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Medieval Literature . From the fall of Rome to the Renaissance . English & French Literature. Dominated by: The epic Beowulf The romance Song of Roland (early) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late) The allegory The Canterbury Tales The Divine Comedy The folk tale The lyric

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medieval literature

Medieval Literature

From the fall of Rome to the Renaissance

english french literature
English & French Literature
  • Dominated by:
    • The epic
      • Beowulf
    • The romance
      • Song of Roland (early)
      • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late)
    • The allegory
      • The Canterbury Tales
      • The Divine Comedy
    • The folk tale
    • The lyric
    • The drama
      • Everyman
the anglo saxons 449 1066
The Anglo-Saxons: 449–1066

A.D. 1066

Norman Invasion

300s B.C.

Celts in Britain

A.D. 449

Anglo-Saxon Invasion

55 B.C–A.D.409

Roman Occupation


King Alfred against

the Danes









300 B.C.



A.D. 400–699

Spread of Christianity

britain before and during the 4th century b c
BritainBefore and during the 4th century B.C.
  • Britain home to several Celtic tribes
  • Britain named for one Celtic tribe—the Brythons
  • Celtic religion a form of animism


  • Druids were Celtic priests
the roman occupation
The Roman Occupation

55 B.C.

Hadrian’s Wall

Julius Caesar invades Britain


Celts defeated by Claudius

  • Romans build walls, villas, baths, roads

A.D. 409

Romans evacuate their troops

  • Britain left vulnerable to attack
  • Central government breaks down


the anglo saxon invasion
The Anglo-Saxon Invasion





A.D. 449 The Anglo-Saxons push the Celts into the far west of the country.


The Anglo-Saxon Invasion

Anglo-Saxon Society

  • kinship groups led by strong warrior chief
  • people farmed, established local governments, produced fine craftwork
  • English emerged as a written language

Norse god

Anglo-Saxon god

Day of week





The Anglo-Saxon Invasion

The Anglo-Saxon religion

  • offered no hope of an afterlife
  • valued earthly virtues of bravery, loyalty, generosity, and friendship
  • similar to what we call Norse mythology




The Anglo-Saxon Invasion

The Anglo-Saxon bards

  • called scops
  • strummed harp as they sang
  • sang of heroic deeds
  • were often warriors

Why were the scops important?

  • Anglo-Saxons did not believe in afterlife
  • warriors gained immortality through songs

Anglo-Saxon harp

the spread of christianity
The Spread of Christianity

Around A.D. 400

  • Christian monks settle in Britain
  • Christianity and Anglo-Saxon culture co-exist

By A.D. 699

  • British pagan religions replaced by Christianity
early literature
Early Literature
  • Celtic and Germanic Tribes
    • heroic legends
  • Written down by monks hundreds of years later.
    • What effect will this have on pagan epics?
old middle modern english
Old, Middle, Modern English

Old English

Middle English

'Ourefadirþat art in heueneshalwid be þi name; þireume or kyngdom come to be. Be þiwille don in herþe as it is douninheuene. yeue to us today oureechedayes bred. And foryeue to us ouredettisþat is ouresynnys as we foryeuen to ouredettourisþat is to men þathansynned in us. And lede us not into temptacion but delyuere us from euyl.'

'Our father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debters. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'

  • 'Fæderureþuþeeart on heofonumsiþinnamagehalgodtobecumeþin rice gewurþeþinwilla on eorðanswaswa on heofonumurnegedæghwamlicanhlafsyle us to dægand forgyf us uregyltasswaswa we forgyfaðurumgyltendumand ne gelædþu us on costnunge ac alys us of yfelesoþlice.'

old english
Old English
  • The Germanic Tribe
  • Spoken on the British Isles
    • Anglo-Saxons specifically
  • Germanic traditional epic
    • Specifically Anglo-Saxon
    • Warring culture
  • 3,000 line epic poem
  • First literary composition in the English Language
  • Composed sometime between 600-900 C.E. 700 is our best guess.
  • Written down 200-300 years later.
history of the text
History of the text
  • Poem exists in one manuscript only (in British Library)
  • Survived fire in 18th century
  • This scare led to the copying, editing, translating of the copy
  • Now an integral part of the canon.
    • A group of the most important literature of any given time period, genre, author, etc.
  • Poem written in England
    • Set in Scandinavia
  • Follows the Scandinavian prince, Beowulf.
  • Poem has three major plots
    • Beowulf, a warrior for the Geats, crosses the sea to help the Danes kill the man-eating monster Grendel.
      • He must also kill Grendel’s mother
    • Beowulf returns and rules for fifty years as king. A dragon terrorizes the country and Beowulf must confront it.
    • Beowulf slays the dragon but meets his own death. He enters the legend of his people as a hero.
  • Poem shows life in the Dark Ages.
    • Begins with soldiers in a hall, drinking mead
    • Grendel eats them all.


