This collection of essays is conceived not as a summary of past endeavours but as the beginning of an attempt to present a sense of the wholeness of a distinctively English literature from
Beowulf to Spenser. The native alliterative tradition of England is represented by its final flowering in two essays on
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and three on
Piers Plowman. The renewal of English letters in the fourteenth century, inspired by continental models in French and Italian, is represented by four essays on Chaucer. The poetic achievement of these three medieval masters remains unmatched until Spenser announces himself in a third great age in the history of English poetry and this is represented by three essays on the first three books of
The Faerie Queene. Spenser’s indebtedness to Langland and Chaucer, and his philosophical conservatism in drawing on the thought of Aristotle and the tradition of medieval commentary surrounding the works of Aristotle, ensure that the tradition of English poetry in the Renaissance is securely rooted in its medieval inheritance.