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The Renaissance Historical Context

The Renaissance

Historical Context

This module looks at the English Renaissance period, c.1500 to c. 1688 and focuses on several

short selections from William Shakespeare’s works. Therefore, it makes sense to understand

something of the world in which Shakespeare lived.

Sometimes, this period is called the Early Modern Period and the language of the time takes its

name from that title. Students who are just beginning to read Shakespeare often think of his

language as “Old English,” but it’s really the beginning of our own Modern English with true Old

English being unrecognizable to modern readers.

During this period in England, the University of Massachusetts website explains that there was

a “rebirth among English elite of classical learning, a rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman

authors, and a recovery of the ancient Greek spirit of scientific inquiry” (“Periods” para. 1). The

same website provides additional background information on the major

characteristics of the period at:

From November 17, 1558, to her death on

March 24,1603, Elizabeth I ruled England. She

presided over a golden age. She was an

accomplished poet herself, and it was during

her reign that Shakespeare’s work came to

prominence. Her navy defeated the Spanish

Armada in 1588. This was also the period when

the New World was being explored by the English. It was truly a

period of re-birth. On her death, she was succeeded by James IV of

Scotland, who became James I of England on March 21, 1603. He,

too, was a patron of the arts. Within a few days of the new king’s arrival in London, highly

regarded people in the theatre were granted a license to perform in London at the Globe,

Shakespeare among them expecting the greatness of Elizabeth’s reign to continue during


Read about Shakespeare’s London at the Public Broadcasting System’s website: You can also read about daily life

Queen Elizabeth I, artist unknown, circa 1575

James I of England, by Daniel Mijtens, 1621

in the city at Shakespeare Online: http://www.shakespeare-

Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre was built by his playing company in 1599 an destroyed by

fire on June 29, 1613. However, its replica exists today in magnificent form, the brainchild of

American actor and director Sam Wannamaker and opened for performances in 1997. It is a

vibrant part of the London theatre scene today. Visit the Globe Theatre:

Works Cited

Mabillard, Amanda. “Life in Shakespeare’s London.” Shakespeare Online. Amanda Mabillard.

n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.

Mijtens, Daniel. James I of England. 1621. The National Portrait Gallery, London. Wikimedia

Commons. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

“Periods: Renaissance.” British Literature Review. University of Massachusetts. n.d. Web. 13

Nov. 2014.

Artist Unknown. Queen Elizabeth. 1575. National Portrait Gallery, London. Wikimedia

Commons. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

Shakespeare’s Globe. The Shakespeare Globe Trust. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.

“Shakespeare’s London.” In Search of Shakespeare. Public Broadcasting System. n.d. Web. 13

Nov. 2014.


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