Medieval literature is a very diverse subject. The term covers the literature of Europe during the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginnings of the Renaissance in the 15th century, spanning a period of roughly 1, 000 years. As a result, it is difficult to make generalizations about medieval literature. It is, nonetheless, possible to identify a few general trends. Allegory and symbolism are common in medieval literature, perhaps more so than in modern writing. Religious and philosophical messages were often conveyed through the use of figures, such as the panther, an animal which represented Christ.
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Old Norse and Irish poetry often contains figures of baffling complexity which allowed listeners who puzzled them out to pride themselves on their mastery of the form. One of the most noticeable features of medieval literature is the prevalence of religious subjects. For much of the Middle Ages, the church was the main source of education. Literacy was common among priests, monks and nuns, but rarer among the laity, although it steadily increased throughout the period, particularly among wealthy landowners and merchants.
This imbalance meant that much of medieval literature was focused on Christian subjects, including the works of theologians and philosophers such as St Thomas Aquinas. One of the most famous religious works of the period was The Golden Legend, a collection of stories about the saints by Jacobus de Voraigne. Not all medieval literature was religious in nature, however. Secular poems and prose works related the deeds of semi-legendary heroes and villains. Examples of this type of work include the French Song of Roland and Beowulf, an early English poem about a hero’s battles against a series of monsters.
Other popular heroes in medieval literature included El Cid, a Spanish hero, and King Arthur, a legendary Welsh character who became the protagonist of a number of works in French and English. Medieval Iceland produced a highly-developed literary culture, with sophisticated poems and sagas relating to the deeds of the heroes of the Viking Age. Medieval writers concerned themselves with love as well as adventure, particularly from the 11th century onward in France and southern Europe.
Stories and poems of ” courtly love” — a refined and noble expression of love between two people who were usually not married — were popular in this region. Elements of these tales of romance entered the heroic epics as well, resulting in love stories such as the tale of Lancelot and Guinevere. Medieval literature also contained a strong strain of humor. Comic songs and poems were popular, and works such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales provided biting satires of contemporary society.
Chaucer’s work drew on French short stories called fabliaux, which were part of a rich continental tradition of humorous writing. The medieval period lasted from approximately 500 Common Era (CE) until the year 1500 CE, although some scholars and historians debate these exact dates. This particular historical time period is also frequently called the middle ages for its role as a transitional time. After the Roman Empire’s rule ended, the resulting ripple effects were political, social, religious, and artistic developments that formed a basis for the modern world.
The study of medieval history is often considered important for understanding the forces that paved the way for other significant historical events that occurred in the centuries that followed. ROMANCE, MEDIEVAL (also called a chivalric romance): In medieval use, romance referred to episodic French and German poetry dealing with chivalry and the adventures of knights in warfare as they rescue fair maidens and confront supernatural challenges. The medieval metrical romances resembled the earlier chansons de gestes and epics.
However, unlike the Greek and Roman epics, medieval romances represent not a heroic age of tribal wars, but a courtly or chivalric period of history involving highly developed manners and civility, as M. H. Abrams notes. Their standard plot involves a single knight seeking to win a scornful lady’s favor by undertaking a dangerous quest. Along the way, this knight encounters mysterious hermits, confronts evil blackguards and brigands, slays monsters and dragons, competes anonymously in tournaments, and suffers from wounds, starvation, deprivation, and exposure in the wilderness.
He may incidentally save a few extra villages and pretty maidens along the way before finishing his primary task. (This is why scholars say romances are episodic–the plot can be stretched or contracted so the author can insert or remove any number of small, short adventures along the hero’s way to the larger quest. ) Medieval romances often focus on the supernatural. In the classical epic, supernatural events originate in the will and actions of the gods. However, in secular medieval romance, the supernatural originates in magic, spells, enchantments, and fairy trickery.
Divine miracles are less frequent, but are always Christian in origin when they do occur, involving relics and angelic visitations. A secondary concern is courtly love and the proprieties of aristocratic courtship–especially the consequences of arranged marriage and adultery. Scholars usually divide medieval romances into four loose categories based on subject-matter: (1) ” The Matter of Rome”: stories based on the history and legends of Greco-Roman origin such as the Trojan War, Thebes, mythological figures, and the exploits of Alexander the Great.
