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The Shaping of English Poetry – Volume IV

Essays on 'The Battle of Maldon', Chrétien de Troyes, Dante, 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' and Chaucer

Gerald Morgan

This fourth volume of essays under the title The Shaping of English Poetry consolidates the work of the previous three volumes on the great subjects of English literature in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. The Norman Conquest of England built upon the rich foundation of Anglo-Saxon England but did not destroy it; thus the present volume begins with the commemoration of English heroism in The Battle of Maldon. In the late twelfth century we encounter in Chrétien de Troyes's seminal romance Le Chevalier de la Charrete a new kind of hero in Lancelot, abject and obedient before his mistress, although Chrétien himself is not an uncritical admirer of the sanctity of adulterous love. Hence the importance of Dante's exposition of love in Purgatorio, XVIII, which forms a background to the essays here on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Parliament of Fowls. The volume concludes with essays on Chaucer's Knight's, Monk's and Nun's Priest's Tales, which form part of a long-term project to interpret the Canterbury Tales as a unified whole and not merely a series of fragments awaiting revision on Chaucer's death.

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5 Nature and the Bird-Debate inthe Parliament of Fowls

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5 Nature and the Bird-Debate in the Parliament of Fowls lysander: Ay me, for aught that I could ever read, Could ever hear by tale or history, The course of true love never did run smooth, But either it was different in blood – … Or else misgrafted in respect of years – … Or merit stood upon the choice of friends – … Or if there were a symphony in choice, War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it. — shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I.1.132–35, 137, 139 and 141–42 The Realm of Nature I. The course of love, even true love, in life seldom if ever runs smooth and the dreamer in the Parliament of Fowls has to pass through the disturbing experience of the temple of Venus before he can observe, let alone engage in, the debate under Nature as the birds of every kind assemble to choose their mate on St Valentine’s Day (PF, 309–11). In the approach to the temple and within the temple he has to learn to his dismay that love is an evil principle as well as a good and hence that not all loves of good (PF, 211–94). This is hard for the young and inexperienced dreamer to believe or credit and he has to learn that many have passed this way before him to their unending misery and sorrow. The names of Dido, Tristram, Cleopatra and Troilus among others (PF, 288–94) tell a story that cannot be dismissed as accident or...

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