Anglo Saxon Period and Middle English Period of Literature

Anglo Saxon Period and Middle English Period of Literature

Anglo Saxon Period and Middle English Period of Literature

English Old Periods or Anglo Saxon Periods
Middle English Periods
Major Works of this periods
History of English Literature

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The Old & Middle English Period & The Anglo-Saxon Period

History of English Literature


The history of English literature is-very closely related to the history of the English people. It began with the emergence of the English nation and kept on evolving along with the social development of the nation. In the history of this nation there had been several religious and political changes.


Scientific discoveries and inventions also changed the mode of life from time to time. All these historical changes brought about significant changes in literature. So,-in the history of English literature there were different phases of progress. Each of those phases,known as Age or Period, has been given a particular name, sometimes after the name of the king or queen, sometimes after the name of a great writer, and sometimes according to the spirit of the time.


Some of the ages have got more than one name because different historians have given them different names. Similarly he duration of a particular age also differs according to.the choice of the historians. Apart from these, some of the ages are subdivided into smaller ages. Though the names and time-span of the ages of English literature' differ from historian to historian the following list derived from M. H. Abrams is dependable:

History of English Literature are divided into 8 Periods.

  1. The Old English Period or The Anglo-Saxon Period (450-1066)
  2. The Middle English Period (1066-1500)
  3. The Renaissance Period (1500-1660)
  4. The Neoclassical Period (1660-1785)
  5. The Romantic Period (1798-1832)
  6. The Victorian Period (1832-1901)
  7. The Modern Period (1901-1939)
  8. The Post-modern Period (1939...Present)

The Old English Period or The Anglo-Saxon Period (450-1066)

This age started in the fifth century when the Jutes,Angles and Saxons came to England from Germany, defeated the English tribes and started their reign.It ended in 1066 with the Norman Conquest.

The important facts which influenced the literature of this period are:-

  • Christianization of the pagan tribes began in England.
  • In the 7th century Christian authorities established monasteries where written literature began. Whatever had existed as literature before that time was oral.
  • Alfred the Great who reigned over England from 871 to 901 encouraged education and supervised the compilation of The Anglo Saxon Chronicle.

Major Literary Works of the Period:

Beowulf, the earliest epic in English, was written in this period. “The Wanderer”“The Seafarer”, “The Husband's Message” and “The Wife's Lament” are among the remarkable literary works of the age. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle written in this age is the earliest prose of English literature.

Main Literary Features of the Age:-

  1. Most of the literary works are anonymous.
  2. Paganism dominates the literary spirit of the time though Christianity is also traceable.
  3. Strong belief in Fate is reflected.
  4. Evil is symbolized by monsters.
  5. Romantic love is absent.
  6. Attitude to women is respectful.
  7. Sea adventures, savagery and heroic activities are honoured.
  8. Use of more metaphors and less similes is the practice of the time.
  9. Alliteration is used as the chief ornamental device and all alliterative syllables are stressed.
  10. Kennings (compound words instead of single words) are widely used. Here are some          examples:“whale-road” for sea, “loaf-giver” for kinġ, “life-house" for body,“soul-                        destroyer”for monster, etc.
  11. Verse lines do not have equal number of syllables.Syllables in one line vary from six to         fourteen.
  12. End-rhyme is ignored.

The Middle English Period (1066-1500)

This period started with the Norman Conquest in 1066 and ended at the close of the fifteenth century. There are two shorter ages within this period. The time from 1066 to 1340 is called Anglo-Norman Period because the literature of that period was written mainly in Anglo-Norman, the French dialect, spoken by the new ruling class of England.

The period from 1340 to 1400 is called the Age of Chaucer because Chaucer,the great poet, dominated this period. The time from 1066 to 1500 is called The Middle Ages. The early part of the Middle Ages is called the Dark Ages because what actually happened during that time can hardly be known.

The important facts which influenced the literature ofthis period are:

  1. The English parliament was established in 1295.
  2. Crusade, the religious battle between Muslims and Christians, took place in between 11th and 13th century.
  3. Magna Carta, the great charter which limited the power of the monarchs was passed on 15th June, 1215.
  4. In 1362 English was declared to be the language of law and courts.
  5. The Feudal System, which had been very strong earlier, collapsed after the Black Death, a plague in 1348-49.
  6. In the fourteenth century Reformation of English Church began under the leadership of John Wycliffe.
  7. William Caxton established printing press in 1476.
  8. Renaissance began with the fall of the then Constantinople in 1453. Mohammad II, the Sultan of the Ottoman Turks and a crusader, defeated the Christians in 1453 and occupied Constantinople, the then capital of the Byzantine Empire and the centre of classical learning. After the defeat the Christian scholars fled to different parts of Europe where they spread their knowledge. Thus, ancient learning started reviving. This revival of the classical knowledge is called renaissance. Its features are: curiosity about .the unknown, patriotism, desire for unlimited wealth and power, love of adventures, admiration for beauty, care for humanism and fondness for the past.
  9. Columbus discovered America in 1492 and Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498.
  10. During this period Copernicus (1473-1543) proved that the sun is the centre of all planets.

Major Writers of the Period and Their Major Works:

  1. John Wycliffe (1324-84): He is called the father of English prose. The Bible (translated into English from Latin)
  2. John Gower (1325-1408): Confessio Amantis
  3. Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400): Troilus and Criseyde (1387) and Canterbury Tales (1385-1400)
  4. William Langland (1332-1386): “Piers Plowman”(1362)
  5. Sir Thomas Malory: Morte d' Arthur (1485), the first romance in prose.

Main Literary Features of the Age

  1. Poetry serves as the main genre.
  2. Prose in English gets a strong foundation.
  3. The English language reaches a considerable standard though old spelling continues.
  4. Drama began in the form of “Mystery Play,”“Morality Play” and “Interlude”.
  5. The writers of the age are influenced by Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio.
  6. Love, chivalry and religion are the three main literary subjects of this period.
  7. The spirit of romance dominates the age.
  8. Use of pentameter (ten syllables in each line) begins.
  9. End-rhyme is introduced.
  10. Stressed alliteration is discarded and humour, irony and satire are brought into practice.

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