8 Periods in English Literature A Literary Timeline (Free Printable)

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As we have started introducing Shakespeare in our homeschool it has certainly made us question all of the periods in English literature.

We are from England and have been living in America for a number of years. It is so wonderful to look back over the books and poems that we studied when we were children.

At the end of the post, you will be able to print out this FREE literary timeline. It can be used in the classroom or at home and is perfect for upper middle school and high school classes.

It will print on 2 x letter-sized paper (if you are printing on A4 just click shrink to fit on the printer settings).

literary timeline

**There may be affiliate links in this post. You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.**

We have started using this homeschool literature curriculum and we love it.

History of English Literature

The Classical Period 1200-455 BCE


Greek legends were talked about, including Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. This is a chaotic period of warrior princes, wandering sea traders, and fierce pirates.

Check out our free Greek Gods worksheets for even more on this period.


Greek playwrights, writers, and philosophers include Plato, Socrates, Aesop, and Aristotle. The fifth century (499-400 BCE) in particular is renowned as The Golden Age of Greece.

Greek philosopher Plato in front of the National Academy of Athens

Some of the world’s finest art, poetry, drama, architecture, and philosophy originated in Athens.


Rome slid into a dictatorship, after nearly 500 years as a Republic, under Julius Caesar. Then finally into a monarchial empire under Caesar Augustus in 27 CE.

This later period is known as the Roman Imperial period. Roman writers include Horace, Ovid, and Virgil. Roman rhetoricians include Cicero and Quintilian.

Philosophers include Marcus Aurelius and Lucretius.


This is the period when Saint Jerome first compiled the Bible. Christianity spread across Europe, and the Roman Empire came to an end.

A History of English LiteratureA History of English LiteratureHow to Read Literature Like a Professor: AHow to Read Literature Like a Professor: AThe Illiad of HomerThe Illiad of HomerSeamus Heaney: Beowulf : A New Verse TranslationSeamus Heaney: Beowulf : A New Verse Translation


Early Christian writers include Saint Augustine, Tertullian, Saint Cyprian, Saint Jerome, and Saint Ambrose.

william shakespeare sculpture

The Medieval Period 455CE – 1485 CE


Also known as the “Dark Ages”.

This occurred after Rome fell, and the barbarian tribes moved into Europe. Franks, Ostrogoths, Lombards, and Goths settled in the ruins of Europe, and the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes migrated to Britain moving native Celts into Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.

Early Old English poems such as Beowulf, The Wanderer, and The Seafarer originated sometime late in the Anglo-Saxon period.


This often turbulent period is marked by the Middle English writings of Geoffrey Chaucer. His most famous writing was the Canterbury Tales.

The Renaissance Period 1485-1660 CE

I. Early Tudor Period (1485-1558)

The War of the Roses ended in England when Henry Tudor (Henry VII) claimed the throne. Edmund Spenser is a sample poet.

II. Elizabethan Period (1558-1603)

Queen Elizabeth I. saved England from both Spanish invasion and internal squabbles at home.

Her reign is marked by the early works of Shakespeare (see How To Teach Your Child Shakespeare).

William Shakespeare Sculpture in London
A sculpture of famous playwright William Shakespeare situated outside Guildhall Art Gallery in London.

III. Jacobean Period (1603-1625)

The Jacobean Era was the period in English and Scottish history that coincides with the reign of James VI of Scotland.

Shakespeare also overlapped the start of this era.

Others include John Webster and the famous plays “Fifty Comedies and Tragedies” written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher were from this era. I think you are going to enjoy our top 10 favorite Shakespeare books for kids.

IV. Caroline Age (1625-1649)

John Milton (most famous poem, Paradise Lost), George Herbert, and others wrote during the reign of Charles I and his Cavaliers.

The Enlightenment Period 1660-1790 CE

I. Restoration Period (1660-1700)

This period marks the British king’s restoration to the throne after a long period of Puritan domination in England.

Its symptoms include the dominance of French and Classical influences on poetry and drama.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys is arguably the most famous work. Molière the French playwright famous for The Misanthrope was also from this period.

Samuel Pepys Sculpture in London
A sculpture of English naval administrator and Member of Parliament Samuel Pepys situated outside Guildhall Art Gallery in London.

II. The Augustan Age (1700-1750)

The most famous writer from this time was the French writer Voltaire. The main English writer of the period was Alexander Pope.

III. The Age of Johnson (1750-1790)

Dr. Samuel Johnson and Boswell were the main writers of this period. Johnson in particular was extremely important as he changed the way the modern dictionaries are composed.

Periods in English Literature

The Romantic Period 1790-1830 CE

There are so many famous Romantic poets including Coleridge, Blake, Keats, and Shelley. Though typically not thought of with the Romantic poets, Jane Austen also wrote at this time

How to Teach Your Children ShakespeareHow to Teach Your Children ShakespeareThe Canterbury Tales (Puffin Classics)The Canterbury Tales (Puffin Classics)The Diary of Samuel PepysThe Diary of Samuel PepysGreatest Works of Jane AustenGreatest Works of Jane Austen


The Victorian Period 1832-1901 CE

Writings from the period of Queen Victoria’s reign include world-renowned novels. British writers include Lord Alfred Tennyson his most famous work is the Charge of the Light Brigade. Charles Dickens my favorite would have to be Oliver Twist. The Brontë sisters my favorites include Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) on engraving from 1872. Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during Queen Victoria’s reign. One of the most popular British poets. Engraved after a painting by A.Chappel and published in “The Masterpiece Library of Short Stories”, USA,1872.

The Modern Period 1914-1945 CE

In Britain, modernist writers include Yeats, Dylan Thomas, and Virginia Woolf. In America, this period has the likes of Hemingway.

The Postmodern Period 1945-onward

T. S. Eliot is among the most popular writer of this period, but of course, there are new playwrights and poets on the scene every day.

Could you be the next?

Tips for downloading the free files

Below you will see a large sign-up box where you need to add your name and email address, and press I NEED THIS NOW!

Within minutes you will be sent the free PDF directly to your email address, so you can print it out and start using it immediately.

Sometimes emails get a little wonky, so if you can’t see it, please check your spam folder where I am sure it is hiding.

Literary Timeline Printable

Make sure you choose the correct paper size and click on the shrink to fit button. All of our free printables for kids work better when printed on cardstock (this is the one we use and love.)

Last Updated on 24 February 2024 by Clare Brown

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