Anglo-norman or middle english period

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(1066 – 1500)

  • from the Norman Conquest to the emergence of ‘modern English’ = the standard literary language derived from the dialect spoken in the London area.

  • Normans (North-men) from Normandy (province in France gifted to Vikings by French king to stop their further invasion).

  • The Norman conquest of England in 1066 traditionally signifies the beginning of 200 years of the domination of French in English letters. The French language and culture replaced English in polite court society and had lasting effects on English culture. But the native tradition survived, although little 13th-century, and even less 12th-century, vernacular literature is extant, since most of it was transmitted orally. Anglo-Saxon fragmented into several dialects and gradually evolved into Middle English, which, despite an admixture of French, is unquestionably English. By the mid-14th cent., Middle English had become the literary as well as the spoken language of England.

GEOFFREY CHAUCER (1340 – 1400)

  • the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages; the father of English poetry

  • son of a wine merchant; a page to the Countess of Ulster (access to court, aristocracy; observed polite manners); promotion and foreign service as a young soldier (well-traveled with a good eye); married into the family of John of Gaunt; well-educated – read Latin, studied French and Italian literatures => one of the best equipped of the English poets

The Canterbury Tales – Chaucer’s masterpiece

  • Collection 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 Prologue – a marvelous portrait gallery of typical people of the age: the corrupt Monk, the dainty (delicate and pretty) Prioress, the gay young Squire, a devout Knight – people whose offices for the most part no longer exist, for the society that produced them no longer exists. We do not have Summoners and Munciples and Pardoners nowadays, though we do have Physicians and Parsons and Cooks. But beneath the costumes and the strange occupations, we have timeless human beings – Chaucer displayed descriptive gifts and sense of humour, irony, satire. Although the pilgrims are defined through their occupations and the class they belong to, they are highly individualized, each has his/her own way of speaking and philosophy: e.g. The Wife of Bath – a woman of strong opinions, esp. on the theme of marriage; had five husbands.

  • Observation of life as it is really lived; pictures of people who are real; a collection of human beings of all temperaments and all social positions (LAYMEN: Knight (Vitez), Squire (Štitonoša), Yeoman (Strelac), Merchant (Trgovac), Sergeant of the Law (Pravozastupnik), Franklin (Zemljoposednik), Carpenter, Haberdasher, Weaver, Dyer, Carpet-maker (Drvodelja, Torbar, Tkač, Ćilimar), Shipper (Kapetan broda), Doctor (Lekar), Wife of Bath (Žena iz Bata), Plowman (Ratar), Miller (Mlinar), Munciple (Nabavljač), Reeve (Nadzornik), Host (Krčmar); CHURCHMEN: Nun-Prioress (Predstojnica), Monk (Monah), Friar (Fratar), Oxford-clerk (Bogoslov), Parson (Paroh), Summoner (Pozivar), Pardoner (Oprostilac).

  • The Host of the Inn where the Pilgrims meet offers a free supper to whichever of the pilgrims shall tell the best story on the long road to Canterbury.

  • The tales are cast into many different verse forms and genres; 22 in verse and 2 in prose; themes and motives are mainly taken from Italian and French sources.

  • Heroic couplet – rhymed iambic pentametar

  • The tales also illustrate their own characters: e.g. the Wife of Bath’s story is about the relationship of men and women – one of King Arthur’s knights has to find the answer to the question “What do women love most?”; the Carpenter’s (about the Miller duped by two students) and the Miller’s tale (about an old carpenter whose wife is unfaithful; cuckold) are rich in humour; pathetic tale of the Prioress (about a boy killed by the Jews because he sang a hymn to Virgin Mary); a romantic tale of the Knight (about Greek hero Theseus; the story about the capturing of the city of Thebes; + a love story);

  • The Pardoner’s tale - of oriental origin; prologue: about the Pardoner’s greed and the way he cheats people; the story: about three conmen who find treasure

  • the tales collectively explore virtually every significant medieval theme.

  • Language: looks like modern English, but to listen to it is still to hear what sounds like a foreign tongue; a number of phrases from his work have become part of everyday speech: ‘The smiler with the knife beneath his cloak.’

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