English Literature Timeline

  • 800 BCE

    The eight hundred

    The eight hundred
    Beowulf, the first great work of Germanic literature, mingles the legends of Scandinavia with the experience in England of Angles and Saxons
  • 731 BCE

    The seven hundred

    The seven hundred
    The Venerable Bede, in his monastery at Jarrow, completes his history of the English church and people
  • 950

    The nine hundred

    The nine hundred
    The material of the Eddas, taking shape in Iceland, derives from earlier sources in Norway, Britain and Burgundy
  • Period: 1300 to 1387

    The thousand three hundred

    1300 Duns Scotus derives from earlier sources in Norway, Britain and Burgundy.
    1340 William of Ockham advocates paring down arguments to their essentials ( Ockham's Razor)
    1367 Will, and whose name may be Langland, begins the epic poem of Piers Plowman
    1375 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight tells of a mysterious visitor to the round table of King Arthur
    1385 Chaucer completes Troilus and Criseyde.
    1387 Chaucer begins 100 Canterbury Tales, he completes only 24 by the time of his death
  • 1469

    The thousand four hundred

    The thousand four hundred
    1469 Thomas Malory, in gaol somewhere in England, compiles Morte d'Arthur – an English account of the French tales of King Arthur
  • Period: 1510 to 1567

    The fifteen hundred part 1

    1510 Erasmus and Thomas More take the northern Renaissance in the direction of Christian humanism
    1524 William Tyndale studies in the university at Wittenberg and plans to translate the Bible into English
    1549 The first version of the English prayer book is published with text by Thomas Cranmer
    1564 Marlowe and Shakespeare are born in the same year, with Marlowe the older by two months
    1567 The Book of Common Prayer and the New Testament are published,to be followed by the complete Bible in 1588
  • Period: 1582 to

    The fifteen hundred part 2

    1582 The 18-year-old William Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway in Stratford-upon-Avon
    1587 Marlowe's first play, Tamburlaine the Great, introduces the swaggering blank verse of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama
    1590 English poet Edmund Spenser celebrates the Protestant Elizabeth I as The Faerie Queene
    1592 After tentative beginnings in the three parts of Henry VI, Shakespeare achieves his first masterpiece on stage with Richard III
  • Period: to

    The one thousand six hundred part 1

    1601 Shakespeare's central character in Hamlet expresses both the ideals of the Renaissance and the disillusion of a less confident age
    1604 James I commissions the Authorized version of the Bible, which is completed by forty-seven scholars in seven years
    1605 Ben Jonson writes The Masque of Blackness.
    1606 The satirical voice of the English playwright Ben Jonson is heard to powerful effect in Volpone
    1609 Shakespeare's sonnets, written ten years previously, are published
  • Period: to

    The one thousand six hundred part 2

    1611 Shakespeare's last completed play, The Tempest, is performed
    1616 John Smith publishes A Description of New England, an account of his exploration of the region in 1614. William Shakespeare dies at New Place, his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, and is buried in Holy Trinity Church
    1621 John Donne, England's leading Metaphysical poet, becomes dean of St Paul's
    1623 John Heminge and Henry Condell publish thirty-six Shakespeare plays in the First Folio
  • Period: to

    The one thousand six hundred part 3

    1621 John Donne, England's leading Metaphysical poet, becomes dean of St Paul's
    1623 John Heminge and Henry Condell publish thirty-six Shakespeare plays in the First Folio
    1633 George Herbert's only volume of poems, The Temple, is published posthumously
    1637 John Milton's Lycidas is published in memory of a Cambridge friend, Edward King
  • Period: to

    The thousand six hundred part 4

    1650 The poems of Massachusetts author Anne Bradstreet are published under the title The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America
    1653 Devoted fisherman Izaak Walton publishes the classic work on the subject, The Compleat Angler
    1660 On the first day of the new year Samuel Pepys gets up late, eats the remains of the turkey and begins his diary
    1667 Paradise Lost is published, earning its author John Milton just £10
    1669 Samuel Pepys ends his diary, after only writing it for nine years
  • Period: to

    The one thousand six hundred part 5

    1678 Part I of The Pilgrim's Progress, written during John Bunyan's two spells in Bedford Gaol, is published and is immediately popular
    1688 Aphra Behn's novel Oroonoko makes an early protest against the inhumanity of the African slave trade
    1690 John Locke publishes his Essay concerning Human Understanding, arguing that all knowledge is based on experience
  • Period: to

    The thousand seven hundred (Decade 1)

    1709 The Tatler launches a new style of journalism in Britain's coffee houses, followed two years later by the Spectator
    1710 25-year-old George Berkeley attacks Locke in his Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
    1712 Alexander Pope's Rape of the Lock introduces a delicate vein of mock-heroic in English poetry
    1719 Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, with its detailed realism, can be seen as the first English novel
  • 1726 and 1739

    1726 and 1739
    1726 Jonathan Swift sends his hero on a series of bitterly satirical travels in Gulliver's Travels
    1739 David Hume publishes his Treatise of Human Nature, in which he applies to the human mind the principles of experimental science
  • 1747 and 1749

    1747 and 1749
    1747 Samuel Richardson's Clarissa begins the correspondence that grows into the longest novel in the English language
    1749 Henry Fielding introduces a character of lasting appeal in the lusty but good-hearted Tom Jones
  • Period: to

