How would one describe the following British literature movements: Middle English, English Renaissance, Romanticism, Victorian Period, Modern Period, Postmodern, and the Enlightenment?  

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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As we are limited in space, below are a few ideas and sources to help get you started in understanding various literary movements.

Middle English is one of the more complicated periods to describe as it really did not contain a specific literary movement but was rather a compilation of every different type of piece of literature written in that time period. Middle English specifically refers to any literature written during the Middle Ages, which covered between 1066-1500 AD. Also, many different historical circumstances affected the literature of this period, including the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the English Reformation of the Catholic Church, civil wars between England's Nobility as seen in the War of the Roses, and the Restoration of the English monarchy under Charles II (The Norton Anthology of English Literature, "The Middle Ages: Topics"). Such a politically and culturally rich history led to a great deal of rich and diverse literature, including England's first heroic epic poem Beowulf, Chaucer's political and ecclesiastical satire The Canterbury Tales, the courtly romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as well as other ballads, secular literature, and even religious plays.

After the Middle Ages came what has become known as a rebirth in knowledge and spirituality called the Renaissance, leading to its own literary movement. The Renaissance literary movement spanned from the 1400s to the 15 and 1600s. The Renaissance period marked great many social and political changes, including the end of the feudal system and the rise of democracy. What's more, in pursuit of knowledge and in reverence for classical education, individuals looked back towards Ancient Greece and Rome for philosophical and artistic inspiration; hence, many works of Renaissance literature refer to Ancient Greak and Roman mythology. One defining philosophy was humanism, the belief that man is capable of achieving perfection on earth. Renaissance philosophy and preferences for ancient mythology gave rise to such celebrated works as Milton's Paradise Lost, Edmund Spencer's Faerie Queen, and all of Shakespeare's works ("Renaissance Literature").

Romanticism started a century after the Renaissance period, at the end of the 1700s and lasted until about 1870. Though also an extremely diverse literary period in terms of "style, theme, and content," the Romantic Movement is understood to be the period that led up to modern-day literature. Romanticism stemmed from a variety of philosophies, but one underlying philosophy was the new idea of placing more value on the individual rather than on society as a whole. An individual's thoughts and imagination was vitally important to the romantics. Also, contrary to the Enlightenment, which stemmed from the Renaissance period, Romantics de-emphasized the importance of the rational mind. Rather, Romantics emphasized the power of emotions, even advocating individuals allow themselves to be swept up and ruled by their emotions. Romanticism slowly gave rise to blank verse in poetry, poets such as William Blake, and famous authors like Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Emily Bronte ("Romanticism").

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