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English literature

The term English literature denotes those literary texts originating within England proper and written in the English language or its very close relatives (such as Middle or Old English (The term may also denote any literature composed primarily in the English language, though in other countries; for further information see articles on specific national literatures, eg., Irish literature[?], Anglo-Welsh literature, American literature[?], Scottish literature, Canadian literature, Australian literature[?].)

Strands of English literature include:

English literature emerges as a recognisable entity only in the medieval period, when the English language itself becomes distinct from the Norman and Anglo-Saxon dialects which preceded it. See also the article Old English poetry. The first great figure in English literature is the poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales was a popular work of the period which is still read today.

Following the introduction of a printing press into the country by William Caxton in 1476, the Elizabethan era saw a great flourishing of the literature, especially in the field of drama, with William Shakespeare standing out as a poet and playwright, the quality of whose output has yet to be surpassed.

The English novel does not appear until much later, with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1720) often being recognised as the first example of the genre. Robinson Crusoe is often still used as compulsory reading for schoolchildren, particularly for ESL classes.

The following two centuries continued a huge outpouring of literary production, including novels, poetry, and drama, all of which remain strong in the present-day English literary culture.

For information on the English language prior to the 16th century, see Middle English and Old English.


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