Friday, October 9, 2020

ENGLISH LITERATURE BEFORE CHAUCER (450-1340)

ENGLISH LITERATURE BEFORE CHAUCER (450-1340)

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ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD (450-1050)
The Beginnings: English literature began far back with the beginnings of the history of the English people on the continent of Europe. It began with songs and stories of a time when the Teutonic ancestors of English people were living on the borders of the North Sea. The Jutes, Angles and Saxons, the three tribes of these ancestors, conquered Britain in the latter half of the fifth century, and laid the foundation of the English nation. The early settlers were pagans. The Irish missionaries in Northumbria area began to Christianise the pagan English tribes. Thus, pagan or secular and Christian or religious elements commingled in English temperament from the very beginning.
The early English literature is called the Anglo-Saxon period (450-1050) or the Old English period.

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ANGLO-SAXON POETRY
Anglo-Saxon poetry represents the temperament and character of their creators, who were splendid warriors, great lovers of nature and were also capable of profound emotions. The great and hidden life of the Anglo-Saxons finds expression in all their literature. Their poetry is permeated with the spirit of adventure; love of the sea and plunging boats, battles, brave deeds, the glory of warriors and the love of home. It is earnest and somber. It contains fatalism and deep religious feeling. William J. Long remarks: "Briefly, it is summed up in five great principles,—their love of personal freedom, their responsiveness to nature, their religion, their reverence for womanhood, and their struggle for glory as a ruling motive in every noble life.”
The important works of this period are listed below:
1. Beowulf. It is the first Old English epic. It recounts the great deeds and death of Beowulf. It is written on continental Germanic theme. The Angles brought the story to England in the form of short songs about the hero. It was rewritten in its present form by a poet of eighth century, who imparted a few Christian applications to a pagan story. The extant text is written in West Saxon dialect.
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The story of Beowulf is full of episodes and digressions. It narrates the heroic adventures and exploits of the protagonist, Beowulf, who rids the Danish king Hrothgar of a terrible monster Greta Beowulf also killed Grendel's mother. He feasted with Hrothgar and returned to his native land. He became the king of the Geatas. He was a great and successful ruler. After a prosperous reign of about forty years he slew a firedrake who robbed and ravaged his country. In the fight Beowulf died of the dragon's fiery breath. The poem closes with the description of his burial:
Sad in mind
They complained of the sorrow of their hearts, the
death of their liege lord.
Beowulf has an abiding social interest. It describes the manners and customs of the forefathers of Englishmen before they came to England. W. H. Hudson remarks: "Vivid pictures of life in war and peace among our remote forefathers add greatly to the value of a fine old poem." It is also conspicuous for the description of the fierce aspects of nature. It contains vivid character-drawing of men and women. The character portrayal of the hero, both in his youth and in his age, is superb. It is also remarkable for the poignant note of pathos which lends dignity to the entire poem.
The language of the poem is characterized with forcefulness, directness, simplicity, expressiveness and precision. As the earliest poetic masterpiece in Old English, its place in the literary history of England is immortal. In the words of Stop ford A. Brooke: "The whole poem, Pagan as it is, is English to its very root. It is sacred to us, our Genesis, the book of our origin."
2. Widsith. It consists of about 150 lines of verse. It is an account of the wanderings of Widsith, a supposed wanderer. It also recounts the places and people the hero had visited.
3. Waldera. It consists of about sixty-three lines, which narrate some of the exploits of Walter of Aquitaine. Its language is noticeable for vigour and power.
4. Miscellaneous Poems. Three poetical fragments The Fight at Finnsburh, The Battle of Brunaburh and The Battle of Maldon — have little literary importance. They are important only historically.
5. The Exeter Book. It contains seven short elegies of abiding human interest. They are Ruin, the Wanderer, the Seafarer, the Wife's Complaint, the Husband's Complaint, Deor, Wulf and Eaduacer. Ruin is the mourning of a traveller over a deserted city, and the Wanderer expands the mourning motive of Ruin over the desolation of the whole world of man. It is an artistic whole. The Seafarer describes "the dangers and the fascination of the sea, breathes the spirit which filled the hearts of our forefathers while they sang and sailed, and is extraordinarily modern in note." The Wife's Complaint and The Husband's Complaint deal with love-passion. Wulf and Eaduacer is an early example of dramatic monologue. Deor or Deor's Lament depicts the manly sorrow of a monstrel. According to William J. Long, Deor "is much more poetic than Widsith, and is the one perfect lyric of the Anglo-Saxon period." Such expressions as "His sorrow passed away; so will mine" have catholicity of appeal and abiding human interest.

