Development of English Lit During Any One Period

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 26 December 2016

Development of English Lit During Any One Period

Trace the development of English lit during any one period…As part of your discussion highlight how significant events in the influence the writing…Additionally show how characteristics of the genre the writer uses reflects the period in which it was written. James Arthur Baldwin once stated that: “know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” This quotation may apply to the span of the Anglo-Saxon period because of the coherent linkage to the origination of the English dialect and the modernization of English Literature. Over the years English literature has evolved greatly. There have been diverse changes to the structure and development of English language since the advent of Old English dialect during the Anglo-Saxon period to what we now speak and consider to be English language. “Old English is not uniform. It consists of various dialects, but literature needs to treat it as a language” (Michael Delahoyde.)

Research has proven that around the world there are over one hundred (100) variants of English, from different American-English dialects, to those of Asia, Africa and Oceana. It is important for one to know both the origin of this powerful masterpiece known as the English Language and the importance of this literary period to the development of English literature. In attempting to do the aforementioned, the focus will be on the Anglo-Saxon people, their society, culture, and literary work with a view towards highlighting the impact on the development of the English language and English literature. The Anglo-Saxon or Old English period goes from the invasion of Celtic England in the first half of the fifth century (AD 700) up till the conquest in 1066 by William of Normandy. The Anglo-Saxons consisted of diverse ethnicity that forms one nation. There were three main ethnic groups that formed the Anglo-Saxon. These are: Angles from Angel in South-West Denmark, Saxon from North-West Germany, and Jute from Jutland in Central Denmark.

These three main ethnic groups have made up most of the Anglo-Saxon society. However; smaller group of people from Germanic ethnic group were also associated with the Anglo-Saxons. These people shared the same language but were each ruled by different strong warriors who invaded and conquered Britain while the Romans were still in control. The Angles and the Saxon tribe being the largest of the groups when attacking other ethnic groups were often called the Anglo-Saxons. England which means the Land of the Angles was a name given after the Anglo-Saxon. A writer describes them as: “A warrior society that put swords and shields before fancy artifacts. Helmets were placed before gold and death before dishonour.” The Anglo-Saxon was a pagan society and the people were initially free; however, life for even the richest of the social groups was very hard. The Anglo-Saxon society had three social classes. There was an upper-class, middle class and a lower class. The Anglo-Saxon upper class was the Thanes. They would give gifts like weapons to their followers and they enjoyed hunting and feasting.

The churls were the middle class in the Anglo-Saxon Society. Some churls were wealthy people while some were very poor. The lower class was slaves called Thralls. The churls and the Thanes were owners of Land. However, some churls had to rent land from a Thane. They would then work the Thane land for part of the week and give him part of their crops in exchange for rent. “The basis of society was the free peasant. However in time Anglo-Saxon churls began to lose their freedom. They became increasingly dependent on their Lords and under their control” (Tim Lambert.) Researches have indicated that most Anglo-Saxons were primitive subsistence farmers. It has also being proven that some of the men were craftsmen. The farmers grew wheat, barley, peas, cabbage, carrots, rye and parsnip. They reared animals such as pigs, cattle and flocks of sheep. The craftsmen were blacksmith, bronze smith, jewelers and potters.

Their homes were made with wood and have thatched roofs. Anglo-Saxon society was decidedly patriarchal, but women were in some ways better off than they would be in later times. “A woman could own property in her own right. She could and did rule a kingdom if her husband died. She could not be married without her consent and any personal goods, including lands that she brought into a marriage remained her own property. If she were injured or abused in her marriage her relatives were expected to look after her interests” (David Ross.) The women were responsible for grounding of grains, baking of bread, brewing of beer, making of butter and cheese. During this era it was dangerous to travel; thus, most people would travel only if it was unavoidable. If possible they would travel by water along the coast or along the river. During the early Anglo-Saxon period England was a very different place from what it is today. The human population was very small.

They grew their own food and made their own clothes… The lord and kin had the strongest ties in the Anglo-Saxon society. The ties of loyalty were to the person of a lord. There was no real concept of patriotism or loyalty to a cause. “Kings could not, except in exceptional circumstances, make new laws. Their role instead was to uphold and clarify previous custom. The first act of a conquering king was often to assure his subjects that he would uphold their ancient privileges, laws, and customs” (David Ross.) One of the most famous kings during the Anglo-Saxon period was Ethelberht, king of Kent (reigned c.560-616). He married Bertha, the Christian daughter of the king of Paris, and who became the first English king to be converted to Christianity. “Ethelberht’s law code was the first to be written in any Germanic language and included 90 laws. His influence extended both north and south of the river Humber: his nephew became king of the East Saxons.” (The Royal Household) Kinship was very important in the Anglo-Saxon society. If you were killed your relatives would avenge you. If one of your relatives were killed you were expected to avenge them.

However the law did offer an alternative. If you killed or injured somebody you could pay them or their family compensation. This led to bloody and extensive feuds. The money paid was called wergild and it set a monetary value on each person’s life according to their wealth and social status. The wergild for killing a thane was much more than that for killing a churl. Thralls or slaves had no wergild. If the wergild was not paid the relatives were entitled to seek revenge. The wergild value could also be used to set the fine payable if a person was injured or offended against. Robbing a thane called for a higher penalty than robbing a churl. On the other hand, a thane who thieves could pay a higher fine than a churl who did likewise. The Anglo-Saxons enjoyed storytelling, riddles and games. Most Anglo-Saxon poetry emerges from an oral tradition and was meant for entertainment. These works include genres such as epic poetry, hagiography, sermons, Bible translations, legal works, chronicles, riddles, and others.

