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Old and Middle English literature Options
Riyan Khan 1
Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2020 7:55:23 AM

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Hello. First, I'm going to apologize if it's off-topic. I would like to know that "what were Old and Middle English literatures centred on". This is the only question I'm asking. Searched a lot but there are all long-winded and intricate explanations. What were the main things on which those literatures were focused?

Thanks.
Romany
Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2020 4:29:51 PM
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In Old English it was mainly Epics and Sagas i.e. tales of adventure and great wars, of triumphant heroes and feasts, of drinking and mythical beasts.

Middle English itself went through three distinct phases, but it would be safe to say that throughout this period the main source of literature was Ecclesiastical or historical.

However, it was during the (rather long) period of Middle English that the idea of Courtly Love swept in and paved the way for a whole new branch of literature to appear.
thar
Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2020 4:59:05 PM

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But what we see now is what has survived. So we are seeing what people managed to save, or bothered to copy or write down - sampling bias?

I would challenge 'Ecclesastical' surely. Moral, yes, but wasn't it also pretty subversive, rebellious or independent, on occasion?
Romany
Posted: Friday, September 11, 2020 10:51:28 PM
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Thar -

Yes indeed it was ecclesiastical - lives of saints, endless translations, illuminated missals, testaments, Prayer books, morality tales, the ravings of hermits and other "holy" people through whom 'The spirit' was supposed to issue.

Remember, this was still the time of "Mother Church" - the Protestant Reformation was only getting into its stride during the linguistic shift to Early Modern.

So though there were individual tracts which were written during the Middle English period,(Obviously the name Martin Luther springs to mind!), remember that this tumult in thinking was mainly still taking place in Europe. In England the Reformation moved more slowly and, during this period, the reading of any material other than that centred around the standard ecclesiastical themes mentioned above was what was subversive. As I'm sure you know, people lost their heads, or were turned into krispy kritturs according to what papers/tracts/pamphlets were found in their possession.

Keep in mind too that this was still the period in which The Church had the stranglehold on education: the only route to learning to read and write was through the priories and convents - even the wealthy who employed private tutors usually employed friars and monks and even priests.

Because so few people could read or write all the bawdiness, the subversiveness, the rebelliousness of the population - far removed from the business of Kings and Courts - is encapsulated in the ballads, the bawdy-songs, the drinking songs which were part of the oral tradition.

Of the three phases of Middle English, the last is the most difficult to pin down as it segues into Early Modern...even the Elizabethan playwrights were still mixing up older usages and newer one with joyful abandon well into the 17th Century.

Another thing to consider is that as Elizabeth herself ushered in the age of Education in her very wily tight-rope walk been the old established Church and the reforms that were ushered in...she broke the Church stranglehold on Education. She encouraged exploration in every way - including free thinking. This in turn led to what's termed the "English Renaissance" - and that's when English Literature really began and, perforce, the language began to use terms (Scientific, medical, Arts-related, musical) still used today, which is what marks the Early Modern period. Middle English simply was unable to adapt itself to all the new concepts which were flooding people's minds.

Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2020 7:24:48 PM

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There were apparently some more secular literary efforts.

Here is one example reading - A Triune Tale of Diminutive Swine, told by John Branyan. I'm sure Romany will enjoy this.
Romany
Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2020 9:57:06 PM
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Oh, Drago, I'm far too pedantic, it seems! Anxious I kept thinking - "But why didn't he just say it was Victorian? It would have been just as funny?" and "Why hasn't someone told him yet he's in the wrong century?" and "What possessed him to say he was going to speak Elizabethan in the first place?".

All of which was to stop me from exploding at the screen when he started off with those faux statistics!

Looks like discovering Monty Python at a young age doomed me to a life of only ever screaming with laughter at historical word-play when it's got a double edge.Boo hoo!
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2020 10:22:31 PM

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Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom
Well, it is a bit reminiscent of Leonard Sachs, I suppose.
That was one of my childhood delights (even if it was from Leeds).
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