Submitted by: Sunny Boy Manayaga
The Norman conquest of England in 1066 traditionally signifies the beginning of 200 years of the domination of French in English letters. French cultural dominance, moreover, was general in Europe at this time. French language and culture replaced English in polite court society and had lasting effects on English culture. But the native tradition survived, although little 13th-century, and even less 12th-century, vernacular literature is extant, since most of it was transmitted orally. Anglo-Saxon fragmented into several dialects and gradually evolved into Middle English, which, despite an admixture of French, is unquestionably English. By the mid-14th cent., Middle English had become the literary as well as the spoken language of England.
The Early Period
Several poems in early Middle English are extant. The Orrmulum (c.1200), a verse translation of parts of the Gospels, is of linguistic and prosodic rather than literary interest. Of approximately the same date, The Owl and the Nightingale (see separate article) is the first example in English of the débat, a popular continental form; in the poem, the owl, strictly monastic and didactic, and the nightingale, a free and amorous secular spirit, charmingly debate the virtues of their respective ways of life.
The Thirteenth Century
Middle English prose of the 13th cent. continued in the tradition of Anglo-Saxon prose—homiletic, didactic, and directed toward ordinary people rather than polite society. The "Katherine Group" (c.1200), comprising three saints' lives, is typical. The Ancren Riwle (c.1200) is a manual for prospective anchoresses; it was very popular, and it greatly influenced the prose of the 13th and 14th cent. The fact that there was no French prose tradition was very important to the preservation of the English prose tradition.
In the 13th cent. the romance , an important continental narrative verse form, was introduced in England. It drew from three rich sources of character and adventure: the legends of Charlemagne, the legends of ancient Greece and Rome, and the British legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Layamon 's Brut , a late 13th-century metrical romance (a translation from the French), marks the first appearance of Arthurian matter in English (see Arthurian legend ). Original English romances based upon indigenous material include King Horn and Havelok the Dane , both 13th-century works that retain elements of the Anglo-Saxon heroic tradition.
However, French romances, notably the Arthurian romances of Chrétien de Troyes , were far more influential than their English counterparts. In England French romances popularized ideas of adventure and heroism quite contrary to those of Anglo-Saxon heroic literature and were representative of wholly different values and tastes. Ideals of courtly love , together with its elaborate manners and rituals, replaced those of the heroic code; adventure and feats of courage were pursued for the sake of the knight's lady rather than for the sake of the hero's honor or the glory of his tribal king.
Continental verse forms based on metrics and rhyme replaced the Anglo-Saxon alliterative line in Middle English poetry (with the important exception of the 14th-century alliterative revival). Many French literary forms also became popular, among them the fabliau ; the exemplum, or moral tale; the animal fable; and the dream vision. The continental allegorical tradition, which derived from classical literature, is exemplified by the Roman de la Rose , which had a strong impact on English literature.
Medieval works of literature often center on a popular rhetorical figure, such as the ubi sunt, which remarks on the inevitability—and sadness—of change, loss, and death; and the cursor mundi, which harps on the vanity of human grandeur. A 15,000-line 13th-century English poem, the Cursor Mundi, retells human history (i.e., the medieval version—biblical plus classical story) from the point of view its title implies.
A number of 13th-century secular and religious Middle English lyrics are extant, including the exuberant Sumer Is Icumen In , but like Middle English literature in general, the lyric reached its fullest flower during the second half of the 14th cent. Lyrics continued popular in the 15th cent., from which time the ballad also dates.
The Fourteenth Century
The poetry of the alliterative revival (see alliteration ), the unexplained reemergence of the Anglo-Saxon verse form in the 14th cent., includes some of the best poetry in Middle English. The Christian allegory The Pearl (see separate article) is a poem of great intricacy and sensibility that is meaningful on several symbolic levels. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by the same anonymous author, is also of high literary sophistication, and its intelligence, vividness, and symbolic interest render it possibly the finest Arthurian poem in English. Other important alliterative poems are the moral allegory Piers Plowman, attributed to William Langland , and the alliterative Morte Arthur, which, like nearly all English poetry until the mid-14th cent., was anonymous.
