The Middle Ages (5th to 15th century)
From the collapse of Roman Empire (476) to the Renaissance This age can be roughly divided into two periods: (1) Anglo-Saxon Period: (The Old English) (2) Anglo-Norman Period (Middle English)--- as a result of Norman conquest (1066) of the island.
Chapter Ⅰ The Anglo-Saxon Period (450-1066)
? (1) The earliest settlers of the British Isles were the Celts; The early inhabitants---Britons, a tribe of Celts. “Britain”, the land of Britons. ? (2) 43-ca.420 Roman invasion and occupation of Britain ? (3) ca. 450 Anglo-Saxon Conquest ? (4) 597 St. Augustine arrives in Kent; beginning of Anglo-Saxon conversion to Christianity ? (5) 871-899 Reign of King Alfred
? The Anglo-Saxon Occupation: The native Britons (Celts) were finally confined to the mountainous region of Wales where the modern form of their language is spoken alongside English to this day. In defeat, the Britons produced a body of stories revolving a legendary ruler called Arthur who had fought heroically against the Anglo-Saxon invaders.
? (1). Northumbria： ? An Anglo-Saxon kingdom of northern England formed in the seventh century by the union of Bernicia and Deira, Angle kingdoms originally established c. a.d. 500. Much of Northumbria fell to invading Danes in the ninth century and was annexed to Wessex in 954.
? (2) Caedmon: ? The earliest English poet. According to Bede, he was an elderly herdsman who received the power of song in a vision. died c. 680 ? (3) Bede (673?-735) ? Anglo-Saxon theologian and historian whose major work, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation (731), written in Latin, remains an important source of ancient English history. He introduced the method of dating events from the birth of Christ.
? (1). Wessex: ? A region and ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of southern England. According to tradition, the kingdom was founded by the Saxon conquerors of Britain and at its greatest extent occupied the territory between the English Channel and the Thames River. ? (2) King Alfred ? Known as “the Great.” (849-899) ? King of the West Saxons (871-899), scholar, and lawmaker who repelled the Danes and helped consolidate England into a unified kingdom.
King Alfred’s Contribution to English Language & British Literature
? In the 9th century, the Christian Anglo-Saxons were invaded by the Danes. The Danes occupied the northern part of the island. They were stopped by Alfred, King of the West Saxons from 871 till 899, who for a time united all the kingdoms of southern England. ? Alfred translated various works from Latin. Practically all of Old English poetry is preserved in copies made in the West Saxon dialect after the reign of Alfred.
The two poetic features of old English poetry: ? 1. Alliteration: The repetition of the same consonant sounds or of different vowel sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables. ? 2. Kenning (比喻的复合词): A figurative, usually compound expression used in place of a name or noun, especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry; for example, storm of swords is a kenning for battle.
? (metaphors and understatements). For example, the sea is called "the whale-road" or "the swan road"; the soldiers are called "shield-men"; the chieftains are called the "treasure keepers"; human-body is referred to as "the bone- house"; God is called "wonder-wielder "; monster is referred to as "soul-destroyer".
? Beowulf: The legendary hero of an anonymous Old English epic poem believed to have been composed in the early eighth century. ? The first major poem in a European vernacular language; ? Major plot: two major events; Beowulf slays the monster Grendel and its mother, becomes king of the Geats, and dies fighting a dragon. ? The values conveyed by the work: courage, loyalty, love of honor
? Episode 1 - Prologue ? Episode 2 - Grendel Attacks ? Episode 3 - Beowulf Comes to Herot ? Episode 4 - Grendel Meets Beowulf ? Episode 5 - The Speeches ? Episode 6 - The Queen Speaks & The Attack of Grendel's Mother
? Episode 7 - The Expedition to Grendel's Mere （lake） ? Episode 8 - Meanwhile, Up Above ? Episode 9 - Beowulf Becomes King / Enter The Dragon ? Episode 10 - Beowulf's reign and preparation to meet the Dragon ? Episode 11 - Beowulf Fights the Dragon ? Episode 12 - The Death of Beowulf
Chapter Ⅱ The Norman Period (1066-1350)
? 1066 Norman Conquest ? 1200 Beginnings of Middle English literature ? 1336 Edward Ⅲ began the One Hundred -Year -War ? 1348 The Black Death
? Anglo-Saxon speech simplified itself by dropping of its Teutonic inflections. It absorbed large part of French vocabulary.
? The church had a monopoly of literature during much of the Middle Ages.
? Romance: The bright, romantic tales of love and adventure were in contrast with the strength and somberness of AngloSaxon poetry. ? Adventures ? Chivalry
A Brief Survey
? This period covers about four centuries. In the early part of the period, i. e. from 1066 up to the mid-14th century, there is not much to say about literature in English. It is almost a barren period in literary creation.
From second half of the 14th century onward
? But in the second half of the 14th century, English literature starts to flourish with the appearance of writers like G. Chaucer, W. Langland, J. Gower, and others. In comparison with Old English literature, Middle English literature is uttered by more voices, deals with a wider range of subjects and is in a greater diversity of styles, tones and genres.
