The Forward Movement of the Fourteenth Century

The Forward Movement of the Fourteenth Century

The Forward Movement of the Fourteenth Century

The Forward Movement of the Fourteenth Century

Excerpt

The fourteenth century in Western Europe is a bridge which links twelfth-century gains to sixteenth-century triumphs. Its glory is both in its political, philosophical, and artistic promise, and in its achievement--Dante, Chaucer, the Gothic cathedrals, and the universities. It is at once the height of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance.

Indeed, these conventional terms blur when we adhere to chronology: the very mediaeval Petrarch opens our eyes to the new humanistic ideals; the very mediaeval Chaucer and Boccaccio turn men's minds to a world of men not wholly transitory, and suffused with a love for human fame and action; the very mediaeval Marsilius of Padua and Wycliffe provide the stimulus to new liberties from oppression. Cola di Rienzi and Dante revive ideas of Roman liberty which, though caught in a cultural lag, will be actualized in succeeding centuries. The mediaeval concept of natural law, with its axiom "all men are by nature free," leads in France to the legal freeing of the serfs. Though the myths of agrarianism remain in Piers Plowman and Chaucer, the bourgeoisie is already leading one vanguard to a newer myth by its practical victories; and the proletariat, aroused out of its calm by the failure of the feudal ideal in a time of strife and pestilence, is making its first bid for amelioration. In Piers Plowman and in the English parliament the common people begin to emerge as a recognizable force in the commonwealth. The call for Church reform is not limited to the Lollards and the Spiritual Franciscans and their continental brethren; Gerson and Trent are anticipated by the orthodox Richard Fitzralph and a host of sermon-writers.

In art the Sienese school is breaking ground which will bear rich fruit in the later Roman and Venetian schools, and the creative spirit north of the Alps is discovering itself. The decline of the great ages of romance and lyric virility is as deceptive as the decline of the twelfth-century monastic reforms; new genres are on the way, and new reforms in the making. Chrétien's "make it new" is matched by the work of Chaucer and the Gawain-poet; and Italy, under the impact of Dante, broadens the base of literary accomplishment. Music flourishes with Machaut and the sophisticated composers of the Court of Burgundy. The drama, after its long evolution from a casual trope, is culminating in the . . .

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