Brief History Of English Literature (Essay Sample)

Brief History Of English Literature

The history of English Literature is dated back to the development of writings and literary techniques employed in the English language for decades. English literature is a wide context of study which has continued to gain popularity in many institutions of higher learning. The context of the study is broad with confusing components to many learners. Poetry writings, novel, drama, short stories and prose fictions are among the few components of English literature. English is attributed and perceived as the language spoken by the North Germanic tribes settled in England. Initially, English literature was chiefly composed of chronicles and poetry, the lyric and deceptive. Apparently, English literature is among the oldest languages in the world. However, the modern literature has undergone several changes in the course of history to make it a more refined form of literary work. The development of English Literature is divided into three main periods. These periods are characterized by various influences which have made English literature rich and complex language.

The old English literature formerly referred to as Anglo-Saxon was developed between the years of 600 and 1100. This form of language descended from North Germanic tribes who settled in English. Old English Literature was the period in which the language started to acquire the mixing characteristics which remain in history over time. English Literature acquired flavor through mixing it with several languages, particularly Saxons, Angles and Jutes language. Besides, other cultural traditions imposed significant influences to the language spoken on the old English Literature. The influence from Roman Danes and Norsemen was extremely felt on the old English literature language. During the old English literature, there were no formal writings thus it was composed orally and passed one generation to another through the word of mouth. The two famous authors of old English literature are Caedmon and Cynewulf who extremely passed the art to a different generation.

The second period of English literature was Middle English, which suffered the greatest transformation in history. The invasion of Norman with thousands of new words into the language provoked enormous changes as it kept English literature underground as a vulgar tongue. The Middle English Period was experienced from the period of 1100 to 1500. More prominently, the period exhibited the ideas of French and Celtic literature. Moreover, the Middle English literature conveyed several contributions of Geoffrey Chaucer, the Canterbury Tales which was his greatest work (Peck, & Coyle, 2013). Chaucer engaged much on narrative poetry as well as prose and lyric poetry. He is the founder of Middle English Literature.

The English Literature of today forms the last period of modern English. The innovation of printing press helped Modern English Literature to remain writing. The Modern English literature spontaneously spread to different society as people had access to books with written concepts. The emergence of important books like bible promoted the standardization of English Literature (Porter, 2002). Moreover, words from Latin and Greek entered English Literature. Culture explosion from different societies also played significant development in English literature as the popularization of arts contributed to new words. Moreover, industrial revolution played significant roles in the development of English Literature through the creation of new words for the new technology. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the Elizabeth Literature gained massive popularity. William Shakespeare is among the most recognized writers and poets during the period of Elizabeth Literature. He is considered the greatest playwright of all times. Walter Raleigh and Edmund Spenser, the author of The Faerie Queened were among other greatest writers of Elizabethan literature. Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, Shakespeare’s sonnets and Faerie Queene are among other greatest published works during the Middle English Literature period.

After the Elizabethan literature, Milton literature then emerged. John Milton was one of the talented and gifted poets of that time. Paradise Lost and the great biblical epic are some of the greatest works published by Milton. The restoration comedy arose in the theatres immediately after the rise of Charles II after the death of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell had several restrictions on plays genres. The issues of sexual politics were comprehensively tackled within the restoration drama alongside the new comic drama. Moreover, during the reign of Charles II, plays were mainly heroic and comedy of manners. The vast works in heroic plays were engineered by John Dryden.

Neoclassicism literature followed the heroic plays. Primarily, the poetry during neoclassicism period was guided by reason, while the poet’s role was to educate and teach the audience. Besides, there was a fundamental rule of writing poetry according to certain rules alongside special diction. The major writers during this period are John Dryden and Alexander Pope. The Romantic period of 18th and 19th century gave significant rise to the emergence of romantic poetry. The main theme in the romantic poetry was an expression of personal feelings and emotions. Meanwhile, imagination in the romantic poetry was evident. William Wordsmith and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were among the few renowned romantic poets (Guerin, 2005). More modifications on the romantic poetry were evident by John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The 19th century witnessed Victorian Literature alongside Victorian poetry and novels. Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson are among the major poets of that time. The novels were widely introduced during this time as a result of overwhelming increased in adult literacy. Charles Dickens is the greatest novelist of the 19th century. He employed varied tones and irony language in most of his works. The modern literature of the twentieth century expresses the loss of faith, uncertainty and suffering contributed by political changes. The experience of two world wars also destroyed the sense of confidence within the Victorian literature. The best twentieth-century dramatist is Bernard Shaw who wrote various plays with inspired social criticism. Other major literary figures are Samuel Beckett in drama and Dylan Thomas in Poetry.

In conclusion, the development of English literature has long history characterized and divided into different periods. These stages are Old, Middles and Modern English Literature. Various authors contributed to the development of English literature in different stages. Initially, the literature was passed from one person to another through word of mouth. Technological advancement contributed to the emergence of new words and the art of writing. Access to books and novels promoted the culture of reading which further improved greater literacy works. The romantic poetry period was a good time for expressing feelings among the loved ones. Other figures of literature later developed to form the modern English Literature studied in higher learning institutions.


  • Guerin, W. L. (Ed.). (2005). A handbook of critical approaches to literature. Oxford University Press, USA.
  • Peck, J., & Coyle, M. (2013). A brief history of English literature. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Porter, R. (2002). Madness: A brief history.
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