The Anglo-Saxon Period
- Tribes of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes gained control of England in the 500's.
- Their scops (poets) composed songs and ballads.
- Their gleemen (minstrels) chanted the songs at the king's court and at tribal feasts.
- England was converted to Christianity (597) and monks began to record these poems in Old English (a Germanic language).
- The Anglo-Saxon poets wrote unrhymed verse using alliteration.
- Heroic Epics—the first long poem in Old English, Beowulf
- Christian Epics—The Fates of the Apostles by Cynewulf (750?-825)
- Early Prose
- Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation by Venerable Bede (673-735)
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle sponsored by Alfred the Great
- Lyric poems—The Exeter Book
The Anglo-Norman Period
- The Norman Conquest (1066). Norman introduced French culture into England under William the Conqueror.
- During the 300 years after conquest most literature was written in French or Latin.
- The upper classes spoke French; the common people continued to speak Old English.
- In the late 1100's a few popular writings began to appear in Middle English.
- The religious Moral Ode (about 1170), anon., was the first English poem with rhymed couplets.
- Cursor Mundi (early 1300's), anon., told Biblical stories in verse.
- Romantic poems (known as metrical romances) about chivalry and knightly love appeared in the 1200's and 1300's.
- Brut (a romance) by the priest Layamon
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (a romance), anon., (or The Pearl Poet)
- The Pearl, anon., (or the Pearl Poet)
The Age of Chaucer
- By the mid-1300's, Middle English had become the spoken and written language of the upper classes.
- Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) was the greatest poet of the Middle Ages. The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories built around a pilgrimage to Canterbury, is his masterpiece.
- John Gower (1330?-1408) was even more popular in his day than Chaucer. His poems expressed the attitude of the ruling class toward the peasants.
- William Langland (1332?-1400) wrote (?) Piers the Plowman, an allegory criticizing the church and the upper classes.
- Religious drama grew in popularity during the 1300's.
- The earliest dramas were mystery and miracle plays. The Second Shepherds' Play, anon., is the finest example of miracle play.
From 1440 to the 1550's
- After the golden age of Chaucer, English literature declined until the late 1400's.
- The best literature of the period included the ballads and folk songs of the border region between England and Scotland.
- A new form of drama, the morality play, became popular. Everyman, anon., is the first example of morality play.
- The invention of printing in Germany helped bring about a rebirth of learning.
- William Caxton (1421?-1491) set up the first printing press in England in 1476 and printed Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales in 1478.
- Sir Thomas Malory (?-1471) His The Death of Arthur, a collection of prose romances, was published in 1485 by Caxton.
The Flowering (1550-1660)
Points to remember
- The Renaissance reached England in the 1500's
- Men began to reject the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and asserted their importance as individuals.
- Scholars, called humanists, rediscovered the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome.
- Humanists tried to combine Christian ethics with classic learning.
- Sir Thomas More (1477-1535)
More's Utopia pictured an ideal society in which no evil existed.
- Roger Ascham (1515-1568)
Ascham's most important work was Schoolmaster, a treatise on education.
- Elizabethan Poetry and Prose
- Two humanists, Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503?-1542) and Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), brought the Italian sonnet form to poetry.
- Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599) His greatest work, The Fairy Queen, was the first epic in Modern English verse.
- Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) combined prose with poetry in his pastoral romance Arcadia.
- William Shakespeare (1564-1616) perfected the sonnet form into English literature.
- Francis Bacon (1561-1626) introduced the essay form into English literature.
- Elizabethan drama became the greatest literature of the age.
- In 1576, James Burbage built the first English play house, called The Theater, in London.
- Shakespeare's comedies, tragedies, and historical dramas overshadow all other literary works of his age.
- Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) He popularized blank verse in Tamburlaine the Great and The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus.
- Ben Jonson (1573?-1637) His Volpone, or the Fox, Epicoene, or The Silent Woman, and The Alchemist are masterpieces of satiric drama. Everyman in His Humour is perhaps his best representative of the comedy of “humours.”
Cavaliers and Puritans
- For many years after the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, England was torn by conflict.
