Middle Ages Literature

1 January 2017

The Middle Ages had many interesting characteristics concerning the literature of that time period. The important literary works “incorporated elements and values drawn from different and conflicting traditions (Patterson 1143). For every opinion, there was another opinion to counter it. Many of the pieces of literature at this time had contradictory ideas in them or had competing interests (Patterson 1144). The literature of this time shows us that “many people took the central doctrine of Christianity so much for granted that their daily lives seem largely untroubled by the moral and spiritual demands of religion” (Patterson 1144).

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Another characteristic of the literature was that it alerts us to the “complexities and dilemmas that any faith poses” (Patterson 1144). The Middle Ages is also called the “age of chivalry” (Patterson 1144). The literature mainly “expresses the values of the most powerful members of society, the aristocracy” (Patterson 1144). The aristocracy achieved their power through “military might” (Patterson 1144). There was also an “explicit code of chivalry” (Patterson 1145). The values were “never entirely consistent with each other” (Patterson 1145). Characters of literature had to choose whether to be a lover or a warrior (Patterson 1145).

The main concerns of the literature were “the demands of religious faith and appropriate use of physical force, and the individual human being working out his or her individual destiny” (Patterson 1145). The literature during this time contributed to a list of vivid characters to the world of literature (Patterson 1145). Writers created unforgettable, complex literary characters to deal with the themes (Patterson 1145). The Middle Ages contrasted to the Renaissance because the Renaissance’s characters had “greater autonomy and fully realized personalities” (James 1883).

The Renaissance’s literature did not judge “human action by right and wrong but by beauty, memorability, and effectiveness” (James 1886). During the Renaissance, the presence of God was much less dominating (James 1887). Medieval men and women were more concerned with the afterlife, while in the Renaissance they had a preoccupation with this life (James 1886). The Canterbury Tales fits into the Middle Ages well with some characteristics and not quite as well concerning others. For example, the Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales preaches the word of God on a daily basis, yet he is morally corrupt in his everyday life (Chaucer 1759).

He preaches of greed, yet is greedy himself (Chaucer 1759). The Pardoner steals from the church, as well as innocent people (Chaucer 1758). Chaucer showed us that people took the doctrine of the church for granted. Other characters in The Canterbury Tales spoke of God and were Christians, yet didn’t bother with feeling morally obligated to act right. The dilemmas of being a Christian in real-life are seen. Some of the characters are Christian but it is more complex and takes an effort to be a Christian. The Canterbury Tales didn’t seem to have contradictory themes necessarily.

Chaucer makes his views of various social ranks known through a use of satire. The characters themselves are contradictory, as we see with the Pardoner once again (Chaucer 1758). Since Chaucer has every type of social rank represented, we see his view of these ranks, which does contradict some of the jobs or moral obligations of various people. The characters in the story itself did compete for various interests. They all held different values or beliefs about the world. Chaucer lived during this time period, so it is in a way a more realistic view rather than contradictory.

The explicit code of chivalry isn’t necessarily a large component of The Canterbury Tales except for perhaps the Knight and his tale. Chaucer shows that some people were focused on the chivalry act during this time. The Canterbury Tales doesn’t focus on pleasing the aristocracy either. Chaucer wrote from the perspective of every social rank so his book was meant for the poor and rich. Its subject matter was meant to be appealing to all Medieval people. The final characteristic that The Canterbury Tales does follow is the well developed characters.

Chaucer had a whole list of realistic, complex characters. These characters could rival the Renaissance’s characters to me. I enjoyed reading about the characters and reading even more of The Canterbury Tales online. The Canterbury Tales fits well with the characteristics of the Middle Ages for the most part. The individual characters do have an individual goal in mind. Chaucer seemed as if he cared about his characters and wanted readers to his get to know them on an individual level, which seems more ahead of his time.

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