Influence of Medieval English Literature on Normans Invasion
In the Battle of Hastings, Britain is invaded once more by a powerful nation, the Normans. French and Latin became the literary norm; English fell into disuse as an artistic language.
The land is divided between France and England and this division affected literature. The West Saxon dialect disappears as a literary standard (French becomes a mark of distinction)
Three languages coexist in England: Latin, English and French.
But at the beginning of the 13th century, the English throne loses Normandy and Norman noblemen use English as a sign of their nationalism.
Influence of French literature in Middle English
The Dominance of French literature was the most important feature of the Middle English Period, and the French influence was:
- Allegorical and lyrical poetry
- Fabliau (short narrative poem in which the theme is coarse humour)
These three are written by the French: Arthur-Charlemagne, Classical heroes. Courly love is the most famous theme and it appears in: Roman de la Rose by Guillaume de Lorris. The topic of the poems is normally about a dream/vision where the poet dreams of his lady.
A group of alliterative poems written in the second half of the 14th century in which alliteration (not rhyme), which had been the formal basis of Old English Poetry, was again used in verse as an alternative to the continental form of syllabic rhyming verse. Main exponents are Piers Plowman and Sir Gawain.
Piers Plowman's Main Features
- Everything in the poem is allegorical. Ex: the Seven Deadly Sins, each one represented by a character.
- No narrative continuity: interlacing of visions, expositions, semi-liturgical passages and abrupt digressions.
- Strong moral message: good works are better than going on pilgrimage.
- Colloquial and accessible language, undecorated, stripped to functional essentials.
- Seven Deadly Sins; lust, sloth, gluttony, envy, wrath, greed and pride.
Important Symbols of Sir Gawain
According to the Gawain-poet, King Solomon originally designed the five-pointed star as his own magic seal. A symbol of truth, the star has five points that link and lock with each other, forming what is called the endless knot. Each line of the pentangle passes over one line and under one line, and joins the other two lines at its ends. The pentangle symbolizes the virtues to which Gawain aspires: to be faultless in his five senses; never to fail in his five fingers; to be faithful to the five wounds that Christ received on the cross; to be strengthened by the five joys that the Virgin Mary had in Jesus (the Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption); and to possess brotherly love, courtesy, piety, and chastity. The side of the shield facing Gawain contains an image of the Virgin Mary to make sure that Gawain never loses heart.
The meaning of the host's wife's girdle changes over the course of the narrative. It is made out of green silk and embroidered with gold thread, colors that link it to the Green Knight. She claims it possesses the power to keep its wearer from harm, but we find out in Part 4 that the girdle has no magical properties. After the Green Knight reveals his identity as the host, Gawain curses the girdle as representing cowardice and an excessive love of mortal life. He wears it from then on as a badge of his sinfulness. To show their support, Arthur and his followers wear green silk baldrics that look just like Gawain's girdle.