THE MIDDLE AGES (449-1485) The Middle Ages generally is an era of war, invasion, upheaval, and change. Death was a familiar event--perhaps one thing that was certain in the midst of chaos and uncertainty—so it is accepted and almost admired (if met with courage). In England, people adhered to Pagan beliefs, although pockets of Christianity remained from Roman Times. Literature of the Middle Ages is predominantly Pagan, with Christian overtones.
ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD (449-1066)
This age is characterized by Feudalism, which is the organizing principal; however, without a central government of religion, England, comprised of Christian Britons and the Pagan Germanic tribes and clans who had invaded in the fifth century, remained a heterogeneous region wrought with internal strife. However, Anglo-Saxons were intuitively democratic: they loved to hold meetings in which people could express their thoughts and feelings. Also characteristic of the age are the warrior-hero1, the love of beauty and craftsmanship, Wyrd2, a respect for learning, justice and community. Kinship is permanent3, as is the interdependence of lord and thane (loyalty from than is rewarded by lord; lord’s generosity exacts loyalty from thane). The Anglo-Saxons idealized courage, personal valor, generosity, loyalty, courtesy (hospitality code), the heroic ideal of excellence—whatever the task—the dauntless, action in the face of Fate, boldness, kindness, justice (of the Old Testament Sort) and fame (through which one gains immortality). Heroic boastfulness is respected because the boaster is committed to the task or greatness about which he boasts. Women are incidental, existing only to help the hero achieve warrior status. The mead-hall, feasting, entertainment by the Scop4, and discussion (early democratic bent?) are integral to the community. In Anglo-Saxon literature, there is an oral poetic tradition, lore of epics, elegies, and riddles.
An aphorism summing up the A-S Heroic Ideal: “Fate often saves a doomed man when his courage is good.” CHARACTERISTICS OF ANGO-SAXON LITERATURE Oral and thereby easy to memorize (think: children’s rhymes)
Alliteration (before and after caesura as connection)
Kennings (descriptive adjective replacing concrete noun) Eg: In Macbeth, Cawdor the traitor was the “rebel’s whore.”
Related to epithet (phrase after or before the name of a person, etc. Alexander the Great)
Four accented beats (any number of syllables) per line
After 2 beats, each line has a caesura (pause in middle)