  • Grendel is the spawn of Cain, the murderous brother in the Old Testament.
beowulf assignment
Beowulf assignment
  • Assignment on page 2 of Medieval Lit packet
    • Take a look at this now
  • Excerpts begin on page 3
  • Read academically and carefully
  • Take notes or annotate
    • Notes can be used on quiz, annotations cannot
  • Due Monday
    • If you’re absent Monday (or today, I guess) you will turn in typed answers to these questions upon return.
from epic to romance
From Epic to Romance
  • The Epic yielded to Romance in 11th and 12th centuries
  • Originally applied to Old French to distinguish from Latin
    • Eventually, it referred to any work in French.
  • Narrative shift
    • from warfare
    • to love.
  • Courtly love
      • A tradition that idealized women and turned conventions of human love almost literally into religion.
      • First developed by troubadours – lyric entertainers
    • Originally half-facetious
    • elaborate code to follow
  • Earlier Romances, chansons de geste (Songs of Deeds), like Roland, are men-at-war.
    • The central figure:
      • Charlemagne
      • and members of his court.
    • Basis in historical fact
    • a towering figure in the development of Western and Christian culture.
      • However, they have poetic legend, as, for instance, Charlemagne is in intimate touch with the Angels.
  • Written in Old French circa 1100
    • Composed 300 years earlier
    • Oral songs sung by troubadours accompanied by lyres.
  • Song of Roland
    • earliest and best known example of the Song of Deed romance.
  • History of text (FYI)
    • Unknown until 1832 when the first of several manuscripts was discovered.
    • The best of these is at Oxford University that is a copy by an Anglo-Norman scribe of an earlier version.
    • Many conspiracies and hypotheses about the organ, poet, and facts of Roland
  • Written at the beginning of the Crusades.
    • By telling a story of the Great Charlemagne, the hope is to inspire current fighters.
  • The values of the poem are simply identified.
    • Exclusively deal with war and religion
    • Success in battle is vital
      • personal reasons
      • prove God is on your side
  • Christians are good, Saracens (Muslims) are evil
    • although some are great warriors and honorable
  • Absent are:
    • philosophical subtleties
    • inward conflicts
song of roland plot
Song of Roland plot
  • Based on the ambush of Charlemagne's rear guard in 778.
  • Charlemagne’s nephew Roland ambushed as they returned from an expedition against the Muslims in Spain.
  • Brings to life aspects of early medieval culture:
    • naming one's battle gear and weapons,
    • dependence on cavalry
    • glorification of blood-and-thunder heroism
    • and strong sense of companionship between brothers-at-arms.
structure of poem
Structure of poem
  • Very un-poetic:
    • Simple vocabulary & syntax.
      • No Figurative language
    • No atmospheric details
    • Poet is on the side of the Christians, but he doesn't gush like in Beowulf.
structure of poem1
Structure of poem
  • Hyperbolic praise of the past
  • Heroes of old
  • Appearance of prophetic dreams and omens
  • Intervention at key moments of supernatural beings
  • Epithets
  • Battles
courtly love

Courtly Love

History of Arthurian Legend and Courtly Love

courtly love1
Courtly Love
  • Extramarital
    • very secretive
  • The knight (whom did the loving) prone to:
    • fits of weeping
    • Growing pale
    • Languishing in his unrequited love
  • Lady of noble birth
    • Knight performed great deeds gain his lady’s admiration from afar
  • Faithfulness was eternal
courtly love don t write down
Courtly Love (don’t write down)
  • Chretien de Troyes applied these rules into legendary tales including:
    • Eric and Enide
    • The Knight of the Cart
    • The Knight with the Lion
    • The Story of the Grail
  • These stories combined with other romances to form a foundation for courtly love including:
    • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
    • Havelok the Dane
king arthur
King Arthur

The Arthurian Legend is a compilation of stories and romances

Arthur’s birth

his adventures as knight

adulterous love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere

Courtly Love or “The Romance”

Epic Poetry

Arthurian Legend

king arthur1
King Arthur
  • Gains fame in the 1100’s
  • Chretien de Troyes takes the oral legends he has heard, mixes them with courtly love ideas and writes the first five romances of adventure in the 12th century
  • Stories culminate in the 15th century
  • Alfred Loydd Tennyson “Idylls of the of the King”
  • Mark Twain with “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”.
  • Church began to see Romance, specifically Courtly Love, as a threat
    • Sir Gaiwan and the Green Knight
    • Romance of the Rose
late middle ages
Late Middle Ages
  • The Church took over power
    • based on two propositions:
      • Kingdom of God vs Kingdom of the Devil
      • only through the offices of the church
  • Earth is proving ground for Heaven
  • The literature reflected this conflict.
    • Nearly all literature was religious in theme.
on the misery of the human condition

