Middle English Literature
In our previous post, Evolution Of The English Language, we discussed Beowulf. Now, Middle English Literature corresponds to the medieval period. It is very different from that produced by Beowulf. Let’s have a look at the poets and their contribution to Middle English Literature.
Poet Geoffrey Chaucer was born circa 1340 in London, England. In 1357 he became a public servant to Countess Elizabeth of Ulster and continued in that capacity with the British court throughout his lifetime.
The Canterbury Tales became his best known and most acclaimed work. He died in 1400 and was the first to be buried in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.
Middle English Literature
Chaucer’s first major work was ‘The Book of the Duchess’, an elegy for the first wife of his patron John of Gaunt. Other works include ‘Parlement of Foules’, ‘The Legend of Good Women’, and ‘Troilus and Criseyde’.
In 1387, he began his most famous work, ‘The Canterbury Tales’, in which a diverse group of people recounts stories to pass the time on a pilgrimage to Canterbury.
William Langland, (born c. 1330—died c. 1400), presumed author of one of the greatest examples of Middle English alliterative poetry, generally known as Piers Plowman, an allegorical work with a complex variety of religious themes.
One of the major achievements of Piers Plowman is that it translates the language and conceptions of the cloister into symbols and images that could be understood by the layman.
In general, the language of the poem is simple and colloquial, but some of the author’s imagery is powerful and direct.
Morality Play Everyman
Morality plays, Miracle plays, and Interlude
The morality play is an allegorical drama popular in Europe especially during the 15th and 16th centuries, in which the characters personify moral qualities (such as a charity or vice) or abstractions (as death or youth) and in which moral lessons are taught.
Morality plays typically contain a protagonist who represents either humanity as a whole or a smaller social structure. Supporting characters are personifications of good and evil.
This alignment of characters provides the play’s audience with moral guidance. Morality plays are the result of the dominant belief of the time period, that humans had a certain amount of control over their post-death fate while they were on earth. An example is Everyman.
Miracle And Mystery Plays
Miracle plays (mystery plays) were stories taken from the Bible. Each play had four or five different scenes or acts. The priests and monks were the actors.
Each scene or act was performed at a different place in town and the people moved from one stage to the next to watch the play.
The play usually ended outside the church so that the people would go to church and hear a sermon after watching the play.
Another kind of play, the Interlude was performed at court or at “great houses” by professional minstrels or amateurs at intervals between some other entertainment, such as a banquet, or preceding or following a play, or between acts. John Heywood, one of the most famous interlude writers, brought the genre to perfection in his Four P-s.