Time Periods in English Term Paper

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English Literature

The medieval period in English history spans across some 800 years. The Anglo-Saxon period consisted of literature that was retained in memory. The major influence of the literature up until the Norman Conquest was mainly of the religious kind. "Distinguished, highly literate churchmen (Abrams 4) the Ecclesiastical History of England remains our "most important source of knowledge about the Anglo-Saxon period" (4).

The Anglo-Saxons were primarily known for their contribution to poetry. Their alliterative form was, of course, how poetry survived. Sine they wrote nothing down until they were "Christianized," Abrams suggest that that Christian ideals influenced how things were recorded and it would also explain why some non-Christian literature did not survive. Beowulf is what Abrams refers to as the "greatest" German epic, even though it appears to many pre-Christian ideas. (4) Another example of the Anglo-Saxon writing movement would be Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Chaucer brilliantly weaves together the good ideals with the more lose ideas together in his characters on their pilgrimage. We are introduced to the humor of the times as well as the female counterparts, as seen in the "Wife of Bath." The poetry of Old England is a "dark one," according to Abrams, which seems to be narrow with "narrow laws." Although the world may have seemed depressing, the poetry of the Old English displays "extraordinary intensity, with high spiritual excitement" (5).

The Norman Conquest led to literature becoming something that belonged more to the people -- it was removed from the "care" of the aristocracy and the "cohesive spirit" it had formerly carried with it. This meant that literature was not only being written by the educated, but the lesser educated as well. Abrams notes that when written English literature appears at the end of the twelfth century, the larger portion of it carries the "stamp" of popular and semi-popular origin. This contrast between this type of writing and that of the Old English is most stark. The Norman Conquest brought another contribution that altered how literature would be written and that was the inclusion of women. The perspective, Abrams contends, recognized women as half of the human race. They may be depicted in stereotypical situations, but at least they were recognized in literature.

By the end of the sixteenth century, the "full tide of Renaissance humanism had reached England" (Britannica).

The reign of Elizabeth was the "most splendid" age of English literature.

The first major contributors to this movement were Sir Thomas Moore and Desiserius Erasmus of Rotterdam. From the beginning, humanism was concerned with Christianity as well as classical learning. It is also important to note that English authors were heavily influenced by Italian and French humanists, which added to the flavor of their writing. The positive achievement of this age was marked with many spectacular events that influenced the world of literature. From this, the world was learning about itself from itself. The Renaissance culture had a great influence on literature as well. Its "characteristic leavening presence ultimately distinguished Elizabethan literature from its medieval and Gothic predecessors" (Britannica).

A great author to emerge from this era is William Shakespeare. Shakespeare is often seen as being "unmatched in his gift for language, he created legendary characters and dramatic moments which have inspired audiences and artists down to the present day" (Wright 9). Shakespeare was undoubtedly the most popular playwright of his time. His talent and genius exceeded other playwrights of his age including Greene, Marlowe, and Jonson. The realistic characters Shakespeare created accentuated his ability to appeal to every man. He took the art of dramatic verse and used it to compliment those characters in ways that make them seem so real to us. In addition to being an extremely talented wordsmith, Shakespeare also had the ability to shape history into a story that the…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York W.W. Norton and Company. 1986.

Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: William Benton Publisher. 1959.

Wright, Meg. Early English Writers. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation. 1989.

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