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English Literature. The Anglo-Saxon & The Medieval Period (Old English and Middle English). The Celts in Britain. Before and during the 4th century B.C. Britain home to several Celtic tribes Britain named for one Celtic tribe—the Brythons The other tribe-the Gaels-settled in Ireland

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English literature

English Literature

The Anglo-Saxon &

The Medieval Period

(Old English and Middle English)

The celts in britain
The Celts in Britain

Before and during the 4th century B.C.

  • Britain home to several Celtic tribes

  • Britain named for one Celtic tribe—the Brythons

  • The other tribe-the Gaels-settled in Ireland

  • Farmers and hunters

  • Celtic religion a form of animism

  • Druids were Celtic priests

Social structure
Social Structure

  • Celtic tribes

    • 20-30 tribes, each with a king

    • people worked on their family’s farm

    • trained Druids were important in religious life

    • women could be soldiers and leaders

      • Queen Boadicea fought the Romans

Roman invasion
Roman Invasion

55 B.C.

  • Julius Caesar invades Britain

  • Latin is spoken

    A.D. 43

  • Celts defeated by Claudius

  • Romans build walls, villas, baths, roads

  • The Britons were absorbed into Roman society

    A.D. 409

  • Romans evacuate their troops

  • Central government breaks down

  • Britain left vulnerable to attack

  • Often noted as the beginning of the “Dark Ages”

Anglo saxons

  • 449 AD-People from northern Europe begin a series of invasions

  • Anglo-Saxons (Angles and Saxons)

    • bring Germanic languages

    • Beginnings of Old English the first language recognized as “English”

Woden--father of the gods

Anglo saxon society
Anglo-Saxon Society

  • Kinship groups led by strong warrior chief

  • People farmed

  • Establishment of local governments

  • Fine craftwork produced

  • English emerged as a written language (first time stories are written down)

Anglo saxon religion
Anglo-Saxon Religion

  • Offered no hope of an afterlife

  • Valued earthly virtues of bravery, loyalty, generosity, friendship

  • Similar to Norse mythology

  • Odin=Woden from which we get Wednesday

Anglo saxon bards
Anglo-Saxon Bards

  • Called scops

  • Strummed harp as they sang songs and stories of heroic deeds

  • Since A-S didn’t believe in afterlife-warriors gained immortality through songs

English literature

  • By 600, Anglo-Saxons conquer the Britons

    • language becomes more Germanic

      • still retains some Latin

  • The Anglo-Saxons’ two urgings--war and wandering become part of the oral tradition

    • Beowulf is an example of an Anglo-Saxon hero tale

Beowulf battles Grendel’s mother

English literature

  • By 700, Christian missionaries arrive to convert the pagans

  • Latin (the language of the Church) returns

  • 800-900 AD Vikings invadefrom Denmark and Norway

  • King Alfred-878 AD

    -Organizes the Britons to counter attacks by Vikings

    -Considered first true king of the Britons

    • period of prosperity

    • England becomes a nation

King Alfred brings an age of prosperity

End of anglo saxon period
End of Anglo-Saxon Period

  • In 1066, the Normans (French speaking people from Normandy in France), led by William the Conqueror, attack and defeat the English at the Battle of Hastings

-the 3rd language is introduced—French

-French culture and French literature arrives

William duke of normandy
William, Duke of Normandy

  • Defeats Anglo-Saxons

  • Confiscates Anglo-Saxon lands

  • Excludes Anglo-Saxon lords from court

  • Introduces feudalism as a social/economic system.

  • Beginning of “middle English” a combination of Old English, Old French, and Latin

Norman conquest marks beginning of medieval period
Norman Conquest Marks Beginning of Medieval Period

  • Medieval is an English word that is based on the Latin “medium aevum” which means “middle ages”

  • The “middle ages” is the middle period of history (antiquity, middle ages, modern times)

  • Generally covers the period between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance.

