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The Dream of the Rood
- Author: Unknown
- Story about the cross' experiences during the crucifixion
- Beowulf - The protagonist of the
- epic, Beowulf is a Geatish hero who fights the monster Grendel, Grendel’s
- mother, and a fire-breathing dragon. Beowulf’s boasts and encounters reveal him
- to be the strongest, ablest warrior around. In his youth, he personifies all of
- the best values of the heroic culture. In his old age, he proves a wise and
- effective ruler.
- King Hrothgar - The king of the Danes.
- Hrothgar enjoys military success and prosperity until Grendel terrorizes his
- realm. A wise and aged ruler, Hrothgar represents a different kind of
- leadership from that exhibited by the youthful warrior Beowulf. He is a father
- figure to Beowulf and a model for the kind of king that Beowulf becomes.
- Grendel - A demon descended from
- Cain, Grendel preys on Hrothgar’s warriors in the king’s mead-hall, Heorot.
- Because his ruthless and miserable existence is part of the retribution exacted
- by God for Cain’s murder of Abel, Grendel fits solidly within the ethos of
- vengeance that governs the world of the poem.
- Grendel’s mother - An unnamed swamp-hag,
- Grendel’s mother seems to possess fewer human qualities than Grendel, although
- her terrorization of Heorot is explained by her desire for vengeance—a human
- The dragon - An ancient, powerful
- serpent, the dragon guards a horde of treasure in a hidden mound. Beowulf’s
- fight with the dragon constitutes the third and final part of the epic.
- Author: Marie De France
- Lanval is a knight of King Arthur who displays
- all necessary chivalric qualities, including valor, beauty, and largesse, but
- is in despair over Arthur’s lack of generosity towards him. Lanval meets a beautiful woman and her attendants. They make love and she grants him access to
- her infinite wealth, on the condition that he keeps their relationship secret.
- One day,Arthur’s queen attempts to seduce Lanval, who rejects her. Angry, the queen accuses
- Lanval of homosexuality, and he defends himself by telling her of his lover and
- her great beauty. He tells her that even the poorest of his lover’s servants is
- more beautiful than the queen.
- Author: Marie De France
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Author: unknown author, dubbed the "Pearl Poet" or "Gawain Poet"
- The first day, the lord hunts a herd of does, while Gawain sleeps late in his
- bedchambers. Gawain puts her off, but before
- she leaves she steals one kiss from him. That evening, when the host gives
- Gawain the venison he has captured, Gawain kisses him, since he has won one
- kiss from the lady. The second day, the lord hunts a wild boar. The lady again
- enters Gawain’s chambers, and this time she kisses Gawain twice. That evening
- Gawain gives the host the two kisses in exchange for the boar’s head.
- third day, the lord hunts a fox, and the lady kisses Gawain three times. She
- also asks him for a love token, such as a ring or a glove. Gawain refuses to
- give her anything and refuses to take anything from her, until the lady
- mentions her girdle. The green silk girdle she wears around her waist is no
- ordinary piece of cloth, the lady claims, but possesses the magical ability to
- protect the person who wears it from death. Intrigued, Gawain accepts the
- cloth, but when it comes time to exchange his winnings with the host, Gawain
- gives the three kisses but does not mention the lady’s green girdle. The host
- gives Gawain the fox skin he won that day, and they all go to bed happy, but
- weighed down with the fact that Gawain must leave for the Green Chapel the
- following morning to find the Green Knight.
- Year’s Day arrives, and Gawain dons his armor, including the girdle, then sets
- off with Gringolet to seek the Green Knight. A guide accompanies him out of the
- estate grounds. When they reach the border of the forest, the guide promises
- not to tell anyone if Gawain decides to give up the quest. Gawain refuses,
- determined to meet his fate head-on. Eventually, he comes to a kind of crevice
- in a rock, visible through the tall grasses. He hears the whirring of a
- grindstone, confirming his suspicion that this strange cavern is in fact the
- Green Chapel. Gawain calls out, and the Green Knight emerges to greet him.
