Monday, 3 November 2014

ENGLISH LITERATURE THROUGH THE AGES English Literature is one of the richest literatures of the world. It has vitality, rich variety and
continuity. As literature is the reflection of society, the various changes which have come about in English society, from the earliest to the modern time, have left their stamp on English Literature. When we study the history of English literature from the earliest to the modern times, we find that it has passed through certain definite phases, each having marked characteristics. These phases may be termed as 'Ages' or 'Periods', which are named either  after the central literary figures or the important rulers of England, literary movements, and sometimes by literary historians after the centuries as well. It is essential to keep them in mind in order to follow its distinctive characteristics during the various periods of development in literature.
A brief note on each of the Ages is given:
The earliest of the phases of English literature started with Anglo-Saxon literature of the Angles and Saxons (the ancestors of the English race) much before they occupied Britain. English was the common name and tongue of the tribes. Like other nations they sang at their feasts about battles, gods and their ancestral heroes. It was in these songs of religion, wars and agriculture, that English poetry began in the ancient Engle-land while Britain was still a Roman province.
Though much of this Anglo-Saxon poetry is lost, there are still some fragments left. It expresses another temperament and way of living; it breathes the influence of the wind and storm.

The Normans defeated the Anglo-Saxon King at the Battle of Hastings and conquered England. This Conquest inaugurated a distinctly new epoch in the literary as well as political history of England. It effected a wholesome awakening of national life. The people were suddenly inspired by a new vision of a greater future.The Anglo-Saxon lost their initial hostility to the newcomers with time, and all became part and parcel of one nation. The Normans not only brought with them soldiers and artisans and traders, they also brought scholars to revive knowledge, minstrels to celebrate victories, or sing of adventure and love. Old English poetry disappeared and Romances, talking of heroes of by-gone days, chivalry took place. They deal with the stories of King Arthur, The War of Troy, the mythical doings of Charlemagne and of Alexander the Great.  
The major poets of this Age are William Langland, John Gower and Chaucer.

‘Renaissance’ means the Revival of Learning, and it denotes in its broadest sense the gradual enlightenment of the human mind after the darkness of the Middle Ages.
There was a Revival of Learning in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The essence of this movement was that man discovered himself, and that “man, so long blinded had suddenly opened his eyes and seen”. Along with the Revival of Learning, new discoveries took place in several other fields. Vasco De Gama circumnavigated the earth; Columbus discovered America; Copernicus discovered the Solar System. Books were printed and philosophy, science and art were systematised. Scholars flocked to universities and the old authority received a death blow. Truth only was authority; to search for truth everywhere.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth I is of remarkable importance, since Renaissance is chiefly marked by the tenure of her rule, which is why Renaissance Period is also called the Elizabethan Period or ‘The Golden Age’. The most remarkable achievement during this period was in the field of drama. The significance lies in the fact that they brought the educated class into touch with a much more highly developed kind of drama, than the old English play. Poetry in the Renaissance took a new trend. It was the poetry of the new age of discovery, enthusiasm and excitement. Under the impact of the Renaissance, the people of England were infused with freshness and vigour. Prose began to be used as a vehicle of various forms of amusement and information, and its popularity increased on account of the increased facility provided by the printing press. Books on history, travel, adventures, and translations of Italian stories appeared in a large number.
The chief and worth-mentioning authors in this age are University Wits (a professional set of literary men of which, Marlowe was the central sun), Shakespeare (thirty-seven plays and 154 sonnets) Ben Johnson, Spencer, Christopher Marlowe.
THE PURITAN AGE (1600-1660)
It may also be called the Age of Milton who was the noblest representative of the Puritan spirit. Puritan movement is marked by the rebirth of moral nature of man which followed the intellectual awakening of Europe. It stood for the liberty of the people from the shackles of the despotic ruler as well as the introduction to morality and high ideals in politics. It aimed at making men honest and free.
During this period, due to the severe religious principles, poetry became metaphysical. The chief exponent of the school was Donne, followed by Cowley, Herrick and others. However the greatest personality is Milton. This period was rich in prose, some of the great prose writers are, Milton, Bacon, Burton and Sir Thomas Browne.


This phase in the history of English Literature is called Restoration, because monarchy was restored in England, and Charles II, whose father had been defeated, came back to England from his exile in France and became the King.
With his arrival, all restraints and discipline were thrown to the winds and a wave of licentiousness and frivolity swept the country. So they renounced the existing type of Poetry and demanded that they should follow the style to which they had become accustomed in the gaiety of Paris. They began to imitate French writers and especially their vices. Consequently, the Elizabethan spirit, lust for adventure and knowledge, all became things of the past.
Poetry became more satirical, realistic, and written in the heroic couplet of which, Dryden was the supreme master. The theatres which had been shut by the Puritans were now re-opened. The plays took a new form, lacking in emotional approach to life, poetry and form but prose. Moreover, it appealed to the aristocratic class only. Prose reached a mark in this Age.

