British literature is literature from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, and Channel Islands. This article covers British literature in the English language. The article Literature english literature with creative writing surrey the other languages of Britain focuses on the literatures written in the other languages that are, and have been, used in Britain. The nature of British identity has changed over time.
Works written in the English language by Welsh writers, especially if their subject matter relates to Wales, has been recognised as a distinctive entity since the twentieth-century. The need for a separate identity for this kind of writing arose because of the parallel development of modern Welsh-language literature. Because Britain was a colonial power the use of English spread through the world, and from the nineteenth-century in the United States, and later in other former colonies, major writers in English, including Nobel laureates, began to appear beyond the boundaries of Britain and Ireland. A facsimile page of Y Gododdin c. Various Celtic languages were spoken by many of British people at this time and among the most important written works that have survived are Y Gododdin and the Mabinogion. Oral tradition was very strong in early English culture and most literary works were written to be performed. Nearly all Anglo-Saxon authors are anonymous: twelve are known by name from Medieval sources, but only four of those are known by their vernacular works with any certainty: Cædmon, Bede, Alfred the Great, and Cynewulf.
Cædmon is the earliest English poet whose name is known. Chronicles contained a range of historical and literary accounts, and a notable example is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The poem Battle of Maldon also deals with history. Classical antiquity was not forgotten in Anglo-Saxon England and several Old English poems are adaptations of late classical philosophical texts.
Sir Bedivere casts King Arthur’s sword Excalibur back to the Lady of the Lake. The Arthurian Cycle has influenced British literature across languages and down the centuries. The linguistic diversity of the islands in the medieval period contributed to a rich variety of artistic production, and made British literature distinctive and innovative. British history and the popularity for the tales of King Arthur. It was among the earliest books printed in England by Caxton. In the later medieval period a new form of English now known as Middle English evolved. This is the earliest form which is comprehensible to modern readers and listeners, albeit not easily.