The different styles of Middle English Poetry

At University I studied Medieval History, Language and Literature, which I loved, and I guess it has influenced some of my interests later in life! I went on to do a Masters in Medieval Literature, choosing The Court in English Alliterative Poetry, 1350-1450 as my thesis topic. Why did I choose this subject and what is it for starters? Well if you know anything about Medieval English literature you will no doubt have heard of Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales. Chaucer was from London and wrote in English that was heavily influence by French and Italian poetic styles. His main verse form was called rhyme royal using five stresses per line arranged in rhyming couplets. Chaucer was probably writing for an audience associated with the Royal Court, one linked more to the culture of continental Europe perhaps. In contrast English poetry going back to Anglo-Saxon was traditionally based on an alliterative line with up to four alliterating stressed words per line and not really using rhyme at all. This tradition did survive the Norman Conquest and lived on through poems such as the Twelfth Century Layamon’s Brut.  By the late Fourteenth Century, you might think that it would be fading away, but this was not the case. There were poets, mostly located in the North West of England and North Midlands who kept the art alive and indeed produced wonderful works of art like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which combines the descriptive power of alliterative verse with a finely honed courtly sensibility.

I’ve added a page called The Style of Middle English Alliterative Verse in the Medieval (Middle Ages) History and Literature section of this site which discusses these stylistic differences in more detail.

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