Modern English Literature (16th – 20th century)The Renaissance period in England is represented in literature by several personages. Sir Thomas More – an
outstanding scientist, statesman and philosopher – showed us his vision of an ideal state in his Utopia. The reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
was rich not only in the poetry and prose, but also in drama. The most significant dramatist is certainly William
Shakespeare. He wrote 37 plays which are commonly divided into tragedies (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet,
Othello, King Lear, Macbeth), comedies (The Taming of the Shrew), historical plays (Richard
III., Henry VI., Julius Caesar) and romances (Pericles, The Winter’s Tale,
The Tempest). Besides the plays written mostly in blank-verse, Shakespeare wrote also other forms of poetry – sonnets (in his own
special form) and longer poems including The Rape of Lucrece.
The life of John Milton
is connected with the Civil War in England in the 17th century. His masterpieces are Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson
Agonistes. Paradise Lost deals with biblical theme of man’s disobedience. Daniel Defoe’s story of a shipwrecked man,
Robinson Crusoe, has lived through centuries as has Jonathan Swift’s satirical novel Gulliver’s
Travels. In this novel the hero visits four quite different worlds. Another person worth mentioning is novelist, judge and founder of the modern
British police Henry Fielding with his novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. The romantic period is
represented by poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and mainly George Gordon Byron, the author of Childe Harold’s
Pilgrimage, Don Juan and others. His memory is still respected in Greece, where he died of malaria in Missolonghi.
Mary Shelley, who was married to Percy Bysshe Shelley, wrote Frankenstein, a novel which is still famous today, and has been
the subject of many movies. Sir Walter Scott is the author of many romantic novels describing historical events in many countries –
Waverley, Rob Roy, and Ivanhoe – probably the best known Scott’s novel in our country. We have to mention
The Talisman, describing Palestine in the times of Richard I., Lion Heart. His importance for Scottish national feeling is unquestionable.
Another personage of the 19. century is Oscar Wilde with his fairy story The Canterville Gost. The ugly
side of the supernatural can be found in Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde is also famous for his fairy tales – The
The turn of the century was full of writers who can‘t be omitted. For example – Rudyard Kipling
was inspired by the wildlife in India to write The Jungle Book with its hero Mowgli. George Bernard Shaw is a world famous
dramatist. His especial work is Pygmalion, which became world known in its movie musical version under the title My Fair Lady. We can’t
forget to mention George Orwell, who predicted the future in his Nineteen Eighty-Four. The poetry and drama of this time is
represented by Thomas Stearns Eliot. His poem The Waste Land belongs to his „American“ publications, while the drama
Murder in the Cathedral – dealing with the murder of Thomas Becket - is a fully „English“ work. Samuel Beckett
should be also included in this group, with his drama Waiting for Godot (originally En attendant Godot, translated into English by
In the second half of the 20th century we can find a group of young writers who are called „Angry Young Men“ after
John Osborne’s drama Look Back in Anger. Kingsley Amis describes, in his novel Lucky Jim, a rebellious
spirit at a red-brick university. William Golding warns in his work against the danger coming out of the dark, or negative powers in
people. The boys in his Lord of the Flies are left in a classical situation known from other writers (Jules Verne) alone on an island, but
don’t create a harmonious society.
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