Medieval literature

History of the English language

Proto English

English doesn’t exist yet. A few languages that are spoken in the area (by the Britons) are:

The latin words are brought in by the Romans after they invade Britannia.

Old English

Not much is written down yet. Most of it is told in oral tradition.

Notable literature from this period: Beowulf.

Middle English

These languages get spoken:

Due to intermarriage between the orders of society (people, nobility and clergy) people raise their kids bilingual. This means English is becomes used more widespread.

Notable literature from this period: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Early modern English

After the printing press is invented a lot of things are written down. Due to this the English language spreads quickly. This area has:

This period also includes the:

Notable literature from this period: William Shakespeare.

Beowulf

Summary

Shild arrives in Denmark on a ship. He’s alone and the ship is filled with treasure. He becomes king of the Danes and conquers many territories. He gets a son named Beo. When Shild died they send him off on a ship full of treasure. Beo then has a son named Healfdane, who gets four children. One of the is Hrothgar, the current king of the Danes. He built a great mead hall named Herot.

A mead hall is a place where the Danes come together and feast. Mead is a name for a drink made of honey.


People are feasting in Herot. Then Grendel, who lives in a swamp and is a spawn of Cain, comes to Herot at night and kills a few men. He repeats this every night for 12 years straight. The Danes try everything but can’t get rid of him.

Then the strongest warrior of the Geats, Beowulf (who is also king Hrothgar’s nephew) comes to help them. He and 14 of his strongest warriors enter a ship to save the Danes.

When they arrive at Herot Beowulf leaves a few of his warriors outside. Then he and the rest take of their weapons and enter Herot to speak with king Hrothgar. Beowulf brags about his experience and strength and asks king Hrothgar for permission to fight Grendel all by himself.

Potential test question: why does he want to do this?
A: possible because he wants the glory all for himself.

They continue to eat a good meal and Beowulf brags more. Unferth says Beowulf is naive and weak. He tells a story about how Beowulf and Brecca had a swimming compition and Beowulf lost. He is clearly jeaous of Beowulf and tries to intimidate him. Beowulf replies by telling Unferth he’s drunk (he is) and that his story is incorrect. Beowulf did indeed lose, but that’s because he had to fight underwater monsters (and won), and Brecca did not. Then Beowulf exposes that Unferth killed his own brothers.

In the night Grendel arrives again. He kills one of the Geat warriors and then tries to kill Beowulf. Beowulf however, is actually awake and fights Grendel with his bare hands.

Note: there is a bit of foreshadowing in this fragment (“his last human supper”). Foreshadowing means the writer already lets you know what is going to happen later. In this case Grendel is going to die.

His thirdteen other warriors wake up and try to hurt Grendel, but his skin is bewitched, so they can’t hurt him with their swords. Then Beowulf rips off Grendels arm and Grendel escapes to his swamp where he bleeds to dead.

Note: During this fight the writer emphasizes that Herot is very strong, and even tho there is a fierce battle going on inside, the walls keep standing. This both shows how brutal the battle was and how great Herot is.

Beowulf hangs Grendels arm from the ceiling of Herot. The Geats follow the blood tracks to Grendels swamp and find out he died alone in a lake, where “hell opened up to receive him”.

Fun fact: later the story says he’s just lying there on the bottom of the lake, which is a bit of a contradiction with “hell opening up to receive him”.


Here follows a shitty sequel to the first part of the story:

Grendels mom is not happy that Beowulf killed her son. So, she goes to Herot and murders Hrothgar’s best friend. She also takes Grendel’s arm with her.

Beowulf is going to save the day again. He takes Unferth’s sword Hrunting and goes to the lake where Grendel died (and his mom apparently lives). He dives in and then sinks for a few hours.

Note: the fact that he can hold his breath for that long is another example of his superhuman abilities, and thus his being-a-hero.

Grendel’s mom tries to kill him but his chainmail armor saves him. She takes him to an underwater battle hall, where other monsters come to look at their fight. Beowulf tries to hit her with his sword, but her skin is just as bewitched as Grendel’s was. She bites holes in his helmet, which then breaks.

Another example of foreshadowing here: “it was the last time anyone would wear it”.

Beowulf slips and falls, and Grendel’s mom tries to kill him with a dagger (jumps on top of him), but the chainmail saves him once again. Beowulf grabs a sword he sees on the wall. It has been made by giants and is super heavy (but Beowulf is superhumanly strong, remember :D), and using the sword he chops her head of. He then walks to the body of Grendel, which is also laying there apparently, and also chops his head of. He then takes the head to Herot to show everyone how amazing he is.


