periods: Anglo-Saxon Literature, Anglo-Norman Literature, and _________________________________Literature.

Middle English

____________________________________ (insert name of writer) became a novice at the age of 7 and spent his life in several monasteries. He wrote the book Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which describes the spread of Christianity and the growth of the English church.

Bede (The Venerable)
Became a novice at the age of 7 and lived in the monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow (in Northumbria).

Completed Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731, which discusses the Anglo-Saxon conquest and the spread of Christianity and the English church (the events leading up to Bede’s own period).History contains the stories of saints and miracles, with Caedmon’s story important given his role as a founder of a school of Christian poetry.

Caedmon’s Hymn
oral-formulaic poet (he combines and varies formulas – units of verse developed in a tradition transmitted by one generation of singers to another, like the Homeric poems).

While Bede argues that he did not compose “vain and idle” songs, the Norton editors argue that Caedmon applies the meter and language of older songs, including pagan heroic verses, to Christian themes. Norton editors note that 8 of the poem’s 18 half-lines contain epithets -“an adjective or adjectival phrase used to describe a distinctive quality of a person or thing” (Abrams, 103) – that are used to describe various aspects of God (for example, “mankind’s guardian” and “Master Almighty.”

Why is “Hymn” a good example of Old English verse?
its traditional poetic diction and interwoven formulaic expressions

What ties these three periods of the Middle Ages (and the writers/thinkers within them) together?
The Catholic Church

Was the period now called “the Renaissance” (beginning in the 14th century) referred to in that manner during the period? If not, when was that name for the period coined?
No. The term, which means “rebirth,” was used by 19th century historians and critics.

The Dream of the Rood
Unknown author and date.

Connection suggested by the Norton editors between the rood (tree) of the poem and the Dreamer, as well as between the rood and Christ. Think about the emphasis on hope and the ways in which both Christ and the rood act in keeping with, and yet diametrically opposed to, a code of heroic action. Connection between the Dreamer and the speaker in “The Wanderer” as far as the sense of exile and, with it, melancholy and isolation.-Begins as a performance. Poem is being recited by dreamer.

The cross is glorious but dreamer notices blood too. Dreamer seems to be more hopeful for future at the end of the poem.

The Wanderer
Preserved in the Exeter Book (poem may be from 973 or much earlier)Example of the elegiac mood common in Anglo-Saxon poetry (see too Beowulf )Note theme of Ubi sunt (where are they now?)Move from particular laments of speaker to more general sense in the second half of poem of universal woe.-Strong sense of morality, mourning and nastalgia

Date is unknown but probably around first half of 8th century. No author or title though we suspect there was one author and hewas Christian. (Name assigned by modern writers)A number of lines and words have been lost due to the fire that in 1731 destroyed much of the collection of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton.

-Historical period the poem concerns seems to be some time after the first invasion of England by Germanic tribes – i.e. around the middle of the 5th century-Beowulf demonstrates his valor with three fights against preternatural evil, with vengeance and glory the motivating factors in his battle with Grendel and Grendel’s mother (although his last battle, with the dragon, is simply to save his people).

Why do editors suspect that Beowolf was written by a christian?
Hrothgar’s bard sings a song about the Creation (which has echoes of Caedmon’s “Hymn”) and there are references to biblical figures such as Cain, as well as to God’s judgment and to fate (wyrd). The characters seem to be monotheistic.-Yet the characters are part of a pagan world, and they adhere to the values common in Germanic heroic poetry, such as the warrior-thane (lord) relationship and the bond between kin (see the need for vengeance or wergild if a kinsman is killed).

Tthough Beowolf is English in its language and origin, it deals not with native Englishmen but with
their Germanic forebears, in particular the Danes and the Geats.

some Characters and their meanings
German has many compound words:Hrothgar: King of the Danes (his name is a combination of words meaning “glory” and “spear”)Beowulf: son of Ecgtheow (whose name means “sword-servant”), the King of the GeatsGrendel: a powerful demon (reference to son of Cain)Heorot (the hall): the mead hall of Hrothgar, repeatedly attacked by Grendel (the name means “hart” and is pronounced “hay oh roht”)

Where do we see the combination of both pagan and Christian references/ideals? What is the effect of this combination?
“From [Cain] sprang many a devil sent by fate” The Old Testament character Cain and the pagan idea of fate have been merged to characterize Grendel’s mother.

Beowulf himself is defined in terms of wyrd( a concept in Anglo-Saxon culture roughly corresponding to fate or personal destiny).Beowulf’s chief adversaries are not men but monsters and that … [the] king of the Geats did not seek wars with their neighboring tribes may reflect a Christian appreciation for peace among humans” The last time the Grendel enters Heorot he is “wearing God’s anger” (36).

