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The Cambridge History of Early Modern English Literature
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  • Cited by 2
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    This book has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Tenger, Zeynep and Trolander, Paul 2010. From Print versus Manuscript to Sociable Authorship and Mixed Media: A Review of Trends in the Scholarship of Early Modern Publication. Literature Compass, Vol. 7, Issue. 11, p. 1035.

    Robson, Lynn 2010. ‘We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms’: Early Modern Literary Studies, the ‘Spatial Turn’ and Ecocriticism. Literature Compass, Vol. 7, Issue. 12, p. 1062.


Book description

This 2003 book is a full-scale history of early modern English literature, offering perspectives on English literature produced in Britain between the Reformation and the Restoration. While providing the general coverage and specific information expected of a major history, its twenty-six chapters address recent methodological and interpretive developments in English literary studies. The book has five sections: 'Modes and Means of Literary Production, Circulation, and Reception', 'The Tudor Era from the Reformation to Elizabeth I', 'The Era of Elizabeth and James VI', 'The Earlier Stuart Era', and 'The Civil War and Commonwealth Era'. While England is the principal focus, literary production in Scotland, Ireland and Wales is treated, as are other subjects less frequently examined in previous histories, including women's writings and the literature of the English Reformation and Revolution. This history is an essential resource for specialists and students.


'This bold and ground-breaking book offers a remarkable range of new ways of understanding early modern literature in its historical contexts.'

David Norbrook - University of Oxford

'… this book is a prodigious achievement. Meticulously edited and beautifully produced, with a multifaceted chronology as an appendix, its essays are for the most part marvels of compressed and incisive critical judgment. The expert contributors combine breadth of coverage and depth of reflection with tremendous assurance.'

Source: The Times Literary Supplement

'Astonishingly comprehensive and coherently unified … This extraordinarily useful reference work [is] at once authoritative, pioneering and inclusive …'.

Source: Renaissance Quarterly

'This book is a major accomplishment, and will alter the very landscape for which it provides such an effective map.'

Source: Studies in English Literature

' …a monument and record of a generation that has made large advances in knowledge and understanding of its period'.