50 years later he has to fight a dragon. The dragon is angry because a thief stole a jeweled cup, and Beowulf needs to protect his people.

Beowulf boasts about beating Grendel, and then goes into the tower where the dragon lives. The dragon is mad and shoots flames at him, but Beowulf uses his shield. Fate (paganism!) is not on his side tho, and the shield melts. He stabs the dragon with his sword, but the weapon breaks before it went deep enough.

All of his warriors ran away, except one. Wiglaf is thankful for everything Beowulf has given him, and want to repay his king, so he helps Beowulf. Together they beat the dragon, but Beowulf dies.

Yet another example of foreshadowing: “For Beowulf, the price of this last victory will be great”.

Before he dies he asks Wiglaf to get the treasure (presumably because he wants to give it to his people), and makes Wiglaf his successor (probably king). He also asks to be burried next to the dragon’s tower, so that all incoming travellers can see it and remember him.

Wiglaf agrees. After Beowulf dies he berates (= being very very very mad) the “warriors” who ran away and builds the thomb for Beowulf. The story ends with the 12 bravest Geats riding around the tower and mourning over Beowulf.

Characters

flowchart TD
  subgraph Danes
  Shild --> Beo --> Healfdane --> Hrothgar
  Hrothgar(["👑 Hrothgar"]) <== Married ==> Welthow["👑 Welthow"]

  Hrothgar --> Note3("Is not the first-in-line: his\nbrother (Hergar) was supposed to\nbe king, but died.")

  Ecglaf --> Unferth

  Unferth -- has --> Hrunting["🗡️ Hrunting"]
  Unferth --> Note1(Murdered his own brothers,\n and is jeaous of Beowulf)
  end

  subgraph Geats
    Hrothgar -- Helps restore peace --> Edgetho
    Edgetho --> Beowulf(["Beowulf (hero)"])
    Hrothgar <-- Uncle --> Beowulf
    Beowulf -- Is friends with --> Brecca
    Beowulf -- uses --> Hrunting

    Beowulf -- Gives the throne to --> Wiglaf["Wiglaf (warrior)"]
  end

  subgraph Wulfings
    Edgetho == killed ==> Hathlaf["Hathlaf (Warrior)"]

    Hathlaf --> Note2(Edgetho kills a warrior of the\nWulfings and then asks\nHrothgar for help.)
  end

Oral poetry

Oral (spoken) poetry uses a few common constructions:

Characteristics of an Epic/Hero

Canterbury Tales

Characters

Knight (nobility)

Appearance

Squire (nobility)

Son of knight.

Appearance

Yeoman (people)

Appearance

Prioress (clergy)

Head of the nuns.
Name: Madame Eglantine

Satire: nuns are not supposed to be this phosh/girly. They shouldn’t care about love (for people and animals), prettyness or courtly manners.

Appearance

Monk (clergy)

Satire: he’s a horrible monk.

Appearance

Friar (clergy)

A friar is a poor kind of monk/religious person who’s job it is to collect alms (money/food).

Name: Hubert

Not really satire: he’s described as greedy and as taking advantage of other people. Straight up criticism.

Appearance

Merchant (people)

Satire: a merchant who’s in debt is not very good. It’s not confirmed tho.

Appearance

Clerk (clergy)

Satire(?): you’re not very smart if after years of studying logic you don’t progress. Also not taking on a job can be seen as not smart.
Or it’s just as a sign of being humble.

Appearance

Sergeant of Law (people)

Laywer.

Appearance

Franklin (people)

Appearance

Guild folk (rich people)

Cook

Appearance

Shipman (people)

Appearance

Doctor of Physic (nobility)

Satire: he’s a great doctor! BUT: he treats people with poop and charges them for it. Also his texts are outdated (ancient even) and he’s better at atronomy then curing people.

Wife of Bath (people)

Makes clothes.

Appearance

Parson (clergy)

Note: the I-person barely spoke to the Parson, so the perspective might be warped.

Ploughman (people)

Brother of the parson.

Appearance

Miller (people)

Appearance

Manciple (people)

Business man.

Reeve (people)

Note: is always the last rider in the group, could be important later.

Appearance

Summoner (clergy)

Appearance

Pardoner (clergy)

Appearance

Host (people)

Reasons for proposal to join:

Appearance