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Origin and History of English literature

Literature Definition

Literature is the artistic expression of thought, which is replete with feelings and imagination. It is usually expressed in such an nontechnical form as to make it intelligible and give aesthetic pleasure and relief to the mind of common man.

Origin and History of English literature

History true object of study say “Fustel Decoulanges”, is the human mind. History of English literature is the history of inner life, record of dreams and ideas, it needs to be limned on a background of its social activities, in order to be catalyses and nicely appraised.

Medieval Age

English literature is often described as beginning with Chaucer but his would give England six centuries of lit but Origin and History of English literatureactually there were more than six centuries before Chaucer was born. Two major events influenced the history of English literature before the Norman Conquent. First angles, Saxons and Jutes came to England in Marauding and made English history possible.

Second great event at that time is the conversion of the English to Christianity. In 597 Augustine had came from Rome and begun to convert the Jutes in Kents. Most English poetry in the early Anglo Saxon period is associated with these 2 events.

Looking at the splendid fabric of English literature, we realize in it a “coat of many colours”: for it is a short with the varying tints of racial characteristics. To its making have gone the prismatic fancy of the celt, the sombre passion of the Teuton, the gold gaiety of France, the san dinauian greys, the Italian purples. Yet for all its composite character it is not a thing of patch work quality, but an harmonious blend, in which one element predominates. That element is the Anglo Saxon. We have only to analyze some passage of Representative modern poetry to realise how despite our linguistic debts to France, to Italy and to Greece, the Saxon tongue the main outstanding features of English literature. Literature at that time was recorded in mamscripts. Old English verse uses a complex pattern of alliteration as the basis of its form. Elaborately constructed sentences, and interleaving words and phrases are shaped into two-stressed half lines of a varying number of syllabus; the half lines are then linked into full lines by means of alliteration borne on the first stress of the second half-line. The most important poem of Anglo Saxon period is “Beowulf.” It has three thousand lines. The story of Beowulf is of a monster named Grendel who is disturbing Hrothgar, the king of Daner. A young worries called Beowulf comes with a group of comrades to sense and at the last overcomes Grendel.

Contribution of Chaucer in English Literature

Modern poetry begins with Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) a diplomat, solider and scholar. Much of his work shows his taste for medieval literature, particularly as it was found in France. He delighted in allegory, and in the elaborate sentiments of courtly poem. His famous poem are “Prologue to the Legend of Good Women,” “The Book of the Duchen”, “The House of Fame” “Troilus and Giseyde” and unfinished “Canterbury Tales.” It is for the Canterbury Tales that Chaucer’s name is best remembered, the unfinished collection of stories told by the pilgrims on their journey to Canterbury.

The age of Chaucer was essentially………………tolerant humor and occasional moralizing.

After Chaucer many poets imited him but no one did imitate the best in Chaucer. The next trend setter were Wyatt and Surrey. They have known often for their sonnets form then in 16th century, a great poet. John Donne was born. He is the loves & the sensualist, but his mind reviews his love in terms of philosophy, or explores it with the images gathered in his scientific and theological reading.

Renaissance Age 14-16th Century

It was the period of renaissance. It was the rediscovery of the writing of the great classical written, notably the works of Plato and Aristotle. In the case of the latter, the latter, the “rediscovery” occurred in terms of misinterpretation, instead of taking the texts of Aristotle as literal, unchallengeable authority, as medieval scholars had tended to do, the new thinker as Francis Bacon (the father of modern scientific method) approached written authority with a new skeptical eye. The Renaissance period in England is usually given as 1500-1600, i.e. from the visit of Erasmus in 1599 to the Restoration. Italy is customarily taken as the starting place of the Renaissance. She was the hub of all literary activities. Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Montaigne, Sanazzaro were the pioneer of all such activities in Italy. This renaissance was brought in England by two poets Wayatt and Surrey.

As far as drama is concerned during the Middle ages moralities, farces and interludes were popular. The religious plays treated biblical or sanity characters e.g. the devil, the good and Bad Angels, the seven deadly sins etc. whereas the morality play treated the spiritual trials of ordinary person. They were allegories about the moral temptation that beset all human being. The most famous morality play at that time was “everyman.” In which Kindered, knowledge, five wits, Beauty, strength Death etc were personified in human figures.

During the 16th century, the morality play was gradually secularized as its original moral concerns were replaced by new ones such as the ideal training of rulers and the content of proper education. Then, when religious controversies erupted, moralities were used to attack one’s opponents, Protestants or cathotics, by associating one’s own side with good and one’s enemies with evil. Such changes moved the morality play increasingly toward a wholly secular drama; thus it served a transition between the medieval religious drama and the secular drama of Shakespeare’s time.

Thus in Renaissance scholars, artists and other turned their attention once more to Greece & Rome. The famous dramatists of that era were Shakespeare, Christopher Marlow, Lyle, John Fletcher and Francis Baumont, Cyril Tourneur etc. Among all dramatist Shakespeare (1564-1616) was quite popular. His four famous tragedies Othello, Macbeth king Lear, and hamlet changed the history of English drama and gave it a new dimension. His popular romantic comedies are the training of the shrew, the comedy of Errors, a mid summer Night’s dream, as you like it, Twelfth night, Much A do about Nothing etc.