Source: The Review of English Studies

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - Modes and means of literary production, circulation and reception
  • View abstract
    Reading and writing were the rudiments of the early modern English literature, two very distinct and separate skills, taught about two years apart. This chapter discusses the basic literacy rates, vernacular elementary schools, and the production of printed books in the early modern period. The 1620s begin to appear as a decade not only of increased ballad production, but of an explosion of cheap print. From the second half of the sixteenth century, more and more grammar school foundations included the teaching of English language skills as part of their provision, though always as a necessary preliminary to the study of Latin. Women from the upper and more prosperous middle classes are also to be found acting as founders and benefactors to the universities, contributing both to the founding of colleges and to the support of students. It was not until the seventeenth century that a new kind of educational provision for girls of the upper and middle classes appeared.
  • 2 - Manuscript transmission and circulation
    pp 55-80
  • View abstract
    In the early seventeenth century, the activities of the law and Parliament were conducted with hardly any recourse to the printed word. Juridical proceedings were preserved only in tenacious memories and handwritten precis: even law textbooks were as likely to be manuscript copies as printed. This chapter explores the different experiences of readership and authorship undergone by the same individuals at different times and under different circumstances. Although literary works in a variety of genres were circulated and collected in manuscript in the early modern period, lyrics constitute a high percentage of the total. The manuscript transmission of poetry communicates two contradictory messages: first, that such work was socially occasional and ephemeral, and second, that it was worth preserving. The traces of the social circulation and collecting of texts including some written by such canonical authors as Wyatt, Sidney and Donne are numerous enough for us to perceive the workings of the system of literary transmission.
  • 3 - Print, literary culture and the book trade
    pp 81-116
  • View abstract
    This chapter discusses the advent of printing in England, early English printing, consolidation of the book trade, and the emergence of the author in early modern English literature. Well into the seventeenth century and beyond, professionally handwritten texts continued to be produced and desired; print and manuscript circulated alongside one another, sometimes in the very same book. William Caxton has been celebrated for bringing printing to England. With his death and the passing of his business to his assistant, Wynken de Worde, the English book trade began successfully to solicit a wider audience for its offerings. As new technology of English printing reached England, the universities, monasteries and cathedrals quickly set up presses to meet their own specialised needs. In 1662, a new printing act attempted to restore order to the trade. In most cases, authors were at least paid for their work, even if the rights to it as copy belonged to the publisher.
  • 4 - Literary patronage
    pp 117-140
  • View abstract
    Following the suppression of the monasteries and the turmoil in the church in the 1530s, the patronage of writers became almost exclusively secular. Patronage in the early Tudor period was neither systematic nor sustained, and its recipients had limited expectations. One group of writers needed patronage and protection more than most: the Protestant reformers. For figures such as Lord Burghley, Earl of Leicester and Sir Philip Sidney, literary patronage was an important part of their public lives. The anomaly of the Elizabethan system of patronage was the monarch's non-participation. The Queen did not extend patronage to writers, artists or architects. The Leicester-Sidney line of patronage continued into the seventeenth century with Sidney's sister, Mary, who became Countess of Pembroke, and her sons William and Philip Herbert, who became the third and fourth Earls of Pembroke respectively. The most significant act of patronage by King James, however, was the translation of the Bible that he initiated and oversaw.
  • 5 - Languages of early modern literature in Britain
    pp 141-169
  • View abstract
    The six vernacular languages in use in Renaissance Britain included two modern descendants of Anglo-Saxon, English and Scots, and four Celtic languages: Cornish, Welsh, Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic. This chapter begins with a brief overview of the status of the vernacular languages in Renaissance Britain and proceeds to investigate language choices in selected fields of Renaissance writing. It summarises the fate of both spoken and written Cornish. The chapter then focuses on three representative disciplines, from the spectrum of the Renaissance arts and sciences. These are 'diuinitie', 'physicke' (or medicine) and poetry. The chapter traces how and why the Protestant Reformation in Britain led to acts of linguistic supremacy, linguistic uniformity, and counter-reform movements within the written language. Medical practitioners and clerics had much in common in the Renaissance. Finally, the issues involved in determining the language appropriate to British poetry and to British poetics, and the choices made by three major poets: Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton, are discussed.
  • 6 - Habits of reading and early modern literary culture
    pp 170-198
  • View abstract
