Medieval English studies

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Portrait of Chaucer (ca. 1380), found on Wikipedia, PD-Old.
Portrait of Chaucer (ca. 1380), found on Wikipedia, PD-Old.

Medieval English studies deal with the language and literature of the Old English period (ca. mid-5th century to late 11th century) and the Middle English period (ca. late 11th century to 16th century).

 

Old English is the earliest documented form of the English language which was brought to Great Britain by the Anglo Saxons in the mid-5th century. Without a doubt, the most famous work written in the Old English period is the epic poem “Beowulf,” whose author is unknown until today. The protagonist of the same name, a Geat, travels to the king of the Danes whose kingdom is threatened by a monster called Grendel.

 

Middle English can be roughly described as the English varieties spoken after the Norman Conquest in 1066 which lead to the transition from Old English to Middle English. In the mid-15th century, Middle English is succeded by Early Modern English, which is the language of famous poet William Shakespeare.

Some of the pilgrims, including Chaucer the pilgrim himself. Painting taken from Mary Eliza Haweis' "Chaucer for Children," available on Project Gutenberg.
Some of the pilgrims, including Chaucer the pilgrim himself. Painting taken from Mary Eliza Haweis' "Chaucer for Children," available on Project Gutenberg.

As a matter of course, the Middle English period had its own renowned poet, namely Geoffrey Chaucer, whose magnum opus are “The Canterbury Tales.” The background story is about several pilgrims who are planning to go to Canterbury and who tell their tales consecutively. Despite the age of the book, it is very enjoyable and pleasant to read. In fact, some of the tales could be considered to be quite nasty (e.g. The Miller's Tale). The structure of “The Canterbury Tales“ was most likely inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio who also used a background story for a collection of tales in his most famous work “Il Decamerone.”

 

In the field of Medieval English studies, I wrote three papers on Middle English authors. Two of them were on Chaucer's “The Canterbury Tales“, including my bachelor's thesis. My first paper, which I wrote in the summer term of 2016, dealt with “Reliability in The Canon's Yeoman's Tale,“ and I enjoyed working on that tale. In the following semester, the winter term of 2016/17, I wrote my bachelor's thesis on “Predestination in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales“ and dealt with several tales, namely The Knight's Tale, The Merchant's Tale, The Nun's Priest's Tale, The Miller's Tale, and The Franklin's Tale. Half a year later in the summer term of 2017, I wrote a term paper on “The Book of Margery Kempe,“ another Middle English work, which is considered to be the first autobiography in the English language and deals with the life of the mystic Margery Kempe, called “Margery Kempe and the ICD-10: Mental illness in general and schizophrenia in particular.“

I have to say that I always had wonderful lecturers in this department who were supporting and motivating, and I deeply enjoyed to deal with Old and Middle English literature during my studies which is why I am going to write my master's thesis in this field. Either I will deal with Chaucer again, or I will work on Beowulf. Both options seem intriguing to me.