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Beginnings of Middle English

Middle English is the name given to the English language during the time from 1100 to 1500.

Changes in Old English toward Middle English

Most of the elaborate inflections of Old English were reduced to an unaccented e sound. This final e sound was still pronounced in Middle English and is retained in a multitude of todays spellings complete, hope, late, mute where the effect is simply to lengthen the preceding vowel. Use of natural gender. Among European languages English is unique in calling male beings masculine, female beings feminine, and sexless objects neuter. Contraction of vocabulary. Much of the vocabulary of Old English poetry is alien to us because that poetry was aristocratic and perished with the Anglo-Saxon nobility. The illiterate peasant, with his narrrow life in field, had no use for the Old English vocabulary of abstract ideas and elevated life. When English rose in prestige in 1250, it had to look to French to supply many words in place of lost Old English words.

The Middle English dialects

While these alterations were affecting all English, innumerable smaller changes were taking place in every English-speaking community. The fluid condition of the language permitted slight but quite noticeable differences in vocabulary, pronunciation and intonation. *Northern (Old English Northumbria) was spoken north of the Humber River, it had an important subdivision in Scots, spoken originally in Lowland Scotland. *Midlands (Old English Mercian) was the dialect south of the Humber River and north of the Severn-Thame river line.

*East Midlands was a subdivision spoken in most of Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Derbyshire, and in all the counties of the east. *West Midlands was spoken through the rest of the Midlands, although this was the smaller of the two subdialects. *Southern (Old English Wessex) was spoken south of the Severn-Thames river line. *Kentish was spoken only in the far southeastern county of Kent. Modern English is derived from the dialects of London, essentially East Midlands, but revealind admixtures from other dialects, particularly Southern and Kentish.

The Cycles of Romance

Origin of Medieval Romance
By the 11th century the aristocrats preferred to them the Medieval Romance, a literary genre that dominated literature until the end of the 15th century (1400). The word romance was originally used to distingush poems in the vernacular French from works in Latin.

Characteristics of the Medieval Romance

*Narrative or heroic adventure. Usually episodes not too closely related *Types characters rather than individualized portraits. Stereotypes. *Prevalence of the Quest theme *Highly imaginatuve encounters with extraordinary personages in fantastic settings, with mounting marvels, many-armed giants, mythical animals and enchanted forests an castles. Supernatural. *Extensive Christian references, *Love interest, resulted in the modern association of romance with a love affair. The courtly love convention, so prevalent in the romance, was originated in the 11th century in Provence

(southern France) showed a veneration of women which was stimulated by the medieval cult of the Virgin Mary. *Idealized concept of medieval knight. The British Isles in Medieval times knew the romances in all three of the languages current in England: Latin, French and English.

The Three Matters/Themes

The romances were divided into three matters: *The Matter of Rome/Latin (Tales of antiquity, including those of Greece) *The Matter of France (essentially about Charlemagne and his paladins/knights) *The Matter of Britain/The Arthurian Legends (about Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table)

The Matter of Britain/The Arthurian Legends

Most of the Arthurian material is pure medieval fiction. The earliest reference to Arthur appears in the Latin History of the Britons, 800, ascribed to Nennius. In a brief paragraph Arthur is called battle leader. A Welsh poem Stanzas of the Graves, late 12th century, refers to the unknown grave of Arthur, and also to Arthurs one surviving knight of his final battle, Bedivere. Another Welsh poem mentions Bedivere and suggests that Arthur maintained a military court.

Geoffrey of Monmouth is the real founder of the Arthurian legend Robert Wace only significant plot addition is the Round Table, probably never previously mentioned. Layamon wrote the first Arthurian account in English, Brut. Chrtien de Troyes two great contributions:

*fusing diverse elements into a complex cycle of Arthur and his Knights *shaping the whole cycle into a love sequence, courtly love for the most part, but spiritual love in the case of the Holly Grail. For English Literature, the finest telling of the Arthurian material was the work of Sir Thomas Malory. However the interest of English writers did not stop there. Milton had planned an epic upon Arthur. Among other numerous English poets using Arthurian materials are Spenser, Dryden, Tennyson, Swinburne, Morris, Arnold, Masefield. Properly speaking, the Matter of Britain was of Celtic origin.

*King Horn (1250) *Havelok the Dane (1300) *Guy of Warwick (1300) *Beavis of Hampton (1300) *Richard Coeur de Lion (1300) This work takes the nickname of Richard I, this King took part during the Crusades.

The Matter of France

The King of France from 768 to 814 was Charlemagne. He ruled a great empire which included present day France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, western Germany and northern Italy. The English representatives fall into three groups: *The Firumbras tales *The Otuel series *Detached romances

The Matter of Rome

All stories of antiquity whether Greek or Roman, were lumped together under the Matter of Rome. The French romancers developed extensive cycles about four ancient subjects:

*Trojan War *Aeneas *Siege of Thebes *Alexander, this was the most popular of all the ancient material.