The development of English literature has experienced many distinct movements throughout the centuries. Beginning with the writing of the Old English authors to the Early Modern Period, not only does the way literature is written change dramatically, but the English language itself evolves to become what we know it to be today. In this essay, I will examine the early literary movements that helped plot the course for English literature today.
The very earliest writings that we know to exist in the English language were written in Old English. Old English is the very earliest form of the English language and in no way resembles our modern English language. The period of literature encompassing the Old English time period would have taken place in the 7th century in Anglo-Saxon England (“Old English”, 1). Old English writings include epic poetry, such as Beowulf, hagiography, and Bible translations (“Old English”, 2). The majority of Old English writings are historical and Biblical in subject matter.
Middle English literature evolved out of Old English literature and language (“Middle English”, 1). This style drastically differed from Old English because of the frequent borrowing from other languages, such as French and Latin (“Middle English”, 2). This new development in language occurred as a result of the effects that the Norman Conquest had in England from around 1150 to around 1450 (“Middle English”, 2). Chaucer is a terrific example of literature from the Middle English time period (“Middle English”, 3).
The term “renaissance” refers to a “rebirth”, and that is exactly what the movement of Renaissance literature in England from the 16th to mid-17th centuries was concerned about (“General Characteristics”, 1). Renaissance writers were fascinated with learning and discovery. One of the central themes apparent in Renaissance literature was humanism (“General Characteristics”, 2). Humanism is the...