The Old English and the Middle English Period

The Old English or Anglo-Saxon Period (450–1150 A.D.)

During the Old English Period England was occupied by the Westgermanic tribes of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes and converted to Christianity. It is the period during which the Westgermanic dialects of the invaders merged to form the beginning of the English language.

Beowulf, which is said to be the first English epic, was made for oral performance by a scop (minstrel, singer) at festive meetings. It had been orally transmitted from the 7th or 8th century until it was finally written down around 1000 A.D. as a manuscript. It is an epic poem about the Danish King Hrothgar and Beowulf, the brave Geat (Gaute – die Gauten waren ein südschwedischer Stamm), who becomes King of the Geats and finally dies a heroic death fighting against a dragon.

  • The translation of BEDA VENERABILIS' Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Kirchengeschichte der Angelsaxen, 731 A.D.) also belongs to this period.
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives a survey of the events between the Anglo-Saxon settlement and the year 899 A.D.
  • The Battle of Maldon (about a battle fought against the Danes in 991 A.D.) and The Battle of Brunanburg describe episodes of Anglo-Saxon history in verse.

The Middle English Period (1150–1500)

It is the period following the Norman conquest in 1066. Literary novelties such as rhyme scheme and the romances were introduced through Norman-French influence. 116 romances about love and chivalric bravery are known from this period; they were written in verse, solely for entertainment. A popular subject of romances was ARTUS who is said to have led the Celts in their defence against the invading Angles and Saxons in the 5th century.

Based on the model of the Italian novella (BOCCACCIO; Decamerone; 1349–53) GEOFFREY CHAUCER´s The Canterbury Tales (1387–1400) is an outstanding literary work of this period. It is a framestory containing 23 stories written in heroic couplets. The stories are told by pilgrims of various medieval professions and trades. They have met to travel to the Shrine of Becket in Canterbury. To make their journey less tedious they agree to find out who of them is able to tell the best story.

The 29 pilgrims (the plan is not completed) are representatives of typical medieval social ranks and professions (e.g. a merchant, a ploughman, a weaver, a dyer, a friar, a squire); the reader gets to know them both as types and as individuals.

Stand: 2010
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