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Literature of the Middle English Period

The official language of the Normans was French along with Scandinavian. French was the language of the ruling class of the period and Anglo Saxon was the language of the lower classes. In the inflectional aspects there was simplification in the language. After a while, the upper classes began to learn Anglo-Saxon words and the lower classes learnt some French words and there emerged a new language. This blend is referred to by scholars as Middle English.

The dialects were:
1. The Northern dialect – corresponded to the Old Northumbrian
2.  East Midland dialect – corresponded to Mercian
3.  West Midland dialect – also corresponded to Mercian
4.  South eastern – corresponded to Kentish
5. South western – corresponded to West-Saxon

The midland dialect slowly became the most predominant from this we get the standard English we speak today.

This period can be divided into 3 phases:

The literature of the time falls into 2 main categories:

The Romances in the Middle English period were only a continuation of the tradition already established in France by French writers.

Examples of Romances in the written form

Religious and Didactic Poetry

Alliterative Poems
There are 4 very beautiful poems written in the West- midland dialect and they are:

Both the authorship and the dates are uncertain. The first three are religious in nature. The last one is remarkable for its plot, its realism, characterisation, descriptive passages and alliteration.
The two distinct features of Middle English poetry are:

Prose
It is mainly religious prose that the period inspired. The most striking example of religious prose – Ancrene Riwle (The Rule of the Anchoress). It was a code of conduct for those who aspired to be nuns, those nuns who lived in solitude. This reveals a deep understanding of human life. It was probably written in the 12th Century.

Secular Prose
This referred to something that is outside religion. One example is, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.  It is the account of an imaginary journey to Jerusalem and the East by a character called John Mandeville. Most scholars believe that the writer of this piece was a Frenchman called Jean d’ Outremeuse. The original was in French. It was translated into a midland dialect. The whole piece is a medley of highly fantastic tales as well as sober truths. It was probably influenced by the travels of Marco Polo.

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