Explain The Differences Between Old English And Middle English Literature

Last Updated on March 19, 2022 by QCity Editorial Stuff

Middle English, also known as Anglo-Norman, is a West Germanic language that developed from the Old English dialects in what has been referred to as the “great vowel shift.” Middle English literature was influenced by both French and Latin after Norman Conquest.

Old English literature dates back to roughly the 9th century and was written with runes that were based on Latin letters. This form of writing would be used for poetry or other texts that were not meant for every day reading purposes such as religious scripture or law books. In contrast, Middle English Literature utilized a more fluid style of language called “Anglo-Saxon” which was easier for people who spoke different dialects or languages to understand than Old English Runes had been.

Middle English literature is a period of literary history that ranges from the late 12th century to the late 15th century. It was during this time that books were first being written in vernacular languages, instead of Latin. This means that some words are spelled differently than what we are used to today, which can make reading difficult for those who don’t speak Old English or Middle English fluently. Some examples include “several” (modern spelling: “chervil”), and “pavilion” (modern spelling: “Pavillion”).

Comparison Between Old English And Middle English Literature

Parameters of ComparisonOld EnglishMiddle English
Written Old English literature is written in Anglo-SaxonMiddle English literature is written in Norman French
Preserved Old English literature has been preserved primarily through manuscript copiesMiddle English literature was recorded with ink on paper, so most texts have survived throughout history 
Work Old English literary works are more likely to be about heroic deeds and mythical storiesmiddle English literary works focus more on romance, chivalry, and courtly love 
Oral tradition Much stronger Less strong 
Word Fewer words per sentence More words per sentence 

What Is Old English Literature?

What Is Old English Literature

Old English literature is a term for the literary writings in Old English, Latin, and other vernacular languages of early medieval England. The first text written in the Anglo-Saxon language was a poem on Christian themes called Cædmon’s Hymn. This work is believed to have been composed between 658 and 680 AD by an anonymous author whose name we do not know. These texts were compiled into a manuscript called the Nowell Codex which dates from around 1000 A.D., making it one of our earliest surviving examples of writing from this period. Many notable authors worked during this time such as Bede, Alcuin, Cynewulf, and Aldhelm among others who wrote poems or biblical translations that survive today as important examples of early literature.

Old English Literature is a genre of literature written in Old English. It encompasses any work that was originally composed, spoken, or sung in what is now known as Old English. The earliest surviving examples are mainly religious texts from the eighth century or earlier. Scholars have found evidence of many types of writing including poetry, prose, laws, and riddles among others. 

The term “Old English” refers to the language used for these writings between 450-1100 CE while “Middle English” refers to works between 1100-1500 CE, which were mostly translations from Latin and French sources by this time since Anglo-Saxon had fallen out of use by then.

What Is Middle English Literature?

What Is Middle English Literature

Middle English literature is the literary works written in the middle ages, between the Norman conquest and Renaissance. This period encompasses many genres such as romance, poetry, and religious texts. Many of these works were considered to be mediocre; however, some authors like Geoffrey Chaucer are now credited as being among England’s best poets. Some famous Middle English literature includes “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” by an unknown author from a 14th-century manuscript called Cotton Nero A xiv., and Piers Plowman by William Langland. 

Middle English Literature is a specific subset of medieval literature. Specifically, it refers to texts written in the Middle English language between roughly 1100 and 1500 CE.

Middle English Literature is considered different from both Anglo-Saxon Literature (Old English) and Early Modern Englishes (Modern English). It follows that this type of literature must be studied on its merit as opposed to trying to compare it with other types of writing. 

10 Differences Between Old English And Middle English Literature

1. Old English literature is written in Anglo-Saxon, a Germanic language that was spoken by the Angles and Saxons who invaded Britain from mainland Europe during the 5th century.

2. Middle English literature is written in Norman French, which was brought to England by William of Normandy after he conquered it in 1066.

3. Old English literature has been preserved primarily through manuscript copies because they were created on perishable materials such as parchment or vellum. 

4. Middle English literature was recorded with ink on paper, so most texts have survived throughout history.

5. Old English literary works are more likely to be about heroic deeds and mythical stories whereas middle English literary works focus more on romance, chivalry, and courtly love.

6. The oral tradition is much stronger in old English than in middle English because people would memorize their poems before writing them down for posterity.

7. Middle English was the first time that literature became popular, and many different types of writing were created.

8. In Old English, there are typically fewer words per sentence than in Middle English.

9. The way people wrote changed as well – the letters became less complicated and easier to read.

10. There are also differences in pronunciation between Old and Middle English.

Interesting Statistics Or Facts Of Old English Literature

1. Old English literature was written in alliterative verse.

2. The oldest surviving text of Old English is Beowulf, which dates back to the 8th century. 

3. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles are a set of annals compiled in Wessex during the 9th century and continued by various writers until 1290.

4. One of the most well-known texts from this era is King Alfred’s translation of Gregory’s Pastoral Care into Old English (circa 893).

5. Another popular text from this era is Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, which he wrote around 731 AD for his patron Bishop Acca. 

6. Other famous works include Widsith and Decor, both poems about warriors’ lives that date back to the 700s.

Interesting Statistics Or Facts Of Middle English Literature

1. Middle English literature is the bridge between Old and Modern English.

2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer was written in Middle English.

3. It took over 600 years for Shakespeare to be translated into modern English.

4. One of the most famous works of Middle English Literature, Beowulf, is about a warrior who battles monsters.

5. There are many different dialects of middle English including Northern, Southern, East Midlands, and West Midlands.

6. Two words that were introduced during this period but have since fallen out of use are “thou” (singular) and “ye” (plural).

Conclusion About The Differences Between Old English And Middle English Literature

Middle English literature is often lighter in tone than Old English. Middle English stories are less likely to be about the Christian faith and more about secular themes, such as love or revenge. Stories from this period can also use humor for comic relief.  -Middle English literature has a broader vocabulary with many words that come from Latin rather than Anglo-Saxon roots. This includes words like “dinner” which comes from the word “dinner” meaning mealtime or dinner party, whereas “dinner” means food served at any time of day without reference to formal dining occasions (elder).

The differences between Old English and Middle English literature are vast. For example, the number of vowels in Old English is about 25 while there are only 7 or 8 in Middle English. The language has also become more simplified over time which means that it’s easier to understand for modern readers than its earlier counterpart. Some major changes have occurred because words were borrowed from other languages such as Latin during these periods so they sound different now even though their meaning remains unchanged. This makes reading older texts difficult without understanding what the author was trying to convey which is why scholars often provide footnotes at the bottom of pages with explanations for each word used throughout a text. 


Resource 01: https://www.bl.uk/medieval-literature/articles/old-english
Resource 02: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_English_literature#:~:text

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