Medieval English Verse (Classics)

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Poetry Plays. About Brian Stone. Brian Stone.

10 Short Medieval Poems Everyone Should Read

Books by Brian Stone. Trivia About Medieval English No trivia or quizzes yet. For a short guide to rhyme, click here , and for a short guide to meter, click here. In Medieval England, the term literatus distinguished those who could read but not necessarily write Latin. There was no particular term for the "lay-literate," who read and wrote Middle English.

Until around , Middle English was of interest only to craftsmen and peasants--the language of English court culture and law was Norman French, and the language of Christian religion was Latin. Popular vernacular literacy becomes more common in the century after Chaucer's death, especially after Caxton begins printing in English c.

Marlowe, Jonson, Raleigh and Shakespeare Speak Across Time

By , vernacular literacy in London becomes common enough that servants in Congreve's The Way of the World can read the titles of books, though they are not particularly "well-read. Middle and Early Modern English literature was almost entirely intended for oral performance. Even solitary readers tended to read aloud to themselves and experienced literature as something "spoken to them by the book" rather than something imagined by the eyes.

Non-literate people could experience and remember surprising amounts of literature by listening to their literate friends reading aloud.


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See Margery Kempe , who "wrote" her book by dictating to scribes though she quite probably was illiterate. Modern readers should practice reading early literature aloud to resolve difficult passages and to test interpretations of their significance. In practical criticism of early literature, either the narrator's public recital of the text before an audience, or the modern reader's attempt to recreate, mentally, that experience. The interpreter asks "why is it beautiful"? In dramatic criticism, a text can be "interpreted" by the performer who recites it i. From Homer to the authors of Beowulf , "Battle of Maldon," and "Caedmon's Song," these illiterate singers usually sang epic verse in praise of great men and women, and occasionally condemned the bad behavior of miscreants e.

Medieval poets of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, under the influence of Arab-speaking poets, discovered a new language and purpose for literature in romances and lyric poems that celebrated heteroerotic and homoerotic human emotions, especially love, hate, jealousy, and despair, all feelings that would have felt unspeakably alien to the world of epic praise and blame.

Verse satire's assault upon criminal and foolish behavior originated in Greek and Roman literature, and it appears to have spread mainly in Latin literature during the Medieval period, breaking into Middle English at the margins literally, in short poems in the margins of more serious, longer ones and then arising as a formal poetic function in works like Chaucer's "Wife of Bath's Prologue" and Parliament of Foules , and Langland's Vision of Piers Plowman.

Didactic moral instruction in drama emerged in the ninth through the sixteenth century in the "morality" allegorical moral drama and the "mystery" dramatized biblical narrative. Near the end of the Early Modern period, the spread of mass literacy led authors to experiment with descriptions of the experiences of people in all levels of society.

Most readers begin their careers using an unexamined set of aesthetic rules they have inherited from their cultural moment, though there is some debate about whether individual readers can "invent" an aesthetic rule without receiving it from the literature from which they learn to read, but at some point, competent readers and especially poets begin to collaborate with the given rules to forge new ones based on their psychological and physiological responses to what they read and write.

Learning another culture's aesthetics can be one of the most satisfying achievements of the study of early literature. In Old English and Middle English verse, stress often was emphasized by alliteration repeating initial consonant sounds. Scholars debate when English poets began to measure or "meter" their verse by syllable length , but the dividing point between poets who did and poets who didn't occurs between Chaucer's time and Surrey's Common in Old English poetry as a means of avoiding mere repetition when composing oral-formulaic verse. Until Dante, epics always were about warrior-heroes.

Click here for some other stylistic features of epic poems. Stanzas are described in terms of their number of lines, their meter, and their rhyme scheme, as in the English sonnet: fourteen lines of iambic pentameter rhyming ababcdcdefefgg. Many other variations, obviously, are possible. Think about how a clever poet might invent the sonnet's architecture by playing math games with the basic rhyming couplet.

See the rhyming couplet, balade and stanza definitions above for examples. The simplest possible stanza form, rhyming couplets also can be complete poems in themselves, or they can be concluding or internal devices to bring closure to a longer lyric e. The following rhyming couplet is the entire poem, "To His Book's End," by Robert Herrick from Hesperides and Noble Numbers , , with the rhymes highlighted in red :.

see

Old English literature

To his book's end this last line he'd have placed :. Topics usually derived from the "lover's complaint," but could be extended to philosophical and political topics, as in Chaucer's balades. Click here for the first stanza of "Truth" with the rhyme scheme in color.

