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:
http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/locations/location154.html. 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:
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
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