English Literature


English literature refers to all the works that are written in English language.Literature of a country actually depicts the social,economic and political background of that country and gives the vivid idea of the changes that take place over the years. .Starting from short stories or novellas to novels and dramas,English literature is considered to be vast and huge and at times a bit tough to grasp.In order to understand English language and literature one has to study it deeply by reading its history,different English writers and their work.
Studying English language and literature does not simply mean reading English writers. While studying English language and literature we see that there are different periods and these periods show different ages through which English literature has evolved. These periods give profound information about the background of English literature and how it has changed. The different periods are given below along with their years:-
450-1066 – Old English [also known as Anglo Saxon Period]
1066-1500 – Middle English Period
1500-1600 -The Renaissance
1558-1603 -Elizabethan Age
1603-1625- Jacobean Age
1625-1660-Commonwealth PeriodPeriod
1660-1785- The Neo classical Period
1660-1700-The Restoration
1700-1745-The Augustan Age[Age of Pope]
1745-1785-The Age of Sensibility [Age of Johnson]
1785-1830-The Romantic age
1832-1901-The Victorian Period
1848-1860-The Pre Raphaelites
1901-1914 -The Edwardian Period
1910-1936-The Georgian Period
1914- The Modern age
1945-Post Modernism
Now,the English writers were born in these periods and they have written mesmerizing masterpieces that has contribited to make English literature what it is today.The different periods along with the writers that are born in that age along with their famous writings are discussed in a nut shell.
During the Anglo Saxon Period, the Norman Conquest took place in 1066 and after the Romans left in 410,the British population became open to the inroads of the invaders from the north. Many of the poems of this age have the features which are associated with the pagan past, namely Widsith and Beowulf. Among all the Old English poets we find the direct mention of Caedmon. The name of another poet is Cynewulf. We get to know about him because he had signed his poems in runic letters at the end of four poems. Many of the prose and poetry have been translated from Latin. The works for translation were the books of Bible., the lives of the saints and many works of practical nature. Regarding the manuscripts, only a portion has survided. The theme of the poem Beowulf is Continental German.’Widsith’ is considered to be the oldest poem in English language which consists of 150 lines of verse. In the poem a traveller, considered to be more imaginary than real recounts the places and the illustrious people that he had visited. From the historical point of view the porm is very important. ‘Waldere’ consists of two fragments and is of sixty lines and talks about some of the exploits of Aquintaine. Again ‘The Battle of Maldon ‘describes the battle that took place in 993 and’ ‘The Battle of Brunanburh’ is a piece based on the war of of 937. Then there are some elegies like ‘The Wanderer’, ‘The Seafarer’, ‘The Wife’s Lament’and ‘The husband’s Message’ that are found in the Exeter Book.
The Middle English Period is considered to be the period of transition and of experiment. And most of the surviving works are poetry. Poetry of Middle English can be classified unto three groups:-
(1) Chronicles-
(a) Layamon’s Brut-It was written in 1205 by Layamon and it has sixteen thousand alternative lines about the history of Britain from the landing of Brute to the death of Cadwallader.
(b) Robert of Gloucester-He is known for his rhyming chronicle.
(2) Religious and Didactic poetry-‘The Ormulum’ was witten by Orm in 1200,of enormous length(ten thousand lines even incomplete) It was written in North East Midlands dalect.
(3)”The owl and the Nightingale’ is propably written in the eary part of the 13 th century.
The alliterative poems include ‘Pearl’,Purity’, ‘Patience’. Moreover there are numerous romances concered loosely or closely with King Arthur-‘Arthur and Merlin’, ‘Morte d Arthur’, The matter of Rome, ‘Matter of France’
One of the famous writers of this period is Chaucer. He was born in 1340 in London. His literary career was divided into 3 periods-French, Italian and English.One of his most famous works is ‘Canterbury Tales’
Beast epics were also found during this age like ‘The fox and the Woolf’,Chaucer’s’The Nun Priest’s Tale”.Pier’s the Plowman’ is an allegorical poem written in old alliterative meter in the later part of 14 th century. The author is taken to be William Langland.
The Renaissance was started in Italy specially in art and architecture. Renaissance signified the adoption of humanist philosophy.It was the beginning of the modern world in the areas of geography ,science, religion, politics, society and art. London became the capital city of England. New literary genres such as essay(Montaigue), new metrical forms such as sonnets (Petriarch) and Spenserian stanza actually made their appearance. The dominant art forms of the English Renaissance were literature and music.
Spenser is considered to be one of the finest writes of Elizabethan age. ‘The Shepherd’s Calender’ was published in 1579 and this had marked his formal entry as a new poet. He is considered to be the first modern poet to exploit true poetic resources of English language. Again John Donne belonged to the school of Metaphysical poets.. He was born in 1573 in London. He had written satires like ‘Of the Progress of the Soul’.’Songs and Sonnets’is Donne’s love poem. His poems are extremely personal and reveal a complex being for example ‘Extasie’, He had written 19 holy sonnets and his prose include ‘Sermons’, ‘The Pseudo Martyr”During the Elizabethan Age we also find some poets who were called The University Wits. This group consisted of writers like Christopher Marlowe whose works include ‘Dr. Faustus’, ‘Jew of Malta’, ‘Tanburlaine the Great’., Thomas Nash whose only surviving play is ‘Summer’s Last Will’ and the Testament’. Another work is ‘The Unfortunate Traveller’, Thomas Lodge who collaborated with Shakespeare in ‘Henry 4’, Robert Greene, George Peele who used to write in blank verse and Thomas kyd whose most famous work is ‘Spanish Tragedy’. Ben Jonson is another famous writer and his most successful play is ‘Man in His Humour”. Shakespeare is one of the finest English writers and his famous works include’The Merchant of Venice’, ‘Romeo And Juliet’, ”Hamlet’. John Milton’s famous writing ‘Paradise Lost ‘ is considered to be a masterpiece.
During the romantic age emphasis was given to self expression and emotions.The famous Romantic writers include Wordsworth, Coledrige, Byron, Shelley, Keats. Wordsworth was born at Cockermouth and his famous works include’Prelude’ and ‘Daffodils’. Coleridge was born in Devonshire and some of his most famous works are ‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’One of the most famous writings of Shelley is ‘Ode to the West Wind’and Keats’s most famous works include’Ode to a Nightingale’ and ‘To Autumn’.
The victorian age can be considered to be the age of peace. Some of the famous Victorian writers are Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Blake.E.B.Browning has written ‘The Seraphim and Other Poems’ and ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’. Tennyson was born in this age and some of his works are ‘Ulysses’,’The Princess’ etc. Christina Rossetti was a Victorian woman poet and her most famous collections ‘Goblin Market and other poems ‘appeared in 1862.It received widespread critical praise. She has also written a book of devotional prose called’ The Face of the Deep’.
Some of the modern day poets include Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Moreover Virginia Woolf who has written ‘To the Lighthouse’ and T. S. Eliot who has writen The Wasteland’ are considered to be the greatest modernist writers.
To conclude English Literature is the amalgamation of beautiful masterpieces written by exceptionally talented writers who have given their thoughts a character, emotions a life and imagination a shape.. There are various genres and sub genres and the history of evolution of English literature is itself the evidence of its richness.

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