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The "middle class" of modern culture arose from peasants who mastered crafts and emerging technologies, often established in guilds of the cities the "bourgs," whence the "bourgeoisie" and Star Trek's "Borg" who parody the way collectivist city-dwellers must have seemed to the hierarchically-organized feudal nobles. Estates satire captures traditional behaviors and attitudes attributed to the three estates, and to the peasant craftsmen and guildsmen. The satire usually combines corrective allegations of criminal behavior "Juvenalian" with more gentle satire of the human weaknesses we may tolerate "Horatian".

The modern "estates satire" is the "doctor" or "lawyer joke. The English teacher tried to swim ashore and was devoured. The lawyer jumped in and paddled safely to shore. The priest shouted over to him, "Why didn't they eat you? Often, tales told reveal frame characters' hidden desires and motives, but in other instances the frame is more like a device to incorporate the widest variety of tale-types and to excuse the author from some responsibility for the tales' content "I'm just telling you what they told me"--also see Chaucer.

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Such distorted narratorial points of view also can be called "unreliable narrators" famously, the possibly hallucinating governess in Henry James' Turn of the Screw. The term was invented by Wayne Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction , where you also can find other terms helpful for studying fiction, like implied author Chaucer's "fat, dumpy and stupid" authorial persona , implied audience i. Most non-professional readers are not very alert to the presence of implied narrators, which has led to gross misreading of great works like the Canterbury Tales and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn implied author, Mark Twain, the fictional persona of Samuel Langhorne Clemons; implied narrator, Huckleberry Finn, a lying, rebellious, racist child; implied audience, "good people" of pre-Civil-War America, who Huck expects to be snobbish, Christian, and racist.

Middle English Period : English Before Chaucer

Often, the deviant sexual or criminal behaviors are not punished, but the audience may be invited to see the plot as satirizing the characters who commit them. The modern "dirty joke" often resembles a fabliau with a shrunken plot. The parodic spirit may not be overtly "humorous," but may rather be intended seriously to draw attention to the original model's potential significance for a later audience. Not all works of literature have "plots," but those which do either operate as a narrative "telling" or merely imply such a narrative by indirect reference e.

For instance, Some events in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby are told to us in the simple past tense of the narrator, Nick Carraway, which means they follow the unmodified chronology of his memory of a stream of time, whereas other events are told to us in "past imperfect," the tense indicating the speaker is not specifying exactly when in the past events occurred.

Those past imperfect events, like things his father once told him or things he heard previously about Jordan Baker, relate uneasily to the ordinary narrative flow's claim to be truthful. If we did not distinguish between the plot and how it was told to us, describing that effect would be difficult. Forster's attempt to distinguish between "flat," undeveloped, minimalist characters whose behaviors are highly predictable Roadrunner and Coyote , and "round," highly developed, evolving characters who can grow and learn during a plot's development, and who may never be fully knowable.

Aspects of the Novel , Romance plots typically take place in an oscillation between the court and the forest, the world of medieval feudal politics and the world of mystery or the marvelous. Sometimes, as when a giant green knight rides into Arthur's court and challenges the knights to cut off his head, the two worlds cross paths rather directly.

Erotic relationships between the knights and ladies frequently turn on issues of betrayal and loyalty worked out in circumstances which complicate following the conventions which courtly behavior dictates.

Medieval English Verse by Brian Stone

A famous early example in Latin is St. Authors writing pseudo-autobiography actually may be incorporating parts of their real lives into the fiction, but the persona q. C1 CE and the advent of Continental Humanism, which tended to encourage education of women and their treatment as equals. Building upon Paul's basic assumptions that women were "daughters of Eve," weak and pliable and dangerous to men's souls, influential early Church fathers like Jerome Adversus Jovinianum and Theophrastus Liber aureolus de nuptiis built their theology around a gendered universe in which the feminine was secondary, weak, earthly, and removed from the primary, strong, heavenly masculine power of the Deity.

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The most famous exposition of these ideas in Middle English, though satirizing their validity, is the "Wife of Bath's Prologue," which summarizes them in Jankyn's husband 5's "book of wykked wyves. Huckleberry Finn usually is cited as such a character because in the first chapter of his eponymous novel he talks about his "creator" and about his previous appearance in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as if he were an actor talking about a previous part rather than a character unaware of the readers.

So-called "realism effects" also have been noted in the frame narrative of Canterbury Tales e. The most commonly known collection of beast fables in the Anglo-European tradition are those attributed to the African Aesop, a perhaps legendary 6th-century Roman slave.

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