Periods Of English Literature - An Overview

Historians normally divide English literature into periods for convenience of discussion. Sometimes the numbers, dates or the names of the periods seem to vary. The following list follows the widespread practice of listing:

450-1066 Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Period
1066-1500 Middle English Period
1500-1600 The Renaissance (Early Modern) Period
1558-1603 Elizabethan Age
1603-1625 Jacobean Age
1625-1649 Caroline Age
1649-1660 Commonwealth Period
1600-1785 The Neo-classical Period
1660-1700 Restoration Period
1700-1745 The Augustan Age
1745-1783 The Age Of Sensibility
1785-1830 The Romantic Period
1832-1901 The Victorian Period
1848-1860 The Pre-Raphaelites
1880-1901 Aestheticism and Decadence
1901-1910 The Edwardian Period
1910-1914 The Georgian Period
1914- The Modern Period
1945- Post Modernism

Old English or Anglo-Saxon Period (450 - 1066)

The expansion of the Anglo-Saxon period marked from the invasion of Celtic England by Germanic tribes in the first half of the 5th century to the conquest of England in 1066 by the Norman French under the leadership of William the conqueror. After they had been converted into Christianity the Anglo-Saxons whose literature was in oral form, began to develop literature in written form. The poetry of the time was written in the vernacular of Anglo-Saxon which was called Old English. The theme and subject matter of the Old English period chiefly revolved around religion.

This age gave "Beowulf" the greatest Germanic epic in the world of literature. There were two major poets Caedmon and Cynewulf contributed to literary writing. Moreover, the churchmen Bede and Alcuin were the leading scholars. They wrote in Latin which was considered the standered language of international scholarship. Alfred the Great, a West Saxon king, loved literature very much. He translated various books of Latin prose into Old English and instituted the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as the contemporary record of important issues in England.

Middle English Period (1066-1500)


The four and a half century between the Norman Conquest in 1600, which became the cause for radical changes in the language, life and culture of England, and about 1500, when the standard literary language has become "modern English" that is similar to the language of ours. The period from 1100 to 1350 is sometimes called the Anglo-Norman Period because the non-Latin literature of the era was written in Anglo-Norman. Among the important works of the period were Marie de France's "Lais" and Jean de Meun's "Roman de La Rose". When the native vernacular - descended from Anglo-Saxon period.

The native vernacular descended from Anglo-Saxon with widespread syntactic and lexical elements assimilated from Anglo-Norman which was later called "Middle English" came into literary application. Therefore, it became primarily the medium of homiletic and religious writings.

The second half of the 14th century produced secular kind of literature along with native English literature. This was the age of Chaucer and John Gower which gave great kind of religious and satirical poems like "Piers Plowman". There was the most famous prose romance written by Thomas Malory called "Morte d' Arthur".

The 15th century was known by what was called "Scottish Chaucerians". It was important more for popular literature than the artful sorts of literature normally addressed to the upper class. It was the age of excellent songs, secular and folk ballads.

The Renaissance Period (1500-1600)

Many historians consider this age an "early modern" age. It refers to a rebirth commonly applied to the period of European history following the Middle Ages. During this period the European arts of sculpture, painting and literature reached a peak. The development came late to England in the 16th century which didn't have its flowering until the emergence of Elizabethan or Jacobean period. In fact sometimes, John Milton (1608-74) is considered as the last greatest renaissance poet.

Elizabethan Age (1558-1603)

Elizabethan Age is often used to describe the late 16th and early 17th centuries even after the death of Elizabeth. This was the time of swift expansion in English commerce and the development of nationalist feeling - the time of the defeat of Spanish Armada in 1588. It is considered as a great age English literature - the greatest in the field of drama. You can call it the age of Sir Phillip Sidney, Christopher Marlow, Edmund Spencer, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare and other excellent writers of prose and dramatic, lyrical and narrative poetry. Many scholars have considered this age as one of intellectual coherence and social order.

Elizabethan Lyrics - Greatest Lyrical Poetry of the Time

If we talk about lyrical poetry, the temper of the Elizabethan age was perfectly suited to the lyrical mood. For that reason, there was the emergence of the lyrics in abundance. The lyrical expressions came on the surface with the efforts of Wyatt and Surrey, the prominent poets of the time. This lyrical spirit sustained through the dramas of the age. Furthermore, this spirit got foothold in the several miscellanies of the time. Afterward, this lyrical impulse was seen into the melodies of Campion and the darker moods of metaphysical poetry and poets like Donne.

In the history of the English literature, the Elizabethan period occupies a grater place because in this period lyrical forms were properly shaped. Songs were sung in parlors and halls. They were composed around the themes such as love songs and religious songs. It was the age of singing birds in right sense of the term. They were composed in every mod for example mocking, grave, cynical and sentimental. The form of lyrical poetry is effortless to read and enjoy.

Jacobean Age (1603-1625)

Jacobean Age Jacobean Age covers the reign of James I (often called "Jacobus" in Latin). This was the period when the prose writings of Bacon, John Donne's sermons, Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy", king James translation of the Bible, major writings of poets and playwrights including Ben Johnson, Michael Drayton, Beaumont, Fletcher, John Webster, George Chapman developed. Elizabeth Cary was the first English woman whose biblical drama "The Tragedy of Marium, the Faire Queen of Jewry" was published at that time.

Caroline Age (1625-1649)

Caroline Age - the reign of Charles I (called "Carolus" in Latin). It was the time of English Civil War between the supporters of the King and supporters of the parliament. More interestingly John Milton began his writing during this period. It was the age of the religious poet George Herbert and of the prose writers like Robert Burton and Thomas Browne. The poets of this period were called Cavalier Poets. There were the writers of witty and of polished lyrics of courtship and gallantry. This was the group of Richard Lovelace, Sir John Suckling and Thomas Carew.

Commonwealth Period (1649-1660)

Commonwealth Period extended from the end of the Civil War and the excursion Charles I in 1649 to the restoration of the Stuart monarchy under Charles II in 1600. Dramas disappeared for almost eighteen years after the puritans closed the public theaters in September 1642, not only on moral and religious grounds, but also to prevent public gatherings and assemblies that might create civil disorder. It was the age of Milton's political pamphlets, of Hobbes's political treatise Leviathan (1651) of the prose writers like Sir Thomas Browne, Abraham Cowley and Andrew Marwell.

The Neo-classical Period (1600-1785 )

The Neo-classical Period in England covers almost 140 years after the Restoration (1660). The authors such as John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Joseph Addition, Jonathan Swift, Oliver Gold Smith, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke contributed to neoclassic literature.

The literature of this period was considered to be an "art" that is a set of skills which ought be perfected by practice. Neoclassical writers considered human beings as limited agents who ought to set themselves only accessible goals. Many of the great writings of the period was satirical, didactic and was often direct attack on on human "pride"

Restoration Period (1660-1700 )

Restoration Period takes its name from the restoration of the Stuart line (Charles II) to the English throne in 1600, at the end of Commonwealth. The urbanity, wit and licentiousness of the life focusing on the court is reflected in the literature of this period. The theaters came back to life after the revocation of the ban placed o them by the Puritans in 1642. Sir George Etherege, William Wycherley, William Congreve and John Dryden developed the distinctive comedy of manners called "Restoration Comedy". Dryden was the major poet and critic as well as one of the major dramatists of the time.

Last modified: Tuesday, 6 February 2018, 1:15 AM