In the handling of the education of English literature, literary scholars have compartmentalized British literature into what is here referred to as "periods". While the precise accounts of dates, names and other details vary, the following chronology conforms to widespread agreement among today's literary historians and scholars. Following the chart below, are succinct descriptions of each period with brief mentioning’s of the major contributors of said period.
450-1066 : Olde English (or Anglo-Saxon)
1066-1500 : Middle English Period
1500-1660 : The Renaissance
1558-1603 : Elizabethan Age
603-1625 : Jacobean Age
1625-1649 : Caroline Age
1649-1660 : Commonwealth Period (or Puritan Interregnum)
1660-1785 : The Neoclassical Period (or the Age of Reason)
1660-1700 : The Restoration
1700-1745 : The Augustan Age (or Age of Pope)
1745-1785 : The Age of Sensibility (or Age of Johnson)
The Olde English or Anglo-Saxon period literature comes from the invasion of Celtic England by Germanic tribes at the earlier part of the 5th Century through to England's subjection under William the Conqueror in 1066. The Old English period bore a maturation from oral tradition, paving the way for 8th century literature in the Anglo-Saxon argot. From this period is born the epic Beowulf.
The Middle Ages consists of literature produced in the four and one half centuries between the Norman Invasion of 1066 'til about 1500, when the common language of literature, born of London, becomes recognized as "Modern English". The writings of the first half of the 14th century, were comprised primarily of religious belief and observance, however the later half instituted the first great age of secular literature. From here comes the master work The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer and the anonymously quilted, alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
With the ascension of the House of Tudor to the English throne in 1485, the Renaissance Era is commenced. Fifteen years later, the literary Renaissance begins with humanist writers; the "martyred" Sir Thomas More, and the man who is credited to writing the first sonnets in English; Sir Thomas Wyatt. This Renaissance can be divided into a subset of four ages; The Elizabethan, The Jacobean, The Caroline and the Puritan Interregnum.
The Elizabethan Age in English Literature co-occurs with the reign of Elizabeth I, during which medieval tradition is merged with the creative ingenuity of the Renaissance. The Elizabethan Age spawned an unexampled wealth of the literary arts, especially in the fields of prose and lyric poetry. This is the age of the incomparable brilliance of Edmund Spencer, Sir Walter Raleigh and the illustrious immortal: William Shakespeare.
The Jacobean Age coincides with the reign of James I, during which literature wielded works of more thematic sophistication. Aside from its most notable contribution: the King James Version of the Holy Bible, the Jacobean age in literature produced many volumes rich with socially conscious, dramatic prose. This is the era of such literary luminaries as Francis Bacon, Thomas Middleton and John Donne. Elizabethan Agers Shakespeare and Ben Johnson, continued to produce works throughout this age as well.
The Caroline Age in literature coincides with the sovereign Charles I and is marked by works of lordly refinement and elegance. Known best for its "Cavalier Poets"; a romance-filled yet witty circle of bards, whose poetry embodied the culture of pre-Commonwealth, upper class England. The circle's leading scribes where Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Sir John Suckling, and Thomas Carew.
The Puritan Interregnum or Commonwealth Period of English literature includes the works of the time of Puritan Leader Oliver Cromwell. From this period came the prose of Andrew Marvel, the political works of John Milton and the political treatise Leviathan, penned by Thomas Hobbes.
The Neo-classical Period or The Age of Reason English Literature was highly influenced by the French literature of its age. It adheres to the decorous language and form derived mostly from classical antiquity, whilst expressing an emphasis of impersonal universal truths (empirically based) didactically, with satire. The Neo-classical Period marks the first great age of English literary criticism. Similar to The English Renaissance, the Neo-classical period can be also divided into subsets, this time of three; The Restoration, The Augustan Age and The Age of Sensibility.
The Restoration (1660 - 1700) - as to reflect the restoration of the monarchy and social morale from the unjust rigidity of the previous religious and political zealotry of both the Commonwealth and Protectorate, The Restoration era proved a breakthrough in enlightenment, which resulted in the revival of drama and the re-opening of the theatres, closed since 1642. The Restoration produced some of the worlds most wittiest and licentious poetry and prose, some works, tinged with its distinctive brand of comedy of manners, became known as Restoration Comedy. Major authors of the Restoration period include the diversified company of: John Dryden, John Locke and the Second Earl of Rochester, the notorious John Wilmot. From The Restoration period emerged the publication of the majestic Satanic Epic: Paradise Lost, by John Milton.
The Augustan Age takes its name from the literary period of Horace, Ovid, Propertius, Tibullus, Virgil under the rule of Roman Emperor Augustus (27 B.C. - A.D. 14). In English literature, the Augustan Age, 1700 - 1745, refers to a literature with prevailing characteristics of gentility, limpidity, perspicacity and elegance. The better known authors here include the satirist; Jonathan Swift, the popular Samuel Richarson author of Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) and the highly regarded and most esteemed; Alexander Pope. The Age and Sensibility or the Age of Johnson, named after the period's leading literary scholar and critic; Samuel Johnson, places emphasis on the importance on sensibility or emotional sentience. Empathy for the Middle Ages kindles an interest in medieval balladry and folk literature forming a transition between the "rationality" of the Age of Reason or Neoclassical period with the emotional responsiveness of the Romantic period.