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CHRISTIANITY AND OLD ENGLISH POETRY
The early Anglo-Saxon literature was pagan. It represents the poetry which the Anglo-Saxons probably brought with them in the form of oral sagas. Literature was slowly developed out of this crude material on the English soil. The early poetry was full of sea and war. It was pagan but it was not irreligious. Anglo-Saxons were a religious people even as heathen. But with the advent of Christianity a new spirit of ardent religious fervour entered their life and literature. The note of fatalism in old poetry is modified by the faith that the fate is the will of a good God. The sorrow is relieved by an undercurrent of joy. The imaginative delight and the supernatural element do not disappear but they find a refined expression in the legends of saints and visions of angels. The ancient pagan faith still finds subdued expression in poetry, written under the Christian influence. Christ is not only the Saviour, but the Hero who goes forth against the dragon, like Beowulf wrestling with Grendel. Stopford A. Brooke rightly remarks: "The old poetry penetrated the new, but the spirit of the new transformed that of the old."
The latter poetry developed under the teachings of monks who had behind them all the culture and the literary resources of the Latin language. The Christian influence put an end to the frightful wars that had waged continually among the various kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons. Northumbria became the seat of the monks, who influenced the Anglo-Saxon literature. It is called the Northumbrian School. Caedmon and Cynewulf are the two distinguished poets of this school.
πŸ‘‰1. Caedmon. He is the first maker of English verse. He was a sensitive servant employed by the monastery at Whitby in Yorkshire. He was an uneducated man who was inspired to sing about "first created things." The Holy Bible was read to him and he turned some pages into verse. The stories in verse, known as Caedmon's Paraphrases were written about A. D. 670 The three paraphrases of 'scripture which have come down in a manuscript of tenth century have been attributed to Caedmon. The first deals with the creation and the fall; the second with the exodus from Egypt; and the third with the history of Daniel. It is now believed that these poems, though ascribed to Caedmon, are not entirely his own creation but of his imitators.
The interest of these poems does not lie in any paraphrase of the Scriptures, but in those parts which have inventiveness and imaginative quality. William J. Long writes about Caedmon's importance: "If Beowulf and fragments of our earliest poetry were brought into England, then the hymn given above (from Caedmon's Paraphrase) is the first verse of all native English song that has come down to us, and Caedmon is the first poet to whom we can give a definite name and date. The words were written about 665 A.D."
πŸ‘‰2. Cynewulf. Only very little is known about Cynewulf, the greatest of the Anglo-Saxon poets. His signed poems include The Christ, Juliana, The Fates of the Apostles, and Elene. It is conjectured that he wrote during the latter half of the eighth century. There is a note of passion, of joy and confidence in his poetry. The spirit of adventure pervades them. They are also noticeable for the intensity of feeling, brilliance of conception, ardent religious tote, certainty of execution and excellent descriptive power.
The unsigned poems, attributed to Cynewulf, are Andreas, The Phoenix, The Dream of the Rood, The Descent into Hell, Guthlac, The Wanderer and some of the Riddles. The Dream of the Rood is undoubtedly the finest of all Old English religious poems.
πŸ‘‰3. Judith. It is one of the finest pieces of Anglo-Saxon religious poetry. Out of twelve books only the last three are extant. The character of Judith, a Jewish Velleda, is well drawn.
The Harrowing of Hell, the Whale and the Panther, and some lyrical translations of the Psalms in the Kentish and West Saxon dialects were also written in the eighth century.
Characteristics of Anglo-Saxon Poetry
The development of Northumbrian learning and literature was obstructed by the invasion of Danes. Towards the end of the eighth century the Danes swept down English coasts and overwhelmed Northumbria. They recklessly destroyed monasteries and schools, killed scholars and teachers and ravaged libraries. So all true Northumbrian literature perished. Only some fragments survived. With the conquest of Northumbria ends the poetic period of Anglo-Saxon literature.
The Anglo-Saxon poetry shows the following characteristics:
πŸ‘‰1. It is marked by parallelism and repetition.
πŸ‘‰2. It abounds in the use of the ordinary metaphorical phrases of Teutonic poetry, as the whale's rood for the sea. Early poetry is conspicuous by the absence of elaborate similes but later poets like Cynewulf invent them nicely.
πŸ‘‰3. It is full of fondness for the sea and the spirit of adventure.
πŸ‘‰4. In form it is radically different from the present mode of versification. In place of modern "end rhyme" it employs "beginning rhyme" or alliteration, that is, the regular and emphatic repetition of the same letter.
πŸ‘‰5. It has a great variety of compound words, especially adjectives. The poet could express precisely a number of qualities belonging to his subject through compound words.
πŸ‘‰6. The poetry, especially of heathen times, is concise and direct. The poetry, dealing with war and sea-voyaging is diffuse, and wearies by constant repetition.
πŸ‘‰7. The Anglo-Saxon poetry is remarkable for its width of range. The heroic poetry persists throughout the period. Judith is a heroic saga. The Exodus is a heroic narrative, freely invented on the Biblical story. Cynewulfs poems on the life of Saint Guolac and on the martyrdom of Saint Juliana are narrative poems. The epic is represented by Beowulf which lacks the qualities of the classical epic, but it has a vigour and majesty which fascinate the reader. Elegies, riddles, didactic poetry were written during this period. Lyric is represented by The Wanderer and The Seafarer which have some of the expressive melancholy and personal emotion associated with the lyric. Almost every form of poetry is represented.
πŸ‘‰8. Poems on war and sea-voyaging were written during this period.
πŸ‘‰9. Poetry shows a remarkable development in technique. Edward Albert remarks: "There is an easier flow to the later poetry in general, a greater sureness in handling material, greater individuality of approach and feeling, less reliance of stock phrases, more subtle use of alliteration, and a greater desire for stylistic effect."
πŸ‘‰10. The language of Anglo-Saxon literature is very different from that of today. Its vocabulary is for the most part native. It is written in Northumbrian dialect. Other dialects were Mercian, which was popular in Midlands; Kentish, which was the language of the south-east; and West Saxon, which was used by Alfred. Due to the political supremacy of Wessex, it became a "standard dialect and almost all the extant texts are preserved in it."
Anglo-Saxon poetry began to be written towards the close of the seventh century, and all its best work was done before the close of the eighth.

