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4 aprile 2012

From the Norman conquest to Chaucer (1066 - 1350)

The Normans brought a higher civilisation, a new language (Norman French) and a new kind of poetry (the system of syllable and rhyme instead of the old allitterative verse) to England. The conquest of the island led to the decline of Anglo-Saxon literature, as Anglo-Saxon was only spoken by uncultured and often illitterate Saxons, the language of the norman court and society being French. However, what was to emerge from the long struggle between the two languages and civilisations was a new language, Middle English, containing both a German and a Latin element, and a new, that is, an English civilisation.
We can therefore consider the history of this transition period, in which a new language and a new literture were born, as a slow victory of the vanquished Saxons over the Norman conquerors.
The Normans began to identify themselves more closely with the native English and their language, after the loss  of Normandy had confined them to England; but it was not until the second half of the XIV century that English replaced French in the schools, the law-courts and Parliament. For about three centuries after the battle of Hastings, literary works were written in French and Latin, the language of the Church and of science. In fact, with the sole exception of a few lyrics, such as The Owl and the Nightingale and Spring, the religious and secular works which appeared from the middle of the XIII century onwards were translations of French poems and narratives of chivalry.
Three alliterative poems in praise of purity, Pearl, Patience and Cleaness, take us into the Age of Chaucer.