? Popular folk literature also occupies an important place in this period. Its presentation of life is not only accurate but also in a lively and colorful way, though the originality of thought is often absent in the literary works of this period. ? Robinhood
Medieval Christian doctrine
? Besides, Middle English literature strongly reflects the principles of the medieval Christian doctrine, which are primarily concerned with the issue of personal salvation.
Christ, love, introspection
? An emphasis has also been placed on the humanity of Christ and the imagery of human passion. Love has largely superseded fear; and explorations into undiscovered regions of the heart offer fresh possibilities for introspection.
? But according to the Christian orthodoxy, the life in this world is only a preparatory stage for eternal happiness, a period of suffering and repenting for man.
lack of originality
? By providing forbearance （忍耐） as the only answer for man’s troubles and considering the reformation of this world neither possible nor desirable, this religious idealism does more harm than good to the common people. The lack of originality in Middle English literature is partly due to this Christian teaching.
Essential Features of the Romance
? The romance was the prevailing form of literature in the Middle Ages. It was a long composition, sometimes in verse, sometimes in prose, describing the life and adventures of a noble hero. Its essential features are:
Features of romance
? a. It lacks general resemblance to truth or reality. ? b. It exaggerates the vices of human nature and idealizes the virtues. ? c. It contains perilous adventures more or less remote from ordinary life. ? d. It lays emphasis on supreme devotion to a fair lady.
? e. The central character of the romance is the knight, a man of noble birth, skilled in the use of weapons. He is commonly described as riding forth to seek adventures, taking part in tournaments, or fighting for his lord in battle. He is devoted to the church and the king.
? 2) Romance Cycles ? The enormous number of the romances fall into three cycles or three groups: the “matters of Britain”, the “matters of France”, and the “matters of Rome”.
? a. The matters of France deal largely with the exploits of Charlemagne*, often known as Charles the Great, King of Frank and Emperor of the West Empire. The famous romance of this group is Chanson de Roland. *Charlemagne :查理曼大帝(742-814, 世称 Charles the
Great或Charles I, 768-814为法兰克王, 800-814为西罗 马帝国皇帝)
? b. The Matters of Rome deal with tales from Greek and Roman sources. Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), King of Macedonia and conqueror of Greece, Egypt, India and Persian Empire is the favorite hero of this group. Besides this, Trojan War is also dealt within this group.
? c. The matters of Britain mainly deal with the exploits of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. The most interesting of all Arthurian romances are those of the Gawain cycle. The story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the culmination of the Arthurian romances. ? Frame tale
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
? The story: feast-challenge-exchange of battle-ax blows-quest journey to keep promise-the green chapel- the green castlethe hunter and his wife- agreement-first day: a kiss –second day: a ring-third day: the green girdle- duel-Gawain hurt and acquisition of the girdle.
? Morgan le Fay: conspiracy ? The color green: jealousy ? The hunter and the green knight ? The number three ? Why Gawain is hurt ? The Magic of the girdle
About the author
? Anonymous (Chaucer’s contemporary) ? alliterative verse form was old fashioned even in his own day ? his dialect, that of Northwest England, is also very difficult for the modern readers ? However, the poem is an account of a typical chivalric adventure
? an amalgam of a number of the best-known motifs of Arthurian romance -- a challenge by a mysterious superhuman knight, a bargain, which turns out to have unforeseen consequences; a lone quest; an attempted seduction of a Christian knight by a bewitching temptress.
? Its theme is a series of tests on faith, courage, purity and human weakness for self-preservation. The story presents a profoundly Christian view of man’s character and his destiny. By placing selfprotection before honor, and deceit before his trust in the love of God, Gawain has sinned and fallen and become an image of Adam.
? courtly romances also married to archetypal folk myths and to religion. ? Human excellence is marred by original sin and courtly values alone are no protection. Though Gawain can hope to be excused, the girdle itself remains a perpetual reminder of his weakness.
? The motif of the Green Knight’s headcutting might originate in ancient vegetation myth in which the beheading would have been a ritual death to ensure a rebirth in the following spring.
? There is a very clear structure in the poem with a prologue, an epilogue and its main body. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is undoubtedly a romance told with the purpose of portraying ideal character in action. A human character with weakness and a sense of shame: Full of shame, Gawain throws back the gift and ready to atone for his deception. The Green Knight thinks that he has already atoned, so presents the girdle to him as a gift. 2013-7-20 40
? Alliteration ? ? vgly bodi ? bledde; at at ? Moni on of hym had doute, ? Bi ? his resounz were redde. at
"In good faith," said Gawain, "I would gain too much! Though I am hardly he of whom you are speaking -the honor you outline is obviously more than what I am worth -- and how well I know it! 2013-7-20 42
By God! I'd be glad if it seemed good to you to assign some other service I might do to value and revere you; I'd be very glad." "In good faith, Sir Gawain!" she gaily replied.
"If I prized the prowess that pleases all others so little or so lightly, I'd be less than gracious! There is no lack of ladies who'd love so very much to have one so handsome held as I have you,
who'd be so glad to listen as your gracious speech softened their sorrows and soothed all their cares that they would gladly give all the gold they have!
? But I praise the Prince whose place is in heaven that I have right here what others hope to see by grace!"
? She'd such a cheerful air who seemed to sweet of face, but he with spotless care answered every case.