Old English - Dark Ages



Time of wars and invasions

Literature was oral covering two cultures: Christina and heroic.

Language was mixture of Roman, Scandinavian, with Latin as language of church

Themes centered around security for the individual, society, and religious faith.


410              Romans abandon Britain

449             Anglo-Saxons invade Britain

479             Fall of Roman Empire

c. 700          Beowulf – An Anglo-Saxon epic poem about a Scandinavian prince named Beowulf who rids the Danes of the monster Grendel and his mother.  Later as king he dies while killing a dragon who has devastated his people.


Leofa Biowulf,    læst eall tela,

swa ðu on geoguðfeore     geara gecwæde,

Þæt ðu ne alæte     be ðe lifigendum

dom gedreosan


Beloved Beowulf, keep well the vow that you swore

long ago in the days of your youth, not to allow your

glory to diminish as long as you lived.


1066            Norman Conquest – Battle of Hastings is last successful invasion of Britain - William the Conqueror rules England



Middle English - Medieval



Main spoken form of English is local southern dialect.

Love poetry comes in from France, women appear more, first as objects of desire, then as humans with their own feelings

Literature of France and Italy influencing English writers

Literature questions its society, and gives picture of the fast-changing times.

Mystery or Miracle Plays: Original Medieval drama set in and around church at festival times, showing scenes from Bible to audience who don’t understand Latin – performed on moving carts.


1095 – 1271 The Crusades - A series of wars by Western European Christians to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims.

1215            Magna Carta reduced power of king, gave power ad property rights to aristocrats.

1265                     First Parliament

1340 – 1400 The Canterbury Tales for Geoffrey Chaucer - A collection of stories set within a framing story of a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. The poet joins a band of pilgrims on a journey to Canterbury.


That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy;

. . .

And she was all conscience and tendre herte.



Who in her way of smiling was very unaffected and modest;

. . .

And all was sentiment and tender heart.

(‘The Prioress’s Tale’)


But al be that he was a philosophre,

Yet hadde he but litel golf in cofre;


But although he was a philosopher,

Nevertheless he had only a little gold in his coffer.

(‘General Prologue’)


1337 – 1453 Hundred Years War between France and England

1347 – 1451 Black Death – The Plague - An outbreak of bubonic plague causing a decline of about one-third of the population of Europe.

1445 – 1487 War of the Roses - War between the royal houses of Lancaster and York over the throne of England.

1440            Gutenberg invents printing in Germany - printing first used to print Bible, brought to England in 1470s and began printing literature.

1469 – 1470 Le Morte d’Arthur first book published by Malory – Death of Arthur is the first English prose epic telling the story of King Arthur and his legendary knights of the round table. King Arthur probably ruled south-west England around year 500, died in Battle against Saxons in 537. 200 years later stories appear of magician Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, Excalibur (the sword pulled out of the stone by hero only)