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The Middle Ages Fast Facts Political and Social Highlights • King Alfred and his descendants unite AngloSaxon England in the late ninth century. • William the Conqueror defeats the Anglo-Saxons in 1066 and introduces feudalism to Britain. • English barons force King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. • In 1348 and 1349, the Black Death reduces England’s population by a third. The Anglo-Saxon Period and the Middle Ages Fast Facts Literary Highlights • The bards ensure stories have an important position in early British culture. • Chivalry gives rise to a new form of literature, the romance. [End of Section] Key Concept: The Normans Invade Britain History of the Times • In the Norman invasion of 1066, William the Conqueror defeats the Anglo-Saxons. • To squash revolts, William divided the land among his loyal barons and built castles around the country. • By establishing a social structure called feudalism, William created a hierarchy of rulers under one lord and a network of thousands of knights sworn to serve him. Key Concept: The Normans Invade Britain Literature of the Times • Old English disappears from laws and literature after William makes French the language of the state. • Literature is written in Norman French —or in Latin in the monasteries. • Bibles and gospels created in monasteries are celebrated for their brilliant illuminated manuscripts, all created by hand. • Other literature includes poems, religious allegories, morality plays, and biographies. Key Concept: Life in Medieval Society History of the Times • Medieval society was dependent on strictly defined social classes—nobility, knights, priests, merchants, and peasants and serfs. • The contributions of each group affected how well villages and towns prospered. • Villages, built around castles, were the fundamental center of medieval society. • Social mobility was nearly impossible in the Middle Ages. Social status remained fixed. Key Concept: Life in Medieval Society Literature of the Times • Some medieval writers begin to use the vernacular, or language of the people. • Works written in English, such as ballads and romances, help to define England’s identity. • A new literary form—the romance narrative— reflects the ideals of courtly love and chivalry. • Scholarly works from monasteries and universities reflect society’s interest in moral instruction and morality plays. Medieval Narrative Influences on the Medieval Narrative • Popular legends from the early Middle Ages that were embellished over time • Religious literature that passed along the ideals and beliefs of an era • Urban growth, cultural development, and widespread disease that altered social structures Medieval Narrative The Dark Ages? Despite the challenges of war, plague, and oppression, the Middle Ages were hardly “dark.” We are indebted to the Middle Ages for many modern ideas and institutions, including • universities • governmental forms • concepts of the world • concepts of God Medieval Narrative The Dark Ages? The medieval narratives that have survived reflect much of the time’s positive outlook. • Many stories from the period contain the same passion, humor, and sense of wonder that we see today. Medieval Narrative Adventure, Morality, Life The term medieval often conjures up images of knights riding off into battle or on magical quests. • These heroic adventures were the foundation for the popular romance literature of the era. • Much of this narrative tradition emerged from earlier stories, such as the King Arthur legends. Medieval Narrative Adventure, Morality, Life The same themes and subjects that consume us today are found throughout medieval stories: • Love • Conquest • Betrayal • Hope • Desire Medieval Narrative Adventure, Morality, Life Religious narratives were also a significant part of medieval culture. • These texts combined entertaining travel adventures with morally instructive religious stories. • The Golden Legend, by Jacobus da Varagine, is a thirteenth-century collection of stories about saints’ lives. Medieval Narrative Adventure, Morality, Life Religious narratives were often allegories, stories in which literal elements represent abstract or moral concepts. Through the use of allegory, medieval literature • explored cultural ideals • confirmed values • amused audiences Medieval Narrative Adventure, Morality, Life As the Middle Ages progressed, elements of daily life found their way into stories. • reality of city living • fear of the plague Medieval Narrative Adventure, Morality, Life Two pieces of literature from the Middle Ages stand out as vital links to the modern world. 1 The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio • a collection of stories set during the time of the Black Death • explores diverse characters 2 The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer • includes romance, faith, humor, alongside darker, humanistic themes Medieval Romance The medieval romance narrative features an idealized hero who • undertakes a quest in the service of a lady or a high ideal • faces a series of tests • meets dragons or supernatural beings The romance narrative can be prose or poetry. Medieval Romance Many medieval romances are about Camelot and King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. These Arthurian romances were made popular by Chrétien de Troyes, a French court poet, during the second half of the twelfth century. Medieval Romance Not Just a Love Story Love can play a role in the Arthurian romance, but the focus is the hero. Because the hero is bound by the code of chivalry, many romances are about seeking justice and helping people in need. Today, romance describes any story that presents a happier, more perfect, or more heroic world.