- Literature reflected the struggle between the Cavaliers (followers of King Charles I) and the Puritans (supporters of Parliament).
- The Puritans closed the theaters.
- John Donne (1571?-1631) and John Milton (1608-1674) were the two greatest poets of the age. Donne wrote deeply personal and religious poetry. Milton produced his masterpiece Paradise Lost.
- John Bunyan (1628-1688) led the way toward the development of the novel in his religious allegory The Pilgrim's Progress.
- Robert Burton (1577-1640) wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy.
- Sir Thomas Browne (1577-1640) wrote Religion of a Physician.
- Izaak Walton (1593-1682) wrote the Compleat Angler.
F. The Classical Age (1660-1798)
Points to remember:
- The Puritan Commonwealth collapsed in 1660 and England restored Charles II as king.
- The Restoration Period (1660-1770) marked the beginning of a new classical movement called neoclassicism.
- Writers and scholars modeled their works on the classics of ancient Greece and Rome.
Restoration Poetry and Prose
- In literature, the Restoration is also called the“Age of Dryden.”
- John Dryden (1613-1700)
- won his greatest fame in poetry
- popularized the heroic couplet
- wrote brilliant satires, such as Absalom and Achitophel and MacFleckoe.
- led the way toward establishing a clear, direct English prose style, and his Essay of Dramatic Poesy (poetry) served as a model for all later literary criticism.
- Samuel Butler (1612-1680) earned his fame entirely upon Hudibras, an incomplete mock heroic poem of over ten thousand lines.
- Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) and John Evelyn (1620-1706) developed a new form of prose.
Pepys' Diary and Evelyn's Memoirs give vivid accounts of the authors' day-to-day lives.
- Charles II reopened the theaters and encouraged a rebirth of drama.
- Women appeared in plays for the first time.
- Two main types of dramas developed :
- the heroic tragedy
- the comedy of manners
- John Dryden excelled in the heroic tragedy (poetic form of drama). His best play was All for Love.
- William Congreve (1670-1729) excelled in the comedy of manners and wrote the loveliest description of court life in Love for Love and The way of the World.
The Age of Swift and Pope
- Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was the literary master in prose.
- A Tale of a Tub
- The Battle of the Books
- Gulliver's Travels
- Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was the literary master in poetry.
- The Dunciad
- The Rape of the Lock
- Essay on Man
- Essay on Criticism
- Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and Richard Steele (1672-1729) were inseparable literary twins and famous for their satiric essays.
The Rise of Novel
- The novel as we know it today had its real beginning in the 1700's.
- Thomas Nash (1567-1601) wrote The Unfortunate Traveler, the first
English work that resembled a novel.
- Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) made the greatest contribution to the development of the novel. His realistic works:
- Robinson Crusoe
- Moll Flandere
- Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) wrote Pamela, which is considered by most scholars the first true English novel.
- England's leading early novelists were
(a) Samuel Richardson Pamela
(b) Henry Fielding (1707-1754) Tom Jones
(c) Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) Tristram Shandy
(d) Thomas Smollett (1721-1771) The Adventures of Roderick Random, the first English novel of the sea.
- In the late 1700's, English writers began pouring out tales of horror called Gothic novels.
Horace Walpole (1717-1799) wrote the first famous Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto.
The Age of Johnson
- Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) His outstanding achievements:
- Dictionary of the English Language
- The lives of the English Poets (52 poets)
- James Boswell (1740-1795) wrote The Life of Samuel Johnson, for which most of our knowledge of Samuel Johnson comes.
- Oliver Goldsmith (1730?-1774) His most famous works:
- The Vicar of Wakefield (a play)
- She Stoops to Conquer (a play)
- The Deserted Village (a long poem)
- Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816)
- The Rivals
- The School for Scandal
- The Critic
Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
- On American Taxation
- On Conciliation with America
- The Treatise one Aesthetics
- On the Sublime and the Beautiful, this voices the need for analysis in aesthetic matters and declares that nature is the only source from which fresh beauty can spring.
- Reflection on the Revolution in France
- Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a remarkable product of the enlightenment of the 18th century and the greatest historical work in English literature.