Middle English Period (1066-1500)


What is Middle English Period?

The Middle English Period in literature is a time in the history of English literature that lasted from about 1066 to 1500. This period started with the Norman Conquest, which brought a lot of French words into the English language. Because of this, the English language began to change a lot during this time, moving from Old English to something more like modern English. This period is famous for its rich and diverse literature. One of the most well-known writers from this time is Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote “The Canterbury Tales”. These are stories told by different people on a journey and are written in a mix of verse and prose. The literature from this period often talks about things like love, religion, and the problems of society. It includes different kinds of writing like romances, religious stories, and poems. The Middle English Period is important because it shows how the English language and literature were developing and is a bridge between older times and the more modern world of literature.

Authors of Middle English Period:

Here are some of the most famous authors from this period:

  1. Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343–1400) – Often considered the Father of English literature, Chaucer is best known for “The Canterbury Tales,” a collection of stories told by pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral. His work reflects a keen observation of human nature and has been influential in the development of the English literary tradition.
  2. William Langland (c. 1332–c. 1386) – Langland is the presumed author of “Piers Plowman,” an allegorical narrative that critiques the societal and religious practices of his time. The work is known for its complexity and its critical perspective on the corruption within the church and society.
  3. John Gower (c. 1330–1408) – A contemporary of Chaucer, Gower wrote in three languages: Latin, French, and English. His major work in English, “Confessio Amantis,” presents moral tales within a framework of confession to a chaplain.
  4. The Gawain Poet (fl. late 14th century) – Also known as the Pearl Poet, this anonymous author is credited with several works, the most famous being “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” a story that combines Arthurian legend with complex moral and ethical challenges.
  5. Julian of Norwich (c. 1342–c. 1416) – Known for her spiritual writings, Julian of Norwich is the author of “Revelations of Divine Love,” which is considered one of the most important works of Middle English mysticism. She is the first woman writer in English whose name is known.
  6. Margery Kempe (c. 1373–after 1438) – Kempe wrote “The Book of Margery Kempe,” a work considered by many to be the first autobiography in English. It details her pilgrimages, mystical experiences, and the trials of living a life of spiritual devotion.
  7. Thomas Malory (c. 1415–1471) – Malory is best known for “Le Morte d’Arthur,” a comprehensive collection and reworking of the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. His work played a crucial role in popularizing the Arthurian legends in English literature.
  8. John Wycliffe (c. 1320s–1384) – Often called the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” Wycliffe is renowned for his efforts in translating the Bible into English, making it more accessible to the general population. Although more of a religious reformer than a literary figure, his work had a profound impact on English literature and society.
  9. The Wakefield Master (unknown) – An anonymous author or possibly a group of authors responsible for “The Wakefield Cycle,” a series of mystery plays that stand out for their humor and complexity. The plays are part of the larger tradition of medieval drama that depicted biblical stories and moral lessons for the public.
  10. Robert Henryson (c. 1425–1500) – A Scottish poet who wrote towards the end of the Middle English period, Henryson is known for “The Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian,” a collection of narrative poems that adapt Aesop’s fables. His work is celebrated for its moral depth and the richness of its language.

Notable Works of Middle English Period

  1. “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer: This is arguably the most famous work of the Middle English period. It’s a collection of stories told by a group of pilgrims traveling to Canterbury. Each story, ranging from comedic to serious, provides insight into various aspects of 14th-century English society. To see the characters of The Canterbury Tales visit The Canterbury Tales Character List.
  2. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” (Author Unknown): This is a chivalric romance that tells the story of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table. The poem combines elements of magical adventures with moral and ethical challenges. To see the plot summary and analysis of this work, visit Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Study
  3. Piers Plowman” by William Langland: This allegorical narrative criticizes the corruption in society and the Church while exploring the themes of truth, poverty, and righteousness.
  4. “The Book of Margery Kempe” by Margery Kempe: Considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language, this work details the religious experiences and pilgrimages of Margery Kempe.
  5. “Troilus and Criseyde” by Geoffrey Chaucer: Another significant work by Chaucer, this poem is a tragic love story set against the backdrop of the Trojan War.
  6. “The Pearl Poet” (Author Unknown): This is a collection of works believed to be by the same anonymous author who wrote “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” It includes “Pearl,” “Patience,” and “Cleanness,” each exploring complex theological and ethical themes.
  7. “The Wakefield Cycle” (Author Unknown): This is a series of 32 mystery plays that depict biblical stories from Creation to the Last Judgment.
  8. “The York Mystery Plays” (Author Unknown): A similar collection to the Wakefield Cycle, these plays are a series of Middle English pageants covering biblical stories.

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