English Literary Figures

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
Medieval, but ushered in the Renaissance outside of England. The Divine Comedy. Italian philosopher.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400)

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Canterbury Tales. “The Father of English Poetry.”

John Skelton (1460-1529)

Wrote poetry, plays, and satire. SATIRIST OF COURT LIFE AND THE CHURCH. Invented “skeltonics” (a poetry meter)

Thomas More (1478-1535)
Renaissance (Tudor). Utopia (1516).

Catholic executed by King Henry VIII.

Roger Ascham (1515-1568)
Renaissance: Elizabehan. TOXOPHILUS (1545). Scholemaster (1570). Elizabeth’s tutor. Criticized Canterbury Tales & Mort d’Arthur.

Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)
Renaissance (Elizabethan).

The Faerie Queen (an epic poem honoring Protestantism and Queen Elizabeth I). Wrote in VERSE.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586)
Renaissance (Elizabethan). Astrophel and Stella (1591–love sonnets), The Defense of Poetry (The Apology of Poetry), The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (skilled pastoral work for his sister). COURT POET.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618)
Renaissance (Elizabethan/Jacobean). THE NYMPH’S REPLY TO THE SHEPHERD (a mockery of Marlowe’s Passionate Shepherd to his Love). Wrote histories.

Practical – didn’t care for classical styles. Daring/scandalous English aristocrat, soldier, politician, courtier, spy, and explorer. Founded the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island.

Robert Greene (1558-1592)
Renaissance (Elizabethan).


Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Renaissance (Elizabethan/Jacobean). NEW ATLANTIS (utopian), Essayes, The Advancement of Learning (1605), The History of King Henry VII (1622), NOVUM ORGANUM (built on philosophies of Aristotle), The Wisdom of the Ancients, The Masculine Birth of Time. Statesman, writer, and philospher who contributed to MODERN SCIENCE. He is called the FATHER OF EMPIRICISM.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
Renaissance: Elizabethan.

Dr. Faustus. The Jew of Malta. England’s Helicon.

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. Popularized the SENECAN TRAGEDY.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Renaissance (Elizabethan/Jacobean).

Greatest English writer to date. Sonnets & Plays. Histories, tragedies, comedies.

Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)
Renaissance: Elizabethan. Summers Last Will and Testament (a comedic play).

The Unfortunate Traveler & The Life of Jacke Wilton (PICARESQUE NOVELS). Collaborated with Marlowe on Dido, Queen of Carthage (1594). A pamphleteer, poet, and playwright.

John Donne (1572-1631)
Renaissance: Jacobean/Caroline. Loves Alchymie. The Flea (poem), Go and Catch a Falling Star (poem), A VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING (poem–conceited metaphor love/compass), Biathanatoss (an unfinished work defending suicide).

LEADING METAPHYSICAL POET. Forbidden marriage. Raised Catholic – converted to Protestantism.

In his later years he became a preacher known for having strong, torturing convictions.

Ben Jonson (1573-1635)
Renaissance: Jacobean/Caroline. Poetaster (1601–a mockery of Thomas Dekker). VOLPONE (1605–comedy of humor). Epicene, or the Silent Woman (1609). The Alchemist (1610–comedy of humor).

Bartholomew Fair (1614–citizen comedy). Court poet who was often commissioned to write “occasional poetry” for national events. A LITERARY CRITIC. Introduced the COMEDY OF HUMOUR and led the CAVALIER POETS.

George Herbert (1593-1633)
Renaissance: Jacobean/Caroline. MEMORIAE MATRIS SACRUM (A metaphysical poem in honor of his deceased mother. It is contained in the collection, The Temple.) A PRIEST TO THE TEMPLE (prose). RELIGIOUS WRITER.

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)
Renaissance: Caroline/Protectorate. LEX REX (a.

k.a. The Law the King–questioned the Divine Right of Kings and argued for limited government). The Tryal and Triumph of Faith (a collection of sermons). A Selection from His Letters (letters written to his church).

Rutherford is best known as a SCOTTISH MINISTER.

John Milton (1608-1674)
Renaissance-Augustan. AREOPAGITICA (1644–prose work advocating the freedom of speech). OF EDUCATION (1644–advocated educational reforms). PARADISE LOST (1667–Highly acclaimed blank verse epic poem about Eden–supports a Protestant worldview).

Known for his use of BLANK VERSE.

John Bunyan (1628-1688)
Renaissance-Augustan. Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)–a Puritan allegory.

John Dryden (1631-1700)

The Indian Queen (1664–heroic play). The Conquest of Granada (1670-1671–heroic play). All For Love (1678–a tragedy about Anthony and Cleopatra). Absalom and Acidophel (1681–a satire). MacFlecknoe (1682–a satire).

An Essay on Dramatic Poesie (1668–a literary criticism). Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day (1687–a poem). Annus Mirabilis (1667–a poem). MOST FAMOUS RESTORATION-ERA POET. FIRST POET LAUREATE.

Known for his use of BLANK VERSE and his HEROIC PLAYS.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)
Augustan. ROBINSON CRUSOE (1719). The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders (1722). Revived the form of the novel, which he personally wrote in autobiographical format.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Augustan. Tale of the Tub (1696–satirizes the difference between Catholics, Protestants, and Puritans). The Battle of the Books (1697–observes the differences in ancient literature vs.

current literature of his day). A Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit (a satire on empirical philosophy and religious enthusiasm). A MODEST PROPOSAL (facetiously proposing to end hunger and poverty in England by means of cannibalism of the minority Irish babies). GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (his most famous work, a satirical novel). Known for SATIRE, though he also wrote a collection of poems to his lover, Ester Jonson, called “Letters to Stella” (1713).

