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From «Beowulf» to Caxton

Studies in Medieval Languages and Literature, Texts and Manuscripts


Edited By Tomonori Matsushita, A.V.C. Schmidt and David J. Wallace

Senshu University has hosted many international conferences on medieval English literature – primarily on Geoffrey Chaucer and William Langland – as well as in the related fields of Old Germanic, medieval French and Renaissance Italian literature. These international collaborations inform and contribute to the present volume, which addresses the heritage bequeathed to medieval English language and literature by the classical world.
This volume explores the development of medieval English literature in light of contact with Germanic and Old Norse cultures, on the one hand, and Romance languages, on the other. The book includes a comparative study of Beowulf in the Germanic context, discusses aspects of Piers Plowman and its tradition, and offers philological approaches to Chaucer (especially his Troilus and Criseyde). The articles assembled here collectively suggest how the torches of classical learning were carried from continental Europe to illuminate the pages of medieval English literature.


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Tomonori Matsushita - Introduction - 1


Tomonori Matsushita Introduction In establishing their kingdom of England in the ninth and tenth centuries, the Anglo-Saxons created their own literature in their own language.1 R.D. Fulk and Christopher M. Cain (2003: 2) pointed out that, for literary pur- poses, the defining characteristic of Anglo-Saxon culture lies in its fusion of two dif fering strains: the military culture of the Germanic peoples who invaded Britain in the fifth century and the Mediterranean learning introduced by Christian missionaries from the end of the sixth. Germanic legend proved vital to the Anglo-Saxons for several centuries in establishing a distinctively Germanic cultural identity in their new land.2 The material of Germanic legend was transmitted in the form of short narrative songs, or ‘lays’.3 ‘The verse form used for vernacular poetry throughout the Anglo- Saxon period’, observed Donald G. Scragg, was that common to all the Germanic peoples, and was carried to England by the migrating tribes of the fifth century … Heroic poetry in Old English tells of the pro- fessional minstrel at the court of kings, singing traditional legends from the Germanic past, and occasionally adding Christian stories to his repertoire ….4 1 Patrick Wormald, ‘Anglo-Saxon Society and its Literature’, in M. Godden and M. Lapidge eds., The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991): 1. 2 R.D. Fulk and Christopher M. Cain, A History of Old English Literature (Oxford and Berlin: Blackwell, 2003): 2. 3 Roberta Frank, ‘Germanic Legend in Old English Literature’, in The Cambridge Companion to...

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