3 Characteristics Of Medieval Period

What are the three characteristics of the Middle Ages literature?

Three characteristics of medieval literature are chivalric romance, religious themes, and travel literature.

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Medieval literature extends over a wide geographic area and a long span of time, so it is difficult to identify characteristics that apply to all or even most literature of the Middle Ages. That said, though, we can identify some elements that people often think about when they consider medieval literature.

The first such element is allegory. Allegory is an extended metaphor in which various characters, settings, objects, and events exist on two levels: a literal one and a symbolic one. For example, the medieval play Everyman tells the story of the character Everyman, who encounters other characters like Good Deeds, Wisdom, and Beauty. Clearly, the literal story points to something beyond itself (i.e., the characteristics of these traits and normal people's interaction with them). Everyman stands for all of us and shows us how we, too, must strive after virtues and shun vices.

Another element of medieval literature is the chivalric romance of courtly love and knightly adventures. In these tales, often poetic but sometimes in prose, knights ride off on quests and proclaim their undying love and devotion to the ladies they leave behind. We are caught up in descriptions of supernatural enemies, mysterious castles, and fantastic tournaments as we sigh at lovers to go to their deaths rather than betray their love. The tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are prime examples of this kind of medieval literature.

Woven into both of these elements is a third characteristic of medieval writing, which is religion. Catholic Christianity stands at the very heart of the literature of the Middle Ages. God, the saints, and even the devil appear as characters in medieval morality plays, for instance. Devotional writings and religious poems abound. Religious themes wind their way through tales of chivalry as knights seek the Holy Grail or commend themselves to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The writers and readers of these texts were Christian, and their faith stood at the center of their lives, so it was bound to take center stage in their literature.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 22, 2020
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Concerns about mortality: Life wasn't easy during the Medieval Period, and the average person could expect to live only around thirty years. Disease was a common cause of early death, and the Black Plague is the most notorious example of the way a pestilence could ravage human life. It is estimated that around half of London's population alone was decimated during one particularly bad outbreak of the Plague. These realities were reflected in themes of anxiety or turmoil in literature during this time period. Sometimes disease itself could appear, even in passing references. Consider the oozing sore on the Cook's chin in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Chivalrous attitudes: The legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table gained increasing fame during this era. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote The History of the Kings of Britain around 1136, which helped to popularize this long-told story. Later, Thomas Malory would script his own tale; Le Morte d'Arthur would popularize Guinevere and Lancelot. Within these stories and others like them, themes of loyalty and identity are displayed within the characters' concepts of chivalry.

Themes of revenge and forgiveness: These themes reflect the religious culture of this era because of the Catholic Church's influence on the lives of the general populace. Le Morte d'Arthur is one example of a revenge story, as is Beowulf. In "The Pardoner's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales, the desperation of a populace seeking forgiveness is demonstrated through the Pardoner's exploits of this desperation.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 22, 2020
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The medieval period of literature generally spans the fifth century to the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Most medieval works were written in Latin, but vernacular languages were also used, such as with The Divine Comedy. Here are three common characteristics shared by most literature produced during the middle ages:

Chivalric romance: In the middle ages, chivalric romance was a genre packed with stories of courtly love, magic, and adventure. They tended to feature knights on quests. They could be written as poetry or prose. Famous examples of this genre include Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Guillaume de Palerme.

Religious themes: The Catholic Church controlled most of medieval life, so naturally religious themes were prominent in medieval literature. Retellings of Bible stories and the lives of the saints were common, as was religious allegory such as Piers Plowman and The Divine Comedy. Theological writings also flourished during this period, with Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica or Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love.

Travel literature: Explorers going beyond Europe inspired a great deal of what is known as travel literature. These writers would describe the exotic people, animals, and landscapes they encountered on their travels, often presenting fantasy more than fact. Examples of this genre include Mandeville's Travels and The Travels of Marco Polo.

Last Reviewed by eNotes Editorial on December 22, 2020
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The first characteristic is chivalry. This deals with knights and their code of honor, which included being of service, being honest, and helping those less fortunate.

The second characteristic is magic. This came in many forms, especially in what we would consider today as the supernatural. If you look to the Arthurian legends, Merlin is at the forefront of the stories' magic, making people invisible or making himself appear out of thin air.

The third characteristic is love.  A knight's love for a woman knew no bounds. He would face a dragon or the strongest knight to win the favor of the woman he loved or to save her.

You may find other characteristics, but these are generally the three main characteristics, while the others are simply examples of the three listed above.

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