The magna carta 1215
The Magna Carta (1215)

  • Some barons rebel against King John

    • High taxes

    • Costly wars

    • Loss of property

  • He was forced to sign The Magna Carta

    • Limited the power of the king

    • Barons could overrule king’s rulings

    • Right to trial

The black death 1348
The Black Death-1348

Spreads along trade routes

Kills 1/3 to 1/2 of the population

Plague outbreaks occur through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance

  • Paradoxically, the Plague provides for continued growth in cities

    • Afterwards, hundreds of new jobs available

    • Many debts “died off” with creditors

  • also contributed to society’s culture

Peasant s revolt 1381
Peasant’s Revolt-1381

  • Black Death kills so many that workers are in demand, so lords agree to pay peasants to work

  • Peasants afraid this will be taken away as more labor is available

  • Wars were expensive and paid for by taxing peasants

  • Captured the Tower of London, killed bishop of Canterbury and National Treasurer before being dispursed

Welcome to england and the english an island of peoples languages and divisions
Welcome to England and the English…an island of peoples, languages, and divisions...

Latin -- church, schools

French -- court, castle

English -- commoners

The White Tower in London…

part of William’s legacy

Chartres Cathedral

What was it like to live in the middle ages some overarching principles that governed medieval life

What was it like to live in the Middle Ages?Some Overarching Principles that Governed Medieval Life

The great chain of being
The Great Chain of Being

  • Name given to the ancient belief in the unchangeable order of the universe from the highest spiritual beings (God) to the lowest inanimate objects (dirt)

  • Supported the belief that people were born into their place (estate) and were meant to stay there by God’s will.

The three estates in the middle ages
The Three Estates in the Middle Ages

Estates viewed as the natural order of society:

  • Clergy

    • Latin chiefly spoken, those who pray, purpose was to save everyone’s soul

  • Nobles

    • French chiefly spoken, those who fight, purposewas to protect—allow for all to work in peace—and provide justice

  • Commoners

    • English spoken, those who work, purpose was to feed and clothe all above them


  • The economic system of much of the Middle Ages

  • Feudalism created ties of obedience and loyalty between the peasants and their lord.

  • Peasants lived on a feudal manor. The lord of the manor gave his peasants land to farm.

  • Peasants were taxed and had to surrender a portion of their crops to the lord.

  • In return, peasants received protection from roving bandits.

A peasant renews his oath of loyalty to his lord.


  • A product of feudalism, chivalry was an idealized system of manners and morals

    • Restricted to nobility

  • Medieval knight was bound to the code of chivalry to be loyal to…

    • God

    • his lord

    • his lady

  • Ideals of Chivalry include...

    • kindness

    • brotherly love

    • politeness

      • Sir Gawain is an example

The catholic church
The Catholic Church

  • Provided guidance through well known precepts..

  • Seven Deadly Sins

    Pride Gluttony

    Greed Sloth

    Wrath Lust


  • Seven Virtues

    Prudence Faith

    Temperance Hope

    Justice Love


The wheel of fortune
The Wheel of Fortune

The idea of Fortune spinning her wheel was one of the most pervasive ideas throughout the Middle Ages.

On the wheel are depicted four figures:

-one on the left (I shall reign)

-one on top (I reign)

-one on the right (I have reigned)

-one on the bottom (I am without a kingdom)

English literature

  • It served to remind people of the temporality of earthly things.

  • The Wheel helps us understand

  • the medieval mind, and it can

  • help remind us that the important

  • things in life come from within,

  • that hard work has its own merits.

  • An award, an office, a title—these

  • are not the things that make for greatness.

The ptolemaic universe

Imagine a sphere that encloses another that holds another that holds yet another…and continues into heaven…

It is a commonly held myth that people of the Medieval period thought the Earth was flat…FALSE!

It was round, but at the center of the universe!

So what! Well, the people of the Medieval period loved order! Remember the Three Estates, the Seven Deadly Sins—a place for everyone and everyone in that place.

the Ptolemaic Universe

Enough already

Enough already! that holds yet another

I thought this was an English class!

