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ENG 241 - British Literature I  

This course covers selected works in British literature from its beginnings to the Romantic Period. Emphasis is placed on historical background, cultural context, and literary analysis of selected prose, poetry, and drama.
Last Updated: Jan 27, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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British Literature

English 241 investigates British Literature from it origins until 1750.  This span includes the following periods:

  • Old English Period (450-1066)
  • Middle English Period (1066-1500)
  • The Renaissance (1500-1660)
  •  The Neoclassical (1660-1785)

Old English (450-1066)

The Old English Period refers to the literature produced from the invasion of Celtic England by Germanic tribes in the first half of the fifth century to the conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror.  During the Old English Period, written literature began to develop from oral tradition, and in the eighth century poetry written in the vernacular Anglo-Saxon (also known as Old English) appeared. One of the most well-known eighth century Old English pieces of literature is Beowulf , a great Germanic epic poem. Two poets of the Old English Period who wrote on biblical and religious themes were Caedmon and Cynewulf.

Middle English (1066-1500)

The Middle English Period consists of the literature produced in the four and a half centuries between the Norman Conquest of 1066 and about 1500, when the standard literary language, derived from the dialect of the London area, became recognizable as "modern English." Prior to the second half of the fourteenth century, vernacular literature consisted primarily of religious writings. The second half of the fourteenth century produced the first great age of secular literature. The most widely known of these writings are Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur.

The Renaissance (1500-1660)

The English Renaissance began with English humanists such as Sir Thomas More and Sir Thomas Wyatt. In addition, the English Literary Renaissance consists of four subsets: The Elizabethan Age, the Jacobean Age, the Caroline Age, and the Commonwealth Period. Some important writers of the age include William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Ben Jonson.


The Neoclassical (1660-1785)

The Neoclassical Period of English literature was much influenced by contemporary French literature, which was in the midst of its greatest age. The literature of this time is known for its use of philosophy, reason, skepticism, wit, and refinement. The period also marks the first great age of English literary criticism.  Much like the Renaissance, the Neoclassical Period can be divided into three subsets: the Restoration, the Augustan Age, and the Age of Sensibility. Some important writers of the age include John Milton, John Dryden, John Locke, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and Daniel Defoe. 


Paradise Lost by Milton (Wordle)


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