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LITERATURE OF THE OLD ENGLISH PERIOD The period in English history and literature between the invasion of England

by the Teutonic tribes of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, beginning about 428, and the establishment of the Norman rule of England around 1100, following the triumphant conquest of England by the Norman French under William the Conqueror, Saxon monarchies were established in Sussex, Wessex, and Essex in the fifth and sixth centuries; Anglian monarchies in Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia in the sixth and seventh centuries. Christianity was introduced early and gradually won out over the pagan culture. It was an age of intertribal conflict and, in the ninth century, of struggles with the invading Danes. The greatest of the rulers of the period was Alfred, who, in the ninth century, effected a unification of the Teutonic groups. Learning and culture flourished in the monasteries, with Whitby the cradle of English poetry in the North and Winchester that of English prose in the South. Although much writing throughout the period was in Latin, Christian monks began writing in the vernacular which we call Old English about 700. In the earliest part of the period the poetry, written in accentual metre and linked by alliteration was centred on the life of the Germanic tribes and was basically pagan, although Christian elements were incorporated early. The best of the poems which have survived are the great epic Beowulf (ca. 700), The Seafarer, Widsith, and Deors Lament. Early poetry of a more emphatically Christian nature included Caedmons Song, Biblical paraphrases such as Genesis, Elene, Andreas; and the allegorical Phoenix (a translation front Latin). Literature first flourished in Northumbria, but in the reign of Alfred the Great (871-899) West Saxon became the literary dialect. Under Alfred, much Latin literature was translated into English prose, such as Pope Gregorys Pastoral Care, Boethius Consolation of Philosophy, and Bedes Ecclesiastical History; and the great AngloSaxon Chronicle was revised and expanded. A second prose revival took place in the homilies of Aelfric and Wulfstan (tenth and eleventh centuries), works noted for the richness of their style, reflecting Latin models. Late examples of Anglo-Saxon verse are the Battle of Maldon and the Battle of Brunaburgh, heroic poems. The Norman Conquest (1066) put an end to serious literary work in the Old English Language. A NOTE ON KING ARTHUR (a legendary king of Britain who supposedly lived in 6th century) Longmans Dictionary of English Language and Culture: Arthurian Legend stories about Arthur, who became king of England when he pulled out the sword in the stone (Excalibur) which no one except the king could do. His court at Camelot was famous for bravery, chivalry, romantic love, and magic which was practiced esp. by the magician Merlin, and the sorceress Morgan le Fay. Here, at a round table, sat the bravest and most notable knights in the land (the Knights of the round table), Sir Galahad, Sir Lancelot, Sir Bevidere, and others. England and Arthurs power began to

fail when he discovered the love between his wife, Guinevere, and his best friend, Lancelot. Then began the long search for the Holy Grail (the wine cup at Christs last meal) which was finely found and brought back by Galahad. Arthurs strength returned and he went into battle to save England from Mordred whom he killed, but Arthur himself was very seriously wounded. He gave Excalibur to Bevidere and ordered him to throw it into a lake. The hand of the Lady of the Lake came out of the water, caught the sword, and took it under, then three women arrived on a boat and took Arthur to his final resting place at Avalon. It is said that Arthur will return if England is ever in danger again. ARTHURIAN LEGENDS Probably the legend of Arthur grew out of the deeds of some historical person. He was probably not a king and it is very doubtful that his name was Arthur. He was presumably a Welsh or Roman military leader of the Celts in Wales against the Germanic invaders who overran Britain in the fifth century. The deeds of this Welsh hero gradually grew into a vast body of romantic story. He provided a glorious past for the Britons to look back upon. When Arthur developed into an important king, he yielded his position as a personal hero to a group of great knights who surrounded him. These knights of the Round Table came to be representative of all that was best in the age of chivalry, and the stories of their deeds make up the most popular group (Matter of Britain) of the great cycle of medieval romance. There is no mention of Arthur in contemporary accounts of the Germanic invasion, but a Roman citizen named Gildas who lived in Wales mentions in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniac (written between 500 and 550) the Battle of Mt. Badon, with which later accounts connect Arthur, and a valiant Roman leader of a Welsh rally, named Anbrosius Aurelianus . About 800, Nennius, a Welsh chronicler, in his Historia Britonum uses the name Arthur in referring to a leader against the Saxons, About a century later an addition to Nennius history called Mirabilia gives further evidences of Arthurs development as a hero, including an allusion to a boar - hunt of Arthurs which is told in detail in a later Welsh story of Kilhwch and Olwen (in the Mabinogion). There are other references to Arthur in the annals of the tenth and eleventh centuries, and William of Malmsbury in his Gesta Regum Anglorum (1125) treats Arthur as an historical figure and identifies him with the Arthur whom the Welsh rave wildly about in their idle tales. A typical British Celt at this time believed that Arthur was not really dead but would return. About 1136 Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Historia Regum Britannica, professedly based upon an old Welsh book, added a wealth of matter to the Arthurian legend how much of it he invented cannot now be determined such as the stories of Arthurs supernatural birth, his weird Passing to Avalon to be healed of his wounds, and the abduction of Guinevere by Modred. Geoffrey probably was attempting to create for the Norman kings in England a glorious historical background. He traces the history of the Britons from Brut, a descendant Aeneas, to Arthur. Soon after Geoffrey additions to the story were made by the French poet Wace in his Roman de Brut, an a little later appear the famous romances of Chretien de Troyes, in Old French, in which Arthurian themes are given

their first highly literary treatment. About 1205 the English poet Layamon added some details in his Brut. By this time Arthurian legend his taken its places as one of the greatest themes of medieval romance. The great popularity of Arthurian tradition reached its climax in medieval English literature in Malorys Le Morte Darthur (printed 1485), a book destined to transmit Arthurian stories to many later English writers, notably Tennyson, Spenser used on Arthurian background for his romantic epic The Faerie Queene (1590), and Milton contemplated a national epic on Arthur, Interest in Arthur decreased in the eighteenth century, but Arthurian topics were particularly popular in the nineteenth century, the best known treatment appearing in Tennysons Idylls of the King. Tennysons version, as well as E. A. Robinsons Merlin, Lancelot and Tristram, show how different generations have modified the Arthurian stories to make them express contemporary modes of thought and individual artistic ends. Arthurian themes received powerful and sympathetic musical treatment in an opera by Dryden with music by Purcell, King Arthur, and in Richard Wagners operas, Lohengrin, Tristan, and Parsifal. The burlesquing treatment of chivalry in Mark Twains A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court is in contrast to the usual romantic idealization, as is T. W. Whites trilogy of novels published under the collective title, The Once and Future King, which is a powerful tribute to the continuing strength of he Arthurian legend, and which was the basis of an enormously popular musical drama, Camelot.