    This chapter discusses the consumption and production of vernacular literature in early modern England, more especially the ways in which habits of reading created a field of expectations in which literature was imagined and into which texts were issued. The letter in which Donne seeks the manuscript compilation from Goodyer, is rich with implications of literary culture. Reading in the Renaissance was not always private, silent and immobile, nor did early modern reading vanish quite without a trace. However, writing was among the most widespread habits of early modern reading. The dominant models of Renaissance literary consumption, were imitation, exemplarity and admiration. Jonson's language of ciphers and disguise, his exposing of vice and publication of scandal, his sense of cabinets opened and secrets revealed seem as much to predict the circumstances of rebellion, revolution and Restoration as to name Jacobean practices. The strenuous republicanism of the 1650s gave way to that forcefield of ironies that constituted Restoration culture.
  • 7 - Literature and national identity
    pp 199-228
  • View abstract
    Popular and semi-popular writing on patriotic themes in the Tudor Era focused either on the power and splendour of the King, or on God's special favour to the realm. Writings aimed at the basically literate, designed to arouse feelings of loyalty and affection towards King and country, and of corresponding antipathy to those seen as a threat, form one category of work to be noticed. A second category consists of treatises on the laws and government of England. The third is the enormous literature generated by Henry VIII's Great Matter, the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Scotland, by contrast, had no such pretension. A sense of national identity had certainly existed since the fourteenth century, fuelled by the desire to differentiate from a threatening enemy. Wales and Ireland differed fundamentally from Scotland in that neither was an independent state, and therefore did not even have the opportunity to focus a sense of identity upon its machinery.
  • 8 - Literature and the court
    pp 229-256
  • View abstract
    In 1537, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey was trapped between the power of an increasingly absolute monarch and the desire of a courtier to project the authenticity of his own text and particular self-representation. Three writers, who achieved lasting texts, provide a spectrum for surveying what may be called literature in the period from Henry VIII to Mary I. The trio:the Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Anne Askew, illustrate the tensions between the court and the writers in their shared fate of destruction. Edward Hall demonstrates how court literature, drama and symbolic action generally exerted political coercion over foreign ambassadors and merchants and the general populace. In the last years of Henry VIIII, the English Petrarchan influence was vast. As the Lutheran dialectic gained power in Tudor England, troubling questions inevitably arose and they turned on the question of the self-discovery of the writer and the necessity of a supreme monarch to keep society from falling into chaos.
  • 9 - Literature and the church
    pp 257-310
  • View abstract
    This chapter addresses the advent of the English Reformation from its political inception in the 'Great Matter' of Henry VIII's divorce suit to its formal reinstatement in the first year of Elizabeth's reign. It traces crucial interrelations between literature and the Church in this cataclysmic era. In late 1529, Henry convened the 'Reformation Parliament' - disloyalty to the English crown, committed by acknowledging papal supremacy. The Act for the Submission of the Clergy and the Dispensations Act reasserted Henry's royal supremacy and extended lay powers of judgement in ecclesiastical cases, licences and dispensations, in particular placing under royal supervision monasteries that had claimed papal privilege. An enormous increase in the volume of printed materials in English followed the accession of the nine-year-old Edward VI in February 1547 and the ascendancy of the forces of religious reform that lasted until Edward's death in July 1553. The chapter also locates the central interest and merit in Thomas Cranmer's homiletic and devotional prose.
  • 3 - The era of Elizabeth and James VI
  • View abstract
    This chapter discusses the languages of national identity in the Tudor century. The nation-state is arguably an innovative political form in this period, and its authors sought to describe it with all available resources. The inception of the Reformation in Scotland during the late 1550s marks a new era for the Scottish languages of national identity in this period. In England, writers figured this identification as an essential, organic and divinely engineered fact, cemented by the providential progress of English Protestantism. The consummate writer of royal character is Shakespeare, whose history plays cultivate a volatile vision of the in most workings of power. Wales and Ireland were models of the relations between England and its fellow occupants of the British isles. The Irish resemble Buchanan's highlanders, although their own obdurate refusal to assimilate to English ways serves as a sign of rebellion rather than a cornerstone of national virtue. No English discourse of Irish nationhood exists in the English language.
  • 11 - Literature and the court
    pp 343-373
  • View abstract
    The royal court in the Elizabethan period was a centre of political happenings, a cultural nexus and a powerhouse of literary activity. It was a fount of and focus for every kind of literature from public to private, formal to informal, official to popular, urban to regional. Whether it was written by the court, at the court, for the court or about the court, from the most slavish propaganda to the most rancorous anti-court satire, there is scarcely a category of literature that was not influenced it. For the most part of the sixteenth century, writers were dependent on a system of patronage, centred firmly on the court. This period marked 'the first great age of government by paper', and literary skills were in great demand. An important figure in the writing of court drama was John Lyly, who wrote a series of elegant comedies performed at court by the Children of the Chapel Royal.
  • 12 - Literature and the church
    pp 374-398
  • View abstract