πŸ‘‰ANGLO-SAXON PROSE
Bede, the venerable scholar and priest in the monastery at Jarrow wrote in Latin the Ecclesiastical History of the English Race. It was King Alfred (A.D. 849-901), who drove back the Danes from England, began the writing of prose in Wessex. He was the greatest and noblest Anglo-Saxon king. Anglo-Saxon poetry flourished most in the north, prose developed later in the south.
πŸ‘‰1. King Alfred. He is the creator of English prose. Though Alfred is a translator, he holds an admirable place as "the first to put the Verna­cular to systematic use." He rendered into English Pastoral Care of Pope Gregory, Orosius, The History of the World, Bede's The Ecclesiastical History, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy and St. Augustine's Soliloquies. Alfred's prose style is for the most part simple and straight­forward.
It was during Alfred's reign that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the greatest monument of Old English prose, which had existed before Alfred, was transformed into a national history under his guidance. It continued till 1154, when it closed with the record of the death of King Stephen. Commenting on Alfred's importance as a prose writer, Stopford A. Brooke writes: "At Winchester the King took the English tongue and made it the tongue in which history, philosophy, law, and religion spoke to the English people."
πŸ‘‰2. Aelfric. He was a churchman, who was known for his grammar. His extant prose works include the Catholic Homilies, two series of sermons and The Lives of Saints. It was written before 998. Aelfric's prose style is simple and vigorous, natural, easy and alliterative. It is a befitting style for expressing complicated thought into narrative form. His Colloquy is written in dialogue form.
πŸ‘‰3. Wulfstan. He was the Bishop of Worcester and Archbishop of York. His Address to the English narrates the general demoralisation caused by the invading Danes. It is written in impassioned style. Some of his signed homilies have survived. Sermo Lupi ad Anglos is his most famous creation which is characterised by forceful and vigorous style. It is alliterative and ideas nave been frequently repeated.

