Old English to Middle English Transition: Anglo-Saxon Tribal Kingdoms to the Proto-Nation-State of England Under One King

        When I ask "what time is it?"on the day we move from Old English to Chaucer's Middle English "Canterbury Tales," a linguistically oriented reader might well say "Middle English" because, over the weekend, the Norman French army led by William, Duke of Normandy (AKA William the Bastard (as his best friends knew him) triumphed over the English army led by Harold II, Godwinson, at the Battle of Hastings (16 October, 1066).  Harold's forces were no pushover, having just defeated the combined armies of Tostig Godwinson (his brother) and Harald III, Hardrada, King of Norway, at Stamford Bridge nine days before (25 September 1066).  Norman French became the language of government, law, and literature for about 200 years, until a gradual fusion of Old English syntax and vocabulary with Norman French vocabulary (and spelling, damnit!) merged to produce Middle English as a "lingua franca" or common speech by which nobles and commoners could converse.  Middle English was not often used for major works of literature until the fourteenth-century (ca. 1300-1400), the period in which we encounter Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1340-1400), the first English poet for whom we have manuscript and sculptural portraits.  Chaucer was among the first English poets whose works were printed in 1478 and 1483 by William Caxton, England's first printer.  He was among the first English poets to have his "collected works" published in 1532, and reprinted and re-edited several times in the later sixteenth century.  When Shakespeare was a boy, Chaucer was "the One," and the dramatist adapted Chaucer's longest complete work, the Troilus, as the Elizabethan drama, Troilus and Cressida.  We have now moved far beyond the world of poets singing to monks or to warriors in isolated mead halls, and into a world where commercial "on-spec" mass-produced manuscript copying, and then printing presses and public theaters, can make even dead poets famous. The Elizabethan "antiquaries" have begun the study of English literary history by seeking out the manuscripts scattered by the dissolution of the monestaries by Edward VI, (1536-41) and by bringing more works attributed to Chaucer to English editors like Thomas Speght, whose 1598 edition of Chaucer's collected works included a biographical introduction (incorrect on several intersting points) and a "hard word list" to explain the Middle Engish vocabulary that Elizbethan readers no longer used.  In about 200 years, from Chaucer's death in 1400 and Speght's edition in 1598, English had undergone a huge change in sound ("the Great Vowel Shift") and usage.  But they still could read his Middle English and so can you.  When you get stuck, read it aloud to yourself and let your ears tell you what your eyes cannot understand.