Social Structures in Middle English Literature .
Readers that study English literature are getting a glimpse into the past, one that is often quite different than their own. This is especially true for literature that is from the 14th and 15th centuries. A major difference often seen is that of social structure. The social structure of a story is often what motivates the actions of the characters. During this time, life was a challenge to those who were not of noble birth or from an aristocratic family. It was a time when feudalism was used so that power was retained by the noble and aristocratic, leaving those of the lower class to work to support them. It is through literature that we are able to see the feudal system at work and how it affected the lives of people of the period. Even though style and type of characters are varied, there is the underlying themes of love, adventure, violence, and power throughout the writings of the time.
In Middle English, the basic government and social structure were based around the feudal system. This system was made up of small communities that were formed around a local lord and a manor (TimeRef.com, 2015). In this system, there were different classes, the top being that of the king and nobility who owned all the land as well as all that was needed to work the land. Next, there were those who were barons, who reported directly to the king and inherited the title. The Baron would divide their land among different lords and maintain an army for the king's service or to pay a tax called shield money. After the barons were the lords, who looked after the local manors (TimeRef.com, 2015). They were knights who could be called by their baron to go into battle. The lord owned all that was on their land, to include the peasants and the crops produced from the land. At the bottom of this system were the peasants, some being free others being indentured peasants.