A Brief History of English Literature
The history of English literature is the development of writings and literary techniques used in it over time. English literature is a hundred years old and continues to be the most popular course of study in high schools and institutions of higher learning. English literature is so broad and confusing to many people. English literature includes prose fictions, short stories, drama, novels and poetry among other writings.
The old English Literature otherwise known as the Anglo-Saxon was written in between the years 600 and 1100. The language descended from North Germanic tribes who settled in England in the 5th century. Since there were no writings, the earliest English writings were composed orally and passed by word of mouth from speaker to speaker until they learned writing the Latin alphabet from Roman missionaries. The old English literature is mostly chronicle, narrative or epic. Caedmon and Cynewulf are two old authors known for their works.
From about 1100 to 1500, the Middle English literature was used. During this time the ideas of French and Celtic literature appeared in the English writing. No one can talk of the Middle English Literature without uttering the great name of Geoffrey Chaucer; Canterbury Tales is his greatest work. He mostly did narrative poetry as well as prose and lyric poetry.
In the year 1503 to around 1603, the Elizabethan Literature was used. It earned its name because it emerged during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The most important writers and poets during this period are William Shakespeare who is considered the greatest playwright of all times, Walter Raleigh and Edmund Spenser the author of The Faerie Queene. The greatest works of this period are Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The Age of Milton literature then emerged immediately after the Elizabeth literature. John Milton was the most talented poet during this period. Some of Milton’s great works include a great biblical epic and Paradise Lost.
With Charles II coming to power after the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, plays were no longer prohibited, and Restoration comedy arose in the theatres. The Restoration drama came along with a new kind of comic drama that dealt with the issues of sexual politics. The plays were mainly heroic and comedy of manners. John Dryden is a great author that wrote heroic plays.
Then came Neoclassicism literature. Poetry during the neoclassicism period was to be guided by reason, the poet’s role was to teach and educate. Moreover, poetry was to be written according to certain rules and use a special diction. John Dryden and Alexander Pope were the major writers.
The Romantic period during the 18th and 19th century gave rise to Romantic poetry. This kind of poetry was marked with poetry that was used to express personal feelings and emotions. Imagination became the main source of poetry. Renowned Romantic poets include William Wordsmith and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Later Romanticism works by John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley attempted to make language beautiful.
The Victorian Literature was marked with Victorian poetry and novels in the 19th century. The major poets of this period were Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson. Due to increased adult literacy in the 19th-century novels were introduced. The greatest English novelist of the 19th century Charles Dickens who varied tones and used irony in most of his works.
Modern literature that expresses the loss of faith, uncertainty and suffering emerged in the twentieth century as a result of political changes and the two world wars that destroyed the sense of confidence in the Victorian literature. Bernard Shaw with plays that are inspired by social criticism is considered the best twentieth-century dramatist. Major literary figures include Samuel Beckett in drama, W.H Auden and Dylan Thomas in poetry.
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