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Timeline of British

Literature
Anglo-Saxon Period
• 449-1066
• Strong belief in fate
• Juxtaposition of the church and
pagan worlds
• Admiration of heroic warriors who
prevail in battle
• Express religious faith and give
moral instruction through
literature
Anglo-Saxon Period
• Christianity helps literacy spread
• Introduces Roman alphabet to
Britain
• Oral tradition helps unite diverse
people and their myths
• Styles / Genres
– Oral tradition of literature
– Poetry is the dominant genre
Anglo-Saxon Period
• Historical Context
– Life centered around ancestral
tribes/clans that ruled themselves
– At first, tribes/clans were warriors
from invading outlying areas
• Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Danes
– Later, they became primarily
agricultural
Medieval Period
• 1066-1485
• Plays that instruct the illiterate
masses in morals and religion
– “Morality Plays”
• Chivalric code of honor
– Knights, their ladies fair
• Religious devotion
• Romances
Medieval Period

• Style / Genre
– Oral tradition continues
– Folk Ballads
• A song that is traditionally sung by the
common people of a region and forms part
of their culture
Medieval Period
– Mystery plays
• Focused on the representation of Bible stories
in churches
– Miracle plays
• Specifically re-enact miraculous interventions
by the saints into the lives of ordinary people
– Morality Plays
• A kind of drama with personified abstract
qualities (think: sin, charity, Christian) as the
main characters. Presented a lesson about
good conduct and character.
Medieval Period
– Stock epithets
• Any word or phrase applied to a person or
thing to describe an actual or attributed
quality
• Ex: Richard the Lion-Hearted
– Kenning
• A poetic phrase used in place of the usual
name of a person or thing
• Ex: “A wave traveler” for “A boat”
Medieval Period
• Church instructs its people through
the morality and miracle plays
• An illiterate population is able to
hear and see the literature
Medieval Period
• The Crusades bring the
development of a money economy
for the first time in Britain
• Trading increases dramatically
• Henry III crowned king in 1154
– Brings a judicial system, royal courts,
juries, and chivalry to Britain
The Renaissance
• 1485-1660
• Worldview shifts from religion and
afterlife to the human life on earth
• Popular Themes
– Development of human potential
– Love (unrequited, constant, timeless,
courtly, Love subject to change)
The Renaissance
• Styles / Genres
– Poetry
• Sonnets
– Drama
• Written in verse
• Supported by royalty
• Tragedies, comedies, histories
– Metaphysical poetry
• Elaborate, unexpected metaphors called
“conceits”
The Renaissance
• Historical Context
– War of Roses ends in 1485 and
political stability arrives
– The printing press helps stabilize
English as a language and allows more
people to read a variety of literature
– Economy changes from farm-based to
international trade
The Restoration
• 1660-1785
– 1660-1700: emphasis on decorum
– 1700-1745: emphasis on satire and on a
wide public readership
– 1745-1785: emphasis on revolutionary
ideas
• Literacy has expanded to include the
middle classes and even some of the
poor
• Emphasis on rules, reason, and logic
– The Age of Enlightenment
The Restoration
• Styles / Genre
– Satire
• Uses irony and exaggeration to poke fun at
human faults and foolishness in order to
correct human behavior
– Novels becoming better known than
poetry
– Essays
– Letters, diaries, biographies
– Notes
The Restoration
• Historical Context
– 50% of men are functionally literate
– Factories begin to spring up as the
industrial revolution starts
– Impoverished masses begin to grow as
farming life declines and factories
build
– Coffee houses: educated men spend
evening with literary and political
associates
Romanticism
• 1785-1830
• A literary, artistic, and intellectual
movement
• Partly a reaction to the Industrial
Revolution
– It was a revolt against the aristocratic
social and political norms of
Enlightenment
• Celebrated emotion, spontaneity,
imagination, subjectivity, and the
purity of nature
Romanticism
• Validated intense emotion as an
authentic source of experience
– New emphasis on
• Apprehension
• Horror and terror
• Awe
• Romantics wanted to escape the
confines of population growth,
urban sprawl, and industrialism
Romanticism
• Historical Context
– The Industrial Revolution
– Laissez Faire
• “Let (people) do (as they please)”
• The rich grew richer, the poor suffered
even more
Realism /Naturalism
• 1830-1901
• Realism
– Aimed for an honest portrayal over
sensationalism, exaggeration, or
melodrama
– Desired an accurate and detailed
portrayal of ordinary, contemporary
life
Realism /Naturalism
• Naturalism
– An offshoot of the realism movement
– An intensification of realism
– Used detailed realism to suggest that
social conditions, heredity, and
environment had inescapable force in
shaping human character
Realism /Naturalism
• The novel begins to rise in
popularity
• Historical context
– Great Reform Act
– Slavery banned in British colonies
– Irish potato famine
– Ten Hour Act
Modern/Post-Modern
• 1900-1980
• The loss of the hero in literature
• Major theme: technology’s
destruction of society
• Free verse poetry
• Novelists begin writing in “stream
of consciousness”
Modern/Post-Modern
• Increasing role of science and
technology
• Mass literacy and proliferation of
mass media
• Spread of social movements
• Individualism
• Industrialization
• Urbanization
Modern/Post-Modern
• Historical Context
– World War I
– World War II