dominated by restrictions resulting from
the feudal system. While the rest of Europe
experienced the Renaissance, Anglo-
Saxon art and literature failed to develop
under repressive Norman rule.
the Wars of the Roses had concluded and the
Tudor family gained firm control of the monarchy;
and around 1450, Middle English literature became
an important art form, soon to dominate the English
Renaissance. The arrival of the printing press from
Germany helped make England "land of the poets."
Folk Ballads were part of the oral tradition.
The traditional ballad was an anonymous poem
that was mainly intended to be heard, not read.
The modern ballad has a known author and is
either published and intended to be read as
formal literature or serves as the lyrics for
involving the ill-fated king's ship. Upon an
old knight's suggestion, Spens is told he
must take the king's ship out at a very
dangerous time of year. An interesting
aspect of the ballad is the mystery over
Spen's talents: was he really the best sailor
ridicule the lengths people will
go to win an argument, especially
a married couple. Both characters
are far too stubborn to say the first
word because of a bet. As a result,
intruders abuse them and they
willingly suffer the consequences.
be nothing more than an Aesop-like fable.
However, as the two birds discuss the
unburied knight, they make numerous
dismal implications of death which emerge
for us to ponder and leave us to conclude
"how the mighty have fallen."
"headstrong" Barbara Allen. Slighted
by her lover, she wishes him dead.
Time compression allows him to die
quickly, throwing Barbara into a state
of suicidal remorse. This rapid mood
swing appears somewhat unrealistic.
an English romance based on the
legends of King Arthur. It is one of
the key works representing the
Alliterative Revival, a literary
movement combining the Old
English alliterative structure
with ballad rhyme. The technique
was called the "bob and wheel."
Arthur's sister, using magic, challenges
the knights of the Round Table to an
unfair contest. The central focus turns
on Sir Gawain when he stands up to
take Arthur's place. After his "free swing,"
he promises a reunion in one year's time,
to lose his own head. During this year,
he "comes of age" as a true knight.
was constructed by combining old Irish
"beheading" and "vegetation" myths with the
Authorian romance. Thus, a modern hero has
been produced: Gawain may show weakness
and makes mistakes, but learns from his
experiences to become a better knight. In the
end, all of the knights of the round table wear
a green sash, sharing in Gawain's humility.
Italy, Chaucer learned about the vast literary
developments of the Renaissance. Upon
his return to England, he "borrowed" the
idea of The Decameron, a frame story with
one hundred tales. Chaucer's frame would
include 24 stories (or anecdotes) of the
projected 100 plus he intended to tell.
away from the plague. Chaucer used a more
positive vehicle involving a pilgrimage to Canter-
bury, during which a group of middle class travelers
amused themselves in a story-telling contest. The
frame runs beyond the "Prologue," linking the
individual stories and adding narrative elements.
the characters. These characters represent
every aspect of the emerging middle class,
so their attitudes and opinions were as im-
portant as their appearances and actions.
Also, they serve the dual function of narrator
and character, for a character's tale would be
an extension of his or her personality. They
would form the basis of the most important
work in Middle English.
weakness of vanity, but the central characters
are a rooster and a fox, not humans. The super-
stitions related to the importance of premonitions
or dreams are treated with slight satire as the tale
progresses. Still, the most humorous aspect of
the tale is its mock epic aspects: Chanticleer is
a rooster with a highly inflated ego. Chaucer exits
the tale with a hint of male vanity: never take a
with a lesson or moral. In this case, "greed
is the root of all evil." In ironic fashion, a trio
of drunken fools seeks death and eventually
finds it in their own self-destruction. The
tale's only complex element is a mysterious
old man who directs them to the fatal pot of
gold. Was he just an old man, unwanted by
death, or was he death itself?
Malory translated countless French romance
tales of King Arthur and rewrote them into nine
prose volumes, calling volume nine and the
whole set Morte D'Arthur. These nine volumes
have been the basis of all post-medieval tales
of King Arthur and the Round Table, from the
poetry of Tennyson to current films.
must battle his son Mordred for control
of all England. Lacking chivalry, Arthur
arranges a treaty, simply to restrain
his son until help can arrive. However,
an accident occurs and Arthur, ignoring
a warning from his dream, destroys
himself and his son in a massive battle.
Malory's plot suggests that all of this was
most of its characters represent something
else, usually an abstracted virtue or quality.
An example is "Knowledge" who is one of
"Everyman's" friends, but represents what
any man learns thoroughout his life. When
the unprepared Everyman is taken to meet
God, he learns that only Good Deeds have
meaning in the afterlife.
version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
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