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History of English Literature- The Middle English Period

Updated: Aug 14, 2021


The Normans crossed France won the Battle of Hastings and took over the English Kingdom (William the Conqueror and his generation). People started using bilingualism (French and English). Most works were written and read in French widely around the 12th and 14th Centuries. After 1204, a lot of French words entered the English language, and a desire to use the English language began. Chaucer’s English developed from French.

Layamon’s Brut is the first national epic in English. It is also known as The Chronicles of British. This work has materials from many sources from the tales of the Dark ages, two centuries between the departure of Romans at the beginning of the 5th Century and the 1st traces of the Britons. He takes the story up to the arrival of Saint Augustine, the first bishop of Canterbury in 599, telling the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The Wife’s Lament and Wulf and Eadwacer are Old English love poems.

Women writers during the period are Marie de France from England (12th Century) has written 12 Lias (a brief romantic poem that ends in a couplet) and a series of short romances based on unwritten Breton songs; Hrotsvitha from Europe (10th Century) has written Ancrene Wisse also known as Ancrene Rewle, a book of advice how to live; Christian de Pisan from France was the first woman to be a professional full-time writer. Her works include Book of the City of Ladies (in it she comments on Lamentations of Mathe`olus, a misogynic satire which is also mentioned by the Wife of Bath), Moral Proverbs of Christine (translated by Anthony Woodville) this was the first book written by a woman that got published in printed format in England by Caxton (1478) and Margery Kempe’s The Book of Margery Kempe (she dictated this work to 2 men because she can neither read nor write).

Famous fantasies of the period are Sir Orfeo and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight both the works take the fantasy element to new heights. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight shows chivalric tradition, it has 101 stanzas all ends in a four and a half-line. The later mid-texts mostly have a sense of optimism and high spirits.

The travel books of the period: 1st book on travel is Travels (1356-1357) written In Anlo- French it is said that this book may be written by Sir John Mandeville, a French Historian or by Jean d`Outremeuse. This book takes readers as far as Tartary, Persia, India, and Egypt (this has more fantasy than facts) contains geographic details.

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