    Religion permeated many areas of early modern life and much of its book production. Two factors, other than piety, must be taken into account in explaining the volume of religious publication. On the one hand there were the commercial motives of printers and booksellers; on the other, the interest of state and church and of organised bodies of religious opinion, often critical, even dissident. The Rheims-Douai Bible was but a small part of a massive exercise in print communication. English Catholics became a people of the book, every bit as much as their Protestant antagonists. Bibles came in three formats, from which different uses can be inferred: folios, for reading aloud in church or in large households; quartos and octavos for individual use. The Book of Common Prayer, backed up by an Act of Parliament which required its presence and continual use in every parish church in the country, more obviously bore the official imprimatur.
  • 13 - Literature and London
    pp 399-427
  • View abstract
    The literature of early modern England was shaped by the manifold developments that made London, the second largest metropolis in Europe by the later seventeenth century. The normative background against which literary innovation was defined in Elizabethan London was a holdover from the medieval world of the Three Estates: an alliance between ministry and magistracy, holy word and civic sword. The Elizabethan broadside ballad was quickly adapted to communicating information, entertainment, protest, advice and instruction, a range of matters that Thomas Middleton termed 'fashions, fictions, felonies, fooleries'. Religious and moral objections to ballads became the basis for non-courtly poetry devoted to moral and societal reform. Literary professionalism reached its culmination in the later Elizabethan age among a generation of remarkable London writers that included Thomas Lodge, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe and Thomas Dekker. In both satiric epigram and formal verse satire, the pursuit of distinction through classical imitation proceeded in dialogue with both urban popular culture and native literary traditions.
  • 14 - Literature and the theatre
    pp 428-456
  • View abstract
    The plays for which the English Renaissance is truly memorable begin early in Elizabeth's reign. This chapter explores the sorts of stages and acting venues that were provided for actors who put on the drama of the early Reformation, and the ways those stages provide a vital dimension to the ideological changes that were beginning to take place in Reformation England. The chapter argues that a sense of 'rival traditions' did develop between elite and popular to the significant extent that sophisticated drama tended to be perceived by the bourgeois Elect as particularly and repellently ungodly. Staging added to the vibrancy of the newly existential theatre of the late 1580s and 1590s. Drama of the Renaissance, once a bright hope of the Reformers, has become commercialised and satirical to the extent that thoughtful intellectual observers are ready to give it up for lost.
  • 4 - The earlier Stuart era
  • View abstract
    This chapter traces the interplay of national identity and religious and political allegiances in the literature of the years between the accession of James I and the outbreak of the English Civil War. The first section considers Jacobean debates on the Union, and national identity. The second focuses on notions of allegiance to the Crown, and particularly on the debate over the Oath of Allegiance of 1606, a debate to which the King himself contributed, as did John Donne, Lancelot Andrewes and many other divines and gentlemen. The third section discusses English writers who rejected the King's opinions on royal power. The chapter also treats Scottish works on nationhood, and the equation of Scottishness with anti-popery and limited monarchy. Finally, it analyses writings on nationhood by the Irish, and English settlers in Ireland. A strong sense of nationhood was a major theme in the literature of all three of the kingdoms which James and Charles tried to rule.
  • 16 - Literature and the court
    pp 487-511
  • View abstract
    James I was the first British monarch who fully understood and exploited the power of print to publicise his own treatises, royal entertainments, proclamations and other materials closely associated with the court. This chapter traces some ingenious strategies by which literature closely associated with the early Stuart court sought to erase its own highly specific affiliations and present itself as offering broadly accepted truths that belonged to the nation as a whole. It considers James's well-known interest in Roman imperial themes, as applied in particular to his project for the creation of Great Britain through the union of England and Scotland. Despite the palliative revisions, the strong medicine of this entertainment demonstrates just how intellectually and morally challenging court entertainments could be under the early Stuarts. The chapter also explores the extent of the extreme hieraticism of the Caroline masque that reflected or reworked in other literary forms of the period.
  • 17 - Literature and the church
    pp 512-543
  • View abstract
    Early Stuart controversial divinity centres on issues of authority, jurisdiction, power, obedience, conformity and outward worship. Editions of early Stuart sermons indicate not only when they were preached but where and to whom. The great flowering of religious literature, both poetry and prose, in the early seventeenth century was partly a reaction against the polemical floodtide impelling the fractious currents of ecclesio-political history. According to Donne, the key differences between Roman and Reformed Christianity are that the Roman church 'carries heaven farther from us; and the Roman profession, seems to exhale, and refine our wills from earthly Dregs, and Lees, more then the Reformed, and so seems to bring us nearer heaven'. Protestant religious literature can, in turn, be seen as a rethinking of Christian selfhood and Christian virtue. The language of devotion in early Stuart England can be unhappy, unmannerly and uneasy, yet it also registers the wondrous moments when God 'dost turn, and wilt be neare'.
  • 18 - Literature and London
    pp 544-564
  • View abstract
