The era of English literature has been a continuous stretch of events. Thus, for discussions to be comprehensible, the authorities divided the era of English literature in entirety, into segments referred to as the periods or evolving transitions of English literature.
English literature may be termed incomplete without the inclusion of its origins. The historians and the authorities of English literature, for the convenience of analysis, have categorized events into periods. The periods of English literature have been described with their dates, forming a set of sub-epochs. Here is an account of each period of English literature.
Witnessing Literary Transitions
Old English Period (450 – 1066)
Also known as the Anglo-Saxon period, the old English period was marked by the influx of the Saxons and the Angles tribes invading Celtic England. The invasion extended to the conquest of England in 1066 which was led by William the Conqueror. The conquest was given birth by the Norman French under the leadership of William. The Anglo Saxons were then converted to Christianity in the 7th century. It was only after this transition that the Anglo Saxons could shift to the development of written literature apart from their literature being oral in nature. Bede and Alcuin were scholars who wrote manuscripts in Latin. It is through their writings that an influx of culture and advanced learning was brought into being. The old English poets Cynewulf and Caedmon, composed poems and verses on biblical and religious themes and highlighted the lives of saints and their doctrines. The Wanderer, Deor and The Seafarer are some of the well-known poems that were that were phrased in Old English language. Christian writers dealt with the pagan past with dexterity. Alfred the Great, another patron of literature translated Latin prose into old English, and also initiated important documentary translations executed by him and practically completed by other writers employed by the warrior-cum-writer.
Middle English Period (1066 – 1500)
When the middle English came into being with its literary usage, the most extensive writing was conducted on subjects associated with religion. The second half of the fourteenth century saw the approach hooded by great authors like Chaucer and John Gower. The most influential and important works of this period, also referred to as the Anglo-Norman period, saw the revelation of works such as Lais and Guillaume de Lorris, composed by Marie de France. Amongst the other notable literary contributions were Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose. In the segment of Romances, Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur scores consistently as an author who contributed a valuable prose romance. In a nutshell, this age was coveted with the tag of being the most active with regards to producing religious songs and folk ballads, with miracle and morality plays serving to embellish this age in their own respective ways.
Renaissance (1500 – 1660)
An era that was marked by supplementary terms such as rebirth and revival was replaced by a description called early modernism. This term is designated in order to delve on the present and the future rather than analyzing reminiscence. This age is known to have affected the latter half of the middle ages. This age was here to create an impact on a world that lived in misconceptions and conceit, pretending to be fully aware of universal truths revolving around God, man and nature. The truth was indeed, not fully known, and innovation was yet to take wings in this age. The inventions and innovations that occurred are a testimony to the restless demeanor and curious audacity of an era where religious thinkers and scholars were actively participating. The new technology of printing took shape with ideas and discoveries playing host to authors and poets like Chaucer who had his book Canterbury Tales published. A book of Character or courtesy, the most famous amongst the category is Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano. Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno were the coveted works that dealt with the imagination of the novel concept of cosmos. Shakespeare’s Tempest is an account of new discoveries and voyages with a contemporary saga.
Elizabethan Age (1558 – 1603)
The Elizabethan period of English literature has an established literary response, which was marked by great composers such as Sir Edmund Spencer, Sir Philip Sydney, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon. This age was punctuated for its presence having felt in the field of dramatics and poetry, which lays its meaningful head in the lap of nature. Lyric and narrative poetry were the corner stones of this era.
Jacobean Age (1603 – 1625)
This was certainly the age of prose writing and Donne and Bacon were christened as propellers of doctrines proposed by them. Shakespeare with his tragedies and tragicomedies made an impact with the other notable playwrights such as Chapman, Burton, Beaumont and Fletcher.
Caroline Age (1625 – 1649)
This was the time when John Milton along with melancholy centric writers Burton and Browne composed prose and plays. It was also an era where the religious poet George Herbert concentrated on poetry on gallantry, courtship and courtly love.
Commonwealth Period (1649 – 1660)
Puritan Interregnum was an alternative term used for this era. The commonwealth age saw writers like Cowley, Marvell and Davenant. It was an age where Milton portrayed his prowess in political subjects and Hobbes’ distinguished his writing style in the form of political treatise called Leviathan.
Neoclassical Period (1660 – 1785)
The neoclassical period was an institution of poets where the light of knowledge acquisition with discipline and respect was given an overwhelming importance. With neoclassic poetry, the subjects had the elements nature as its background. The restoration period marked an influx of theater where William Wycherley and George Etherege developed a genre of Comedy of manners. The Country Wife, William Wycherley’s play centered around the nuances of bawdy language and semi-aristocratic flavor that delivered the eccentricities of characters with their names suggesting their counter characters, thus the play is allegorical with a completeness of its own. The Augustus age novelist and journalist Daniel Defoe and Lady Mary Wortley wrote poems of wit, candor and conviction.
Romantic Period (1785 – 1832)
The romantic period had its origins in spontaneity and quick wit. It was an age that lay stress on nature and deemed nature not as the background but the backbone of poetry. The romantic period had experimentation and invention running through the veins of poetry. Poets like Keats, Shelley, Burns, William Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth made a significant and radical impact on the face of poetry. It was an era where universe and nature were considered in the forefront of all the human nitty-gritty as the background of poetry.
Victorian Period (1832 – 1901)
The Victorian period had melancholy and mourning as its corner stones where poetry is concerned. Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were notable poets who focused on subjects of death and unconditional love and longing. This period also dealt with imaginative, often didactic verses composed that reflected on the socio-economic context in detail. Samuel Butler, Thomas Hardy, William Thackeray and Gerard Manley Hopkins were the notable authors and essayists who made their mark in this period of English literature.
Edwardian Period (1901 – 1914)
The span where the Victorian period ended and the World War I began marked the reign of King Edward. This was the period where Thomas Hardy gave up on writing novels for the love of poetry, William Butler Yeats and Rudyard Kipling made a name of their own in the field of poetry. Another coveted and well established playwright was Henry James who published his novels in the Edwardian era. These were The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl.
Georgian Period (1914 – 1936)
The Georgian period saw a group of writers denoted as Georgian poets who focused on rural subjects that were delicate to handle. They were subjects that were not regarded as bold and too ferocious in nature. The major characteristic was the poetry being submissive and more traditional in manner rather than rough, experimental and technical in pace and matter. Walter de la Mare and W.H. Davies were some of the poets that were regarded as Georgian poets.
Modernism and Postmodernism (1939 – …)
Modernism and postmodernism are terms that have undergone relative change in the recent past. The modern poets include Yeats, Auden, T.S. Eliot, Franz Kafka amongst the many notable poets and authors. Modern period of English literature was marked by a new style, format, mis-en-scene, concept and the relative features of the subjects in question. Virginia Wolf’s, a stream of thought writer, Jacob’s Room and James Joyce’s Ulysses were monotone narratives that signified the rapidity with which innovation in poetry occurred.
Postmodernism is an era in which the individual has to look beyond the obvious, draw parallels with reality with absurdity and overt projection of sexuality has been made prominent. Postmodernism marks R.K. Narayan, Anita Desai, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy as writers who have their very own signature, post colonial ways of writing and projecting their thought in their unique ways.
English Literature is a treasure trove, that must be unearthed, for literature enthusiasts are perpetually mulling over the legacy, such stalwarts of the language have managed to define. Their genius, indeed, is indefinable – almost an embarrassment of the riches!