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English literature from beginings to 18. century

2. What is English Literature?

Old English – ancestor of modern English, btw. Modern and Old English was period of Middle English – when the foreign language of Old English changed to the language which we use now, Middle English.
Old English – was in nature strength and violence,

  • it was language rich in consonants,
  • clustering consonants together
  • mouth seems to perform a swift act of violence
  • it seems to be a series of loud noises

Dialects – in the Middle English phase (phase of transition) all the dialects of England seemed to be as good as each other and all of them had literatures. This explains some difficulties. F.e. Chaucer wrote in English of London, but there were dialects from Worcestershire, Lancashire, and Kentish.
About 1400 the history of English literature becomes the history of the literature of one dialect.
But even in the modern English period a number of writers wrote in dialects.

3. The first English literature

Roman Britain – ancient Romans called them BRITONS

  • they brought their language from with the manes of streets survive and the names of towns
  • they were skilled in achievements, engineering, government…
  • central heating, public baths, theatres, system of roads…
  • than they fall of because of invaders who cross the Europe

Anglo – Saxons (4th – 11th century)
-language called Anglo – Saxon, we shall keep the name OLD ENGLISH
-7th century
-The legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table – they told about brave knight fighting against the new barbars
-A-S had their own German God, from their names we know today the name of weed days (Thor, Woden…)
-Literature was oral, passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation
-Creators were unknown – they were given in written form long after their creation
-PROSE – not strictly literature – history, theology, letters, biography – names of authors are known, because they were written on paper
-Verse is matter of ear and mouth, and prose is matter of a pen


  • the oldest poem in the English language
  • wasn’t composed in the England but on the continent of Europe
  • the new settlers brought it over along
  • it was written down at the end of the 9th century by the monk in a monastery
  • it is stirring, warlike, violent poem of 3000 lines
  • it is about Beowulf – the hero, and his struggle with monster called GRENDEL, which was danger for king Hrothgar. Beowulf sails from Sweden and comes to help to the king. He fights with Grendel and his horrific mother.
  • in this warrior poem, but it is not only a primitive composition, it show a great skill in its construction, its imagery and language are sophisticated.
  • It is not a Christian poem (but the Christian flavour was given to it by the monastery scribe) but the product of an advanced pagan civilization

Head – rhyme
–the line is divided into two halves, and each half has two heavy stresses
–HR means making words behind with the same sound
–this is called alliteration, but alliteration really refers to words beginning with the same letter, which is not always the same thing with the same sound, ALLITERATION is when the one of the main stresses in the first line begins with the same consonant sound as the first main stress in the second half line
–CAESURA – the gap between the two half lines
–Since the Norman Conquest most English verse has used end-rhyme (ordinary rhyme), old head – rhyme had some influence on English writers
–In 20th century some poets have abandoned ordinary rhyme and came back to HR

Old English prose
- Anglo – Saxon Chronicle – kept by monks in monasteries
-in 9th century was England divided to 3 kingdoms:

  • NORTHUMBIA – centre of learning, rich monasteries, manuscript books,

Almost all of Old English prose was written in Northumbria dialect.
-the Danes invaded England - The battle of Maldon – tell us of a fight against the Danes, the greatest battle poem in English, we don’t know the author
-the monasteries were damaged, the books were ripped for their rich ornaments, the monks were killed
-Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex made at first England peaceful place and than he began to improve the state of education, founding colleges, importing teachers from Europe translating Latin books into West Saxon (or Wessex) English

4. The coming of the Normans

Normans – absorbed the culture of late Roman Empire, long Christianised, spoke Norman French (offshoot of Latin)
-Middle English – btw. French and old English

Domesday Book – catalogue of the king’s property – William the Conqueror
-Old English literature dies, Normans killed the culture of Anglo – Saxons
-mix of the culture of France – the old France literature
-the Normans which lived in England were not very skilled in use the language of conqueror, so rather usage of Norman French or Old English they use LATIN
-Mythology – King Arthur and his Knights of Round table, Robin Hood,
-Middle English religious writing – awareness of woman ( Blessed Virgin, Mother of Christ,
-Middle English non-religious writing – love poems , patriotic songs, carols for x- mass and Easter, political songs.