Grendel represents something evil(outcast like satan). (Shows Beowulf is Fighting for God) The poet references the pagan end of the world (Ragnarok) Grendels mother represents that evil still lives. Pagan ideals: nature presence and strength of warrior This combination defines the heroic warrior, Beowulf, and the evil menace, Grendel’s mother. It provides the motivation for vengeance on Grendels mother. Product of an age of warlike yet christian ideals.

In what ways does the poem (Beowulf) seem similar to the other examples of Anglo-Saxon poetry we have read? In what ways is it different?
Similar: strengthens the Heroic Code derived from Anglo-Saxons Germanic roots and calls for strength, loyalty and courage in warriors. Hrothgar: generous The element of religious tension is quite common in Christian Anglo-Saxon writings (The Dream of the Rood, for example), but the combination of a pagan story with a Christian narrator is fairly unusual. The plot of the poem concerns Scandinavian culture, but much of the poem’s narrative intervention reveals that the poet’s culture was somewhat different from that of his ancestors, and that of his characters as well.

. On Tuesday we read the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Dream of the Rood.” “Rood” refers to the tree/crucifix used to crucify Jesus Christ

The theme of Ubi sunt (meaning, roughly, “Where are they now?” and a meditation on mortality) is found in many Anglo-Saxon poems; a prime example of this is “The Wanderer.”

The epic poem Beowulf was written sometime between the 8th and the early 11th century, but is set some centuries earlier.

Beowulf starts with the story of Beowulf, who is immediately named as the poem’s hero.

Like Hrothgar, Beowulf is a Spear-Dane.

The period of Anglo-Norman literature begins with the Norman Conquest in 1066 (the date for the Battle of Hastings)

The primary language of the Norman aristocracy and court was French. Many romances were either translated into French or first written in that language.


The Norton editors argue that the fundamental characteristic of the romance is structural, not stylistic, with a three-part structure of integration, disintegration, and reintegration common to most romances.

The name of the monster who is slaughtering Hrothgar’s warriors in his famous hall, Heorot, in Beowulf is

The monster named in question #9 is associated with ___ (insert name), an infamous wrongdoer in the Bible.

(begins with the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest in 1066 – to around the 1360s, when we really begin to see a flowering of literary works in Middle English) Language: French (as well as Latin, Irish, and English)

Anglo-Norman Authors and their famous texts
Authors: often unknown -Geoffrey de Monmouth: History of the Kings of Britain-Wace: Roman de Brut )-Layamon: Brut ,Thomas of England: Version of Tristan and Ysolt (western French) Marie de France- author of lays/lais such as “Chevrefoil”- she is from France (“de France”) and her work is in the Anglo-Norman dialect

Anglo-Norman Literature ideals/qualities
Language: Importance of French (brought over by the Normans) for court culture; many texts in French or translated into French Standard French narrative verse: 8 syllable coupletsRomance genre: narrative with three-part structure of integration, disintegration, and reintegration (defined by structure, not style) Not necessarily new, but flowers with work of writers such as Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France.Symbolic – “symbolic stories, replaying and allaying the fears of the young as they face the apparently insuperable challenges of the adult world”Chivalric Code (see The Song of Roland for an example) and Courtly LoveArthurian stories – hero who will return to save his people (Myth of Arthurs Return)

Code of Courtly Love
Basically, you don’t have to be married to love but it is improper to love someone you would be ashamed to marry. Your thoughts and actions must revolve around your beloved’s happiness. Good character is all that is deserving of love and woman can be loved by multiple men. Love should not be given out like candy.

Arthurian Stories
-Stories of a native hero who will return to save his people; rooted in orally-transmitted Celtic myth and legend, and then assimilated by the Anglo-Normans.

-the Christian Britons fight against pagan Germanic invaders (importance of Christianity).-develop the story of Arthur, writing in Latin (Monmouth), Anglo-Norman French (Wace), and Middle English (Layamon).

Tristan and Ysolt
-The Tristran and Ysolt (Iseult) stories derive from Breton, Welsh, and Irish sources (as well as eastern tales). -Tristran is an orphan, later found to be the nephew of King Mark.-Falls in love with Ysolt, the daughter of the King of Ireland (who is to be married to Mark), when they drink a love potion.-The lovers are separated by Tristran’s exile, and both die the same day.-Tristran is the only knight who can match Sir Lancelot.

He is skilled not only in combat, but in music, chess, and love.

Marie de France
Unknown but speculated that she may have been Marie, abbess of Shaftesbury, who was an illegitimate daughter of Geoffrey of Anjou (and thus half-sister of Henry II, to whom the work was probably dedicated.- wrote the Lais (English “lay” refers to a short narrative poem in verse); the Fables; and St. Patrick’s Purgatory.- twelve lays:(shortest one was Chevrefoil written also in 8 syllable couplets) short romances which deal with a single event in the affairs of noble lovers, such as Tristran and Ysolt. Marie notes that she heard these performed by professional minstrels, who may have come from the French province of Brittany or the Celtic parts of Great Britain.

Marie de France used same 8 syllable couplet form as did other Anglo-Norman writers such as:
Wace, author of Roman de Brut (re: Arthur) and Chrétien de Troyes, who authored Arthurian romances.

Subject and genre of Chevrefoil?
subject of extra-marital love and a repressed desire for personal well-being and happiness. Theme of an unmarried lover and an unhappily married lady. Marie doesn’t seem to disapprove of this state of affairs. Rooted in courtly love, it reflects upon the gender allotted roles within the conventions of marriage in a patriarchal society-Romance Genre- Tristan and Isolde are unable to live without each other.

Honeysuckle grows on hazel trees and cannot live without the hazel tree. The hazel tree cannot live without the honeysuckle.

What story is originally written in Middle English yet we connect it with the Anglo-Norman Period? Why?
Because of the Arthurian connection and the emphasis on romance (3 part structure) -BUT it is was originally written in Middle English, not French, and is outside the period of Anglo-Norman influence per Gawain’s date (the text was written between 1375-1400).

The Norton editors argue that the fundamental characteristic of the romance is structural, not stylistic, with a three-part structure of integration, disintegration, and reintegration common to most romances.


The lay “Chevrefoil” was written by the late 12th century poet Chrétien de Troyes

Sir Gawain, like many works of the period and earlier, is anonymous, although many critics believe the same writer wrote the religious poems “Pearl,” “Patience,” and “Purity,” which were found in the same manuscript.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight does NOT belong to the so-called “Alliterative Revival,” part of a renewed flowering of alliterative poetry in the 14th century.

The sign of Gawain’s goodness and truthfulness is the pentangle—the five-pointed star that is displayed on his coat of arms and shield.

According to the Norton editors, the main plot of the poem belongs to a type folklorists classify as the “Beheading Game,” in which a supernatural challenger offers to let his head be cut off in exchange for a return blow.

Sir Gawain is written in stanzas that contain a group of alliterative lines. Each stanza closes with five short lines that rhyme a b a b a. The first of these rhyming lines contains just one stress and is called the bob. The four three-stress rhyming lines that follow the bob are called

After the opening of the poem, which discusses the founding of Britain by Felix Brutus, Aeneas of Troy’s great-grandson, the poem moves to Arthur’s court and a Christmas-time feast.

However, the king refuses to eat until a __________ is told.

great story

The hero of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur. The man who challenges Arthur and the court during the court’s celebration is _______________.
The Green Knight

After much traveling and battles with monsters, Gawain arrives at a castle. He is welcomed by the lord of the castle and entertained by two women: one of whom is beautiful and young, while the other is
old and ugly

Middle English
last portion of the medieval period; really flourishing from the 14th century to 1485, although Middle English had been used from the early 12th century onLanguage: Middle English (also French and Latin)

Middle English Famous Authors and Texts
-Sir Gawain and the Green Knight -Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (including works such as “The Miller’s Tale”) – Everyman (though written after 1485 and is an example of a morality play -allegorical characters such as Beauty and Knowledge and focus on the battle between good and evil for the human soul: psychomachia). -John Gower

Sir Gawain
-unknown author but dated 1375-1400; probable author of “Pearl”; “Patience”; and “Purity.” (author may be from northwest midlands of England-familiar with area)-Connection with earlier Anglo-Saxon literature in the use of heroic figures, an adventure into the unknown (see Gawain’s quest) and the use of alliteration-Part of the alliterative revival (nostalgia for older form (alliteration) and oral poetry – archaic poetic diction)

Sir Gawain Structure
-stanzas that contain a group of alliterative lines, with each stanza closing with 5 short lines that rhyme ababa.

This is called the bob and wheel, with the bob the first short line which has one stress and the wheel the four three-stress lines after the bob. -Retention of some archaic poetic diction, such as the terms “athel” (noble) or “skifted” (alternated).

