A guide to Medieval Literature

Medieval literature encompasses a broad range of written works in Latin or vernacular languages from approximately 476 to 1500.

During the Middle Ages, literature shifted from Latin to the vernacular, and oral transmission of stories began to be recorded.

Medieval Literature includes diverse genres such as philosophy, religious treatises, legal texts, and imaginative works.

Despite the seemingly factual nature of histories, it’s essential to recognize that many medieval ‘histories’ blend elements of myth, fable, and legend. In some instances, these accounts were predominantly the products of imaginative writers, highlighting the blurred boundaries between historical narratives and fictional storytelling during the Middle Ages.



Characteristics of the Medieval Literary Movement

Medieval literature exhibits several distinct characteristics that reflect the cultural, social, and intellectual context of the Middle Ages.

While there is diversity across different regions and time periods, some common features of medieval literature include:

  1. Latin was a common language for medieval writings.
  2. The literature of that time was composed of secular and religious writings.
  3. A notable amount of medieval literature is anonymous.
  4. Literature of the time is based on oral traditions.
  5. The Invention of biography can be attributed to this time period.
  6. Much of medieval literature relied on allegory to convey morals.
  7. The writers of the medieval period were clerics and theologians and that’s the reason why most of the early medieval literature was of religious nature.
  8. Much of the people of the time were illiterate, only people associated with the church and who were high-born could read and write.
  9. Some hymns of the time were written in old English.
  10. Some of the writings of the time are based on myths as in the case of  Beowulf.

These characteristics collectively contribute to the unique flavor of medieval literature, offering insights into the values, beliefs, and social structures of the time.


Writers and Literary Works

Here are some examples of medieval literary works from different regions and genres:

  • Beowulf is an Old English epic poem consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines. It may be the oldest surviving long poem in Old English and is commonly cited as one of the most important works of Old English literature. A date of composition is a matter of contention among scholars; the only certain dating pertains to the manuscript, which was produced between 975 and 1025.
  • La Divina Commedia, Dante Alighieri is a long narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c. 1308 and completed in 1320, a year before his death in 1321. It is widely considered to be the preeminent work in Italian literature and one of the greatest works of world literature

These works are just a small selection, and there are many more examples of medieval literature that reflect the diverse cultures, languages, and genres of the time.


Other Literary Movements and Periods

If you want to learn more about literary periods and movements, consider visiting some of these posts:

  1. Literary Periods and Movements
  2. A Beginner’s Guide to Comedy and Tragedy
  3. A Guide to Postmodernism in Literature
  4. A Guide to Modernism in Literature
  5. A Guide to the Beat Generation in Literature
  6. The Beginner’s Guide to Realism in Literature
  7. A Guide to Naturalism in Literature
  8. A Guide to the Bloomsbury Group in Literature
  9. A Guide to Existentialism in Literature
  10. A Guide to Transcendentalism in Literature
Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of EnglishPost.org, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English