It is also called the Classical Age in literature. As the writers of the eighteenth century in England tried to follow the simple and noble methods of the great ancient writers, they began to be called Classical writers. So the english writers rebelled against the fantastic style of writing prevalent in past ages, and they demanded that poetry, drama and prose should follow exact rules. But as they followed the ancient classical writers only in their external performance, they lacked their sublimity, essence and grandeur, so they are called pseudo-classicists.
The Romantic age is the most fruitful period in the history of English Literature. It is a movement which started against the neoclassical school of thought, and was marked by the publication of the 'Lyrical Ballads' by Wordsworth and Coleridge in 1798.
In Romanticism, primary importance was given to the Artist’s feelings and freedom of expression. The essence lied in the fact that literature must reflect all that is spontaneous and unaffected in nature and in man, and be free to follow its own fancy in its own way.
No age in English Literature produced poets as those belonging to this age. Moreover, it was the age of revolutionary change, not only in the view of the character and function of poetry but in the whole conception of the nature of man and of the world in which he found himself. The escapist, Keats, the imaginist, Coleridge and many other poetic giants like Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, Southey all belonged to this age.

The Victorian Age started from 1832 with the passing of the first Reform Act, 1832. It is normally divided into two parts: The early Victorian age and the late Victorian age. It was a fact that England was fast turning from an agricultural into a manufacturing centres, and gave power to the middle classes. It is rightly called the Age of Industrialization. Child labour was condemned and steps were taken to diminish them. We can very much find this issue being highlighted in the novels of Charles Dickens, who belonged to this age.
The writers and poets considered it their duty to bring them back to religion, and so there work is more moralistic in nature. Robert Browning, Mathew Arnold, Alfred Tennyson are the famous poets of this age.
Sometimes Victorian literature is thought of as stuffy and morally oppressive. However, it is also very imaginative and emotional.  It also uses realism to show the plight of everyday working people.
Some of the most famous authors of this period are Charlotte Brontë , Emily Bronte, and Charles Dickens, all English writers. During this time the novel became the most important literary work.
The Modern Age in English Literature started from the beginning of the twentieth century, and opposed the general so called ‘hypocritical’ attitude of the Victorian Society. Nothing was considered certain and people strove for  realism and meaning of life. They did not take anything for granted; everything was questioned. Divorces and domestic disturbances’ rate increased, and so the meanings changed. Standards of aesthetic appreciation also underwent radical changes.
Modern poetry exercises a great freedom in the choice of themes. Gone were the days when it was  believed that the job of the poet was only to create “beauty”. They wrote both about beautiful and ugly things, about human feelings, about the sad realities, about World Wars, about pessimism and humanitarianism. Optimism and satisfaction became things of the past and man was considered a “hollow-man”!
Even the new dramatists gave up the old style of their predecessors and began to treat in their plays the actual English life. The characters in their plays are constantly restless, questioning and dissatisfied.
Some of the novels adopted the technique of stream of consciousness. All the part traditions and norms were broken and the writers focused more on the character’s inner mind and psychology rather than the actions and plot.
Science made massive progress but the Darwinism and other such theories (which challenged religious beliefs) greatly welcomed the doubts and skepticism.  

Postmodern literature serves as a reaction to the supposed stylistic and ideological limitations of Modernist literature and the radical changes the world underwent after the end of World War II. For many Postmodern writers, the various disasters that occurred in the last half of the 20th century left a number of writers with a profound sense of paranoia.
Postmodern philosophy tends to conceptualize the world as being impossible to strictly define or understand. It argues that knowledge and facts are always relative to particular situations and that it's both futile and impossible to attempt to locate any precise meaning to any idea, concept or event. Postmodern writers were greatly affected by this philosophy.
Similarly, at the core of many Postmodern literary writer's imaginations is a belief that the world has already fallen apart and that actual, singular meaning is impossible to locate and that literature, instead, should serve to reveal the world's absurdities, countless paradoxes and ironies.

Postmodern literary writers come from all across the world. It is not specific to writers from any particular region or culture. There are thousands of writers and literary works from all over the world which are considered 'postmodern' by critics and scholars.
We are still living in the post-modern era. Ever wondered what will come next?

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