15 Topics You Can Explore In An Old English Literature Essay
The history of the English language and the literature created in it is inseparably connected to the country's history. Old English literature was being created during the period between VI and XI centuries, which was one of the most significant for the British nation. The foundation for the Anglo-Saxon state was laid and the English language was born at that time. Choosing a topic for an essay concerning the literature of Old English period is not easy. You'll have to analyze literary works that appeared many centuries ago and have certain peculiarities.
The Two Main Problems to Cope with
Choosing a topic for an Old English literature essay, you should be ready to meet certain challenges:
- You should be well aware of historical events of the period under investigation. Wars led by native tribes, foreign invasions of Germanic tribes and Normans, and adoption of Christianity were among the main. These events were reflected in the poetry and prose.
- You will have to cope with numerous linguistic problems beginning with Old English lexicon and ending with the peculiarities of style. Get acquainted with the most prominent works before you make a decision as to the topic of your essay.
Here is the list of original topics for an essay in Old English literature based on the most prominent pieces of poetry and prose:
- Old English wisdom literature: charms, riddles, maxims, and proverbs.
- “Beowulf” as an example of a heroic epic poem.
- Stylistic devices – epithets, metaphors, repetitions, and contrasts – in the poem “Beowulf”.
- Glorification of moral values in the poem “Beowulf”: the conflict between good and evil.
- The contribution of poets Caedmon and Cynewulf to Old English literature.
- “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles” as the best-known historical record of the Old English history.
- The foundation of the written English language in King Alfred's works on religion, history, and philosophy.
- Kenning as a stylistic feature in the heroic poetry.
- “The Wanderer” – a poetic description of spiritual growth from pagan to Christianity.
- The analysis of the characteristic features of Old English poetry in J.R.R.Tolkien's literary study “On Translation of Beowulf”.
- The themes of war and bravery in the poems “The Battle of Maldon” and “The Battle of Brunanburh”.
- Poetic narrative versions of biblical parables in Old English literature.
- Caedmon as a religious writer.
- Bede Venerable and his contribution to English literature.
- Historical events connected with spreading Christianity in Cynewulf`s poems.
Looking for help with your essay or term paper? Hire this essay writing service - professional writers for hire 24/7
Main article: English literature
British literature is literature in the English language from the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, and Channel Islands. Anglo-Saxon (Old English) literature is included, and there is some discussion of Latin and Anglo-Norman literature, where literature in these languages relate to the early development of the English language and literature. There is also some brief discussion of major figures who wrote in Scots, but the main discussion is in the various Scottish literature articles.
The article Literature in the other languages of Britain focusses on the literatures written in the other languages that are, and have been, used in Britain. There are also articles on these various literatures: Latin literature in Britain, Anglo-Norman, Cornish, Guernésiais, Jèrriais, Latin, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, etc.
Irish writers have played an important part in the development of literature in England and Scotland, but though the whole of Ireland was politically part of the United Kingdom between January 1801 and December 1922, it can be controversial to describe Irish literature as British. For some this includes works by authors from Northern Ireland.
The nature of British identity has changed over time. The island that contains England, Scotland, and Wales has been known as Britain from the time of the RomanPliny the Elder (c. AD 23–79).English as the national language had its beginnings with the Anglo-Saxon invasion of c.450 A.D. Prior to this the inhabitants spoke mainly various Celtic languages. The various constituent parts of the present United Kingdom joined at different times. Wales was annexed by the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1542. However, it was not until 1707 with a treaty between England and Scotland, that the Kingdom of Great Britain came into existence. This merged in January 1801 with the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Until fairly recent times Celtic languages continued to be spoken in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland, and still survive, especially in parts of Wales
Subsequently, the impact of Irish nationalism led to the partition of the island of Ireland in 1921, which means that literature of the Republic of Ireland is not British, although literature from Northern Ireland is both Irish and British.
Works written in the English language by Welsh writers, especially if their subject matter relates to Wales, has been recognised as a distinctive entity since the twentieth-century. The need for a separate identity for this kind of writing arose because of the parallel development of modern Welsh-language literature.
Because Britain was a colonial power the use of English spread through the world, and from the nineteenth-century in the United States, and later in other former colonies, major writers in English, including Nobel laureates, began to appear beyond the boundaries of Britain and Ireland.
The coming of the Anglo-Saxons: 449–c.1066
The other languages of early Britain
Latin literature, mostly ecclesiastical, continued to be written in the centuries following the withdrawal of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the fifth-century, including Chronicles by Bede (672/3–735), Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, and Gildas (c. 500–570), De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae.
