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Medieval Literature

Table of Contents

    Medieval literature is the body of work written from 7th century AD till the beginning of Renaissance around early 15th century in Florence, Italy. The works written in the medieval era primarily focus on religious, theological and secular affairs of the Church and the State. Literature of western and central Europe is mainly taken into account while exploring the issues prevalent in the medieval era. In England, Old English was suppressed after the Anglo-Norman conquest in 1066 and French became the official language of the English court and the Anglo- Saxon masses. Old English was still spoken in the countryside and rural areas and as the Anglo-Normans began to expand in the country, they adapted to the old language and turned it into a dialect of their own. By 14th century, Norman English and the old English had become merged and turned into ‘Middle English’ as we know today.

    One of the important topics which occur repeatedly in medieval literature is chivalry, heroic attributes and legends. The Byzantines consistently produced works in Greek in Eastern Europe in literary forms such as drama, poetry and prose; which however could not stand up to the masterpieces of old Greek literary personas. On the other hand, creative literature continued to flourish in the vernacular tongues instead of the courtly languages. Most known literary genres of the time were heroic legends and theological teachings which emphasized on religious values and devotion to God.

    Broadly, medieval literature falls in two categories: pre-Christian (pagan) and Christian. Both sides focus on issues related to religion, piety and heroism; and highlights the importance of individual responsibility and discretion. Few notable works of pre-Christian and later Christian era are as follows:

    Pre-Christian era: Beowulf (old English), Song of the Nibelungs (German) and Edda (Norse) among others.

    Christian era (post Norman Conquest): Canterbury Tales (English), Song of the Cid (Spanish) and Song of Igor’s Campaign (Slavic) among others.