What was the impact of the Norman Conquest on Middle English Literature?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Before the Norman Conquest, there was a limited amount of vernacular literature available in Anglo-Saxon or Old English, the Germanic language spoken in England. The dominant literary, liturgical, and legal language was Latin. The limited number of literary works produced in England in Old English were either orally transmitted folk ballads and heroic epics (such as Beowulf) or religious materials such as the mystery plays designed to popularize Biblical stories. The Norman Conquest changed both the English language and the contents of English literature.

After 1066, the language of the French invaders transformed Old English into Anglo-Norman and Middle English, changing both the syntax and vocabulary of the English language. The strong stress alliterative verse of Old English was melded with the syllabic traditions of French verse to form accentual-syllabic verse, as seen in Chaucer.

In terms of content, French romance and chivalric verse were transplanted to English soil; although about an English king, Arthurian romance is essentially French in tradition. 

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