The Literature of the Romantic Period 1780-1830

The romantic movement can be roughly dated from the late 18th century to the early 19th century, although the contrast between the need to express emotion and the desirability of following artistic rules dates back as far as the great Athenian dramatist e.g. (the contrast between Aeschylus & Sophocles). The distinctive features of the romantic movement are: the supremacy of individual over collective judgment; a “progressive faith in the reform ability and essential goodness of humanity; the supremacy of “natural’ and “organic” virtues over society’s artificial construction. The extent and meaning of Romanticism in 18th century English literature is still a matter of hot debate. It is certainly true that elements of what we call Romanticism can be found in poets such as couper and smart, and even in Dr. Johnson’s writings, but the first great works of Romantic lit are Blake’s works of the 1790s and Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1798). Relate on the merits or demerits of Romanticism tends to be conducted in aphoristic terms e.g. Goethe’s dictum (in rejection of his early Romantic principles) that classicism is health, romanticism disease’. Other prominent Romantic poets are Byron, Shelley, Keats, Heine and Scott.

The famous among such poets were Wordsworth, Blake, Coleridge, Keats William Shelley Wordsworth is the oldest, greatest and the long lived of this group. He is the priest of nature. His poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility.” His homes e.g. ode to immortality, Tintern Abbey, Lyrical Ballads The Prelude, to the cuckoo, Reverie of Poor Susan etc.

His most intimate friend S T Coleridge is also the one of pioneer of Romantic poetry. Kubla Khan, Christabel, the Ancient Mariner

Victorian Lit

It was the era of Queen Victoria reign. A period of intense and prolipl activity in lit especially by novelists and poets, philosophers and essayist. Dramatists of any note are few. Much of the writing was concerned with contemporary social problems for instance, the effects of the industrial revolution, the influence of the theory of evaluation (Darwin), movements of political and social reform. The following are among the most notable British writers of the period. Thomas Love Peacock, Tennyson, Robert Browning, Dicknes, Trollope, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, George Eliot, Oscar Wild, Kipling etc.


A movement which began to get under way in the closing years of the 19th century and which has had a wide influence internationally during much of the 20th century in all the creative arts especially poetry, fiction, drama, painting, music and architecture. There have been various theories as to when the movement (or its tendencies) was at its height and as to whether the modernist movement is actually over. Some have suggested that modernism, as an innovative and revivifying movement, was played out by the late 1940s and that it was then that post modernism began. In fact, such movements, of their nature, do not just start and stop; the evolution is gradual. The momentum of another burgeons.

Nevertheless it is valid 2 point out certain places and periods where and when modernist tendencies were at their most active and fruitful. For example, I France from the 1890s until the 1940s; in Russia during the pre-revolutionary years and the 1920s; in Germany from the 1890s and on during the 1920s in England from early in the 20th century, and during the 1920’s and 1930s; in America from shortly before the 1st World War and on during the inter-war period. Thus it was a European and transcontinental movement and its principal centers of activity were the capital cities.

Within the general movement or tendency, there were subsidiary and now labeled and identifiable movement (e.g. surrealism, formalism, 9q.v) much that is loosely categorized under modernism is or was avant-garde (q.v) but one may distinguish between an “old” avant grade (e.g. the French symbolist poets) and a new avant-grade which is post modernist (e.g. dramatists of the theatre of the Absural q.v. and the practitioners of the Nourean roman q.u).

Professor Frank Kermode made a pusther distinction between palaeo modernism and neo modernism. The former refers to early manifestation of new movements concluding, perhaps, century 1914-20; the latter to movements since that time.

As far as literature is concerned modernism reveals a breaking away established rules, tradition and conventions, fresh way of looking at man’s position and function in the universe and many (in some cases remarkable_ experiments in form and style. It is particularly concerned with language & how to use it (representationally or otherwise) and with writing itself. Thus structuralism was (and is) from the outset closely connected with modernist tendencies, though the theories of structuralism (q.v) did not gain a strong foothold until the 1960s, by which time post-modernism was well established as a new movement.

Aspects of modernism are touched on in the following entries:

Constructivism, Dadaism, decadence, existentialism, Expressionism, free verse, Futurism, Imagests, New Humanism; Stream of consciousness symbols and symbolism, ultraism, vorticism.

Post Modernism

All those changes, developments & tendencies which have taken place (and are taking place) in literature, art, music, architecture, philosophy etc since the 1940s & 1950s. Post-modernism is different from modernism (q.v) even a reaction against it. It is no easier to define than many other-ism. Like them, it is amorphous by nature.

To talk of post-modernism is to imply that modernism is over and done with. This is not so. There never is a neat demarcation line. Originally avant-garde (q.v) movements in literature and the arts in general were modernist; avant-garde influences continues. It might be said that there is a new avant-garde. Besides, post modernism is still happening. When something else develops from it or instead of it, it will, perhaps, be easier to identify, describe and classify.

As far as lit is concerned it is possible to descry certain features in post modernism. For instance, there is lit which tends to be non-traditional and against authority and signification. Here one may cite experimental techniques, in fiction as displayed in the nouveau roman and the anti-novel (q.q.u) in some cases these looked perilously close to mere gimmickry. There also have been experiments with what is called concrete poetry (q.v), though there is nothing particularly post-modernist about that (or even modernist, for that matter) since simians of Rhodes was experimenting with pattern poems (q.v) in the 4th century B.C. In drama one might cite experiment with form, content and presentation in such developments as the Theater of the Absurd, Total Theater, the ‘happening’ and, latterly, the Theater de complicit (q.q.v)

Other deceivable features of post modernism are an electric approach, aleatory.

Also Study:

The assertion of Culturalism through Language

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