Periods of English Literature.
For convenience of discussion, historians divide the continuity of English literature into segments of time that are called "periods." The exact number, dates, and names of these periods vary,but the list below conforms to widespread practice. The list is followed by a brief comment on each period, in chronological order. 450-1066 Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) Period
1066-1500 Middle English Period
1500-1660 The Renaissance (or Early Modern)
1558-1603 Elizabethan Age
1603-1625 Jacobean Age
1625-1649 Caroline Age
1649-1660 Commonwealth Period (or Puritan Interregnum)
1660-1785 The Neoclassical Period
1660-1700 The Restoration
1700-1745 The Augustan Age (or Age of Pope)
1745-1785 The Age of Sensibility (or Age of Johnson)
1785-1830 The Romantic Period
1832-1901 The Victorian Period
1848-1860 The Pre-Raphaelites
1880-1901 Aestheticism and Decadence
1901-1914 The Edwardian Period
1910-1936 The Georgian Period
1914- The Modern Period
The Old English Period, or the Anglo-Saxon Period, extended from the invasion of Celtic England by Germanic tribes (the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) in the first half of the fifth century to the conquest of England in 1066 by the Norman French under the leadership of William the Conqueror. Only after they had been converted to Christianity in the seventh century did the Anglo-Saxons, whose earlier literature had been oral, begin to develop a written literature. (See oral formulaic poetry.) A high level of culture and learning was soon achieved in various monasteries; the eighth-century churchmen Bede and Alcuin were major scholars who wrote in Latin, the standard language of international scholarship. The poetry written in the vernacular Anglo-Saxon, known also as Old English, included Beowulf (eighth century), the greatest of Germanic epic poems, and such lyric laments as "The Wanderer," "The Seafarer," and "Deor," all of which, though composed by Christian writers, reflect the conditions of life in the pagan past. Caedmon and Cynewulf were poets who wrote on biblical and religious themes, and there survive a number of Old English lives of saints, sermons, and paraphrases of books of the Bible. Alfred the Great, a West Saxon king (871-99) who for a time united all the kingdoms of southern England against a new wave of Germanic invaders, the Vikings, was no less important as a patron of literature than as a warrior. He himself translated into Old English various books of Latin prose, supervised translations by other hands, and instituted the Anglo- Saxon Chronicle, a continuous record, year by year, of important events in England.
See H. M. Chadwick, The Heroic Age (1912); S. B. Greenfield, A Critical History of Old English Literature (1965); C. L. Wrenn, A Study of Old English Literature (1966).
Middle English Period.
The four and a half centuries between the Norman
Conquest in 1066, which effected radical changes in the language, life, and culture of England, and about 1500, when the standard literary language (deriving from the dialect of the London area) had become recognizably "modern English"—that is, similar to the language we speak and write today. The span from 1100 to 1350 is sometimes discriminated as the Anglo- Norman Period, because the non-Latin literature of that time was written mainly in Anglo-Norman, the French dialect spoken by the invaders who had established themselves as the ruling class of England, and who shared a literary culture with French-speaking areas of mainland Europe. Among the important and influential works from this period are Marie de France's Lais (c.1180—which may have been written while Marie was at the royal court in England), Guillaume de Lorris' and Jean de Meun's Roman de la Rose (12257-75?), and Chrétien de Troyes' Erec et Enide (the first Arthurian romance, C.1165) and Yvain (c.1177-81). When the native vernacular—descended from Anglo-Saxon, but with...
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