Characteristics of Anglo-Saxon Prose
πŸ‘‰1. Much of the Anglo-Saxon prose consists of translations from Latin. The influences of the originals are obvious. But it does not completely lack in originality.
πŸ‘‰2. The early prose, especially of the Chronicle and Alfred, is obscure, halting and elliptical. It lacks in the finer touches of rhythm and cadence. The prose of Aelfric and Wulfstan shows a marked develop­ment. It is noticeable for ease, fluency and vigour. The writers, it seems, have attained remarkable confidence in using the language. The style also reflects the personality of the writer.
πŸ‘‰3. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle marks the beginning of historical writing. The homilies of Aelfric and Wulfst an are the pioneers of religious prose and mark "the beginning of the true line of development to the prose of The Authorised Version.

II
THE ANGLO-NORMAN PERIOD (1066-1340)
Or
THE MIDDLE ENGLISH PERIOD

The Historical Background: This period marked a new beginning in England. William, the Duke of Normandy, conquered the Anglo-Saxon England in the battle of the Hastings. The Normans were originally of like English blood, and of like speech. In the tenth century they conquered a part of northern France, known as Normandy, and rapidly adopted French civilization and the French language. The literature they brought to England is remarkable for its bright, romantic tales of love and adventure. It stands in sharp contrast with the strength and sombreness of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Under the Norman influence chivalry and the spirit of romance bloksomed, and a new sympathy for the women and the poor was felt.
In course of time, the Normans felt an inborn affinity with the English race. The absorption and assimilation of the English and the Norman forged the spirit of nationalism and marked the beginning of a new language and a new literature.
The Literary Background: The three important elements of the Norman conquest were: 
πŸ‘‰(1) the bringing of Roman civilization to England; 
πŸ‘‰(2) the growth of nationality;
πŸ‘‰ (3) the new language and literature which were proclaimed in Chaucer.
It is the period of the formation of English language. The following five main dialects of the Anglo-Saxon period continued to develop:
πŸ‘‰ (1) the old Northumbrian dialect consisting of the Lowland Scots and Northern English; 
πŸ‘‰(2) East Midlands and West Midlands, corresponding to Mercian; 
πŸ‘‰(3) South-Western or Mercian; πŸ‘‰(4) South-Eastern or Kentish 
πŸ‘‰(5) South-Western or West Saxon. The literature written down at the end of the Old English period was in the West Saxon dialect.
The new cross-currents influenced the growth and development of language. The Anglo-Saxon speech simplified itself by dropping most of its Teutonic inflections and absorbed eventually a large part of the French vocabulary. The East Midland dialect under the influence of French developed into "the Received Standard English of to-day". The French influences were obvious on both language and literature.
It was a transitional period. Though the influence of French and Latin works is great, at the same time there are poets who followed in the line of development from the Anglo-Saxon period.
It was an age of the development of various genres of poetry, which was used even for writing on history, divinity and science. The amount of prose is small. The extant prose of this period is homiletic in character. It must he remembered that Latin was the language of official documents and of learning. Prose, with but few exceptions, was still written in Latin.