5. Chaucer and After

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340 – 1400)
  • he was born when the Hundred Years War with France had begun
  • when he was in his 20ties the English language was established as the language of the law- courts
  • his father was a wine merchant
  • he studied the arts and sciences and the literature of France and Italy
  • he was imprisoned during he was soldier, by the king gave him his freedom back
  • by the frequent journey on the continent he was one of the best-equipped English poets
  • he made lot of achievements, one of them is that he create politer language by using the France elegance in English
  • he first started use the MODERN ENGLISH

The Canterbury Tales /second half of 13. century/

  • early renaissance, he brought renaissance to the English
  • wrote in English of London dialect
  • his masterpiece,
  • it show us that he stood on his own feet,
  • he gave English new qualities – pictures of real people, observation of life and a new view of life, tolerant, humorous and loving humanity
  • it is a collection of stories told by various pilgrims on their way from London to Thomas Becket’s grave in Canterbury. Chaucer left us in his work a collection of typical representatives of 14th century English society. We meet the Knight, the Miller, the Student, the Pardoner, the Lawyer, the Cook, the Sailor, the Ploughman and the Merchant. One of the best characters is the Wife of Bath who is a woman of very strong opinions and witty speech
  • it is long work, but still unfinished

Troilus and Criseyde

  • next greatest Chaucer’s work
  • love-story taken form the annals of the Trojan War
  • moral of the faithlessness of women
  • it is not only tragic, but also full of humour, and its psychology is so modern tat it reads in some ways like a modern novel
  • it can be called the first full- length piece of English fiction

Other is works become to be boring and unfinished…But his short love poems written in French forms cannot be mentioned.

Interlude the English Bible

Consist from OLD and NEW TESTAMENT

  • Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew, is a collection of poems, plays, proverbs, prophecy, philosophy, history, theology – a massive anthology of the writings of the ancient Jewish people
  • New Testament, originally written in Greek, contains the Gospels and the story of the spreading of Christianity by its first propagandists

Translation of Bible was prosecuted, because the Church was afraid that the ordinary people might interpret texts of the Bible in his own way as opposed to the way of the Church. It was originally written in Latin in Mediaeval Europe.

JOHN WYCLIF (1324-84)

  • he was a clergyman who found many abuses in the Church and he wanted to reform them
  • he wanted t o man in the street to have access to the Bible
  • he made the first complete translation of both Testaments in 1380

-King James I. of England wanted to translate Bible to the English
-In 1611 the work of 47 learned men was done and that translation known as the Authorised Version was printed

6. The Beginning of Drama

-Magic – sympathetic magic
-Many people believe, that the first drama was based on 4things:

  • The mimetic faculty,
  • Sympathetic magic
  • Belief in gods
  • Fear of starvation
  • Fertility myths
  • Resurrection
  • Greek Drama
  • Stoicism
  • Dramatic unities
  • Greek and Roman Comedies

7. The Beginnigs of English Drama

  • the English drama – place of origin, the Christian Church
  • in 9th century dramatic dialogue inserted into the Mass for Easter Sunday – the resurrection of the Christ (dialogue btw. Angel and the 3 Marries)
  • there were also similar dramatic presentation on Good Friday, Christmas

Miracle plays (all the religious plays of the Middle Ages)

  • plays about the Gospel characters and the miracles of the saints
  • they moved from Churches to church yard and than to the town

Mystery plays

  • cycle of plays based on incidents from the Bible
  • organisation of skilled man
  • it takes a long time to show the whole programme
  • all of them are anonymous

Morality plays

  • semi – religious plays
  • not a guide play, not take as its subject from Bible
  • it tried to teach a moral lesson trough allegory

8. Early Elizabethan Drama

  • the story of Elizabethan drama begins in the Inns of Court of London
  • it begins with tragedies written by gentlemen who practise the law and in their spare time thy to copy Seneca

Blank verse - verse without rhyme

Elizabethan theatre – a building indistinguishable form an inn in architecture
-not moving on to fresh inns and fresh audiences, but allowing the fresh audiences to come to them

9. William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

  • he was born in Stratford, made unwise marriage, migrated to London, amassed a fortune, came back a wealthy citizen, died
  • he wrote for making money

Poetics began with two long poems:

  • Venus and Adonis
  • The Rape of Lucrece

-He always gave to his audience what they want, for example if they wanted violence or pornography, he provide it in Titus Andronicus.
-If the farce of mistaken identity was required, he could, with his Comedy of Errors

All's Well That Ends Well
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Love's Labours Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merchant of Venice
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemans of Verona
Winter ´s Tale

Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
King John
Richard II
Antony and Cleopatra
Julius Caesar
King Lear
Romeo and Juliet
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus

The Sonnets
A Lover's Complaint
The Rape of Lucrece
Venus and Adonis
Funeral Elegy by W.S

Richard III

The Sonnet

-in Italy accepted for a long time as the most suitable for a love – poem
-it has 14 lines divided into two parts, the octave (8 lines) and the sestet (6 lines)
-the octave was first half of idea, the sestet was second
-the octave have a question and the sestet give the answer
-the rhyme-scheme was strict with the Italians:
-octave a b b a; a b b a
-sestet – cde, cde or cdc, dcd

12. The Age of Milton

Puritanism, people who wanted:
-sort of religious belief very different from the established faith of England
-wanted a purer kind of Christianity
-no toleration, no joy, no color, no charity
-strict religion, don ´t allowed easy pleasure
-punished vice in the sternest way