“Tropes” of Sir Gawain
importance of duty; battle against nature; contrast between demands of chivalry and courtly love; importance of storytelling; beheading game; time and the season; ending of Gawain (ambiguous); gender (woman are always part of man’s downfall)Issues of identity-he Green Knight as two figures in one (Sir Bertilak/the Knight); the crone who is really the sorceress Morgan le Fey and Gawain himself, who is crafted as a seeming paragon

Gawain Symbols
Shield:Pentangle- crafted by King Solomon in an endless knot of truth virtues ect. vs.

The Girdle- representation of overly-loved mortal life-Ambiguous ending

In what ways (thematically; formally) does Sir Gawain remind us of the earlier Anglo-Saxon literature that we have read?
Use of alliteration and the value of reputation during life and after death, and the importance of fate or the “Wheel of Fortune”, the idea that the Christian God could alter your life in a positive or negative way in a split second. Romance structure: adherence to chivalric code, abandonment for survival, retained so he doesn’t sleep with the lady and then proven Gawain is just a human being who is concerned above all else with his own life.

The Canterbury Tales
-5-stress line – foreshadows iambic pentameter-Chaucer responds to Continental writers from France, Italy, and Spain-printed about 75 years after C’s death (Caxton sets up printing press around 1472 and prints his first work in England, The Canterbury Tales, in 1479 and 1483)-Oral tradition of literature and public recitation, although works are increasingly read in manuscript form

Geoffery Chaucer
-example of the greater class fluidity in the period – born into a merchant’s family and became a civil servant. His son become a prominent citizen, and his daughter married an earl and a duke.

Spoke French and English, and schooled in Latin. Other works include “The Book of the Duchess”; “The House of Fame”; “The Parliament of Fowls”; and “Troilus and Criseyde.”-Thomas Hoccleve: “the firste fyndere of our fair langage.

“-John Lydgate referred to Chaucer as the “lodesterre … off our language.”

Chaucer was the first poet to be memorialized in
the Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey in 1400

Why are Chaucers work difficult to find a clear point in ?
Different elements were often mixed into the same work-result of his upbringing-embrace of prose and poetry, human and divine love, secular and religious topics/themes

Chaucer wrote one of the first Technical English Writings for his son called:
A Treatise on the Astrolabe-Gaveinstructions on how to use an astrolabe for stargazing

Conception of Canterbury Tales
1386, at a time when Chaucer lived in a location in which he could see the pilgrim road that led to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury- pilgramage provided structureFraming device influenced by Giovanni Boccaccio (The Decameron) and John Gower (Confesso Amantis)-TCT might be unfinished

TCT Themes
Church monopoly on literacy and knowledgeStirrings of the Protestant Reformation (i.e.

Lollards)Feudal system – social hierarchy – yet move towards greater class fluidity

Class of Characters
-First estate- The Knight and his son the Squire-Second Estate-Representatives of the church, including the Prioress, Monk, Friar, and Parson, as well as pilgrims who may enter church service, such as the Clerk. Loosely connected to the church, the Summoner (ecclesiastical court) and the Pardoner(dispenses papal pardons.)-Everyone else-the Merchant, the Franklin, the Doctor (of Physik), the Wife of Bath, the Manciple, the Reeve, and members of guilds including the Haberdasher, Carpenter, Weaver, Dyer, Tapestry Maker and the Host of the Tavern

When Sir Gawain returns to Camelot at the conclusion of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight he bears two marks of his dishonor on his body. One is the girdle, which he wears as a sash, the other is a ring given to him by Sir Bertilak’s lady.

In their introduction to Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), the Norton editors note that medieval society was held to be made up of three “estates”: the nobility, the church, and everyone else.

Yet they also note that social class was becoming much more fluid in this period.


Chaucer spoke English and French and was schooled in Latin, which served him well in his various roles as a page, diplomat, civil servant, and poet.

John Gower’s Confessio Amantis and Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron may have played an important role in inspiring Chaucer to create a collection of tales joined by a frame narrative

The characters in The Canterbury Tales are very similar to those in Boccaccio’s Decameron, who are all of the nobility.

The characters in The Canterbury Tales are very similar to those in Boccaccio’s Decameron, who are all of the nobility.

Many of the characters who are associated with the church are critiqued by Chaucer for their love of finery, drink, food, and even for their greed and hypocrisy.

The speaker of The Canterbury Tales (the poet/narrator) notes that he is at a __________________ when he starts the pilgrimage and encounters the other pilgrims.
Pilgrim Road

The first pilgrim who is described by the speaker is the____________, who “loved chivalrye.”

The end of Sir Gawain adheres to the conventional structure of the romance.

Abrams calls “the sustained allegory of ideas” in which “the central device is the personification of abstract entities such as virtues, vices, states of mind, modes of life, and types of characters” (7).-unknown author probably written after 1485