The works of Geoffrey Chaucer mark the brilliant culmination of Middle English literature. Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales are stories told each other by pilgrims—who comprise a very colorful cross section of 14th-century English society—on their way to the shrine at Canterbury. The tales are cast into many different verse forms and genres and collectively explore virtually every significant medieval theme. Chaucer's wise and humane work also illuminates the full scope of medieval thought. Overshadowed by Chaucer but of some note are the works of John Gower .
The Fifteenth Century
The 15th cent. is not distinguished in English letters, due in part to the social dislocation caused by the prolonged Wars of the Roses. Of the many 15th-century imitators of Chaucer the best-known are John Lydgate and Thomas Hoccleve . Other poets of the time include Stephen Hawes and Alexander Barclay and the Scots poets William Dunbar , Robert Henryson , and Gawin Douglas . The poetry of John Skelton , which is mostly satiric, combines medieval and Renaissance elements.
William Caxton introduced printing to England in 1475 and in 1485 printed Sir Thomas Malory 's Morte d'Arthur. This prose work, written in the twilight of chivalry , casts the Arthurian tales into coherent form and views them with an awareness that they represent a vanishing way of life. The miracle play , a long cycle of short plays based upon biblical episodes, was popular throughout the Middle Ages in England. The morality play , an allegorical drama centering on the struggle for man's soul, originated in the 15th cent. The finest of the genre is Everyman .
A large number of manuscripts remain from the Anglo-Saxon period, with most written during the last 300 years (9th to 11th centuries), in both Latin and the vernacular.
Old English literature began, in written form, as a practical necessity in the aftermath of the Danish invasions—-church officials were concerned that because of the drop in Latin literacy no one could read their work. Likewise King Alfred the Great (849-899), wanting to restore English culture, lamented the poor state of Latin education:
So general was [educational] decay in England that there were very few on this side of the Humber who could...translate a letter from Latin into English; and I believe there were not many beyond the Humber
—Pastoral Care, introduction
Alfred the Great proposed that students be educated in Old English, and those who excelled would go on to learn Latin. In this way many of the texts that have survived are typical teaching and student-oriented texts.
The bulk of the prose literature is historical or religious in nature. There were considerable losses of manuscripts as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Scholarly study of the language began in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I when Matthew Parker and others obtained whatever manuscripts they could.
|Beowulf fighting the horrible beast|
The story of English literature begins with the Germanic tradition of the Anglo-Saxon settlers. Beowulf stands at its head.
This epic poem of the 8th century is in Anglo-Saxon, now more usually described as Old English. It is incomprehensible to a reader familiar only with modern English. Even so, there is a continuous linguistic development between the two. The most significant turning point, from about 1100, is the development of Middle English - differing from Old English in the addition of a French vocabulary after the Norman conquest. French and Germanic influences subsequently compete for the mainstream role in English literature.
The French poetic tradition inclines to lines of a regular metrical length, usually linked by rhyme into couplets or stanzas. German poetry depends more on rhythm and stress, with repeated consonants (alliteration) to bind the phrases. Elegant or subtle rhymes have a courtly flavour. The hammer blows of alliteration are a type of verbal athleticism more likely to draw applause in a hall full of warriors.
Both traditions achieve a magnificent flowering in England in the late 14th century, towards the end of the Middle English period. Piers Plowman and Sir Gawain are masterpieces which look back to Old English. By contrast Chaucer, a poet of the court, ushers in a new era of English literature.
Of these two great English alliterative poems, the second is entirely anonymous and the first virtually so. The narrator of Piers Plowman calls himself Will; occasional references in the text suggest that his name may be Langland. Nothing else, apart from this poem, is known of him.
