English Literature is the most important and widely studied subject in high schools and colleges, with thousands of essays, prose, poems, novels, long and short fiction, drama, prose fiction, etc. English Literature is the oldest course studied. Students, who love Literature, often go forward for higher studies in the particular subject finally gathering a Doctorate in the subject.
Old English Period
Old English Literature began in the Anglo Saxon Period (600-1066) which is the collection of annals or the chronicles of the Anglo Saxons. During this period, there was more Oral Literature where the plays were written to be performed in public. The famous epic poem written during this period was Beowulf written during the 8th century to the 11th century and set in Scandinavia.
There were many authors during this period, but the most popular were Caedmon, Cynewulf, Bede and Alfred. Caedmon was one of the most popular and earliest English poets known for his work "Hymn" which was written in the German language. During the late 10th century, two poems based on the religious theme were "The Wanderer" and "The Seafarer", both of which were famous.
Middle English Period
During the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the Middle English Period began. Anglo Saxon language which became so popular during this period and the Old English became less in use, and gradually with the influence of new power, the standard language used was French. French occupied territories of court, parliament and the society as a whole and thus affected the literary context too. The language and literature of the invaders mingled with the native languages, and therefore the ruling class used Anglo-Norman dialects. Thus began the Middle English culture.
With John Wycliffe's Bible translations during 1382-1395, English Literature went a vast cultural change and established itself in the territory during this period. These Bible translations instigated the Lollard movement. This movement meant many of the teachings of the Roman Catholics were rejected during this period.
During the 14th century, famous and significant writers and poets in English emerged namely Geoffrey Chaucer, Sir William Langland and the Pearl Poet. "Sir Gawain and the Green Night" was written by the Pearl Poet and it was a complete alliterative romance. The famous "Piers Plowman" written by William Langland during 1360 was the best example of an allegorical narrative poem written in complete alliterative verse.
Middle English period lasted till the 1500s. This time Chaucer's famous "The Canterbury Tales" was published and Chancery Standard became quite famous in London with the printing press starting to standardise and establish this language.
After the Middle English period emerged the Elizabethan period during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It was from the year 1503-1603, and during this period some of the greatest playwrights were noticed. William Shakespeare, one of the most critical literary person during this phase, wrote various plays of various genres-Richard III, Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, Twelfth Night, to name a few.
There was Philip Sydney's "Defense of Poetry", "Astrophel and Stella", Edmund Spencer's "The Faerie Queen" and many other noted poets and dramatists whose greatest works established a new mark in English Literature.
Milton's "Paradise Lost" soon came into effect after the Elizabethan period and with Charles II reigning the throne in 1658, the Restoration period came into force. John Dryden was the noted author during this time. Heroic comedies with heroic plays entertained people's hearts.
With the coming of Neoclassicism period, the poems mainly were written to teach and educate the mass. "Rape of the Lock" by Alexander Pope's was the greatest mock-heroic poems written during that period.
The Romantic period lasted from the 18th century to the 19th century and gave birth to some beautiful Romantic poets. These poems expressed the emotional connections, the imaginations and personal feelings. Noteworthy Romantic poet such as William Wordsworth wrote: "Lucy Poems" and many other Romantic poems that cultivated a new light of the development of Literature during that time. Poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Byshe Shelley, and John Keats had some remarkable works up their sleeves.
Victorian period started after the 19th century and was marked by famous Victorian poetries and novels. The greatest poets during that period were Robert Browning, and Alfred Lord Tennyson and the noteworthy novelist was Charles Dickens whose novels had more adult content, and many of his novels were banned from reading.
By the time Modern Age emerged during the 20th century, English Literature had witnessed two World Wars and significant political and social changes. This affected the English Literary culture as well. The poetry, novel, drama written by George Bernard Shaw, Dylan Thomas, Samuel Beckett, that emerged during this genre painted how people lived in uncertainty with loss of faith.
Modernism and Postmodernism stills follow in English Literature with the emergence of a stream of consciousness technique, of feminism, of new age concepts. It is essential to now the rise and the flow of English Literature because there are lots of plays, dramas, poetries that paint an image of the past, of how the greatest poets lived and worked and the changing socio-political culture of the system.
English Literature introduces a student to a range of aspects, of the culture and traditions of past and present. By learning about various phrases, quotes and famous dialogues from the great works of great writers, one can relate them to life and can understand the social structure of one's country.
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