    The thousand seven hundred (1750)

    1751 English poet Thomas Gray publishes his Elegy written in a Country Church Yard
    1755 Samuel Johnson publishes his magisterial Dictionary of the English Language
    1758 James Woodforde, an English country parson with a love of food and wine, begins a detailed diary of everyday life
    1759 Laurence Sterne publishes the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy, beginning with the scene at the hero's conception
  • Period: to

    The thousand seven hundred (1760)

    1762 Fingal, supposedly by the medieval poet Ossian, is a forgery in the spirit of the times by James MacPherson
    1763 James Boswell meets Samuel Johnson for the first time, in the London bookshop of Thomas Davies
    1764 English historian Edward Gibbon, sitting among ruins in Rome, conceives the idea of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
    1768 A Society of Gentlemen in Scotland begins publication of the immensely successful Encyclopaedia Britannica
  • Period: to

    The thousand seven hundred (1770)

    1770 17-year-old Thomas Chatterton, later hailed as a significant poet, commits suicide
    1773 Oliver Goldsmith's play She Stoops to Conquer is produced in London's Covent Garden theatre
    1774 Encouraged by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine emigrates to America and settles
    1776 Scottish economist Adam Smith analyzes the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations
    1779 Richard Brinsley Sheridan's, The School for Scandal, is an immediate success in London's Drury Lane theatre
  • In the 1700's

    In the 1700's
    William Blake publishes Songs of Innocence, a volume of his poems with every page etched and illustrated by himself.
    In his Principles Jeremy Bentham defines 'utility' as that which enhances pleasure and reduces pain
  • Period: to

    The thousand seven hundred (1790) #1

    1790 Anglo-Irish politician Edmund Burke publishes Reflections on the Revolution in France, a blistering attack on recent events
    1791 Scottish poet Robert Burns publishes Tam o' Shanter, in which a drunken farmer has an alarming encounter with witches
    Thomas Paine publishes the first part of The Rights of Man, his reply to Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France
    1792 English author Mary Wollstonecraft publishes a passionately feminist work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  • Period: to

    The thousand seven hundred (1790) #2

    1794 William Blake's volume Songs of Innocence and Experience includes his poem 'Tyger! Tyger! burning bright'
    1795 Thomas Paine publishes his completed Age of Reason, an attack on conventional Christianity
    1797 Samuel Taylor Coleridge says that while writing Kubla Khan he is interrupted by 'a person on business from Porlock'
    1797 English poets Wordsworth and Coleridge jointly publish Lyrical Ballads, a milestone in the Romantic movement.
  • 1804/5

    1804/5
    1804 William Blake includes his poem 'Jerusalem' in the Preface to his book Milton
    1805 Walter Scott publishes The Lay of the Last Minstrel, the long romantic poem that first brings him fame
  • Period: to

    The eighteen hundred # 1

    1810 Walter Scott's poem Lady of the Lake brings tourists in unprecedented numbers to Scotland's Loch Katrine
    1811 Percy Bysshe Shelley is expelled from Oxford university for circulating a pamphlet with the title The Necessity of Atheism.
    English author Jane Austen publishes her first work in print, Sense and Sensibility, at her own expense
    1812 The first two cantos are published of Byron's largely autobiographical poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, bringing him immediate fame
  • Period: to

    The eighteen hundred # 2

    1813 Pride and Prejudice, based on a youthful work of 1797 called First Impressions, is the second of Jane Austen's novels to be published
    1818 Percy Bysshe Shelley publishes probably his best-known poem, the sonnet Ozymandias.
    Two of Jane Austen's novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, are published in the year after her death.
    1819 William Cobbett brings back to England the bones of Thomas Paine, who died in the USA in 1809.
  • Period: to

    The eighteen hundred # 3

    1820 English poet John Keats publishes Ode to a Nightingale, inspired by the bird's song in his Hampstead garden
    1821 English author Thomas De Quincey publishes his autobiographical Confessions of an English Opium-Eater
    1824 12-year-old Charles Dickens works in London in Warren's boot-blacking factory
  • Joseph Conrad

    Joseph Conrad
    Joseph Conrad publishes his novel Lord Jim about a life of failure and redemption in the far East
  • E. Nesbit

    E. Nesbit
    E. Nesbit publishes The Railway Children, the most successful of her books featuring the Bastable family
  • Siegfried Sassoon

    Siegfried Sassoon
    Siegfried Sassoon publishes Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, the first volume of a semi-autobiographical trilogy
  • Flann O'Brien's

    Flann O'Brien's
    Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman is rejected by numerous publishers before becoming, decades later, his best-known novel
  • L.P. Hartley

    L.P. Hartley
    English author L.P. Hartley sets his novel The Go-Between in the summer of 1900
  • Roald Dahl

    Roald Dahl
    Roald Dahl publishes a fantasy treat for a starving child, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Ian McEwan

     Ian McEwan
    British author Ian McEwan publishes his first novel, The Cement Garden
  • Alan Bennett

    Alan Bennett
    Alan Bennett's play The Madness of George III is performed at the National Theatre in London
  • Philip Pullman

    The Amber Spyglass completes Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials