English Renaissance (1500–1660) After William Caxton introduced the printing press in England in 1476, vernacular literature flourished.The Reformation inspired the production of a vernacular liturgy which led to the Book of Common Prayer (1549), a lasting influence on literary language. The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement in England dating from the late 15th to the 17th century. It is associated with the pan-European Renaissance that is usually regarded as beginning in Italy in the late 14th century. Like most of northern Europe, England saw little of these developments until more than a century later. Renaissance style and ideas were slow in penetrating England, and the Elizabethan era in the second half of the 16th century is usually regarded as the height of the English Renaissance. This Italian influence can also be found in the poetry of Thomas Wyatt (1503–42), one of the earliest English Renaissance poets. He was responsible for many innovations in English poetry, and alongside Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1516/1517–47) introduced the sonnet from Italy into England in the early 16th century.   Elizabethan period (1558–1603) Poetry Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–99) was one of the most important poets of the Elizabethan period, author of The Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596), an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. Another major figure, Sir Philip Sidney (1554–86), was an English poet, whose works include “Astrophel and Stella”, “The Defence of Poetry”, and “The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia”. Poems intended to be set to music as songs, such as those by Thomas Campion (1567–1620), became popular as printed literature was disseminated more widely in households. Plays Among the earliest Elizabethan plays are Gorboduc (1561) by Sackville and Norton and Thomas Kyd’s (1558–94) The Spanish Tragedy (1592). Gorboduc is notable especially as the first verse drama in English to employ blank verse, and for the way, it developed elements, from the earlier morality plays and Senecan tragedy, in the direction which would be followed by later playwrights. The Spanish Tragedy is an Elizabethan tragedy written by Thomas Kyd between 1582 and 1592, which was popular and influential in its time, and established a new genre in English literature Theatre, the revenge play. William Shakespeare (1564–1616) stands out in this period as a poet and playwright as yet unsurpassed. Shakespeare wrote plays in a variety of genres, including histories, tragedies, comedies and the late romances, or tragicomedies. Shakespeare’s career continues in the Jacobean period.Other important figures in Elizabethan Theatre include Christopher Marlowe, and Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont.   Jacobean period (1603–25) In the early 17th century, Shakespeare wrote the so-called “problem plays”, as well as a number of his best-known tragedies, including Macbeth and King Lear. In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed three more major plays, including The Tempest. Less bleak than the tragedies, these four plays are graver in tone than the comedies of the 1590s, but they end with reconciliation and the forgiveness of potentially tragic errors. After Shakespeare’s death, the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson (1572–1637) was the leading literary figure of the Jacobean era. Jonson’s aesthetics hark back to the Middle Ages and his characters embody the theory of humors, which was based on contemporary medical theory. Jonson’s comedies include Volpone (1605 or 1606)) and Bartholomew Fair (1614). Others who followed Jonson’s style include Beaumont and Fletcher wrote the popular comedy, The Knight of the Burning Pestle (probably 1607–08), a satire of the rising middle class. Another popular style of theatre during Jacobean times was the revenge play, which was popularized in the Elizabethan era by Thomas Kyd (1558–94), and then further developed later by John Webster (1578-1632). He wrote The White Devil (1612) and The Duchess of Malfi (1613). Other revenge tragedies include The Changeling written by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. Poetry George Chapman (c. 1559-1634) is remembered chiefly for his famous translation in 1616 of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey into English verse. This was the first ever complete translations of either poem into the English language. The translation had a profound influence on English literature and inspired John Keats’s famous sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” (1816). Shakespeare popularized the English sonnet, which made significant changes to Petrarch’s model. A collection of 154 sonnets, dealing with themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality, were first published in a 1609 quart. Besides Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, the major poets of the early 17th century included the Metaphysical poets: John Donne (1572–1631), George Herbert (1593–1633), Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, and Richard Crashaw. Their style was characterized by wit and metaphysical conceits, that is, far-fetched or unusual similes or metaphors. Prose The most important prose work of the early 17th century was the King James Bible. This, one of the most massive translation projects in the history of English up to this time, was started in 1604 and completed in 1611. This represents the culmination of a tradition of Bible translation into English that began with the work of William Tyndale, and it became the standard Bible of the Church of England.   Late Renaissance (1625–1660) Poetry The Metaphysical poets John Donne (1572–1631) and George Herbert (1593–1633) were still alive after 1625, and later in the 17th century the second generation of metaphysical poets were writing, including Richard Crashaw (1613–49), Andrew Marvell (1621–1678), Thomas Traherne (1636 or 1637–1674) and Henry Vaughan (1622–1695). The Cavalier poets were another important group of 17th-century poets, who came from the classes that supported King Charles I during the English Civil War (1642–51). (King Charles reigned from 1625 and was executed 1649). The best known of the Cavalier poets are Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Carew and Sir John Suckling. They “were not a formal group, but all were influenced by” Ben Jonson. Most of the Cavalier poets were courtiers, with notable exceptions. For example, Robert Herrick was not a courtier, but his style marks him as a Cavalier poet. Cavalier works make use of allegory and classical allusions and are influenced by Latin authors Horace, Cicero and Ovid. John Milton (1608–74) “was the last great poet of the English Renaissance” and published a number of works before 1660including L’Allegro (1631), Il Penseroso (1634), Comus (1638) and Lycidas (1638). However, his major epic works, including Paradise Lost (1667) were published in the Restoration period. ←Middle English  Restoration→