ANGLO-NORMAN POETRY
The poetry of this period was varied but it had little intrinsic worth. Very little of it is now read. It may be classified into the following main groups:
πŸ‘‰1. Chronicles: The Normans brought historical taste with them to England and created historical literature. The English story-telling grew out of Latin about the time of Great Charter. An unusual number of verse chronicles is found during this period. Stories, which seem incredible, are used in them. The contemporary poets thought them as history but to the present-day reader they fit in the category of romance. The main works of this category are the following:
πŸ‘‰(a) Layamon's Brut. Layamon, a parish priest in Worcestershire, completed Brut about 1205. It contains about 30,000 lines narrating, the history of England from the landing of Brutus to the death of Cadwallader, the last of the native kings. It also includes innumerable episodes, especially the stories of King Lear and Arthur. Its main source is Wace's Brut d' Engleterre, a versified romance, which too has been based on Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (1132). It, is remarkable for the use of similes, the brilliant handling of alliterative metre and the commingling of Celtic, French and English influences. Stopford A. Brooke comments on Layamon's importance in the development of poetry: "Indeed, what Caedmon was to early English poetry, Layamon is to English poetry after the conquest. He is the first of the new singers."
πŸ‘‰(b) Robert Mannyng of Brunne. He completed his rhymed Story of England in 1338. It begins with Noah and the Deluge and ends with the death of Edward I. It lacks in originality and poetic quality. He also translated to please plain people a French work, The Manual of Sins (written thirty years earlier by William of Waddington) under the title of Handlyng Synne. Written in four stress lines in couplets, it is a series-of stories. It is "an epitome of various sins." It is full of anecdotes and illustrations, which enliven it. It also shows a keen sense of observation.
πŸ‘‰(c) Robert of Gloucester. His rhyming chronicle was largely drawn on the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth and other chroniclers. His work is full of the ardent feeling of nationalism.
πŸ‘‰2. Religious and Didactic Poetry: The religious poetry is for the most part English in spirit. It is a poetry of the people. Normandy was the centre of the religious revival of the eleventh century. The knights and the churchmen who came to England with William the Conqueror and during his son's reign, were founders of abbeys, which became centres of learning, charity and civilization. The following works of religious and didactic poetry deserve mention:
πŸ‘‰(a) The Orrnulum. Written by a certain Orm about 1200, the Ormulum "marks the rise of English religious literature, and its religion is simple and rustic." It is a series of metrical homilies, written in short lines without either rime or alliteration.
πŸ‘‰(b) The Owl and the Nightingale. Its authorship is unknown. It was written in the early part of the thirteenth century. It is a dialogue between the nightingale, which represents the lighter joys of life and the owl which stands for wisdom and sobriety. It has been appreciated for the narrative skill, characterisation and sense of form. It is historically] interesting because "it discards alliteration and adopts French end-rimes".
πŸ‘‰(c) The Cursor Mundi. It was composed by an anonymous poet in the north in the first quarter of the fourteenth century. It is a voluminous religious work which treats of most of the old and the new Testament stories. It also deals with later religious history. The author shows technical skill in handling the metre, which is the short couplet.
πŸ‘‰(d) Richard Rolle of Hampole. He was born in Yorkshire about 1300. He is supposed to have written his Pricke of Conscience. It is a long poem, based on the writings of early fathers. It describes in a simple and clear style the joys and sorrows of a man's life as he is affected in turn by good and evil.
πŸ‘‰(e) Miscellaneous Poems. The Orison to Our Lady, Genesis and Exodus, The Bestiary, The Moral Ode, The Proverbs of Alfred and The Proverbs of Hendyng are some of the religious poems which were written from A.D. 1150 to 1300.

