Explore unique collection items and expert articles relating to some of the earliest works of English literature and most influential figures in literary history.

Featured articles

  • An introduction to Gawain and the Green Knight

    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: an introduction

    Simon Armitage explores Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and reflects on how he approached his own translation of the poem.

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    Monsters and heroes in Beowulf

    Victoria Symons puzzles out the meaning of monsters in Beowulf, comparing the hero with Grendel, Grendel's mother and the dragon.

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    Old English

    Old English

    David Crystal charts the evolution of Old English through the 700 years during which it was written and spoken.

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    A close reading of Chaucer's ‘The Merchant’s Prologue and Tale'

    Jenny Stevens introduces 'The Merchant's Prologue and Tale', exploring the way in which it combines literary genres and traditions, and refuses to give the reader a clear moral or message.

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  • Mystery plays and medieval drama

    Medieval drama and the mystery plays

    The mystery plays and morality plays of the 15th and 16th centuries were very different from modern drama. They were performed in public spaces by ordinary people, and organised and funded by guilds of craftsmen and merchants. Hetta Howes takes us back in time to show how these plays portrayed scenes from the Bible, conveyed religious doctrine and encouraged their audiences to lead Christian lives.

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    Love and chivalry in the Middle Ages

    In the Middle Ages, the greatest knight was not simply the greatest warrior. He was also kind, courteous, generous and devoted to his lady: qualities that combined to produce perfect chivalry. Laura Ashe explores the ideal of chivalry through several works of the period.

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    Women writers

    Women’s voices in the medieval period

    Drawing on examples from Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich and Christine de Pizan, Mary Wellesley considers the experiences of women as writers and producers of texts in the medieval period, and reflects on the survival of their works.

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    Caxton and Chaucer

    William Caxton and the introduction of printing to England

    A S G Edwards explains how William Caxton brought the printing press to England, and published printed versions of works by writers including Chaucer, Malory, Gower, Cicero and Virgil.

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  • saints and sanctity

    Saints and sanctity in medieval England

    Sarah Salih explores how medieval Europeans memorialised the lives of real and fictional Christian saints, transforming them into the superheroes and celebrities of the Middle Ages.

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    Travel, trade and exploration in the Middle Ages

    Medieval Europeans were fascinated by the lands that lay beyond their own continent. Josephine Livingstone looks at the real and imaginary travels of explorers and tradesman through works including The Book of John Mandeville, The Travels of Marco Polo and medieval maps.

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    Legends of King Arthur

    The legends of King Arthur

    Hetta Howes tracks the many appearances of King Arthur, from a 9th-century history to a Hollywood blockbuster, via the works of Chrétien de Troyes, Thomas Malory and the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

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    Aldhelm's riddles, to illustrate the Exeter Book riddles in context

    The Exeter Book riddles in context

    The Exeter Book, compiled by 10th-century clerics, contains a number of surprisingly euphemistic riddles. Megan Cavell explores what these bawdy puzzles tell us about sex and gender in Anglo-Saxon England.

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Collection items

Browse over 50 treasures from the British Library collection and beyond

Beowulf

Date: c. 1000

The Marvels of the East

Date: 975–1000

The N-town Plays

Date: 2nd half of the 15th century–1st quarter of the 16th century

Holkham Bible Picture Book

Date: c 1327-1335

People

Explore the lives of influential figures from the medieval period

Works of literature

Explore key works of medieval literature

Beowulf

Created by: anonymous

Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English, the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman ...

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Created by: anonymous

The anonymous poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is considered one of the masterpieces of Middle English ...

Le Morte Darthur

Created by: Sir Thomas Malory

Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur (The Death of Arthur), which describes the legendary court of King ...