Medieval English Literature

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Medieval English Literature (ca 700-1485)

Those Who Pray, Work, and Fight
|It is well known that in this world |and defend our land against an invading army. | |there are three orders, set in unity: |Now the farmer works to provide our food, | |these are laboratores, oratores, bellatores. |And the worldly warrior must fight against our foes, | |Laboratores are those who labor for our living; |and the servant of God must always pray for us | |Oratores are those who plead for our peace with God; |and fight spiritually against invisible foes. . . . | |Bellatores are those who battle to protect our towns | |

Adalbero, bishop of Laon, Poem for King Robert, c.1025; edited by C. Carozzi, Poème au roi Robert.

The Medieval Age: “the middle age” or “mediaeum aevum” between two classical periods: 1: ancient Greece and Rome 2: Renaissance , roughly 500-1500. Middle Ages: starts with Caedmon’s Hymn (end of 7th century) and extends to Everyman (beginning of the 16th century), The age of print → William Caxton’s History Of Troy (1473 or 74). Middle ages ends with accession of Henry VII to the throne in 1485. • The term was applied to the Middle Ages by the humanists who regarded the Middle Ages as dark ages, void of classical knowledge and sophistication. Barbaric in this sense. • Middle Ages [pic]

Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Period

• The period from the sixth to the elevent centuries → the period following the fall of Roman Empire. It starts with Anglo-Saxon migration (449) • Anglo-Saxons consisted of three tribes
1. The Angles
2. The Saxons
3. The Jutes (they were of the same origin, spoke different dialects of a common language.

Germanic society was organised by the families

• Family formed an independent political entity.
• Later a number of families united under a single superior chieftain or king (Old Germanic name for chief) • There were many kings coexisting within the common culture: a characteristic of migratory people

The king (chief, leader) had a group of people (his retainers, thanes)

Comitatus (retinue or following): the warband. In the Battle of Maldon : Our minds must be stronger, Our hearts/Braver, our courage higher, As our numbers/ Shrink (312-314)

For these people the ideal of kingly behaviour was very important, it was the creative power that formed their history and literature. It is called the

[pic]

The ideal was only appropriate for the Kings, although all the more important members of the tribe tended to imitate it. In general it was aristocratic (restricted to the king and his immediate retainers) The king tried to do better than anyone else • To sail a ship through a storm

• To swim a river or a bay
• To tame a horse
• To choose a campsite and set firm defenses
• To plow a field or build a hall (in times of peace)
• Above all to fight (skill and courage were the primary qualities of a king) • To lead in battle and sustain in peace.

A successful king won complete loyalty from his retainers
• The retainers
• Defended the king in battle
• Gave up their lives while defending or avenging his
• The king in return
• Gave his retainers gifts from the spoil that had been accumulated in war • This is called [pic].
• Royal generosity symbolised the excellence of the king’s rule. It symbolised that the retainers deserved what they were given because of their loyalty to their king, and that the king himself was worthy of their loyalty.

The heroic ideal provided practical success for the king, but more importantly it would win [pic] • They were pagans and a name(fame) that would live after one’s death was the substitute...
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