Various Celtic languages were spoken by many of British people at this time and among the most important written works that have survived are Y Gododdin and the Mabinogion. From the 8th to the 15th centuries, Vikings and Norse settlers and their descendents colonised parts of what is now modern Scotland. Some Old Norse poetry survives relating to this period, including the Orkneyinga saga an historical narrative of the history of the Orkney Islands, from their capture by the Norwegian king in the ninth century onwards until about 1200.
Old English literature: c. 658–1100
Main article: Old English literature
Old English literature, or Anglo-Saxon literature, encompasses the surviving literature written in Old English in Anglo-Saxon England, in the period after the settlement of the Saxons and other Germanic tribes in England (Jutes and the Angles) c. 450, after the withdrawal of the Romans, and "ending soon after the Norman Conquest" in 1066; that is, c. 1100–50. These works include genres such as epic poetry, hagiography, sermons, Bible translations, legal works, chronicles, riddles, and others. In all there are about 400 surviving manuscripts from the period.
Oral tradition was very strong in early English culture and most literary works were written to be performed.Epic poems were thus very popular, and some, including Beowulf, have survived to the present day. Beowulf, is the most famous work in Old English and has achieved national epic status in England, despite being set in Scandinavia.
Nearly all Anglo-Saxon authors are anonymous: twelve are known by name from Medieval sources, but only four of those are known by their vernacular works with any certainty: Cædmon, Bede, Alfred the Great, and Cynewulf. Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. Cædmon's only known surviving work is Cædmon's Hymn, which probably dates from the late 7th century.
Chronicles contained a range of historical and literary accounts, and a notable example is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The poem Battle of Maldon also deals with history. This is the name given to a work, of uncertain date, celebrating the real Battle of Maldon of 991, at which the Anglo-Saxons failed to prevent a Viking invasion.
Classical antiquity was not forgotten in Anglo-Saxon England and several Old English poems are adaptations of late classical philosophical texts. The longest is King Alfred's (849–99) translation of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy.
Late medieval literature: 1066–1485
Main article: Middle English literature
The linguistic diversity of the islands in the medieval period contributed to a rich variety of artistic production, and made British literature distinctive and innovative.
Works were still written in Latin and include Gerald of Wales's late-12th-century book on his beloved Wales, Itinerarium Cambriae, and following the Norman Conquest of 1066, Anglo-Norman literature developed in the Anglo-Norman realm introducing literary trends from Continental Europe, such as the chanson de geste. However, the indigenous development of Anglo-Norman literature was precocious in comparison to continental Oïl literature.
Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100 – c. 1155) was one of the major figures in the development of British history and the popularity for the tales of King Arthur. He is best known for his chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) of 1136, which spread Celtic motifs to a wider audience. Wace (c. 1110 – after 1174), who wrote in Norman-French, is the earliest known poet from Jersey, also developed the Arthurian legend.) At the end of the 12th century, Layamon in Brut adapted Wace to make the first English language work to use the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It was also the first historiography written in English since the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Interest in King Arthur continued in 15th century with Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, (1485) a popular and influential compilation of some French and English Arthurian romances. It was among the earliest books printed in England by Caxton.
In the later medieval period a new form of English now known as Middle English evolved. This is the earliest form which is comprehensible to modern readers and listeners, albeit not easily. Middle English Bible translations, notably Wycliffe's Bible, helped to establish English as a literary language. Wycliffe's Bible is the name now given to a group of Bible translations into Middle English that were made under the direction of, or at the instigation of, John Wycliffe. They appeared over a period from approximately 1382 to 1395.
Piers Plowman (written c. 1360–1387) or Visio Willelmi de Petro Plowman (William's Vision of Piers Plowman) is a Middle Englishallegoricalnarrative poem by William Langland. It is written in unrhymed alliterative verse divided into sections called "passus" (Latin for "step"). Piers is considered by many critics to be one of the early great works of English literature along with Chaucer'sCanterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight during the Middle Ages.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late-14th-century Middle Englishalliterativeromance. It is one of the better-known Arthurian stories, of an established type known as the "beheading game". Developing from Welsh, Irish and English tradition Sir Gawain highlights the importance of honour and chivalry. "Preserved in the same manuscript with Sir Gawayne were three other poems, now generally accepted as the work of its author, including the intricate elegiac poem, Pearl.
Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 – 1400), known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. Chaucer is best known today for The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories written in Middle English (mostly written in verse although some are in prose), that are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer is a crucial figure in developing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English, at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were French and Latin.
The multilingual nature of the audience for literature in the 14th century can be illustrated by the example of John Gower (c. 1330 – October 1408). A contemporary of William Langland and a personal friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, Gower is remembered primarily for three major works, the Mirroir de l'Omme, Vox Clamantis, and Confessio Amantis, three long poems written in Anglo-Norman, Latin and, Middle English respectively, which are united by common moral and political themes.
Women writers were also active, such as Marie de France in the 12th century and Julian of Norwich in the early 14th century. Julian's Revelations of Divine Love (circa 1393) is believed to be the first published book written by a woman in the English language.Margery Kempe (c. 1373 – after 1438) is known for writing The Book of Margery Kempe, a work considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language.
Major Scottish writers from the 15th century include Henrysoun, Dunbar, Douglas and Lyndsay. The works of Chaucer had an influence on Scottish writers.
Main article: Medieval theatre
In the Middle Ages, drama in the vernacular languages of Europe may have emerged from religious enactments of the liturgy. Mystery plays were presented on the porch of the cathedrals or by strolling players on feast days. Miracle and mystery plays, along with moralities and interludes, later evolved into more elaborate forms of drama, such as was seen on the Elizabethan stages. Another form of medieval theatre was the mummers' plays, a form of early street theatre associated with the Morris dance, concentrating on themes such as Saint George and the Dragon and Robin Hood. These were folk tales re-telling old stories, and the actors travelled from town to town performing these for their audiences in return for money and hospitality.
Mystery plays and miracle plays are among the earliest formally developed plays in medievalEurope. Medieval mystery plays focused on the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux with accompanying antiphonal song. They developed from the 10th to the 16th century, reaching the height of their popularity in the 15th century before being rendered obsolete by the rise of professional theatre.
There are four complete or nearly complete extant English biblical collections of plays from the late medieval period. The most complete is the York cycle of forty-eight pageants. They were performed in the city of York, from the middle of the fourteenth century until 1569. Besides the Middle English drama, there are three surviving plays in Cornish known as the Ordinalia.
Having grown out of the religiously based mystery plays of the Middle Ages, the morality play is a genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical entertainment, which represented a shift towards a more secular base for European theatre. Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of various moral attributes who try to prompt him to choose a Godly life over one of evil. The plays were most popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Somonyng of Everyman (The Summoning of Everyman) (c. 1509 – 1519), usually referred to simply as Everyman, is a late 15th-century English morality play. Like John Bunyan's allegory Pilgrim's Progress (1678), Everyman examines the question of Christian salvation through the use of allegorical characters.
The Renaissance: 1485 –1660
The English Renaissance and the Renaissance in Scotland date from the late 15th century to the early 17th century. Italian literary influences arrived in Britain: the sonnet form was introduced into English by Thomas Wyatt in the early 16th century, and developed by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, (1516/1517 – 1547), who also introduced blank verse into England, with his translation of Virgil's Aeneid in c. 1540.
The spread of printing affected the transmission of literature across Britain and Ireland. The first book printed in English, William Caxton's own translation of Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, was printed abroad in 1473, to be followed by the establishment of the first printing press in England in 1474.
Latin continued in use as a language of learning long after the Reformation had established the vernaculars as liturgical languages for the elites.
Utopia is a work of fiction and political philosophy by Thomas More (1478–1535) published in 1516. The book, written in Latin, is a frame narrative primarily depicting a fictional island society and its religious, social and political customs.
Elizabethan era: 1558–1603
Main articles: Elizabethan literature, English poetry, and English drama
In the later 16th century, English poetry was characterised by elaboration of language and extensive allusion to classical myths. Sir Edmund Spenser (1555–99) was the author of The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. The works of Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586) a poet, courtier and soldier, include Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poetry, and Arcadia. Poems intended to be set to music as songs, such as by Thomas Campion, became popular as printed literature was disseminated more widely in households (see English Madrigal School).