The medieval poet usually creates an anachronistic work by turning these figures into knights as he knew them. (2) ” The Matter of Britain”: stories based on Celtic subject-matter, especially Camelot, King Arthur, and his knights of the round table, including material derived from the Celto-French Bretons and Breton lais. (3) ” The Matter of England”: stories based on heroes like King Horn and Guy of Warwick. (4) ” The Matter of France”: stories based on Charlemagne, Roland, and his knights. A large number of such romances survive due to their enormous popularity, including the works of Chretien de Troyes (c. 1190), Hartmann von Aue (c. 1203), Gottfried von Strassburg (c. 1210), and Wolfram von Eschenbach (c. 1210).
England produced its own romances in the fourteenth century, including the Lay of Havelok the Dane and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In 1485, Caxton printed the lengthy romance Le Morte D’Arthur, a prose work that constituted a grand synthesis of Arthurian legends. Gradually, the poetic genre of medieval romance was superseded by prose works of Renaissance romance. Medieval poetry is a type of literary verse that was written during the Middle Ages and that has specific subject matter relevant to this time period.
This kind of poetry most often covers topics of religious devotion and of courtly love, both of which had a great deal of importance in medieval society. Since rates of literacy were relatively low during this period in history, medieval poetry was often spoken before it was eventually written down. Professional reciters called minstrels or troubadours typically traveled from one town to the next and performed long epic poems from memory. Their purpose was usually to instruct as much as to entertain the denizens of each town or village. Many topics of medieval poetry were concerned with religion and the accepted ideas of virtue.
This subject matter reflects the importance of the church as a unifying influence on people from otherwise different cultural backgrounds. Monks and priests were usually the ones who composed or transcribed medieval religious poems because they were the literate minority during this time period. Much of this religious poetry sought to teach lessons on morality and piety, and it also offered solace to an audience frequently living with hardships such as disease and poverty. Courtly love was an additional focus of medieval poetry. These poems were the most popular ones for troubadour performances.
These types of verses revered women and imparted ideas of heroism. Much of this poetry was composed in verses that were set to music, and some performers also sang these romantic poems a cappella instead of simply reciting them. Medieval poetry about courtly love is considered one of the first appearances of romantic passion ideals in literature. Since much of this poetry has a definite oral tradition, the exact identities of many courtly love poets have been lost to history. While many medieval poems were dramatic and serious, others were satirical and meant to poke fun at the shortcomings of certain socioeconomic classes.
One of the most famous examples is Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. This poem and others written during the medieval period also represent a shift in written language use as well. While many poems were written only in Latin, others appeared in vernacular languages such as Old English, Irish, and French. This new literary practice grew along with rates of literacy among the common people, and this aspect of later medieval poetry helped to set the stage for the Renaissance era that followed.
Medieval Love Poetry started the beginning of Romance in Literature The Troubadours, poets in the southern part of France, were the first to write medieval love poetry in which the problem of the Feminine was the focal point. In the following centuries writers in all the European countries began to write about the relationship between men and women. Some produced ‘love lyrics’ while many others wrote narrative fiction. These fictional narratives about knights, ladies, and love, are usually called ‘romances’.
It is because love is so important in the romances that any intense and socially troubling form of love came to be called ‘romantic love. ‘ In these ” love lyrics”, which we may rightly call medieval love poetry, man humbles himself before a woman that he loves with an intense admiration. The man offers to become the Lady’s servant, to live only for her, if she will only recognize his feelings. There is no question of marriage, as often the lady is already married. Medieval Love Poetry essentially evolved from the romantic narratives like Tristan and Iseult, Lancelot and Guinevere, Aeneas and Dido and Troilus and Criseyde.
The case of Dante and Beatrice, Petrarch and Laura were unique, in that these latter examples of medieval love poetry from probably the most celebrated and influential medieval poets of the age, were real life experiences and not fictional ( In spite of early scepticism leveled at Petrarch’s) Medieval love poetry reflected the birth of intense love of man and woman as a central subject in European literature. In tracing the genesis of the phenomena, the first troubadour on record was Guilhem IX Count of Poitiers and Duke of Aquitaine (1071- 1127).
He was the grandfather of Queen Eleanor, first of France, then of England who along with her daughter, Marie, Countess of Champagne was the patrons of the golden age of fin amors, the term coined for courtly love. Around 1100, Guilhem of Aquitaine in south-western France, who had hitherto written a number of poems that depicted his feminine conquests in a rather ribald manner, (as could be expected of the vigorous soldier that he was) suddenly in a marked departure from his previous verses, wrote a new poem,” Farai chansoneta nueva”, which changed medieval love poetry forever!