    This chapter describes the complexities which characterise the relationship between the literary arts, especially those of an officially sanctioned kind, and political circumstances in the metropolis during the period 1603-40. It shows how radical ideology is tracked in literary culture and literary representation of London in the 1620s and 1630s. It is striking how readily London-generated panegyric picked up on the principal themes of James's political ideology, supplementing them with a neatly inflected celebration of the city's ancient loyalism. Understandably, a phenomenon that in London accounted for 'at least a fifth of all deaths from 1603 to 1665' deeply marked the literary culture of the metropolis as surely as it deformed its social life. Dekker's London writings, however, show a similar vein of civic pride and stoical resilience. The chapter considers the role of secular literary forms in producing and maintaining an image of early modern London.
  • 19 - Literature and the theatre to 1660
    pp 565-602
  • View abstract
    The story of early Stuart theatre is a narrative almost entirely confined to England and Wales. The focus of the theatrical market was shifting to London. Only London could provide the numbers of spectators to keep this many theatres in business. By 1700, London's unique combination of political, economic and social functions had doubled the City's size. The most self-consciously ambitious of the new wave of Jacobean playwrights, Jonson outlined his aspirations in Poetaster, performed by the Blackfriars Boys. Poetaster and Satiromastix exemplify the complex forces that were transforming the situation of the early Stuart dramatists. The extraordinary achievements of early Jacobean drama were produced in a theatre where audiences were still socially mixed, and where considerable cross-fertilisation took place between popular and elite dramatic forms. The repertoire at the Jacobean and Caroline amphitheatres was increasingly pitched towards citizen audiences whose tastes were nostalgic, patriotic and robust.
  • 20 - Literature and the household
    pp 603-630
  • View abstract
    In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, households of various kinds emerged as a prominent site of literary production for authors, offering an alternative to the court or the church. While Jonson's 'Penshurst' celebrates an estate and household founded on patriarchy, the other great households that served as sites or stimuli for writing in the period were headed by women. A noble household that nurtured literary production was that of Margaret Russell Clifford Countess of Cumberland. The work most directly associated with the Clifford household is Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, the first substantial volume of original poems published by a woman. Households of the lesser gentry or the bourgeoisie also provided sites for and stimuli to literary production. Women also wrote books of domestic advice. The Countess of Lincolnes Nurserie was written to urge women to breast-feed, as a thing ordained by God and proper to their nature and biological function.
  • 5 - The Civil War and Commonwealth era
  • View abstract
    The literary record of the 1640s opened at court with a dramatic assertion of a supra-national identity centring in the King. John Milton provides a measure of the complexities of national identity in the world in which Davenant's masque was imagined and performed. The British identifications that came so naturally to Milton were also part of the booksellers' stock-in-trade. The brilliantly successful Eikon Basilike enabled its countless purchasers to practise private devotions even as they privately asserted, against the usurping republic, a national identity rooted in monarchy and liturgical devotion alike. In its romance with Elizabeth as well as in its dreams of empire, if not in its republican critique, Harrington's Oceana draws surprisingly close to the rhetoric of the establishment. The great emblem from these years that saw the nation re-imagined is not therefore their most famous artifact, the frontispiece to Leviathan representing the state as the sum of its human and material parts.
  • 22 - Literature and religion
    pp 664-713
  • View abstract
    The war of religion was waged across the period in a bewildering diversity of polemical strategies and forms in both prose and poetry. The religious writing in the period 1640-60 is a literary equivalent of the mid nineteenth-century opening up of the American West. The war of words over religion between Royalists and Parliamentarians was soon strictly subsidiary to the verbal skirmishes within the Parliamentarian movement. First, the running argument about church government between the advocates of a confessional state and the champions of religious pluralism, and second, the literature of the Holy Spirit, as organizing principles, are discussed. The religious conflicts of the 1640s and 1650s prompted satirical responses from pro-Royalist poets who registered anxiety about a breakdown of ecclesiastical control that was unleashing new religious freedom, zeal and lower-class radical preaching. The fall of Laud and the established church was followed by an outburst of sectarian activity which bewildered and frustrated orthodox Puritans.
  • 23 - Literature and London
    pp 714-736
  • View abstract
    London, however, was at the heart of the Civil War, and understanding its unique role is one of the keys to understanding the nature of the English Revolution and the literary innovations of 1652-4. There were ways in which London was bound together by common ways of writing: due to the hold of traditions and common perceptions that remained despite faction and religious division. London given its support to Parliament, but there were plenty of Royalists within the City. John Milton's voice in the cause of religious reform equalled in quality the very best of the Puritan Long Parliament sermons. Milton's vision of intellectual freedom is intensely urban: he compares the freedom of which London is capable with the intellectually limited world of contemporary Italy. London's Liberty in Chains Discovered, written when Lilburne was a prisoner in the Tower of London, ties the politics of London's corporation to the radical agendas in the City and in the New Model Army.

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