Literary History Of England Essay, Research Paper
English Literature is and always will be a part of the heritage of the English-speaking world. Since the time it was created, it has continued to influence today s literary world. Literature was overall nonexistent before Christian times. Early stories and tales were passed on through oral tradition. Some literature written during Christian times was rooted from pagan tales and stories, such as the famous tale of Beowulf. Stories about heroism and bravery were very common during these times. Since then, English literature has grown, evolved, and continued to inform and entertain the populations of English-speaking countries.
In its earliest form, literature was entertainment and leisure for the whole family. Folktales and fables would teach the audiences lessons about life. Much of the prose from early times originated from Latin books and was converted to English during the reign of King Alfred (c870-900). However, the emergence of Christianity changed the common prose of England. Written language started to be applied for use that was more utilitarian rather than for entertainment. Wills, deeds, and other official documents were being created.
The Literature and language of England continued to change. Rhyme became quite popular by the year 1000 AD. By the late 12th and early 13th centuries, rhyming, alliteration, and various stanza patterns became very common in many narratives. Around the year 1340, a literary giant was born. These middle years of the 14th century saw the beginning of a revolution, beginning with Geoffrey Chaucer. His long narrative poems and alliterative meter made his time a long remembered era. Probably the main characteristics of his writings were the variety of subject matter, tone, and style. However, his writings also constantly reflect life s humors, as well as its important philosophical questions. He consistently presents the eternal struggle for man s pursuit of a sensible existence. Since his time, literature has been almost obsessed with these questions of life.
Geoffrey Chaucer s life was a complex one. His father was John Chaucer, a middle-class wine and leather specialist who died in 1366 or 1367. John Chaucer managed to get Geoffrey to serve the royal household. It was a customary arrangement whereby someone with connections to the royal household could provide better education for their children. By 1366, he was serving King Edward III as a messenger. His education and service under the King were apparent. He became fluent in the French language and very knowledgeable in Italian and Latin.
During his time serving King Edward, he made good friends with John of Gaunt. They met sometime around 1357, both about the same age. The first of Chaucer s important poems came about as a result of his friendship with John. Book of Duchess was written in memory of Blanche, the Duchess of Lancaster, John s first wife. She died of the plague early in 1369. Chaucer decided to use the dream-vision form of poetry, which was made famous by the 13th century French poem, Roman De La Rose (Chesterton, 73). He translated the poem and incorporated some of its subject matter into his own works throughout his career. The use of dream-vision incorporated with his eulogy for the duchess was truly an original idea (Chesterton, 73). He also transformed the classic third person style of poetry and began using first person point of view, which he tends to use many times later in his career. Book of Duchess revealed his skill at presenting the rhythms of natural conversation within the borders of the Middle English language while still creating realistic characters (Gardner, 107).
These attributes once again present themselves in his next important work, Hous of Fame. It was over 2,000 lines and in dream vision form as well. This poem was never finished. It did however reveal his growing skill at writing poetry (Gardner, 117).
As his life passed by, he continued working as a diplomat for the King while continuing his poetic career. He later wrote his fourth and final dream vision work. Named the Legend of Good Women, it was more about the actions of bad men rather than what the title suggests. Though it was not very popular, the style used in that narrative was to be the framework of his next and most famous work, The Canterbury Tales.
The Canterbury Tales, written during the 1390 s, had an unusual framework. It was a long poem written as a collection of stories under the same, dominating theme. The story is about thirty men who agree to have a storytelling contest on their pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury and back.
Chaucer never finishes the tales as he had planned. There is no mention of the return from Canterbury and not all the men on the pilgrimage tell a story. Because of the structure, however, the tales come together to present a complex variety of pilgrims.
In the closing of Tales , Chaucer explains that his, as well as everyone else s, concern for this world fades when compared to the prospect of the next world. He openly repents to God for his works of the pursuit of earthly vanities and possessions (Chesterton, 176). It exposes his religious devotion as he closes the last and finest of his works.
English Literature has truly been transformed by this literary legend. With the English written language being created in the 5th century, Literature has come a long way. Chaucer s poetic life emphasized and revolutionized poetry s structure and meaning. His works are a milestone in England s literary history.