Old English 449-1066
Middle English (1066-1485)
Modern English (1485 (ascension of Henry VII to the English throne) to the present day)
THE ANGLOSAXON INVASION. Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC (The Celts were living in Britain and offered stiff resistance). In 43 AD the Roman conquest was concluded under Emperor Claudius, but the Romans did not reach the North. Early in the 5th century the evacuation of the Romans was completed. Bede talks about the invasion of Angles, Saxons & Jutes, that took place around AD 449. They came originally to help one of the kings & then decided to stay.
ANGLO-SAXON LITERARY CULTURE. A long oral tradition developed when the Germanic tribes still inhabited the European continent. Early German poetry was composed & recited by the scop. At court feasts the scop would sing the deeds of real or legendary heroes. These illustrious figures were part of the legacy which the Anglo-Saxon invaders brought with them to England. With the conversion of England to Christianity things became different. THE COMING OF CHRISTIANITY. English history begins in the year 597: the Roman & Irish Missionaries taught the English how to write. The Missionaries brought with them parchment (the skin of an animal prepared for writing on), pen & ink & the custom of writing literary compositions down & also the roman alphabet. The English of heathen times knew how to write, they brought from the continent a runic alphabet of 24 letters, & they added others later. No English poem has been preserved in runic inscription (too expensive). It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the coming of Christianity to England. The new religion brought Mediterranean civilization to the island. Monasteries at Canterbury, York & Jarrow were internationally esteemed for their Latin & Greek scholarship. Literature had been transmitted orally but now the clerics put the works in writing. The problem was that the clerics generally preserved only the materials they considered useful to Christianity. So they either used Christian material or tried to fit subjects of pagan derivation into the framework of the Christian universe. Besides copying Latin manuscripts, clerics began to create original compositions both in Latin & in the English vernacular.
Verse patterns. The poetic line, which was really 2 half-lines separated by a distinct pause, contained 4 accented syllables & a varying number of unaccented syllables. It rarely used end rhyme, but regularly used a system of alliteration. This alliteration came to England from their German forefathers & it involved the initial sounds, whether vowels or consonants, of the 4 stressed syllables. As a rule 3 of the stressed syllables were alliterated, & it was the initial sound of the 3rd accented syllable that normally determined the alliteration. Poetical devices: alliteration, rhythm, kenning & variation. Rhythm was achieved by a process of metrical heightening & lowering. Only a syllable that took a main stress was subject to metrical heightening & only the one that lacked stress was subject to metrical lowering. Probably the singer used different pitch patterns (Baugh 23)
But rhythm & alliteration were not the only poetic devices. In order to achieve variety, as well as to suggest important attributes of his subject, the scop would frequently introduce a kind of metaphor called the kenning, a compound of two terms used in place of a common word; a two member circumlocution for an ordinary noun.
Variation: the use of equivalents for poetical purposes, for ex, “Wiglaf spoke, the son of Wihstan”; “Widsith spoke, [he] unlocked the word-hoard.” (“word-hoard” is a kenning for mouth). All these stylistic features did not have in English the luxuriant growth that they had in Iceland (Baugh 30)
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