THE ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD
Although the Anglo-Saxon were converted to Christianity, the theme of their heroic poem The Song of Beowulf deals with the strong and courageous pagan hero Beowulf. It was composed after 700 A.D. and is preserved in the well-known Cotton Manuscript. The King of Wessex Alfred the Great (849-901) was as well a writer. He wanted to educate his people and so translated the Ecclesiastical History of England written in Latin by Venerable Bede.
THE PERIOD AFTER
A rapid development of the English language ( Middle English) began in the middle of 14. Century and was encouraged by feelings of nationalism connected with the Hundred Years` War.
The conception of King Arthur as a knightly Christian hero of the Celts first appeared in the History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100-1154).
LITERATURE IN THE 14TH AND 15TH CENTURIES
The historical background is formed by the continual wars with France. The unrest that followed in England led to the outbreak of civil war 1455. It was a dynastic struggle between the House of York and House of Lancaster. All over Europe in the 14th century the practices of the Roman Catholic Church faced strong criticism. The leading figure in England was John Wycliffe (1320-1384). He translated the whole Bible into English.
Geoffrey Chaucer (1345-1400) had the Renaissance way of thinking. He was a poet, diplomat, a soldier and scholar. His literary mastery culminated in his most appreciated work The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer’s realism influenced future developments in English literature, with the increasing interest in depicting individual characters.
RENAISSANCE AND HUMANIST
Prose: The Tudor period in England (1585-1603) was distinguished by a flowering of arts and literature. The literature should both “teach and delight” as Sir Philip Sidney proclaimed in his Defense of Poesie, the first book of literary criticism in Engl. literature.
Poetry: Lyric poetry in the 16th century in England was at first strongly influenced by Italian poets, in particular by Francesco Petrarch.
Drama: William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. He wrote 37 plays at all.
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