Lesson: Impact of the Middle Ages

The Impact of the Middle Ages on Literature

Literature is one of the most important ways that cultures share their stories between generations. Stories from the Middle Ages are filled with tales of kings and queens, conquering land, and creating the epic hero. It is a time of castles, cathedrals, and crusades. To interpret literature of the Middle Ages, it is important to understand what was going on in the world at that time.

The Middle Ages spanned over a thousand years, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the rise of the Ottoman Empire, with a seemingly endless list of events that impacted literature. Stories, plays, and poetry were affected by major events, who ruled in Britain at the time, and how society and writers responded to changes of the time. The literature was diverse and helped to define the experiences of people during this time. The social structure of feudalism played a role in dividing society into separate classes, while also fueling the artistic expression of authors of the time.

It is difficult to explore the beginning of the Middle Ages without looking at the end of the Roman times. The Middle Ages officially began following the withdrawal of Roman troops. The medieval legend of King Arthur and his knights comes from events that took place upon this departure. The Romans kept excellent records of their art, engineering, and technology, but once the Roman Empire ended, no central government was in place to record events. A lot of history was lost and remains unknown, which is why the period of the Middle Ages is also called the Dark Ages -- it is literally "dark" to historians.

Much of the literature created during the Middle Ages was done by religious clerics and monks, mainly because not too many others knew how to read and write, and consisted of hymns, or songs, about religion. Secular, or non-religious, books were written, as well.