Our survey of drama has taken us up to the end of the fifteenthcentury, and we may now consider what else was happening in the literary field in a century which saw the most important literary event of our civilization, namely the invention of printing. It is a period of which we have a peculiarly thorough record of domestic life in the Paston Letters, a collection covering three generations of family life in Norfolk. The public life of the same age is perhaps coloured in our imaginations by the recollections of Shakespeare’s historical plays, covering the reigns of Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III. But it is not a great century for English literature. In Sir Thomas Malory we have one writer of the first rank, and there is a small group of gifted poets in Scotland.
John Lydgate (?1370-1452) deserves mention too. He is one of those writers who achieve in their own day an immense reputation that posterity fails to confirm. His output was enormous. His biggest poem, The Fall of Princes, contains some 36,000 lines. It is three times as long as Paradise Lost. The work known as the Troy-book has over 30,000 lines. Some of his ‘lesser’ poems are big by normal standards, and he wrote plenty of short poems too. The Troy-book tells the story of the Trojan War. It contains a version of the story of Troilus and Cressida, and comparison of Lydgate’s treatment with Chaucer’s brings out Chaucer’s insight into emotion and psychology as against Lydgate’s method of submerging individual characterization under a codified sequence of moral generalities. Of course twentieth-century prejudice is weighted against appreciation of Lydgate. His idea of poetry is not our idea, but an idea rooted in the medieval philosophy of universal order. He moralizes and philosophizes the human scene into a grand organized literary fabric whose sections and sub-