Anglo-Norman Period, which spans between 1066 AD and 1350 AD, started with the Norman Conquest. There was a massive influence of French culture, language, and literature on English. The literary types which developed during the period were mostly historical writings and Metrical Romances. Here are five most important literary pieces written during the Anglo-Norman Period:
Historia Regum Britanniae
Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh monk, wrote Historia Regum Britanniae in 1136 as a complete history of the Britons in Latin. He collected several Celtic legends and reframed them through his imagination. There is little factual validity of the book as historiography. However, this book has acted as source material for later writers. Shakespeare’s King Lear. Malory’s Morte d’ Arthur and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King were founded on this work of Geoffrey. The book is an interesting assortment of pagan and Christian legends, of commentary and pure invention. It was extremely popular at the time and gave a new direction to the literature of England by showing the wealth of poetry and romance that lay in its own tradition of Arthurian romances.
Layamont, an English priest, wrote Brut (also known as The Chronicle of Britain) in c. 1200, in the form of riming chronicle. The poem begins with the destruction of Troy and escape of Aenaes the Duke into Italy. His grandson Brutus sets out to find a new land in the West. After this, the Briton kingdom is founded. The final part of the poem is about King Arthur and his knights. The poem is 16,096 lines long and is the first historiography written in English since the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Named for Britain’s mythical founder, Brutus of Troy, the poem is largely based on the Anglo-Norman Roman de Brut by Wace, which is in turn a version of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Latin Historia Regum Britanniae. The poem was written in Anglo-Saxon language with certain French influences already at work in rimes and assonances.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The most important of all Arthurian Romances are those of the Gawain Cycle, narrating the exploits of Sir Gawain, a knight at Arthur’s court. Out of these, the most popular one till today is the story of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” for several reasons. Firstly, although the source material is French, the English workmanship is the finest. Secondly, the poem exhibits finest dramatic qualities and vivid descriptions. It is an interesting combination of French and Saxon elements. It is written in elaborate stanza combining meter and alliteration. Each stanza ends with a rimed refrain, known as “tail rime”.
The Owl and the Nightingale
“Owl and the Nightingale” was one of the many fables and satires which were copied or translated from the French. The poem is a long debate between an owl and a nightingale. While the nightingale represents the gay side of life, the owl represents the sterner side of law and morals. It combines the characteristics of burlesque comedy, parody, traditional beast fables and popular verse satire.
“The Pearl” is an intensely human and realistic picture of a father’s grief for his little daughter Margaret. It is a late 14th-century Middle English poem with elements of medieval allegory and dream vision. There is a complex system of stanza linking and other stylistic features. Although the poet is anonymous, it is believed that it was the same person who wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight because of stylistic and thematic similarities. It was also found in the same manuscript where Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was found. “The Pearl” is 1212 lines long with 101 stanzas of 12 lines each.
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