History of English Lit

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Medieval and Renaissance: The literary history of the period from the Norman Conquest (1066) to the Restoration (1660).

Medieval Romances - The main concerns of romance are adventure and love. Writers did not care to recreate a true picture of life but aimed to create idealized heroes with exciting adventures; the goal was to capture the attention of the audience. Dating back, epics were popular when societies were united. Heroes were realistic and their exploits treated seriously; they were not infallible. When society began to segregate, as in feudalism, heroic poetry lost appeal since there no longer was any uniting sentiment. Thus emerged the romance of novelty, sensationalism, and quest for adventure.

A.Jean Bodel’s division
1.Matter of France – Epic and early-romance prototypes mainly based on Charlemagne (Charles the Great) and his knights, or stories concerned with the struggle against the advancing Saracens. The chief of these Carlovingian cycles is the Chanson de Roland, the national epic, which celebrates the heroism of Roland in his last fight against the Saracens at Ronceval. 2.Matter of Rome – Classical legend; Medieval adaptations of themes first found in Virgil’s Aeneid about the adventures of “knights” who fled the fall of Troy and founded Rome, which the Britons thought they had some historic connection. The deeds of Alexander is the popular theme. 3.Matter of England – Arthurian stories or tales dealing with later knightly heroes. (The first of English romance, epic, and prose, which mainly concerns the Christian ideals, beliefs, and harmony with man and nature, human with the unhuman.) The point to remember is that, while the legends are Celtic in origin, their literary form is due to French poets, who originated the metrical romance. All early English romances are either copies or translations of the French; and this is true not only of the matter of France and Rome, but of Celtic heroes like Arthur, and English heroes like Robin Hood. a.Sir Gawain and the Greene Knight

1.Anonymous work, though the writer is usually referred to as the “Gawain-poet”. 2.Recounts the story of Gawain, one of the knights of the Round Table. Gawain condemns his lapse and failure but in the generous, knightly world, his imperfection can be excused as human folly, not condemned as a crime against chivalry. 3.The Gawain-poet offers a series of contrasts which help to call into question the idea of value itself. He suggests that the codes of Christian chivalry can help define the true path of human advance towards spiritual integrity. The girdle represents his token of fear and his loss of fidelity to the codes he holds most dear. It is, however, in this act of failure that Gawain discovers his fullest humanity and the true test of his knightly integrity. 4.Themes include: brotherly love, chivalry, Christian morality, honesty, fidelity, and courage. b.Pearl

1.Anonymous work, but from the same manuscript as Sir Gawain and the Greene Knight, presumed to be by the same author. 2.Contrasts the human world with a dream vision; describes an ideal, perfect world. 3.A religious poem, in which a jeweler laments for a pearl he has lost (also presumed to be his lost daughter) and dreams of meeting her as queen of heaven. It is an intensely human and realistic picture of a father’s grief for his lost daughter.

Literary Terms
A.Fabliau – A short comic or satiric tale in verse dealing realistically with middle-class or lower-class characters and delighting in the ribald. It flourished in France in the 12th and 13th century and became popular in England during the 14th century. Chaucer wrote one of the greatest serious short stories in verse, called “The Pardoner’s Tale” (the account of Death and the Rioters) and one of the best fabliaux, the hilarious “Miller’s Tale”. B.Lyric – Any fairly short poem, uttered by a single speaker, who expresses a state of mind or a process of perception, thought and feeling. Many...
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