Literary Periods of British and American Literature

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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

1558-1603 Elizabethan




Edmund Spenser,

Sir Philip Sidney,

William Shakespeare

1603-1625 Jacobean Period Mannerist Style


other styles:



Devotional Poets

Shakespeare, John Donne,

George Herbert,

Emilia Lanyer

1625-1649 Caroline Period John Ford, John Milton

1649-1660 The


& The


Baroque Style,

and later, Rococo


Milton, Andrew Marvell,

Thomas Hobbes

1660-1700 The Restoration John Dryden

1700-1800 The Eighteenth






The Augustan


Alexander Pope,

Jonathan Swift,

Samuel Johnson

1785-1830 Romanticism The Age of William Wordsworth, S.T.

Revolution Coleridge, Jane Austen, the


1830-1901 Victorian Period Early, Middle

and Late


Charles Dickens, George

Eliot, Robert Browning,

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

1901-1960 Modern Period The Edwardian

Era (1901-1910);

The Georgian

Era (1910-1914)

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,

A.S. Byatt

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

"modern English."

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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