On the Misery of the Human Condition

Sermon written by Pope Innocent III


Book 2 page 96

medieval drama
Medieval Drama
  • In courtyards
  • Layman actors
  • Three types:
    • Mystery play
      • Biblical history from fall of Lucifer to Last Judgement
    • Miracle play
      • Stories of life of Christ, Mary, or saints
    • Morality Play
      • Struggle of good and evil and soul’s afterlife.
      • Allegorical
middle english
Middle English
  • More recognizable to modern reader.
  • Middle Class rises
    • Feudalism weakens
    • Canterbury Tales
the general prologue
Whan that Aprill with his shoures sooteThe droghte of March hath perced to the roote,And bathed every veyne in swich licourOf which vertu engendred is the flour;Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breethInspired hath in every holt and heethThe tendre croppes, and the yonge sonneHath in the Ram his half cours yronne,And smale foweles maken melodye,That slepen al the nyght with open ye(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;And specially from every shires endeOf Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,The hooly blisful martir for to seke,That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Bifil that in that seson on a day,In Southwerk at the Tabard as I layRedy to wenden on my pilgrymageTo Caunterbury with ful devout corage,At nyght was come into that hostelryeWel nyne and twenty in a compaignyeOf sondry folk, by aventure yfalleIn felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.The chambres and the stables weren wyde,And wel we weren esed atte beste.And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,So hadde I spoken with hem everichonThat I was of hir felaweshipe anon,And made forward erly for to ryse,To take oure wey ther as I yow devyse.

The General Prologue
the canterbury tales
The Canterbury Tales
  • Take a look at the four following images. Write down three characteristics the image triggers – think about their role in society as well as your personal, moral beliefs of them.
  • Basically, generalize
  • Write down three characteristics the image triggers – think about their role in society as well as your personal, moral beliefs of them.
  • Basically, generalize
  • Write down three characteristics the image triggers – think about their role in society as well as your personal, moral beliefs of them.
  • Basically, generalize
  • Write down three characteristics the image triggers – think about their role in society as well as your personal, moral beliefs of them.
  • Basically, generalize
  • Write down three characteristics the image triggers – think about their role in society as well as your personal, moral beliefs of them.
  • Basically, generalize
  • In your notebook, choose one of these people and describe him. Your description should judge him on a moral and social level. You may want to discuss his clothing, items he has with him, physical attributes, etc. A reader who reads your description should be able to get a gist of your feelings toward that person.
  • NOTE: Don’t describe the photo I just showed you, rather a person in that job/role.
canterbury tales organizational plan
Canterbury Tales Organizational Plan
  • Chaucer (our narrator) fictitiously watches 29 pilgrims enter the Talbard Inn in the Southwark neighborhood of London
    • On their way to the shrine of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury
    • Becket, murdered in 1170
  • Use of journey motif as framing device
    • 4 tales per person: 2 coming; 2 going
  • Actually completed 22
    • Began 2 others

Cathedral of Canterbury

the prologue
The Prologue
  • Sets stage for journey
  • Meeting place the Tabard Inn in Southwark of 29 pilgrims including:
    • Knight and his Squire
    • Yeoman
    • A Nun (Prioress)
    • a chaplain,
    • 3 Priests
    • A monk and a friar
    • A merchant
    • a cleric
    • a lawyer
    • a franklin (freeman)
    • A pardoner
    • A miller
tales prologues
Tales & Prologues
  • Each pilgrim will tell a tale
    • Tales usually have morals or tell us about the teller
  • Some tales have a prologue introducing the tale
    • Chaucer telling us a little about the teller of the tale
    • In a couple he will write a few words after the tale, too.
  • The whole story had the “General Prologue”
    • Chaucer describing the scene in the Inn. He describes the tellers and passes subtle judgment about him/her and his/her status in life
  • We will look at 2 tales – the Pardoner’s and the Miller’s
the pardoner s tale
The Pardoner’s Tale

3 young men of drunk and riotous behavior search for Death.

An old man whom they insult tells them that Death lies up the hill under a tree.

They find bags of gold and plot to send the youngest for food and wine and then kill him for the gold.

He returns with poisoned wine and all die.

“The love of money is the root of all evil.”

the miller s tale
The Miller’s Tale
  • No need to read the “Prologue to the Miller’s Tale” Basically:
    • The Miller is very drunk & likes bawdy tales
  • Tale of old carpenter (John), his young wife (Alison), a student and border in John’s home(Nicholas) and a suitor and cleric. (Absalom)
  • Nicholas& Alison plot to sleep together and trick the husband
  • Absalom,who also loves Alison, steps into the fray but is rejected
  • Nicholasplots Noah’s flood scam of John
tips to reading
Tips to reading
  • Understand plot
  • List characters and their characteristics & relationship to others.
  • What can this tale tell us of its teller (the Miller)
  • Nicholas:
    • Student of astrology (Astroglobe on his shelf (23))
    • “well versed in love” (14) & good looking (15)