The Middle Ages section of Norton Topics Online includes topic clusters on Medieval Estates and Orders, King Arthur, and The First Crusade. The texts and images gathered here shed light on how people in medieval Britain understood the relationship between the various orders of society, between the present and the legendary past, and between Christians and those branded as infidels.

Suggested uses of Norton Topics Online: The Middle Ages with The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Seventh Edition (anthology page references for the new Seventh Edition are included below):

Medieval Estates and Orders: Making and Breaking Rules

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales NAEL7.1.213
  especially The General Prologue NAEL7.1.215
  The Wife of Bath's Prologue NAEL7.1.253
  and the Nun's Priest's Tale NAEL7.1.296
Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe NAEL7.1.367
Julian of Norwich, A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich NAEL7.1.356
The Dream of the Rood NAEL7
William Langland, Piers Plowman NAEL7.1.319
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene NAEL7.1.622

Medieval Estates and Orders: Making and Breaking Rules offers insights into the complex and contested social structure of medieval Britain through texts ranging from monastic rules to records of rebellion. This cluster will be especially helpful to readers of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, allowing us to understand Chaucer in the context of the late-medieval genre of estates satire. We are introduced to the "Old Woman" from the Romance of the Rose, whom Chaucer reinvented as the Wife of Bath, and to contemporary accounts of the Uprising of 1381, which lies in the background of the Nun's Priest Tale. The selections relating to women in and outside of religious orders add to our knowledge of the lives of medieval women such as Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, while those dealing with the image of the Christian warrior will enrich readings of texts ranging from The Dream of the Rood to Piers Plowman. Students studying later literary periods will have an opportunity to contrast the images of holiness, hypocrisy, and knighthood found here with those in Spenser's Faerie Queene, and to compare a medieval rebellion with the seventeenth-century English Revolution.

Arthur and Gawain: Making Romance

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight NAEL7.1.156
Sir Thomas Malory, Morte Darthur NAEL7.1.421
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Tale NAEL7.1.272
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene NAEL7.1.622
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Idylls of the King NAEL7.2.1282
  and The Lady of Shalott NAEL7.2.1204
William Morris, The Defense of Guenevere NAEL7.2.1606

Arthur and Gawain: Making Romance focuses on the legendary king who was at once an international figure and claimed as a hero by more than one medieval nation. The texts and images collected here will supplement the section Legendary Histories of Britain in the Norton Anthology, as well as providing a rich context for readings of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Malory's Morte Darthur, and Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale. This cluster also offers an excellent starting point for students wishing to explore the later Arthurian tradition, exemplified in Spenser's Faerie Queene, Tennyson's Idylls of the King and The Lady of Shalott, and William Morris's The Defense of Guenevere.

The First Crusade: Sanctifying War

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (especially The General Prologue) NAEL7.1.215
William Langland, Piers Plowman NAEL7.1.319
Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe NAEL7.1.367
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene NAEL7.1.622
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress NAEL7.1.2141
John Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel NAEL7.1.2079
William Blake, And did those feet NAEL7.2.85

The First Crusade: Sanctifying War offers a range of contemporary perspectives on an event which profoundly affected the history of Christian Europe and the Middle East. The texts gathered here present the image of Jerusalem and the idea of pilgrimage in medieval thought, providing crucial contexts for Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Langland's Piers Plowman, and The Book of Margery Kempe. This section also offers a valuable background to later imaginings of the pilgrim and Jerusalem by writers ranging from Edmund Spenser to William Blake. The harsh depiction of the realities of medieval warfare included here provide an instructive contrast to the conventions of chivalric literature and Arthurian romance, and the accounts of Rabbi Eliezer bar Nathan and Ibn Al-Athir offer an alternative view of the crusade from the standpoint of its victims.

The Linguistic and Literary Contexts of Beowulf

Bede, An Ecclesiastical History of the English People NAEL7.1.23
The Dream of the Rood NAEL7.1.26
Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney NAEL7.1.29
The Wanderer NAEL7.1.99
The Wife's Lament NAEL7.1.102
The Battle of the Maldon NAEL7.1.103

The Linguistic and Literary Contexts of Beowulf allows students to see Beowulf and its place in literary history in the context of early Germanic literature. There was little known about these contexts before nineteenth-century philologists, editors, and translators, eager to establish their native traditions, made the poem available once more. Beowulf thus became a major text in a European revival of ancient Germanic literature, which includes, besides Anglo-Saxon, works in Old Saxon, Old and Middle High German, and Old Icelandic. This topic provides excerpts from several of these works, which illuminate the world of Beowulf and its pagan characters as well as its Christian poet and his original audience.


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