One of the major tasks of literary criticism is periodization, in other words trying to organize literary works under rubrics that not only indicate chronological sequence but also try to classify periods by literary characteristics.
One way to periodize British literature is by linguistic characteristics, in which it is dived into works written in Old English (e.g. Beowulf), Middle English e.g. Chaucer), and Modern English (Shakespeare through present).
Another tradition scheme is to divide British literature into medieval, early modern (including Elizabethan and Jacobean, sometimes called Renaissance), 18th century, 19th century (Romantic, Victorian), modern (1st half of 20th century), and contemporary.