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Periods in literature are named for rulers, historical events, intellectual or political or
religious movements, or artistic styles. Most literary periods therefore have multiple
names. What's worse, some of these names are debated. Is the later 17th Century the
Baroque era? The term baroque is an intractable term derived from art criticism, though
it may usefully be applicable to some writers as well. Is the early 17th Century the
Shakespearean era? Is it the Mannerist era? How widely do we wish to apply the term
Elizabethan period? Other questions arise. Does Romanticism begin with Wordsworth?
With Blake? In addition, Romanticism has various dates according to the national
literature we refer to. In the separate art forms -- music, painting, and even some literary
genres -- the dates may vary yet more. Recent histories of literature and the latest Norton
Anthology of English Literature offer the latest examples of terms applied to literary
Periods of British Literature
600-1200 Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Beowulf
1200-1500 Middle English Geoffrey Chaucer
1500-1660 The English Renaissance
1500-1558 Tudor Period Humanist Era Thomas More, John Skelton
Sir Philip Sidney,
1603-1625 Jacobean Period Mannerist Style
Shakespeare, John Donne,
1625-1649 Caroline Period John Ford, John Milton
and later, Rococo
Milton, Andrew Marvell,
1660-1700 The Restoration John Dryden
1700-1800 The Eighteenth
1785-1830 Romanticism The Age of William Wordsworth, S.T.
Revolution Coleridge, Jane Austen, the
1830-1901 Victorian Period Early, Middle
Charles Dickens, George
Eliot, Robert Browning,
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
1901-1960 Modern Period The Edwardian
G.M. Hopkins, H.G. Wells,
James Joyce, D.H.
Lawrence, T.S. Eliot
1960- Postmodern and
Ted Hughes, Doris Lessing,
John Fowles, Don DeLillo,
The Old English Period or the Anglo-Saxon Period refers to the literature produced
from the invasion of Celtic England by Germanic tribes in the first half of the fifth
century to the conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror.
During the Old English Period, written literature began to develop from oral tradition,
and in the eighth century poetry written in the vernacular Anglo Saxon or Old English
appeared. One of the most well-known eighth century Old English pieces of literature is
Beowulf, a great Germanic epic poem. Two poets of Old English Period who wrote on
biblical and religious themes were Caedmon and Cynewulf.
The Middle English Period consists of the literature produced in the four and a half
centuries between the Norman Conquest of 1066 and about 1500, when the standard
literary language, derived from the dialect of the London area, became recognizable as
Prior to the second half of the fourteenth century, vernacular literature consisted
primarily of religious writings. The second half of the fourteenth century produced the
first great age of secular literature. The most widely known of these writings are Geoffrey
Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and
Thomas Malory's Morte d’Arthur.
While the English Renaissance began with the ascent of the House of Tudor to the
English throne in 1485, the English Literary Renaissance began with English humanists
such as Sir Thomas more and Sir Thomas Wyatt.
In addition, the English Literary Renaissance consists of four subsets: The Elizabethan
Age, the Jacobean Age, the Caroline Age, and the Commonwealth Period (which is
also known as the Puritan Interregnum).
The Elizabethan Age of English Literature coincides with the reign of Elizabeth I, 1558
- 1603. During this time, medieval tradition was blended with Renaissance optimism.
Lyric poetry, prose, and drama were the major styles of literature that flowered during the
Elizabethan Age. Some important writers of the Elizabethan Age include William
Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Ben
The Jacobean Age of English Literature coincides with the reign of James I, 1603 -
1625. During this time the literature became sophisticated, sombre, and conscious of
social abuse and rivalry. The Jacobean Age produced rich prose and drama as well as The
king James translation of the Bible. Shakespeare and Jonson wrote during the Jacobean
Age, as well as John Donne, Francis bacon, and Thomas Middleton
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