Piers Plowman exists in three versions, the longest amounting to more than 7000 lines. It is considered probable that all three are by the same author. If so he spends some twenty years, from about 1367, adjusting and refining his epic creation.
Piers the ploughman is one of a group of characters searching for Christian truth in the complex setting of a dream. Though mainly a spiritual quest, the work also has a political element. It contains sharply observed details of a corrupt and materialistic age (Wycliffe is among Langland's English contemporaries).
Where Piers Plowman is tough and gritty, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (dating from the same period) is more polished in its manner and more courtly in its content. The characters derive partly from Arthurian legend.
A mysterious green knight arrives one Christmas at the court of King Arthur. He invites any knight to strike him with an axe and to receive the blow back a year later. Gawain accepts the challenge. He cuts off the head of the green knight, who rides away with it.
The rest of the poem concerns Gawain, a year later, at the green knight's castle. In a tale of love (for the green knight's wife) and subsequent deceit, Gawain emerges with little honour. The green knight spares his life but sends him home to Arthur's court wearing the wife's girdle as a badge of shame.
In 1367 one of four new 'yeomen of the chamber' in the household of Edward III is Geoffrey Chaucer, then aged about twenty-seven. The young man's wife, Philippa, is already a lady-in-waiting to the queen.
A few years later Chaucer becomes one of the king's esquires, with duties which include entertaining the court with stories and music. There can rarely have been a more inspired appointment. Chaucer's poems are designed to be read aloud, in the first instance by himself. Their range, from high romance to bawdy comedy, is well calculated to hold the listeners spellbound. Courtly circles in England are his first audience.
Chaucer's public career is one of almost unbroken success in two consecutive reigns. He undertakes diplomatic missions abroad on behalf of the king; he is given administrative posts, such as controlling the customs, which bring lodgings and handsome stipends. Even occasional disasters (such as being robbed twice in four days in 1390 and losing £20 of Richard II's money) do him no lasting harm.
A measure of Chaucer's skill as a courtier is that during the 1390s, when he is in the employment of Richard II, he also receives gifts at Christmas from Richard's rival, Bolingbroke.
When Bolingbroke unseats Richard II in 1399, taking his place on the throne as Henry IV, Chaucer combines diplomacy and wit to secure his position. Having lost his royal appointments, he reminds the new king of his predicament in a poem entitled 'The Complaint of Chaucer to his Empty Purse'. The last line of each verse begs the purse to 'be heavy again, or else must I die'. Henry IV hears the message. The court poet is given a new annuity.
Henry is certainly aware that he is keeping in his royal circle a poet of great distinction. Chaucer's reputation is such that, when he dies in the following year, he is granted the very unusual honour - for a commoner - of being buried in Westminster abbey.
Chaucer's first masterpiece is his subtle account of the wooing of Criseyde by Troilus, with the active encouragement of Criseyde's uncle Pandarus. The tender joys of their love affair are followed by Criseyde's betrayal and Troilus's death in battle.
Chaucer adapts to his own purposes the more conventionally dramatic account of this legendary affair written some fifty years earlier by Boccaccio (probably read by Chaucer when on a mission to Florence in 1373). His own very long poem (8239 lines) is written in the early 1380s and is complete by 1385.
Chaucer's tone is delicate, subtle, oblique - though this does not prevent him from introducing and gently satirising many vivid details of life at court, as he guides the reader through the long psychological intrigue by which Pandarus eventually delivers Troilus into Criseyde's bed.
The charm and detail of the poem, giving an intimate glimpse of a courtly world, is akin to the delightful miniatures which illustrate books of hours of this period in the style known as International Gothic. Yet this delicacy is only one side of Chaucer's abundant talent - as he soon proves in The Canterbury Tales.
Collections of tales are a favourite literary convention of the 14th century. Boccaccio's Decameron is the best-known example before Chaucer's time, but Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales outshines his predecessors. He does so in the range and vitality of the stories in his collection, from the courtly tone of 'The Knight's Tale' to the rough and often obscene humour of those known technically as fabliaux.
