A Concise History of British Literature
Chapter 1 English Literature of Anglo-Saxon Period
1. The historical background
(1) Before the Germanic invasion
(2) During the Germanic invasion
d. social classes structure: hide-hundred; eoldermen (lord) – thane - middle class
(freemen) - lower class (slave or bondmen: theow);
e. social organization: clan or tribes.
f. military Organization;
g. Church function: spirit, civil service, education;
h. economy: coins, trade, slavery;
i. feasts and festival: Halloween, Easter; j. legal system. 2. The Overview of the culture
(1) The mixture of pagan and Christian spirit.
(2) Literature: a. poetry: two types; b. prose: two figures.
1. A general introduction.
2. The content.
3. The literary features.
(1) the use of alliteration
(2) the use of metaphors and understatements
(3) the mixture of pagan and Christian elements
III. The Old English Prose
1. What is prose?
(1) The Venerable Bede
(2) Alfred the Great
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Chapter 2 English Literature of the Late Medieval Ages
1. The Historical Background.
(1) The year 1066: Norman Conquest.
(2) The social situations soon after the conquest.
A. Norman nobles and serfs;
B. restoration of the church.
(3) The 11th century.
A. the crusade and knights.
B. dominance of French and Latin;
(4) The 12th century.
A. the centralized government;
B. kings and the church (Henry II and Thomas); (5) The 13th century.
A. The legend of Robin Hood;
B. Magna Carta (1215);
C. the beginning of the Parliament
D. English and Latin: official languages (the end) (6) The 14th century.
a. the House of Lords and the House of Commons—conflict between the Parliament
b. the rise of towns.
c. the change of Church.
d. the role of women.
e. the Hundred Years’ War—starting.
f. the development of the trade: London.
g. the Black Death.
h. the Peasants’ Revolt—1381.
i. The translation of Bible by Wycliff. (7) The 15th century.
a. The Peasants Revolt (1453)
b. The War of Roses between Lancasters and Yorks.
c. the printing-press—William Caxton.
d. the starting of Tudor Monarchy(1485)
2. The Overview of Literature.
(1) the stories from the Celtic lands of Wales and Brittany—great myths of the Middle
(2) Geoffrye of Monmouth—Historia Regum Britanniae—King Authur.
(3) Wace—Le Roman de Brut.
(4) The romance.
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(5) the second half of the 14th century: Langland, Gawin poet, Chaucer.
II. Sir Gawin and Green Knight.
1. a general introduction.
2. the plot.
III. William Langland.
2. Piers the Plowman
2. Literary Career: three periods
(1) French period
(2) Italian period
(3) master period
3. The Canterbury Tales
A. The Framework;
B. The General Prologue;
C. The Tale Proper.
4. His Contribution.
(1) He introduced from France the rhymed stanza of various types.
(2) He is the first great poet who wrote in the current English language.
(3) The spoken English of the time consisted of several dialects, and Chaucer did much in
making the dialect of London the standard for the modern English speech.
V. Popular Ballads.
VI. Thomas Malory and English Prose
VII. The beginning of English Drama.
1. Miracle Plays.
Miracle play or mystery play is a form of medieval drama that came from dramatization
ththof the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. It developed from the 10 to the 16 century,
threaching its height in the 15 century. The simple lyric character of the early texts was enlarged by the addition of dialogue and dramatic action. Eventually the performance was
moved to the churchyard and the marketplace.
2. Morality Plays.
A morality play is a play enforcing a moral truth or lesson by means of the speech and
action of characters which are personified abstractions – figures representing vices and virtues, qualities of the human mind, or abstract conceptions in general. 3. Interlude.
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The interlude, which grew out of the morality, was intended, as its name implies, to be
used more as a filler than as the main part of an entertainment. As its best it was short, witty,
simple in plot, suited for the diversion of guests at a banquet, or for the relaxation of the
audience between the divisions of a serious play. It was essentially an indoors performance,
and generally of an aristocratic nature.
