A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature

By Laura Cooner Lambdin; Robert Thomas Lambdin | Go to book overview

2

Religious and Allegorical Verse

Gwendolyn Morgan

To speak of religious or allegorical verse in England during the ninth through the fifteenth centuries is to embrace the vast majority of extant Anglo-Saxon poetry and a goodly portion of that composed in Middle English. Allegory, especially in the high Middle Ages, was frequently more of a characteristic than a mode, and religion informed everyday life to a far greater degree than we expect today. Consequently, a study that attempted to address such breadth would necessarily run to multiple volumes. Moreover—and herein lies the essential problem—religion was not clear cut, despite the fact that Catholic Christianity existed as the only official religion in Western Europe. A plethora of recent studies on the issue have shown that the Christianization of Europe, especially in the rural areas, was frequently nominal until the twelfth or thirteenth century. After that time, two Christianities existed side by side through the sixteenth and even seventeenth centuries: first, the mainstream classical form upheld by the church; and second, a folk religion, a blending of pre-Christian beliefs, practices, and deities with the more essential elements of the mainstream religion that often seemed heretical to church officials. Where, then, does one draw the necessary boundaries in defining medieval religious and allegorical verse?

In order to facilitate a discussion that is neither redundant of the more standard treatments of religious poetry nor so broad as to cease to be helpful, let us first consider only that verse that is both religious and allegorical, thereby eliminating most sermons, the religious epics, clerical ballads, and so forth, which receive sufficient treatment elsewhere in this volume. This leaves us with a body of verse that can legitimately be called “wisdom literature,” which, in the words of Morton Bloomfield (17), provides “rules of conduct or control of the environment” while attempting to “suggest a scheme of life [and] to control life by

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A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • 1 - Old English and Anglo-Norman Literature 1
  • Selected Bibliography 23
  • 2 - Religious and Allegorical Verse 26
  • 3 - Alliterative Poetry in Old and Middle English 37
  • Selected Bibliography 48
  • 4 - Balladry 50
  • Selected Bibliography 66
  • 5 - The Beast Fable 69
  • Selected Bibliography 84
  • 6 - Breton Lay 86
  • 7 - Chronicle 98
  • 8 - Debate Poetry 118
  • Selected Bibliography 152
  • 9 - Medieval English Drama 154
  • 10 - Dream Vision 178
  • Selected Bibliography 196
  • 11 - Epic and Heroic Poetry 210
  • 12 - The Epic Genre and Medieval Epics 230
  • Selected Bibliography 253
  • 13 - The Fabliau 255
  • 14 - Hagiographic, Homiletic, and Didactic Literature 277
  • Selected Bibliography 294
  • 15 - Lyric Poetry 299
  • 16 - The Middle English Parody/ Burlesque 315
  • Selected Bibliography 333
  • 17 - Riddles 336
  • 18 - Romance 352
  • Selected Bibliography 373
  • 19 - Visions of the Afterlife 376
  • Selected Bibliography 394
  • Selected Bibliography 399
  • Index 425
  • About the Editors and Contributors 431
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