Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the most popular English poems of the Middle Ages. In this episode, we explore the language and story of the poem. We also examine how the poem reflects certain changes that were taking place within the English language in the late 1300s.
Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the first English writers to compose dialogue in regional dialects to reflect the way characters spoke in the different parts of England. In this episode, we explore the dialogue of Chaucer’s northern students in the Reeve’s Tale, and we also examine the Second Shepherd’s Play from the north of England which reflects a similar approach to regional dialects.
Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the few poets of the Middle Ages to explore the vulgar side of English and the connection between the common people and their language. The Miller’s Tale exemplifies this style. In this episode, we explore the history of swearing and obscenities, and we examine Chaucer’s use of bawdy language in the Miller’s Tale.
In this bonus episode, Kevin interviews Allan Metcalf about his new book, “The Life of Guy: Guy Fawkes, the Gunpowder Plot, and the Unlikely History of an Indispensable Word.”
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories told by pilgrims during their trek to Canterbury Cathedral. The pilgrims represent a cross-section of English society in the late 1300s, and Geoffrey Chaucer paints a vivid picture of each one. He also modifies his language to fit the social class of each character. In this episode, we explore the descriptions of the various pilgrims in the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales, and we examine how the language of the poem reflects the state of the English language in the late 1300s.
In the mid-1380s, Geoffrey Chaucer gave up his London job and residence and moved to Kent along the pilgrimage route to Canterbury. This move inspired the creation of the Canterbury Tales which remains the most well-known work of Middle English literature. In this episode, we explore the background of the poem and the circumstances which led Chaucer to abandon London in favor of Kent. We also examine the opening lines of the General Prologue of the poem.
During the Middle English period, English grammar and syntax underwent significant changes. Old inflectional endings continued to erode, and new phrases were introduced in their place. The writings of Geoffrey Chaucer reflect these changes, so we examine Chaucer’s House of Fame and Troilus and Criseyde for evidence of the newly emerging grammar and syntax.
Many people are familiar with the King James Bible, but over two centuries earlier, an Oxford theologian named John Wycliffe produced the first Bible composed in the English language. Together with a group of close associates, he produced a Bible that was read throughout England. In this episode, we explore the events leading to this translation, and we also examine how the Wycliffe Bible impacted the English language.
The 14th century poem called Piers Plowman has intrigued and perplexed readers for over six centuries. In the 14th century, it was embraced by peasants who used it as inspiration in their struggle against the upper classes of England. That struggle culminated in a major peasant uprising in the early 1380s. In this episode, we explore the connections between Piers Plowman and the Peasant Revolt.
In the 1300s, the scribes of England began a gradual shift from the use of animal hides like parchment to a new material made from plant fibers. That new writing material was paper. In this episode, we explore the history of paper, and we examine the fundamental connection between texts and textiles.