A History of English Literature by Edward Albert

By Edward Albert

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Mainly about love, local legends, the feats of local heroes, supernatural happenings, or religious stories, the ballad deals with man's elemental passions in frank and uninhibited terms, while its situations are such as affect the individual or family rather than the larger social unit of clan or nation. Its tone is impersonal and detached, and there is little or none of the composer's personality to be felt. The verse form (most commonly abcb, with alternating lines of four and three iambic feet) was subject to considerable variation, but was always simple and easily memorized.

If it be wikke, a wonder thinketh me, When every torment and adversite That com'th of him, may to me savory thinke; For ay thurste I the more that ich it drinke. The Hous of Fame, a poem in octosyllabic couplets, is of the dream-allegory type. In his dream Chaucer is carried by an eagle to the House of Fame and watches candidates for fame approach the 35 throne, some being granted their requests and others refused. Though the story is rather drawn-out, and the allegorical significance obscure, it is of special interest because, in the verve and raci-ness of the Eagle, it shows gleams of the genuine Chaucerian humour.

French and English have amalgamated to form the standard English tongue, which attains to its first full expression in the works of Chaucer. A curious 'modern' note begins to be apparent at this period-There is a sharper spirit of criticism, a more searching interest in man's affairs, and a less childlike faith in, and a less complacent acceptance of, the established order. The vogue of the romance, though it has by no means gone, is passing, and in Chaucer it is derided. The freshness of the romantic ideal is being superseded by the more acute spirit of the drama, which even at this early time is faintly foreshadowed.

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