- Intent on fulfilling the terms of the contract, Gawain presents his neck to the
- Green Knight, who proceeds to feign two blows. On the third feint, the Green
- Knight nicks Gawain’s neck, barely drawing blood. Angered, Gawain shouts that
- their contract has been met, but the Green Knight merely laughs.
- Green Knight reveals his name, Bertilak, and explains that he is the lord of
- the castle where Gawain recently stayed. Because Gawain did not honestly
- exchange all of his winnings on the third day, Bertilak drew blood on his third
- blow. Nevertheless, Gawain has proven himself a worthy knight, without equal in
- all the land. When Gawain questions Bertilak further, Bertilak explains that
- the old woman at the castle is really Morgan le Faye, Gawain’s aunt and King
- Arthur’s half sister. She sent the Green Knight on his original errand and used
- her magic to change Bertilak’s appearance. Relieved to be alive but extremely
- guilty about his sinful failure to tell the whole truth, Gawain wears the
- girdle on his arm as a reminder of his own failure. He returns to Arthur’s
- court, where all the knights join Gawain, wearing girdles on their arms to show
- their support.
- Author: Geoffrey Chaucer
- MIDDLE ENGLISH POEM
- narrator opens the General Prologue with a description of the return of spring.
- He describes the April rains, the burgeoning flowers and leaves, and the
- chirping birds. Around this time of year, the narrator says, people begin to
- feel the desire to go on a pilgrimage. Many devout English pilgrims set off to
- visit shrines in distant holy lands, but even more choose to travel to
- Canterbury to visit the relics of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral,
- where they thank the martyr for having helped them when they were in need. The
- narrator tells us that as he prepared to go on such a pilgrimage, staying at a
- tavern in Southwark called the Tabard Inn, a great company of twenty-nine
- travelers entered. The travelers were a diverse group who, like the narrator,
- were on their way to Canterbury. They happily agreed to let him join them. That
- night, the group slept at the Tabard, and woke up early the next morning to set
- off on their journey. Before continuing the tale, the narrator declares his
- intent to list and describe each of the members of the group.
The Knight's Tale
Author: Geoffrey Chaucer
- ago in Ancient Greece, a great conqueror and duke named Theseus ruled the city
- of Athens. One day, four women kneel in front of Theseus’s horse and weep,
- halting his passage into the city. The eldest woman informs him that they are
- grieving the loss of their husbands, who were killed at the siege of the city
- of Thebes. Creon, the lord of Thebes, has dishonored them by refusing to bury
- or cremate their bodies. Enraged at the ladies’ plight, Theseus marches on Thebes,
- which he easily conquers. After returning the bones of their husbands to the
- four women for the funeral rites, Theseus discovers two wounded enemy soldiers
- lying on the battlefield, nearing death. Rather than kill them, he mercifully
- heals the Theban soldiers’ injuries, but condemns them to a life of
- imprisonment in an Athenian tower.
- prisoners, named Palamon and Arcite, are cousins and sworn brothers. Both live
- in the prison tower for several years. One spring morning, Palamon awakes
- early, looks out the window, and sees fair-haired Emelye, Theseus’s
- sister-in-law. She is making flower garlands, “To doon honour to May” (1047).
- He falls in love and moans with heartache. His cry awakens Arcite, who comes to
- investigate the matter. As Arcite peers out the window, he too falls in love
- with the beautiful flower-clad maiden. They argue over her, but eventually
- realize the futility of such a struggle when neither can ever leave the prison.
- day, a duke named Perotheus, friend both to Theseus and Arcite, petitions for
- Arcite’s freedom. Theseus agrees, on the condition that Arcite be banished
- permanently from Athens on pain of death. Arcite returns to Thebes, miserable
- and jealous of Palamon, who can still see Emelye every day from the tower. But
- Palamon, too, grows more sorrowful than ever; he believes that Arcite will lay
- siege to Athens and take Emelye by force. The knight poses the question to the
- listeners, rhetorically: who is worse off, Arcite or Palamon?