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πŸ‘‰(f) The Alliterative English Poems. The alliterative English metre of the Old English period is found in the poems of a Northern, perhaps Lancashire poet. These are Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight; Pearl; Cleanness and Patience. This anonymous poet, who probably had finished his poems just as Langland and Chaucer began to write, is superior to his contemporaries. His poetic excellence is praiseworthy. He stands along with Langland and only below Chaucer. Sir Gawayne is romantic. It is the finest of all the Middle English romances. It is remarkable for its superb handling of plot, its realism, its description of nature and its use of the alliterative long line. It is full of new inventiveness and originality. It is moral in aim. The remaining poems are religious in theme. The Pearl is the finest of all these poems. It is the "earliest In Memoriam". It contains "an extraordinary personal passion of grief and of religious exultation pervading a lovely symbolism, which is quite unique." Cleanness and Patience also show a strong moral and religious purpose. As a religious poet he stands with Langland on the one hand, and with Cynewulf on the other.
πŸ‘‰3. The Romances: The French romance was made English in England. Stopford A. Brooke writes: "The country was therefore swarming with tales, chiefly French, and its poetic imagination with the fancies, the fables, the love and the ornament of French romance, translated and imitated in English, and written in the metre of France and in rhyme." These romances, which are found in great numbers, are both alliterative and rhyming in metre. They may be classified as follows according to subject:
πŸ‘‰(a) The first and foremost romance was of King Arthur. Geoffrey of Monmouth began it in England about 1132. Some of the main romances connected with the Arthur legend are Arthur and Merlin, Morte d' Arthur, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Sir Tristrem.
πŸ‘‰(b) The second romantic story was that of Charlemagne and His Twelve Peers. Begun in France with the Song of Roland, a huge tale of Charlemagne was forged about 1110 in the name of Archbishop of Turpin. The popular romances of Charlemagne theme were Otinel, The Roland, The Charlemagne and Roland, Siege of Milan, Sir Ferumbras, and the humorous Rauf Coilyear.
πŸ‘‰(c) The third romantic story is that of the Life of Alexander. King Alisaunder and The Destruction of troy belong to this category.
(d) Various romances deal with miscellaneous themes. King Horn, Havelock the Dane, Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton deal with English history. William of Paleme is written on the familiar "missing heir theme. Floris and Blauchefleur depicts the love of a king's son for a captive maid.
The main subject of these romances is of a martial and amatory nature. The supernatural is freely interwoven with the story. Sometimes we have a peep into the manners and habits of the time. The characters aniisretyees, and the style is generally simple and direct but lacks in artistic finish.
Characteristics of Anglo-Norman Poetry
πŸ‘‰1. Anglo-Norman poetry is written on varied themes—historical, religious and didactic and romantic.
πŸ‘‰2. The commingling of religious and romantic elements strikes a new note in poetry.
πŸ‘‰3. The development of the rhymed metre is one of the main features of the poetry of this period. But the alliterative line of the Old English poetry was not entirely displaced. Layamon's Brut is an outstanding example of alliterative verse. The alliterative poems, which form a class apart, were written in Anglo-Norman period.
πŸ‘‰4. The lyric was written during this period. There is no example of the true lyric during the Old English period. Many of the early lyrics were devoutly religious in theme and tone. In them the love of nature was mingled with the love of God and the longing of the soul for perfect beauty. Owl and the Nightingale, written about 1280, is a fine lyric. The lyrical movement began with hymns to the Virgin and Christ, touched with the sentiments of Latin and Norman-French amorous poetry. These changed into frank love poems in the hands of wandering students. Thus secular lyric arose. These are full of love of women and love of nature. "Blow, Northerne Wind", "The Cuckoo Song" etc. are fine examples of the secular lyric.
πŸ‘‰5. The poetry of this period has an ardent national element. W. J. Courthope writes: "Rude and imperfect as is the vehicle of expression, the popular songs of England in the 13th and the 14th centuries reveal a consciousness of united purpose and corporate period in the nation, for which no contemporary parallel can be found in any country of Euorpe."
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ANGLO-NORMAN PROSE
There is no freshness of theme in prose due to the dominance of religion. The Ancren Rivle, written in 12th century, is the most important of the early prose texts of this period. The anonymous writer's broad humanity is reflected in it. Its connection with the prose of Wulfstan and The Authorise Version is clear. It is an important link in the continuity of English prose.

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1 comment:

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As You Like It Quick understanding

Shakespeare Explained: Quick Questions on  As You Like It ACT I — SCENE I 1. Why do people find Orlando attractive? Because he is young, bra...