Login

Ch 3: Old and Middle English Literature

About This Chapter

Watch video lessons on Old and Middle English literature and learn about 'The Canterbury Tales,' 'Beowulf,' 'The Knight's Tale' and more. These lessons feature quick quizzes that test your knowledge of the materials.

It's fairly difficult to understand the style of Middle English and it's pretty much near impossible to decipher the language of Old English. But fear not! Our engaging video lessons cover the works, genres and styles of Old and Middle English literature. Tune in and approach these English literature subjects with ease!

Starting off, you'll be introduced to 'Beowulf,' one of the oldest epic poems of Old English. You'll study the plot of the work, become familiar with its alliterative language and come to understand its historical significance to English literature.

Next, you'll get an overview of one of the fathers of modern literature, Geoffrey Chaucer. Highly accomplished and famous during his lifetime in the Middle Ages, Chaucer was one of the first writers to write in the 'vernacular,' a writing style that moved away from traditional Old English and was written in a manner closer to the way people spoke. Don't worry about not being able to understand Middle English though; we offer several tips on how to interpret and make sense of the language style.

Among Chaucer's most famous works is 'The Canterbury Tales,' consisting of many stories told by a group of pilgrims. While covering 'The Canterbury Tales,' you'll not only study the plots and characters, but you'll also see how Chaucer used frame narrative, which essentially means that there are several stories told within a story.

Next, you'll study the different story types common during the literature of Middle English. 'The Knight's Tale' (not to be confused with the movie) will familiarize you with the chivalric romance genre. You'll encounter a raunchy comedy in the form of a fabliau during your study of 'The Miller's Tale.' Finally, 'The Nun's Priest Tale' will expose you to the talking-animal genre ('beast fable') that is still popular today; you'll become familiar with the characters of Chaunticleer and Pertelote and see how these animal characters are anthropomorphized, displaying human characteristics. Get ready to explore the fascinating world of Old and English literature!

8 Lessons in Chapter 3: Old and Middle English Literature
Introduction to Medieval Literature: Old English, Middle English, and Historical Context

1. Introduction to Medieval Literature: Old English, Middle English, and Historical Context

We'll go over some quick medieval history to situate some of the major literary works of the time period. We're going from Caedmon and Beowulf, writing in Old English, all the way up to Sir Thomas Malory's collections of the Arthur myths in late Middle English.

Beowulf: Story, Characters, and Old English

2. Beowulf: Story, Characters, and Old English

In this lesson, we'll take a look at the Old English epic, Beowulf. We'll explore what happens, how it's written and why it has such a lasting legacy.

Introduction to Chaucer: Middle English and the Canterbury Tales

3. Introduction to Chaucer: Middle English and the Canterbury Tales

In this lesson, we'll introduce medieval writer Geoffrey Chaucer. We'll take a look at his life, his most famous works, including 'The Canterbury Tales,' and we'll spend some time learning how to read Middle English.

The Canterbury Tales General Prologue: Style, Structure, and Characters

4. The Canterbury Tales General Prologue: Style, Structure, and Characters

In this lesson, we'll go over the General Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. We'll take a look at some of the most interesting pilgrims and establish the frame narrative for the rest of the work.

The Knight's Tale and the Wife of Bath's Tale: Two Approaches to Chivalric Romance

5. The Knight's Tale and the Wife of Bath's Tale: Two Approaches to Chivalric Romance

In this lesson, we'll outline some of the key features of the medieval genre of chivalric romance. Then we'll talk about two very different tales that are examples of this genre: The Knight's Tale and the Wife of Bath's Tale.

The Miller's Tale: Chaucer's Fabulous Fabliau

6. The Miller's Tale: Chaucer's Fabulous Fabliau

In this lesson we'll talk about the medieval genre of fabliau, which is full of wonderfully low-brow humor. We'll also discuss the plot of the Miller's Tale, a fabliau about a carpenter and his straying wife.

The Nun's Priest's Tale: The Beast Fable of the Canterbury Tales

7. The Nun's Priest's Tale: The Beast Fable of the Canterbury Tales

In this lesson, we'll go over the medieval beast fable genre and take a look at the Nun's Priest's Tale, one of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales that is illustrative of the genre.

The Prioress's Tale and the Pardoner's Tale: Chaucer's Two Religious Fables

8. The Prioress's Tale and the Pardoner's Tale: Chaucer's Two Religious Fables

In this lesson, we'll take a look at The Prioress's Tale and The Pardoner's Tale to get a better sense of the types of tales told by religious members of the pilgrimage party.

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 95 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Support