- time later, winged Mercury, messenger to the gods, appears to Arcite in a dream
- and urges him to return to Athens. By this time, Arcite has grown gaunt and
- frail from lovesickness. He realizes that he could enter the city disguised and
- not be recognized. He does so and takes on a job as a page in Emelye’s chamber
- under the pseudonym Philostrate. This puts him close to Emelye but not close
- enough. Wandering in the woods one spring day, he fashions garlands of leaves
- and laments the conflict in his heart—his desire to return to Thebes and his
- need to be near his beloved. As it -happens, Palamon has escaped from seven
- years of imprisonment that very day and hears Arcite’s song and monologue while
- -sneaking through the woods. They confront each other, each claiming the right
- to Emelye. Arcite challenges his old friend to a duel the next day. They
- meet in a field and bludgeon each other ruthlessly.
- out on a hunt, finds these two warriors brutally hacking away at each other.
- Palamon reveals their identities and love for Emelye. He implores the duke to
- justly decide their fate, suggesting that they both deserve to die. Theseus is
- about to respond by killing them, but the women of his court—especially his
- queen and Emelye—intervene, pleading for Palamon and Arcite’s lives. The duke
- consents and decides instead to hold a tournament fifty weeks from that day.
- The two men will be pitted against one another, each with a hundred of the
- finest men he can gather. The winner will be awarded Emelye’s hand.
The Miller's Prologue and Tale
- The pilgrims applaud the Knight’s Tale, and the pleased Host asks the Monk to match
- it. Before the Monk can utter a word, however, the Miller interrupts. Drunk and
- belligerent, he promises that he has a “noble” tale that will repay the
- Knight’s (3126). The Host tries to persuade the Miller to let some “bettre” man
- tell the next tale (3130). When the Miller threatens to leave, however, the
- Host acquiesces. After the Miller reminds everyone that he is drunk and
- therefore shouldn’t be held accountable for anything he says, he introduces his
- tale as a legend and a life of a carpenter and of his wife, and of how a clerk
- made a fool of the carpenter, which everyone understands to mean that the clerk
- slept with the carpenter’s wife (3141–3143). The Reeve shouts out his immediate
- objection to such ridicule, but the Miller insists on proceeding with his tale.
- He points out that he is married himself, but doesn’t worry whether some other
- man is sleeping with his wife, because it is none of his business. The narrator
- apologizes to us in advance for the tale’s bawdiness, and warns that those who
- are easily offended should skip to another
- Oxford student named Nicholas,
- boarded with a wealthy but ignorant old carpenter named John, who was jealous
- and highly possessive of his sexy eighteen-year-old wife, Alisoun.
- In the early dawn, Absolon passes by. Hoping to stop in for a kiss, or perhaps
- more, from Alisoun, Absalon sidles up to the window and calls to her. She
- harshly replies that she loves another. Absolon persists, and Alisoun offers
- him one quick kiss in the dark.
Morte D' Arthur
Author: Sir Thomas Mallory
- Agravaine finally catches an adulterous Launcelot and Guenevere, Arthur
- sentences her for treason, Launcelot rescues her from being burnt at
- the stake (for the third and last time) and Arthur lays siege to his
- castle (his eighth battle), until the pope intervenes. Guenevere
- returns to Arthur and Launcelot returns to France with his kin. Arthur
- pursues Launcelot to France and Gawaine and Launcelot fight, but Arthur
- receives news (about Mordred) that causes him to return to England.
Author: Sir Thomas Mallory
- Book 21 - Mordred seizes his chance to usurp. Arthur returns and
- defeats him at Dover (his ninth battle) and Barham Down (where Gawaine
- dies, in his tenth battle). Father and son finally slay one another
- near Salisbury, Arthur's eleventh and final battle.