He does so also in the detail and humour of the framework holding the stories together. His account of the pilgrims as they ride from London to Canterbury, with their constant bickering and rivalry, amounts to a comic masterpiece in its own right.
The pilgrims, thirty of them including Chaucer himself, gather one spring day at the Tabard in Southwark. The host of the inn, Harry Bailly, is a real contemporary of Chaucer's (his name features in historical records). He will act as their guide on the route to Canterbury and he proposes that they pass the time on their journey by telling stories. Each pilgrim is to tell two on the way out and two on the way back. Whoever is judged to have told the best tale will have a free supper at the Tabard on their return.
Of this ambitious total of 120 stories, Chaucer completes only 24 by the time of his death. Even so the collection amounts to some 17,000 lines - mainly of rhyming verse, but with some passages of prose.
The pilgrims represent all sections of society from gentry to humble craftsmen (the only absentees are the labouring poor, unable to afford a pilgrimage of this kind). There are respectable people from the various classes - such as the knight, the parson and the yeoman - but the emphasis falls mainly on characters who are pretentious, scurrilous, mendacious, avaricious or lecherous.
The pilgrims are vividly described, one by one, in Chaucer's Prologue. The relationships between them evolve in the linking passages between the tales, as Harry Bailly arranges who shall speak next.
The pilgrims for the most part tell tales closely related to their station in life or to their personal character. Sometimes the anecdotes even reflect mutual animosities. The miller gives a scurrilously comic account of a carpenter being cuckolded. Everyone laughs heartily except the reeve, who began his career as a carpenter. The reeve gets his own back with an equally outrageous tale of the seduction of a miller's wife and daughter.
But the pilgrim who has most delighted six centuries of readers is the five-times-married Wife of Bath, taking a lusty pleasure in her own appetites and richly scorning the ideals of celibacy.
Reading Instruction Methods
Reading instruction methods: Overview
Implementing proper reading instruction methods is critical to the reading process. Proficient reading is dependent on two critical skills: the ability to understand the text and the ability to recognize and process it. Each of these components is dependent on lower level skills and cognitive abilities. Children who readily understand spoken language and who are able to fluently and easily recognize printed words do not usually have difficulty with reading comprehension. However, students must be proficient in both competencies to read well. Difficulty in either domain undermines the overall reading process. At the conclusion of reading, children should be able to retell the story in their own words including characters, setting, and the events of the story.
Reading instruction methods: Assessment
Reading instruction methods include phonemic awareness, systematic phonics and guided oral reading. Phonemic awareness instruction is effective in promoting early reading (word reading, comprehension) and spelling skills. Phonemic awareness instruction is effective in first grade and kindergarten, as well as with reading disabled students in the later elementary grades. Systematic phonics instruction improves reading and spelling and, to a lesser extent, comprehension. Synthetic phonics (instruction teaching students explicitly to convert letters into sounds and blend the sounds) is more effective than other forms of systematic phonics instruction. Guided oral reading (a teacher listening as a student reads, providing instruction as needed) and repeated reading of texts increase reading fluency during the elementary years. In addition, a variety of methods of vocabulary instruction also make sense, with vocabulary instruction positively impacting reading comprehension.
Reading instruction methods: Action
Reading instruction methods should also include comprehension. Readers typically shift their attention to reading comprehension once they have established appropriate mechanical skills (decoding). Comprehension skills, like mechanical skills, usually build progressively from fundamental to more sophisticated levels. Therefore, it has traditionally been helpful for individuals to learn to read for factual information before they begin to compare and evaluate the information they read. It will normally be easier for an individual to learn to read and comprehend material at these two levels before learning analysis and synthesis. Reading for factual information requires that the sequence of events and the details of a story be followed to understand how it was resolved. At LearningRx, we have tools that train the brain for success.