One of Puritan writers was John Milton (1608 – 1674) 17th century
-great author of verse and prose too, he was better than all of writers of the opposing camp
-he came from a London family, his father was a music composer
-after a lifetime of overworking he went blind
-at 20 he wrote the Ode – On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.
-belonging to the period of country retreat he wrote
  • masque Comus – morality play
  • elegy Lycidas – poem
  • Latin Poems from Milton's Commonplace Book
  • Paradise Lost (1674)
  • Paradise Regained (1671)
  • Samson Agonistes (1671)

Propaganda – Milton defended the Commonwealth in his Latin work
-Defense of the British People
-Second Defense
-Areopagitica – marriage – law, divorce

13. The age of Dryden

John Bunyan (1628 – 1688)

  • he was an English preacher and writer
  • while imprisoned for preaching the Gospel without receiving permission from the Established Church, he wrote The Pilgrim's Progress
  • inspiration in Bible
  • his writing is beautiful an simple, contains vivid, humorous characterization

The Pilgrim’s Progress

  • simple story very traditional in its use of allegory an personification
  • published in 1678
  • allegory takes form of a dream by the author in which Christian flees form the City of Destruction (having failed to persuade his wife and children to go with him) trough the River of Death, or Giant of Despair to the Celestial city (heaven)
  • the second part of his story relates how his wife, Christiana, moved by a vision follows with her children on the same pilgrimage
  • he travels trough the Slough of Despond, the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair…
  • he have to don’t do a sin but get to heaven
  • Characters: Hategood, Ignorance, Envy, Apollyon, Giant Despair– Bad characters
    Faithful, Hopeful, Worldly Wiseman – good characters

14. The new drama

  • Re-birth of theatres closed by puritans,
  • Women on stage, more realistic sexual atmosphere was possible at the stage,
  • Shakespeare or Ben Johnson completely absent from the new theatres
  • Beginnings of Opera

15. Poetry in Age of reason

  • 18th century
  • age of balance
  • in art the spirit of this period was CLASSICAL – classicism
  • more important social conventions than individual conventions

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)

  • the greatest poet in this period
  • son of successful merchant, he had money and spare time too
  • his work has a middle – class basis
  • classical poet
  • his works are philosophical, critical and satirical

  • Ode to Solitude
  • Pastorals
  • Essay on Criticism
  • Essay on Man
  • The Rape of the Lock – mock – heroic style (absurdly dignified style), where the joke lies in the disparity btw. the trivial subject and the high – flown language.
  • Moral Essays
  • Epistles and Satires } sharp satire
  • Imitations of Horace
  • Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Young Lady - here he shows his own weaknesses

16. Prose in the Age of Reason

  • Beginnings of the Newspaper
  • Interesting literary sideline of the 17 century
  • Civil War stimulated a public appetite for news
  • Restoration period was interested with man and affairs, information services in the coffee-houses

Daniel Defoe (1660 – 1731)
-he was a journalist
-he is a father of the modern periodical

  • the Review – progenitor of a long line of “well-informed” magazines
  • Shortest Way with the Dissenters – satire, who don’t belong to the Church of England should be hanged, he was imprisoned for this lit. work
  • Journal of the Plague Year
  • Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, Roxana
    Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745)

-great humorist and savage satirist, capable of pure fun
-he loved individual person, but not the Man
-he wanted to do good for the poor mainly in Dublin
-he was skilled in verse and also in prose

  • Drapier´s Letters
  • A Tale of a Tub
  • Gulliver’s Travel
  • Modest Proposal
    –target of Swift ´s attack was England’s explanation of Ireland
    –the Irish people were problem too, they are lazy, passive, disgraced

Development of the novel

  1. literary influences
    -biographies – saints, other important people
  2. other influences
    -rising of the middle class

-comedies of manner
-picaresque convention
-travel literature
-letter writing

Samuel Richardson (1689 – 1761)

-professional printer, novel writer
-he liked to help young woman to compose their love letters
-he was asked to publish a series of model love-letters and he did it in a novel :

  • Pamela or Virtue Rewarded
  • Clarissa Harlowe about a young lady which seeks help from Lovelace, handsome but unscrupulous young man
  • Sir Charles Grandison - 3rd novel

Henry Fielding (1707 – 1754)

-he was novel writer
-he started to use term PICARESQUE, term originally applicable only to novels in which the leading character is a rogue, the place is on the road, on a journey, in which low-life characters appear

  • Joseph Andrew
  • Jonathan Wild – is truly picaresque
  • Tom Jones – is his masterpiece, mock – epic style, the novel introduces a rich variety of characters, contains certain moral observation, has an acceptable philosophy, concerned with reform of the law. It is novel full of humor, god sense, and vivid characterization.

Laurence Sterne ( 1713 – 1768)

  • his novel Tristram Shandy breaks al the rules, even in language and punctuation, the plot is disorganized so despite the length of the book nobody gets anywhere, nothing really happens
  • he hinder the development of the story by long piece of Latin (with translation on the opposite page), blank sheets, page with marbled design, collection of small stars – anything to obstruct the story


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