Society in the Old English Period. What was life like in the Old English period?

Essay by morgrumUniversity, Bachelor'sA, October 2002

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Society in the Old English Period

Living in the Old English period was, needless to say, a bit difficult. That is, compared to our laissez-faire lifestyle today. You could probably call it a little chaotic, what with monsters always attacking, and these crazy people talking about worshiping only one god (why would we want to give the other gods reason to rain even more adversity down on us?). Of course, you could always go listen to the scop tell a rousing ubi-sunt lament, but in my opinion, they did it better when I was a youngling... Sitting 'round in a big family group, the firelight flickering on the story-teller's face... Oh, sorry, where was I?

Yes, it was tough. Not only did they have to take a hike just to visit the outhouse at night, but they also had to worry about their immortal souls. The only way you were to live on after you died was to stay in the minds of those who lived after you.

And the only way to do that... yep, you guessed it... kill lots of those naughty monsters (or else pay someone to tell a really inspiring tale about how you did). This, of course, wasn't exactly an easy thing to do. I mean, if you were of the common folk, you had to worry about getting your crops in on time, or shoeing that horse before his master came back for him. Even if you were royalty, this was difficult. One can't govern one's land and ride about looking for dragons at the same time.

Of course, those who found the time did indeed live on in others' memory. Even today, we hear the tale of how brave, brave Sir Beowulf, Sir Beowulf led the way... Brave, brave Sir Beowulf, Sir Beowulf... hmmm... that's just it, isn't it? He didn't run away. Or, at least they don't tell us if he did. So I guess you could say Beowulf is still living on in the minds of all the rest of us mortals.

Of course, once you were assured everlasting life, you had to worry about the rest of your mortal one. If you were the big dog in town, everybody else had to give you a portion of their crops and goods. Then you had to swear to protect them with your life (or the lives of your soldiers, at least). If you were the little dog, a goodly (and I mean goodly) bit of everything you made or grew or raised (even your children on occasion) had to go to your lord. Then you had to sit back and hope that the next horde of barbarians that came over the hill would take one look at your lord's big strong...castle (hmmmm?) and turn and run.

Naturally, this didn't always work out. We hear stories of those who, for whatever reason, lost their lords and their lords' castles. Now they're in trouble. They must wander the land looking for another one (never as good as your first) to protect them. Oh the sorrow. There were also those who, for career purposes, could not have the safety and security of a lord. These poor souls, although they loved their work, still mourned for what they were missing. Then there were those who just lost it. They went about town telling any who would listen about their dreams and what they thought they meant.

But of course, if you were good, (or good at sucking-up), you could always hope that your ring-giver would give you a... piece of gold.