From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Thomas Pynchon is American, V.S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad, and Vladimir Nabokov was Russian, but all are considered important writers in the history of English literature. In other words, English literature is as diverse as the varieties and dialects of English spoken around the world in countries originally colonized by the British. In academia, the term often labels departments and programs practicing English studies in secondary and tertiary educational systems. Despite the variety of authors of English literature, the works of William Shakespeare remain paramount throughout the English-speaking world. Until the early 19th century, this article deals with literature from Britain written in English; then America starts to produce major writers and works in literature. In the 20th century America and Ireland produced many of the most significant works of literature in English, and after World War II writers from the former British Empire also began to challenge writers from Britain. Additional information on literature in English from countries other than the UK and Ireland can be found in see also below. * |
Old English literature: 450-1153
Main article: Old English literature
The first page of Beowulf
The first works in English, written in Old English, appeared in the early Middle Ages, the oldest surviving text being the Hymn of Cædmon. Oral tradition was very strong in early English culture and most literary works were written to be performed.Epic poems were thus very popular, and many, including Beowulf, have survived to the present day in the rich corpus of Anglo-Saxon literature that closely resemble today's Icelandic, Norwegian, North Frisian and the Northumbrian and Scots English dialects of modern English. Much Old English verse in the extant manuscripts is probably adapted from the earlier Germanic war poems from the continent. When such poetry was brought to England it was still being handed down orally from one generation to another, and the constant presence of alliterative verse, or consonant rhyme (today's newspaper headlines and marketing abundantly use this technique such as in Big is Better) helped the Anglo-Saxon people to remember it. Such rhyme is a feature of Germanic languages and is opposed to vocalic or end-rhyme of Romance languages. But the first written literature dates to the early Christian monasteries founded by Augustine of Canterbury and his disciples and it is reasonable to believe that it was somehow adapted to suit the needs of Christian readers. -------------------------------------------------
Middle English literature: 1154-1485
Main article: Middle English literature
In the 12th century, a new form of English now known as Middle English evolved. This is the earliest form of English literature which is comprehensible to modern readers and listeners, albeit not easily. Middle English lasts up until the 1470s, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London-based English, became widespread and the printing press regularized the language. Middle English Bible translations, notably Wycliffe's Bible, helped to establish English as a literary language.
There are three main categories of Middle English Literature: Religious, Courtly love, and Arthurian. William Langland's Piers Plowman is considered by many critics to be one of the early great works of English literature along with Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (most likely by the Pearl Poet) during the Middle...