Old English Literature

Elaine Treharne

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Old English Literature


Old English literature covers the period from c. 600 to 1220, when the latest living versions of Old English texts are found side by side with new texts written in what is generally labeled “Middle English.” During these centuries and particularly from the end of the 9th century, Old English flourished in substantial quantity and in a multitude of genres and forms, representing the most significant body of vernacular literature of any European country at the time. Its officially authorized status—its use by government and church—meant that as a language of expression, it could be employed for all kinds of writing, much of it of exceptionally high quality. Manuscripts and documents containing prose from the 7th to the 13th centuries include Gospels and Old Testament translations, legal texts, chronicles, romance, paraliturgical writings, letters, writs and diplomas, religious and educational works, and scientific and medical literature; as well as the prose, there is a considerable corpus of poetry inviting the lauding and applauding of heroic deeds, urging the audience’s spiritual contemplation and Christian action, demanding an empathetic response to loss, and beseeching the solution of witty and multilayered verse puzzles.

Article.  10562 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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