Anglo-Saxon Literature. The Pre-Renaissance period

The development of written literary tradition in European literature is closely connected with the spread of Christian religion. It became the official religion of Rome in 306 and was brought to all Roman colonies including Britain. Together with this religion early Christians brought the Latin language, the official language of the church all over Europe.
In the 4th century the Germanic tribes of the Angles, the Saxons and the Gutes came to the British Isles. They were pagans, and most of British Christians were either put to death or driven away to Wales or Ireland. That's why the stories of Christian martyrs and saints were typical of the literature of that time.
At the end of the 6th century Roman monks came again to Britain in order to convert people to Christianity. They landed in Kent and built their first church in Canterbury. Latin words entered the language of the Anglo-Saxons because the religious books were written in Latin. The monasteries became centers of learning and education. Poets and writers imitated Latin books about the early Christians and saints. The names of old English poets were Caedmon (the 7th century) and Cynewulf (the 8th century). The earlier prose writers were the Venerable Bede (673-735), who wrote "The Ecclesiastical History of the English People" and the English king Alfred the Great (871-901), who wrote "The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle". After the death of Alfred the Great fighting with the Danes began. Some of them settled in Scotland and Ireland, others sailed across the English Channel and settled in France, in Normandy. That's why they were called the Normans.
In 1066 William, the Duke of Normandy, (William the Conqueror) defeated the English in Hastings and the English became an oppressed nation. The Norman-French language was spoken at court and by the ruling class. But common people spoke the Anglo-Saxon dialects. So for over two centuries communication in Britain went on in three languages: Latin (it was used in monasteries and churches), French (it was the official language of the state) and Anglo-Saxon (it was spoken by common people). About a century after the Norman Conquest the first English universities were founded. A fully developed university had four faculties: Theology, Canon Law, Medicine and Art. At the faculty of Arts students studied Latin Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music. In the middle of the 12th century Oxford universities (1168) and Cambridge universities (1209) were founded.
During the Norman period feudal culture was at its height. The medieval poets came from France together with the conquerors and brought tales in verse and lyrical poems about brave and gallant knights and beautiful ladies. They were sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments such as the lute. The name of this genre is a romance. A number of romances were based on Celtic legends, especially those about king Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (all these legends were collected and arranged in series of stories by sir Thomas Malory in the 15th century). There are 21 books in this epic.
In the literature of townsfolk we find the fable and the fabliau. Fables were short stories with animals for characters and having a moral. Fabliaux were funny metrical poems full of indecent jokes about cunning humbugs, silly old merchants and their unfaithful wives. The literature of the town did not idealise characters as romances did.
In the first half of the 14th century the Normans made London their residence and the capital of the country. The London dialect gradually became the foundation of the national language. In 1337 the Hundred Years' War with France began. The poor priests wandered from village to village and talked to the people at that time. They protested against rich bishops and churchmen who were ignorant and could not teach people anything. Such poor priests were the poet William Langland (1332-1400) and John Wycliff (1320-1384) who translated part of the Bible into English.

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