Poets were known as Scops and harpists Gleemen. They would sing or recite and were the only historians of the time. The poetic structure was based on accent and alliteration (not rhyme and meter). The minstrels and gleemen would entertain the lord and his men by singing and playing the harp. Michael Delahoyde from Washington State University stated in an argument that “We get our syntax from the Anglo-Saxons, our preference for and greater ease with nouns, the tendencies to simplify grammar and shorten words, and the “law of recessive accent” — the tendency to place the accent on the first syllable and to slur over subsequent syllables. The poem Beowulf, which has achieved national epic status in England and Judith, are among the most important works of this period. Other writings such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are significant to the study of the era, as it provides preserving chronology of early English history, while the poem Cædmon’s Hymn to date survives as the oldest extant work of literature in English. Researchers have suggested that there are twelve known medieval poets as most Old English poets are anonymous.

Only four of those are known by their vernacular works to us today with any certainty: Caedmon, Bede, Alfred the Great, and Cynewulf. Of these, only Caedmon, Bede, and Alfred the Great have known biographies. The epic Beowulf reflects the era that it was written in greatly as it speaks immensely about pagan deities, a Christian tradition and about a warrior society. A writer describes it as “the symbol of the antiquity and continuity of English poetry.” “Several features of Beowulf folktale and the sense of sorrow for the passing of worldly things mark it as elegiac…The Germanic tribal society is indeed central to Beowulf. The tribal lord was to ideals of extraordinary martial valor…” (David Damrosch, pg 27). The poet careful use of varied themes and techniques such as alliterations “as a structural principle” (pg27), litotes, compound words, repetitions, nobility, heroic glory and distribution of gifts highlighted the way and life of the people of that era. Beowulf highlighted the Christian traditional beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons people by pin pointing the beliefs that God is the creator of all things and the ruler of the heavens.

Throughout Beowulf, whenever any great men manage to achieve heroic feats, the narrator will be careful to attribute their prowess to God’s favor and divine plan. “He knew what they had toiled, the long times and troubles they’d come through without a leader; so the Lord of Life, the glorious Almighty, made this man renowned.” (Beowulf 12-17) Beowulf complex religious background reflected the era of the Anglo-Saxon people. The description of the creation shows an unusual mishmash with the pagan imagery of the demonic beast “Grendel” and the Christian imagery of a caring God that creates all things. “Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark, nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him to hear the din of the loud banquet every day in the hall, the harp being struck and the clear song of a skilled poet telling with mastery of man’s beginnings, how the Almighty had made the earth a gleaming plain girdled with waters; in His splendour He set the sun and the moon to be earth’s lamplight, lanterns for men, and filled the broad lap of the world with branches and leaves; and quickened life in every other thing that moved.” (86-98).

Beowulf invokes the values of the warrior society of the Anglo- Saxon period in several ways. During the Anglo-Saxon period the relationship between the warrior and his lord consisted of mutual trust; loyalty, and respect. There was a symbolic importance of spiritual materials which entails giving of honour/worth, and the value of ultimate achievements which was a visible proof that all parties are realizing themselves to the fullest in a spiritual sense. These values are all highlighted in the epic Beowulf. Beowulf also reflected the value of kinsmen to exact wergild (man-price) or to take vengeance for their kinsmen’s death. The need to take vengeance created never-ending feuds, bloodshed, a vast web of reprisals and counter-reprisals (a strong sense of doom).

These aspects of the Anglo-Saxon warrior society was highlighted in a fatal evil aspect one of such was Grendel and the dragon in undertaking to slay Grendel, and later Grendel’s mother, Beowulf is testing his relationship with unknowable destiny. Whether he lives or dies, he will have done all that any warrior would do during that period. The oldest surviving vernacular text in English is called Hymn and was written by Caedmon who is best-known and considered the father of Old English poetry. This poem is an example of pagan and Christian fusion in order to promote Christian themes in a pagan society. Caedmon’s hymn is recorded in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, and marks the beginning of tremendous developments within textual transmission and the heroic genre itself. “Caedmon’s Hymn may be regarded as an early forerunner of the dream vision narrative.

This style of poetry is formulated by an individual who has experienced a dreamlike revelation within which they are guided by an authoritative figure; in Caedmon’s case this figure being God. The “hero” discussed within the poem is perhaps unconventional in modern terms, but just as the Gods of classical literature were seen as heroes within their cultural context, so too does the Christian God in Caedmon’s Hymn represent a hero to the people of Caedmon’s culture. The poem features heavy use of stylistic features archetypal of Anglo-Saxon poetry.” (Tiarnan O Sullivan.) Caedmon had lived at the abbey of Whitby in Northumbria in the 7th century. Only a single nine-line poem remains. “Now let us praise the Guardian of the Kingdom of Heaven

Works Cited
The Anglo-Saxon Kings. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2012. <>. “Anglo-Saxon Poetry.” – New World Encyclopedia. N.p., 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <>. Baldwin, James A. ““Know from Whence You Came. If You Know Whence You Came, There Are Absolutely No Limitations to Where You Can Go.”.” Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <>. “Beowulf.” Beowulf. Georgetown University, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2012. <>. Damrosch, David. “Beowulf.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 26 December 2016

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