During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and then James I (1603–25), a London-centred culture that was both courtly and popular, produced great poetry and drama. The English playwrights were intrigued by Italian model: a conspicuous community of Italian actors had settled in London. The linguist and lexicographer John Florio (1553–1625), whose father was Italian, was a royal language tutor at the Court of James I, and a possible friend and influence on William Shakespeare, had brought much of the Italian language and culture to England. He was also the translator of Montaigne into English. The earliest Elizabethan plays include Gorboduc (1561), by Sackville and Norton, and Thomas Kyd's (1558–94) revenge tragedyThe Spanish Tragedy (1592). Highly popular and influential in its time, The Spanish Tragedy established a new genre in English literature theatre, the revenge play or revenge tragedy. Jane Lumley (1537–1578) was the first person to translate Euripides into English. Her translation of Iphigeneia at Aulis is the first known dramatic work by a woman in English.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616) stands out in this period as a poet and playwright as yet unsurpassed. Shakespeare wrote plays in a variety of genres, including histories, tragedies, comedies and the late romances, or tragicomedies. Works written in the Elizabethan era include the comedy Twelfth Night, tragedy Hamlet, and history Henry IV, Part 1.
Jacobean period: 1603-1625
Shakespeare's career continued during the reign of King James I, and In the early 17th century he wrote the so-called "problem plays", like Measure for Measure, as well as a number of his best known tragedies, including King Lear and Anthony and Cleopatra. The plots of Shakespeare's tragedies often hinge on such fatal errors or flaws, which overturn order and destroy the hero and those he loves. In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed four major plays, including The Tempest. Less bleak than the tragedies, these four plays are graver in tone than the comedies of the 1590s, but they end with reconciliation and the forgiveness of potentially tragic errors.
Other important figures in Elizabethan theatre include Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593), Thomas Dekker (c. 1572 – 1632), John Fletcher (1579–1625) and Francis Beaumont (1584–1616). Marlowe's subject matter is different from Shakespeare's as it focuses more on the moral drama of the renaissance man than any other thing. His play Doctor Faustus (c. 1592), is about a scientist and magician who sells his soul to the Devil. Beaumont and Fletcher are less-known, but they may have helped Shakespeare write some of his best dramas, and were popular at the time. Beaumont's comedy, The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607), satirises the rising middle class and especially the nouveaux riches.
After Shakespeare's death, the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson (1572–1637) was the leading literary figure of the Jacobean era. Jonson's aesthetics hark back to the Middle Ages and his characters embody the theory of humours, based on contemporary medical theory, though the stock types of Latin literature were an equal influence. Jonson's major plays include Volpone (1605 or 1606) and Bartholomew Fair (1614).
A popular style of theatre during Jacobean times was the revenge play, which had been popularised earlier in the Elizabethan era by Thomas Kyd (1558–94), and then subsequently developed by John Webster (1578–1632) in the 17th century. Webster's most famous plays are The White Devil (1612) and The Duchess of Malfi (1613). Other revenge tragedies include The Changeling written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley.
Shakespeare also popularized the English sonnet, which made significant changes to Petrarch's model. A collection of 154 by sonnets, dealing with themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality, were first published in a 1609 quarto.
Besides Shakespeare the major poets of the early 17th century included the metaphysical poetsJohn Donne (1572–1631) and George Herbert (1593–1633). Influenced by continental Baroque, and taking as his subject matter both Christian mysticism and eroticism, Donne's metaphysical poetry uses unconventional or "unpoetic" figures, such as a compass or a mosquito, to reach surprise effects.
George Chapman (?1559-?1634) was a successful playwright who is remembered chiefly for his translation in 1616 of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey into English verse. This was the first ever complete translation of either poem into the English language and it had a profound influence on English literature.
Philosopher Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) wrote the utopian novelNew Atlantis, and coined the phrase "Knowledge is Power". Francis Godwin's 1638 The Man in the Moone recounts an imaginary voyage to the moon and is now regarded as the first work of science fiction in English literature.
At the Reformation, the translation of liturgy and Bible into vernacular languages provided new literary models. The Book of Common Prayer (1549) and the Authorized King James Version of the Bible have been hugely influential. The King James Bible, one of the biggest translation projects in the history of English up to this time, was started in 1604 and completed in 1611. It represents the culmination of a tradition of Bible translation into English from the original languages that began with the work of William Tyndale (previous translations into English had relied on the Vulgate). It became the standard Bible of the Church of England, and some consider it one of the greatest literary works of all time.
Late Renaissance: 1625–1660
Main article: Caroline era
The metaphysical poets continued writing in this period. Both John Donne and George Herbert died after 1625, but there was a second generation of metaphysical poets, consisting of Andrew Marvell (1621–1678), Thomas Traherne (1636 or 1637–1674) and Henry Vaughan (1622–1695). Their style was characterized by wit and metaphysical conceits — far-fetched or unusual similes or metaphors, such as in Andrew Marvell's comparison of the soul with a drop of dew; or Donne's description of the effects of absence on lovers to the action of a pair of compasses.
