Lecture 3: Middle English Poetry-part II

Lecture 3: Middle English Poetry-part II

– The Old values and themes of religious idealism and heroism are replaced by human ambition and desire.
– “Confessio Amantis” (the confession of a lover) is a famous book by John Gower.
– This text also uses irony since the lover who decides to give up love does so only because he is getting too old.
– “Piers Plowman” by William Langland uses dream-vision techniques to satirise the new society.
– “Pearl” is an anonymous text that tells of a father who dreams of his dead daughter. She is not perfect and in heaven.
– “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is also ironic and critical of the old values of heroism.
– Sir Gawain is one of the Knights of the Round Table from King Arthur.
– He is supposed to be honest and honourable.
– In the book, Sir accepts a challenge but cheats to avoid keeping his promise.
– Gawain is, in fact, an anti-hero, perhaps the first in English literature.

Medieval Drama
1- Medieval drama dramas were set in and around the church.
2- The drama showed scenes from the Bible (in Latin).
3- The plays were called mystery or miracle plays because they showed miraculous events from the Bible.

The Printing Press
– The invention of the printing press by Gutenberg (1398-1468) in Germany was a major event to literary production.
– The printing press opened the door for mass printing of books and made literature accessible.
– The first book to be printed was the Bible.
– In the 1470s, William Caxton brought the printing press to England.
– The first literary work to be printed is “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table”.
– The story of King Arthur reached many readers in published form and became a part of the English national consciousness.

John Skelton is a very individual poet who wrote short lines of poetry about drinking, pets, and low life. Here is his sparrow complaining about cats:

Vengeance I ask and cry
By way of exclamation
On the whole nation
Of cats wild and tame:
God send them sorrow and shame!
“Phyllyp Sparrow”

– Skelton uses humour and a unique poetic style.
– He brings new verse forms and plays with language and style.
– He shows a perfect example of a strong sense of English identity.