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

The New Dunciad (a poetic ridicule of those who claim to possess knowledge and virtue but are incredibly dull). An Essay on Criticism (1711–written in heroic couplet about the proper style of the Neoclassical Era). THE RAPE OF THE LOCK (1714–a mock epic about two feuding families).

The Essay on Man (1734–the relationship between God/man in an evil world). Pope was a DEIST.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Augustan. DICTIONARY of the English Language (1755) Lives of English Poets (1781–collection of biographies). The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765–critical piece).

LITERARY CRITIC. Known for holding contempt toward author John Milton.

William Blake (1757-1827)
Augustan-Romantic. Songs of Innocence (1790). Songs of Experience (including “TYGER, TYGER”).

The Four Zoas (1804–epic poem).

Robert Burns (1759-1796)
Augustan. The Cotter’s Saturday Night. Willie Brewed a Peck o’ Maut. A Man’s a Man for a’ That. A Red, Red Rose (1794). Holy Willie’s Prayer (1799). A SCOTSMAN who was greatly admired as a RUSTIC, PEASANT POET, though he received ample education.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
LYRICAL BALLADS (1798–published with Coleridge, officially beginning the ROMANTIC PERIOD), a collection of poems centered on “humble and rustic life.” The Prelude (1850–autobiographical blank verse poem). Wordsworth was an advocate of writing plainly for the common man. POET LAUREATE.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
Romantic. Waverly (1814). The Antiquity (1816). Rob Roy (1817). IVANHOE (1819–incredibly detailed piece, renewed the legend of Robin Hood). Popularized the history novel.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
LYRICAL BALLADS (1798–published with Wordsworth, officially beginning the ROMANTIC PERIOD). Frost at Midnight (1798). Kubla Khan (incomplete). Christabel (1816). Biographia Literaria (1817–prose, theory about emotions/creativity). Conversation Poems.

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)
Romantic. Childe Harold (1808-1817).

English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1808). Child Harold’s Pilgrimage (1809-1817–travelogue). Manfred, a Dramatic Poem (1817–closet drama). The Vision of Judgment (1822). DON JUAN (1824–epic poem). A SATIRIST primarily concerned with social attitudes who popularized the “BYRONIC HERO,” a type of restless, proud, dashing, dissatisfied, disillusioned, and overindulged protagonist.


Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Romantic. Prometheus Unbound (1820–drama expressing religious/political opinions). Queen Mab. Adonis (written for Keats). Ode to the West Wind (1819–encouraged revolution). To a Skylark (1820–poem). Wild lifestyle.

John Keats (1795-1821)
Romantic. Ode on a Grecian Urn (most debated/most popular), Ode to Psyche, Autumn, Indolence, Melancholy, and Nightingale (1819). Endymion. Heavily criticized during his life. Died young. POSTHUMOUSLY CONSIDERED ONE OF THE GREATEST ROMANTIC POETS. Known for his ODES.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Victorian. Signs of the Times (1829). Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question (1841). On Heroes and Hero-Worship (1843).

Past and Present (1849). Opposed utilitarianism. Believed in slavery.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
Victorian. [ARTHURIAN LEGENDS: The Lady of Shalott (1832). Morte D’Arthur (1842). Idylls of the King (1859).] ULYSSES (1833).

IN MEMORIAM A. H. H. (an elegy that ponders deep religious issues). THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1854–a war poem). MOST IMPORTANT POET OF THE VICTORIAN PERIOD, very popular during his day, became POET LAUREATE.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Oliver Twist (1838), David Copperfield (1850), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1860). The MOST POPULAR NOVELIST OF VICTORIAN ENGLAND. Had a WORDY style.

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Paracelcus (1835). Men and Women (1855–collection of poems). Dramatis Personae (1864–collection of poems). MY LAST DUCHESS (a poem about a famous nobleman, the Duke of Ferrara, his art collection, and his brilliant but twisted character). Famous for his DRAMATIC MONOLOGUES.

Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855)

JANE EYRE (1847). Shirley (1849).

Emily Bronte (1818-1848)
Victorian. WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1847–gothic novel, HEATHCLIFF).

Anne Bronte (1820-1849)
Victorian. Agnes Grey (1847). The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Victorian. The Blessed Damozel (1850). Jenny (1870). The Germ (periodical). Painter, poet, and translator. A FOUNDER OF THE PRE-RAPHAELITE MOVEMENT. Appreciated Medieval subjects.

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Victorian. GOBLIN MARKET (1862–narrative poem). Dante Rosetti’s sister.

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson–1832-1898)
Victorian. ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1865). Through the Looking Glass (1871). Known for his fanciful children’s stories that alluded to adult issues.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)
Victorian. Atlanta in Calydon (1865). Poems and Ballads (1866). Songs of Italy (1867). Songs Before Sunrise (1871). Proponent of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Vocal on the subjects of politics and religion.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1886), a Gothic novel.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890–a Gothic novel). Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892–comedy drama). THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST (1895–comedy drama), a comedic play. De Profundis (showed remorse for his lifestyle and converted to Catholicism?).

Founder of the AESTHETIC MOVEMENT (“art for art’s sake”).

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Modern. THE JUNGLE BOOK (1894).

Kim (1901–picaresque novel). Just So Stories (1902–for children). THE WHITE MAN’S BURDEN. Born in INDIA. Won Nobel Prize for literature.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Modern. THE TOWER (1928–collection of poems, including Leda and the Swan, the Crazy Jane series, and Sailing to Byzantium).

IRISH poet and dramatist who also attempted painting. GREATEST POET OF THE MODERN PERIOD. Won Nobel Prize for literature.

Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923)
Modern. The Garden Party and other Short Stories (1922). Known for SHORT STORIES with a “SLICE OF LIFE” approach.


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