British Literature 14-15th century Chaucer to Caxton by tenkaizen

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									                           British Literature
            The Late Medieval Period: From Chaucer to Caxton
Historical background:

14th and the 15th centuries form the period of transition from feudalism to pre-industrial era. It
was also a period of political, social and
ideological conflicts.

   -   England was in the war with
       France (Hundred Years War
       1337-1453, trade and national
       war, Edward’s claim to the
       French throne, to bring England,
       Flanders and Gascony under a
       unified political control).

   -   The defeats in France added to the internal crisis. The decline of agriculture combined
       with a continuous growth of the population resulted in frequent famines which helped
       spread in the 14th century so called ―Black Death‖. After the Peasant’s Revolt (1381),
       commutation of feudal services went on steadily. In the 15th c., farm leases and
       financial earnings substituted servile labor.

   -   Culture: By mid-15th c., England had become a nation, with a sense of separate
       identity and an indigenous culture

   -   In 1362, a Parliamentary statute declared English the official language in the law
       courts and English was also used in schools. The 14th c. witnessed the appearance of
       the first original literary works written in English.


The Fourteenth Century

                             The poetry of the alliterative revival, 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 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 the Scots poets William Dunbar or Robert Henryson. The
poetry of John Skelton, which is mostly satiric, combines medieval and Renaissance

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

The Pearl is usually explained as an elegy for the poet’s young daughter; in an allegorical
vision of singular beauty he sees her as a maiden in paradise and becomes reconciled to her
death. The second and third poems, Cleanness (or Purity) and Patience, are homiletic poems
on those virtues.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the fourth poem, which relates a fabulous adventure of
Gawain, is perhaps the most brilliantly conceived of all Arthurian romances. If single
authorship is accepted, the artistry displayed in this poem and in The Pearl make the so-called
Pearl-poet in some respects a rival to Chaucer.

 He was regarded, particularly in the early romances, as the model of chivalry—pure,
  brave, and courteous. In later romances, when spiritual purity was valued more than
  chivalrous deeds, his character deteriorated, becoming treacherous and brutal.

Author               Work                              Features
John Mandeville      The Travels of Sir John
John Wycliffe        De dominio divino
John de Trevisa      Polychronicon
Anonymous1           The Vision Concerning Piers       Revival of alliteration verse, 3
                     Plowman                           meanings
Anonymous2           Sir Gawain and the Green Knight   Court poem
                     Pearl, Purity, Patience
John Gower           Mirour de l’Omme
                     Vox Clamantis
                     Confessio Amantis
Geoffrey Chaucer     The book of the Duchese           Elegy
                     The House of Fame                 Dream allegory
                     The Parlement of Foules (Ptačí    Rhyme royal (strophe consisting
                     sněm)                             of 7 verses abab bcc)
                     Troilus and Criseyde
                     The Legend of Good Women          New element – heroic couplet (5
                                                       iambic feet)
                     The Canterbury Tales
Thomas Hoccleve      La Male Regle
                     Le Regement
John Lydgate         Troy Book
                     The Story of Thebes
                     The Fall of Princess
James I              The Kingis Quair                  Scottish Chaucerian (SCh)
Robert Henryson      Fables (The Cock and the Fox)
                     The Testament of Cresseid
William Dunbar       The Golden Target, The Thistle    Love allegories
                     and the Rose
                     The Two Married Women and the     Satirical, comical poem
                     The Dance of the Seven Deadly
                     Lament for the Makaris
The Paston Letters
William Caxton       The Histories of Troy
Thomas Malory        Le Morte d’Artur
John Skelton         Philip Sparrow                    Skeltonic verse
                     The Tunnyng of Elinour
                     Magnificence                      X Th. Wolsey, morality, satirical


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