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During the Renaissance the renewed interest in Classical learning and values had an important effect on English literature, as on all the arts; and ideas of Augustan literary propriety in the 18th century and reverence in the 19th century for a less specific, though still selectively viewed, Classical antiquity continued to shape the literature.
All three of these impulses derived from a foreign source, namely the Mediterranean basin.
This awareness of differences between high life and low, a state of affairs fertile in creative tensions, is observable throughout the history of English literature.
The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who invaded Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries brought with them the common Germanic metre; but of their earliest oral poetry, probably used for panegyric, magic, and short narrative, little or none survives.
For nearly a century after the conversion of King Aethelberht I of Kent to Christianity about 600, there is no evidence that the English wrote poetry in their own language.
But Caedmon, an illiterate Northumbrian cowherd, was inspired in a dream to compose a short hymn in praise of the creation.
Caedmon later composed verses based on Scripture, which was expounded for him by monks at Streaneshalch (now called Whitby), but only the “Hymn of Creation” survives.
Shakespeare’s frequent juxtaposition of royalty in one scene with plebeians in the next reflects a very British way of looking at society.English literature, the body of written works produced in the English language by inhabitants of the British Isles (including Ireland) from the 7th century to the present day.The major literatures written in English outside the British Isles are treated separately under American literature, Australian literature, Canadian literature, and New Zealand literature.On the other hand, during the same period in the 20th century, many notable practitioners of English literature left the British Isles to live abroad: James Joyce, D. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, and Anthony Burgess.In one case, that of Samuel Beckett, this process was carried to the extent of writing works first in French and then translating them into English.Other standard devices of this poetry are the used to name the sea); and variation, the repeating of a single idea in different words, with each repetition adding a new level of meaning.That these verse techniques changed little during 400 years of literary production suggests the extreme conservatism of Anglo-Saxon culture.The poetry is formulaic, drawing on a common set of stock phrases and phrase patterns, applying standard epithets to various classes of characters, and depicting scenery with such recurring images as the eagle and the wolf, which wait during battles to feast on carrion, and ice and snow, which appear in the landscape to signal sorrow.In the best poems such formulas, far from being tedious, give a strong impression of the richness of the cultural fund from which poets could draw.Finally, English literature has enjoyed a certain diffusion abroad, not only in predominantly English-speaking countries but also in all those others where English is the first choice of study as a second language.English literature is therefore not so much insular as detached from the continental European tradition across the Channel.