Characteristics that holds yet another

  • Latin was the language of the Roman Catholic Church, so, Latin was a common language for Medieval writings.

  • Much of literature is anonymous-old stories retold

  • Use of ALLEGORY: a device in which characters or events symbolize ideas and concepts (The Lord of the Rings is an allegory for the World Wars)

Characteristics of medieval literature
Characteristics of Medieval Literature that holds yet another

  • Heroism

    • from both Germanic and Christian traditions, sometimes mingled

      • Beowulf

      • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

  • Presentations of idealized behavior

    • literature as moral lesson

      • loyalty to king

      • Chivalry

  • Courtly Love

The ideal of courtly love
The Ideal of Courtly Love that holds yet another

  • relationship was modeled on the feudal relationship loyalty of a knight to his liege lord.

  • knight serves his courtly lady with the same obedience and loyalty which he owes to his liege lord.

  • She is in complete control; he owes her obedience and submission

English literature

The knight's love for the lady that holds yet anotherinspires him to do great deeds, in order to be worthy of her love or to win her favor.

English literature

  • that holds yet anotherCourtly love" was not between husband and wife because it was an idealized sort of relationship that could not exist within the context of "real life" medieval marriages.

  • In the middle ages, marriages amongst the nobility were typically based on practical and dynastic concerns rather than on love.

English literature

  • that holds yet anotherCourtly love" provided a model of behavior for a class of unmarried young men who might otherwise have threatened social stability.

  • Knights were typically younger brothers without land of their own (hence unable to support a wife).

  • They became members of the household of the feudal lords whom they served.

English literature

The lady is typically older, married, and of higher social status than the knight because she was modeled on the wife of the feudal lord, who might naturally become the focus of the young, unmarried knights' desire.

English literature

The literary model of courtly love may have been invented to provide young men with a model for appropriate behavior.

It taught them to sublimate their desires and to channel their energy into socially useful behavior (love service rather than wandering around the countryside, stealing or raping women.

English literature

The "symptoms" of love were described as as if it were a sickness.

The "lovesick" knight’s typical symptoms: sighing, turning pale, turning red, fever, inability to sleep, eat or drink.

The quest
The Quest sickness.

  • The Quest was highly important:

  • the code of conduct observed by a knight errant who is wandering in search of deeds of chivalry. This knight is bound by a code of behavior - a set of conventional principles and expectations

English literature

  • A sickness. quest is a hero’s journey towards a goal. The objects of quests require great exertion on the part of the hero, and the overcoming of many obstacles.

  • The hero's must obtain something, or someone, by the quest and with this object return home.

English literature

  • Usually, an inner and outer problem for the character is set.

  • The hero is introduced; audience identifies with them

  • The hero lacks something, has a tragic flaw, or a deep wound

  • The call often produces disorientation and discomfort for the hero

  • The call is often in the form of a dire warning

English literature

  • Excuses are used to avoid the call set.

  • This hesitation illustrates the formidability of the challenge ahead

  • Resistance creates change and strength, allowing the hero to grow

  • A physical or metaphorical crossing is made

  • The crossing is an irrevocable leap of faith, from which there’s no turning back

English literature

  • The hero faces his greatest fear set.

  • The hero “dies,” so he can be reborn

  • The hero gains new perception

  • This new perception may create a moment of clarity

  • The moment may be of great self-realization for the hero

  • It may also be an epiphany for the hero’s companions

The hero
The Hero set.

Is often of divine descent endowed with great strength and ability" or "a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities"

Characteristics of medieval literature1
Characteristics of Medieval Literature set.

  • Romance

    • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

    • A narrative in prose or verse that tells of the adventures and heroic exploits of chivalric heroes

      • exploits of knights

      • often a supernatural element involved

  • Christian message

    • concern with salvation and the world to come

    • no interest in social change

      • until the late 14th century

      • Chaucer signals new thinking, up-ending social order