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Introductory Notes British Literature

Introductory Notes British Literature

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Introductory Notes British Literature

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  1. The Medieval Period(The Middle Ages)1066-1485“Patience is a high virtue.” Geoffrey Chaucer “The Franklin’s Tale”, The Canterbury Tales“Manners maketh man.” William of Wykeham—motto of two colleges at Oxford Introductory Notes British Literature

  2. The Norman Conquest of England • Alfred the Great defeated the Danes (King Hrothgar’s people) and confined them to the north of England • In 1066, the English King, Edward the Confessor died, and Harold II (Edward’s cousin) claimed that he should be the new king • Duke William of Normandy (with the church’s support) invaded England and defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings. • In four years, the Normans killed most of the English nobility and divided the land into estates known as fiefdoms, ruled by the French-speaking barons loyal to William the Conqueror

  3. Anglo-Norman Literature • For 200 years (1066-1260), after the conquest of the Normans, English became a “lower-class” language, one spoken almost by the poor and powerless • The language of the rich was Norman-French • The production of English Literature was nonexistent • The production of Anglo-Norman literature was quite practical, in keeping with the character of the Norman people • Much of it consists of religious tracts andother works meant for general learning

  4. Feudalism • The political system brought to England by William the Conqueror • All of the land belonged to the King, who granted land to nobility, called Barons • Barons were bound in loyalty to the king, had to raise armies to fight his battles, and pay taxes to support his court • Barons granted land to lesser nobles and required services and taxes from them • At the very bottom of the social order was a class of bondsmen, known as peasants or serfs

  5. Feudalism KING Barons Other Nobles Peasants/Serfs

  6. Peasants/Serfs • The life of a serf was terrible • They were the property of their feudal lords and could not leave the land or even marry without permission • They lived on meager diets, suffered terribly from disease, and worked very hard only to turn over much of what they produced for the support of the lord’s household • Occasionally, a serf could earn his freedom by some exceptional service to his lord. This class of freed serfs (or freemen) grew to include many merchants, traders, and artisans.

  7. The Influence of the Church • At no time in history of England was the influence of the church greater than during the Medieval period • The Roman Catholic Church had tremendous power, money, and influence • The head of the church was the Pope • Much of the literature of the time was religious

  8. Henry II • In 1154, Henry II became King of England • He despised the fact that the church had (technically) more power than he did • He wanted to curb some of that power by appointing his friend, Thomas Becket, to the Archbishop’s seat in Canterbury when it became open. • He expected Becket to go along with his views and support his every wish for change. But…

  9. Instead, Becket defied royal policy and appealed to the Pope. The Pope supported Becket, which enraged Henry. • Some of Henry’s knights misunderstood Henry’s rage and in 1170, four of them went to Canterbury and murdered Becket in his cathedral. • Henry quickly condemned the crime and tried to atone for it by making a pilgrimage to Canterbury to Becket’s tomb • He built a shrine to his friend and that shrine became an example of religious devotion

  10. Growth of Towns • Towns in England were growing rapidly • Townspeople grouped themselves into associations, called guilds, according to their vocation • As these guilds became more powerful, some of them became corrupt • Also, as towns grew, many combined into cities. With the growing population, it was only inevitable that…

  11. THE BLACK DEATH… • 1348-1349—Because of unsanitary conditions, disease was widespread and the worst plague in history, the black death, swept through England • It killed one-third of the population

  12. Middle Ages (later part of the Medieval Period) • As the Black Plague waned, so did the Feudal system • Many peasant revolts caused the noblemen to lose some of their power • 1381-Peasant Revolt: Jack Straw and Wat Tyler rebelled in demand for individual liberty and human rights • The idea of chivalry and romance emerged once again • Code of chivalry—loyalty, valor, both on and off the battlefield

  13. The War of the Roses • Began in 1453, when King Henry VI suffered his first bout of madness • Parliament appointed his cousin, Richard of York, as temporary head of England until Henry was able to return • Henry recovered briefly and Richard was forced from office. But Richard was not willing to leave without a fight.

  14. This resulted in a Civil War, known as the War of the Roses, because it pitted the House of York (Richard’s side) whose family symbol was a white rose against the House of Lancaster (Henry’s side) whose family symbol was a red rose • The House of Lancaster ultimately won the Civil War in 1485 (30 years later)

  15. Medieval Literature • Crusades (11th-13th centuries): holy wars to recapture Jerusalem—Europe supported and fought in these wars. • Devotion to the Virgin Mary influenced the development of a unique type of literature known as romance—which portrayed the standards of knightly conduct known as chivalry • Romances were stories of adventure and dealt with the exploits of knights (battles, jousts, etc). They would present a series of tests or trials of the knight’s virtues • Most famous---the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. These tales were handed down orally until written down around 1135

  16. Medieval Literature • 1476-William Caxton introduced movable type to England • Geoffrey Chaucer: in many estimates, he ranks second only to Shakespeare as England’s greatest writer. He wrote The Canterbury Tales, a series of verse told by different pilgrims on their way to the tomb of Thomas Becket

  17. Medieval Literature • Ballads: songs of the common people, four-line stanzas that served as entertainment and as records of events that captured the popular imagination. • Robin Hood and similar stories • Morality plays: represented abstract virtues and vices as actual characters • Mystery plays: told stories from the Bible • Miracle plays: told stories from the lives of Saints

  18. Other Interesting/Famous Events: • 1215: Magna Carta- limited the power of the King. Caused by Henry II’s son John because he was a heavy taxer, Parliament forced him to sign it • 1339-1453: 100 Year’s War over possession of French land • Joan of Arc (1412-1431) helped France to win back its land • Late 14th century: John Wycliff finished the 1st complete translation of the Bible into English