Another important group of poets at this time were the Cavalier poets. They were an important group of writers, who came from the classes that supported King Charles I during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639–51). (King Charles reigned from 1625 and was executed 1649). The best known of the Cavalier poets are Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Carew, and Sir John Suckling. They "were not a formal group, but all were influenced" by Ben Jonson. Most of the Cavalier poets were courtiers, with notable exceptions. For example, Robert Herrick was not a courtier, but his style marks him as a Cavalier poet. Cavalier works make use of allegory and classical allusions, and are influence by Latin authors Horace, Cicero, and Ovid.
John Milton (1608–74) is one of the greatest English poets, who wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval. He is generally seen as the last major poet of the English Renaissance, though his major epic poems were written in the Restoration period, including. Paradise Lost (1671). Among the important poems Milton wrote during this period are L'Allegro, 1631; Il Penseroso, 1634; Comus (a masque), 1638; and Lycidas, (1638). His later major works are: Paradise Regained, 1671; Samson Agonistes, 1671. Milton's works reflect deep personal convictions, a passion for freedom and self-determination, and the urgent issues and political turbulence of his day. Writing in English, Latin, and Italian, he achieved international renown within his lifetime, and his celebrated Areopagitica (1644), written in condemnation of pre-publication censorship, is among history's most influential and impassioned defences of free speech and freedom of the press. William Hayley's 1796 biography called him the "greatest English author", and he remains generally regarded "as one of the preeminent writers in the English language".
Thomas Urquhart (1611–1660) translation of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel into English has been described as "the greatest Scottish translation since Gavin Douglas's Eneados".
The Restoration: 1660–1700
Main article: Restoration literature
Main article: Restoration comedy
The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 launched a fresh start for literature, both in celebration of the new worldly and playful court of the king, and in reaction to it. Theatres in England reopened after having been closed during the protectorship of Oliver Cromwell, Puritanism lost its momentum, and the bawdy "Restoration comedy" became a recognisable genre. Restoration comedy refers to English comedies written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1710. In addition, women were allowed to perform on stage for the first time.
The Restoration of the monarchy in Ireland enabled Ogilby to resume his position as Master of the Revels and open the first Theatre Royal in Dublin in 1662 in Smock Alley. In 1662 Katherine Philips went to Dublin where she completed a translation of Pierre Corneille's Pompée, produced with great success in 1663 in the Smock Alley Theatre, and printed in the same year both in Dublin and London. Although other women had translated or written dramas, her translation of Pompey broke new ground as the first rhymed version of a French tragedy in English and the first English play written by a woman to be performed on the professional stage. Aphra Behn (one of the women writers dubbed "The fair triumvirate of wit") was a prolific dramatist and one of the first English professional female writers. Her greatest dramatic success was The Rover (1677).
Behn's depiction of the character Willmore in The Rover and the witty, poetry-reciting rake Dorimant in George Etherege's The Man of Mode (1676) are seen as a satire on John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647–1680), an English libertine poet, and a wit of the Restoration court. His contemporary Andrew Marvell described him as "the best English satirist", and he is generally considered to be the most considerable poet and the most learned among the Restoration wits. His A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind is assumed to be a Hobbesian critique of rationalism. Rochester's poetic work varies widely in form, genre, and content. He was part of a "mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease", who continued to produce their poetry in manuscripts, rather than in publication. As a consequence, some of Rochester's work deals with topical concerns, such as satires of courtly affairs in libels, to parodies of the styles of his contemporaries, such as Sir Charles Scroope. He is also notable for his impromptus,Voltaire, who spoke of Rochester as "the man of genius, the great poet", admired his satire for its "energy and fire" and translated some lines into French to "display the shining imagination his lordship only could boast".
John Dryden (1631–1700) was an English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden. He established the heroic couplet as a standard form of English poetry by writing successful satires, religious pieces, fables, epigrams, compliments, prologues, and plays with it; he also introduced the alexandrine and triplet into the form. In his poems, translations, and criticism, he established a poetic diction appropriate to the heroic couplet. Dryden's greatest achievements were in satiric verse in works like the mock-heroic MacFlecknoe (1682). W. H. Auden referred to him as "the master of the middle style" that was a model for his contemporaries and for much of the 18th century. The considerable loss felt by the English literary community at his death was evident from the elegies that it inspired. Alexander Pope (1688–1744) was heavily influenced by Dryden, and often borrowed from him; other writers in the 18th century were equally influenced by both Dryden and Pope.