Chapter 3 English Literature in the Renaissance
I. A Historical Background
II. The Overview of the Literature (1485-1660)
Printing press—readership—growth of middle class—trade-education for
laypeople-centralization of power-intellectual life-exploration-new impetus and direction of literature.
Humanism-study of the literature of classical antiquity and reformed education.
Literary style-modeled on the ancients.
The effect of humanism-the dissemination of the cultivated, clear, and sensible attitude of its classically educated adherents.
The first tendency by Sidney and Spenser: ornate, florid, highly figured style.
The second tendency by Donne: metaphysical style—complexity and ingenuity.
The third tendency by Johnson: reaction--Classically pure and restrained style.
The fourth tendency by Milton: central Christian and Biblical tradition.
a. the native tradition and classical examples.
b. the drama stands highest in popular estimation: Marlowe – Shakespeare – Jonson.
a. translation of Bible;
II. English poetry.
1. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard (courtly makers)
(1) Wyatt: introducing sonnets.
(2) Howard: introducing sonnets and writing the first blank verse.
2. Sir Philip Sidney—poet, critic, prose writer
a. English gentleman;
b. brilliant and fascinating personality;
a. Arcadia: pastoral romance;
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b. Astrophel and Stella (108): sonnet sequence to Penelope Dvereux—platonic
Petrarchan conceits and original feelings-moving to creativeness—building of a
narrative story; theme-love originality-act of writing.
c. Defense of Poesy: an apology for imaginative literature—beginning of literary
3. Edmund Spenser
(1) life: Cambridge - Sidney’s friend - ―Areopagus‖ – Ireland - Westminster Abbey.
a. The Shepherds Calendar: the budding of English poetry in Renaissance.
b. Amoretti and Epithalamion: sonnet sequence
c. Faerie Queene:
; The general end--A romantic and allegorical epic—steps to virtue.
; 12 books and 12 virtues: Holiness, temperance, justice and courtesy.
; Two-level function: part of the story and part of allegory (symbolic meaning)
; Many allusions to classical writers.
; Themes: puritanism, nationalism, humanism and Renaissance
Neoclassicism—a Christian humanist.
(3) Spenserian Stanza.
III. English Prose
1. Thomas More
(1) Life: ―Renaissance man‖, scholar, statesman, theorist, prose writer, diplomat, patron of
a. learned Greek at Canterbury College, Oxford;
b. studies law at Lincoln Inn;
c. Lord Chancellor;
(2) Utopia: the first English science fiction.
Written in Latin, two parts, the second—place of nowhere.
A philosophical mariner (Raphael Hythloday) tells his voyages in which he discovers a land-Utopia.
a. The part one is organized as dialogue with mariner depicting his philosophy.
b. The part two is a description of the island kingdom where gold and silver are worn by criminal, religious freedom is total and no one owns anything.
c. the nature of the book: attacking the chief political and social evils of his time.
d. the book and the Republic: an attempt to describe the Republic in a new way, but it possesses an modern character and the resemblance is in externals.
e. it played a key role in the Humanist awakening of the 16th century which moved away from the Medieval otherworldliness towards Renaissance secularism.
f. the Utopia
(3) the significance.
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a. it was the first champion of national ideas and national languages; it created a
national prose, equally adapted to handling scientific and artistic material.
b. a elegant Latin scholar and the father of English prose: he composed works in
English, translated from Latin into English biography, wrote History of Richard III.
2. Francis Bacon: writer, philosopher and statesman
(1) life: Cambridge - humanism in Paris – knighted - Lord Chancellor – bribery - focusing
on philosophy and literature.
(2) philosophical ideas: advancement of science—people:servants and interpreters of
nature—method: a child before nature—facts and observations: experimental.
(3) ―Essays‖: 57.
a. he was a master of numerous and varied styles.
b. his method is to weigh and balance maters, indicating the ideal course of action and
the practical one, pointing out the advantages and disadvantages of each, but leaving the
reader to make the final decisions. (arguments)
IV. English Drama
1. A general survey.
(1) Everyman marks the beginning of modern drama.
(2) two influences.