Early Writing • One of the earliest of Old English literary works is Beowulf. • Written between the 8th and 11th centuries, it is a story about battles with dragons and monsters. • These early writings are still too far from modern English too be easily read by any but experts.
Early Writing (cont’d) • The English literature of the 14th century, called middle English, can be read by native speakers, as the words are close enough to recognise. • An example of this is the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. • The setting is a group of pilgrims on the road on the way to a church in Canterbury, and the stories they tell to each other to pass the time.
The General Prologue • Whan that aprill with his shoures soote • 1 • The droghte of march hath perced to the roote, • 2 • And bathed every veyne in swich licour • 3 • Of which vertu engendred is the flour; • 4 • Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth • 5 • Inspired hath in every holt and heeth • 6 • Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne • 7 • Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne, • 8 • And smale foweles maken melodye, • 9 • That slepen al the nyght with open ye • 10 • (so priketh hem nature in hir corages); • 11 • Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, • 12 • And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes, • 13 • To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; • 14 • And specially from every shires ende • 15 • Of engelond to caunterbury they wende, • 16 • The hooly blisful martir for to seke, • 17 • That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke. • 18
Early Writing (cont’d) • Much of the other writing from this time, especially by the writers in the educated court circles, was in French or Latin.
Elizabethan Drama • The 16th century was the time of Shakespeare, the most famous name in English literature by far. • Although his works are often read and studied as texts, they were written as plays to be performed on stage, and poetry to be read out loud. • Although the style sounds strange to modern ears, most of the words and meanings are easily understood by educated readers.
Sonnet XVIII – William Shakespeare • Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?Thou art more lovely and more temperate:Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,And summer's lease hath all too short a date:Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;And every fair from fair sometime declines,By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;But thy eternal summer shall not fadeNor lose possession of that fair thou owest;Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,When in eternal lines to time thou growest:So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
The 17th Century • The King James bible, commissioned by the King in 1611, is an important landmark in English literature. • Copies of this edition are still read by many Protestant Christians today, and many prefer the stately majestic language to more modern translations.
Genesis ch1 v1-10 King James Bible •  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
17th Century (cont’d) • The most famous writers of the 17th century were Francis Bacon and John Milton. • Bacon was a politician and statesman, and his works were mainly concerned with philosophical matters, such as developing the scientific method. • Milton was famous mainly for his great poetic work Paradise Lost. • Both writers, although having a great influence on the development of English literature, are not widely read today outside of a university setting.
18th Century • The 18th century was particularly interesting as it saw the creation of the first novel, Robinson Crusoe. • Written by Daniel Defoe, it tells the story of a man shipwrecked on a tropical island, where he is forced to fend for himself with no outside assistance. • Despite the adventurous nature of the story, it was heavily weighted down with religious themes.
The Romantic Period • The Romantic period was characterised by artistic works concentrating on aesthetic and emotional themes rather than science and reason. • Urban life was depicted as unpleasant compared with life in the countryside. • In Britain, Romantic literature provided a strong contrast to the ideas of the industrial revolution, with its focus on cities and production.
The Romantic Poets • Poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge in particular produced works of great beauty, focusing on emotional subject matter and natural beauty. • Other poets of the time like Byron, Keats and Shelley followed this tradition, and their own lives became representative of Romantic tradition, producing great works, and dying young.
"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" • I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed---and gazed---but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought: For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
Romantic Poets (cont’d) • William Blake, however, displayed much stronger religious themes in his work. He was a talented artist also, and used his skill at painting and engraving to provide visual works as well as poetry • Blake was considered mad by other artists of the time, due to his unorthodox religious views. • He claimed to have experienced religious visions from an early age.
The 19th century novel • The 19th century produced some of the greatest novels of British literature. • Mary Shelley, the wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, wrote ‘Frankenstein’ before the age of 20. • ‘Frankenstein’ tells the story of a scientist who creates life in the form of the monster. • It stands as a warning as to the dangers of science, and emphasises the problems with the Industrial revolution.
The 19th century novel (cont’d) • Walter Scott wrote many historical novels, such as ‘Rob Roy’ and ‘Ivanhoe’. • Ivanhoe itself inspired many authors and artists by adding to the legend of Robin Hood, the infamous outlaw renowned for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. • Rob Roy likewise took a historical Scottish chieftain and created a great work of art around him.
The 19th century novel(cont’d) • Jane Austen wrote a number of famous novels examining the relationships between people occupying the middle and upper classes of English society of the time. • Similarly, the Bronte sisters wrote about romantic issues relating to class. • Jane Eyre tells the story of a poor but respectable girl who falls in love with a rich aristocrat.
The 19th century novel • Charles Dickens had more interest in portraying the lower class and criminal life of London, although the idea of a poor person making their fortune is also explored. • Robert Louis Stevenson was renowned for writing adventure stories, although his most famous work was ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, a fascinating study into the dual nature of man, and like Frankenstein, a warning of the dark potential of science.
The 19th century novel(cont’d) • The end of the 19th century saw the creation of one of British literature’s best known figures. • Arthur Conan Doyle, influenced by the American writer Edgar Allen Poe, wrote numerous short stories and several novels about Sherlock Holmes, a private detective in London.
The 19th century novel • Towards the end of the 19th century, Rudyard Kipling emerged as one of Britain’s most popular writers. • Born in India, Kipling based most of his works there, writing novels, short stories and poetry, as well as journalism. • His works took a positive view of the British colonial empire, and seemed to support the underlying class systems, and racial prejudice.
20th century literature • The 20th century saw the emergence of the modernist style of literature. • Although novels and poetry continued to be written in the more traditional styles, the more challenging and progressive literature was questioning the old ways of approaching the world. • The political upheaval and revolution which influenced the romantic period was replaced by more stable government.
20th century literature • Modernist literature produced in the early 20th century was concerned with experimenting with new ways of approaching the world artistically. • The writers were using new methods to deal with the fact that the romantic notions of hope and optimism (and the underlying religion) were being replaced with doubt about man’s place in the world, and atheism.