Though Ben Jonson had been poet laureate to James I in England, this was not then a formal position and the formal title of Poet Laureate, as a royal office, was first conferred by letters patent on John Dryden in 1670. The post then became a regular British institution.
DiaristsJohn Evelyn (1620–1706) and Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) depicted everyday London life and the cultural scene of the times. Their works are among the most important primary sources for the Restoration period in England, and consists of eyewitness accounts of many great events, such as the Great Plague of London (1644–5), and the Great Fire of London (1666).
The publication of The Pilgrim's Progress (Part I:1678; 1684), established the Puritan preacher John Bunyan (1628–88) as a notable writer. Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory of personal salvation and a guide to the Christian life. Bunyan writes about how the individual can prevail against the temptations of mind and body that threaten damnation. The book is written in a straightforward narrative and shows influence from both drama and biography, and yet it also shows an awareness of the grand allegorical tradition found in Edmund Spenser.
The Augustan age: 1701–1750
Main articles: Augustan literature and Augustan prose
The late 17th, early 18th century (1689–1750) in English literature is known as the Augustan Age. Writers at this time "greatly admired their Roman counterparts, imitated their works and frequently drew parallels between" contemporary world and the age of the Roman emperor Augustus (27 AD – BC 14) (see Augustan literature (ancient Rome) ). Some of the major writers in this period were John Dryden (1631–1700), the Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), William Congreve, (1670–1729), Joseph Addison (1672–1719), Richard Steele (1672–1729), Alexander Pope (1688–1744), Henry Fielding (1707–54), Samuel Johnson (1709–84).
1707: Birth of Britain
The Union of the Parliaments of Scotland and England in 1707 to form a single Kingdom of Great Britain and the creation of a joint state by the Acts of Union had little impact on the literature of England nor on national consciousness among English writers. The situation in Scotland was different: the desire to maintain a cultural identity while partaking of the advantages offered by the English literary market and English literary standard language led to what has been described as the "invention of British literature" by Scottish writers. English writers, if they considered Britain at all, tended to assume it was merely England writ large; Scottish writers were more clearly aware of the new state as a "cultural amalgam comprising more than just England".James Thomson's "Rule Britannia!" is an example of the Scottish championing of this new national and literary identity. With the invention of British literature came the development of the first British novels, in contrast to the English novel of the 18th century which continued to deal with England and English concerns rather than exploring the changed political, social and literary environment.Tobias Smollett (1721–71) was a Scottish pioneer of the British novel, exploring the prejudices inherent within the new social structure of Britain through comic picaresque novels. His The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748) is the first major novel written in English to have a Scotsman as hero, and the multinational voices represented in the narrative confront Anglocentric prejudices only two years after the Battle of Culloden. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) brings together characters from the extremes of Britain to question how cultural and linguistic differences can be accommodated within the new British identity, and influenced Charles Dickens.Richard Cumberland wrote patriotic comedies depicting characters taken from the "outskirts of the empire," and intended to vindicate the good elements of the Scots, Irish, and colonials from English prejudice. His most popular play, "The West Indian" (1771) was performed in North America and the West Indies.
Prose, including the novel
Main article: Augustan prose
In prose, the earlier part of the period was overshadowed by the development of the English essay. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele's The Spectator established the form of the British periodical essay, inventing the pose of the detached observer of human life who can meditate upon the world without advocating any specific changes in it. However, this was also the time when the English novel, first emerging in the Restoration, developed into a major art form. Daniel Defoe turned from journalism and writing criminal lives for the press to writing fictional criminal lives with Roxana and Moll Flanders.
The English novel has generally been seen as beginning with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722), though John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) and Aphra Behn's, Oroonoko (1688) are also contenders. Other major 18th-century British novelists are Samuel Richardson (1689–1761), author of the epistolary novelsPamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) and Clarissa (1747–48); Henry Fielding (1707–54), who wrote Joseph Andrews (1742) and The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749).
If Addison and Steele were dominant in one type of prose, then Jonathan Swift author of the satire Gulliver's Travels was in another. In A Modest Proposal and the Drapier Letters, Swift reluctantly defended the Irish people from the predations of colonialism