History of Literature

English literature



The Old English period

The early Middle English period

The later Middle English and early Renaissance periods

The Renaissance period: 1550–1660

Elizabethan and early Stuart drama

Effect of religion and science on early Stuart prose

The Restoration

The 18th century

The 18th century. The novel

The Romantic period

The later Romantics

The Post-Romantic and Victorian eras

Late Victorian literature

The 20th century. The Modernist revolution

The literature of World War I and the interwar period

Literature after 1945. Fiction. Poetry

Literature after 1945. Drama. The 21st century



English literature

The Renaissance period: 1550–1660


Robert Greene
John Colet
Sir Thomas Hoby
John Florio
Sir John Cheke
Sir Thomas North
John Foxe
Miles Coverdale
Edward Hall
Raphael Holinshed
Nicholas Grimald
George Turberville
George Gascoigne
Sir John Harington
Thomas Sackville
Thomas Churchyard
Sir Philip Sidney  "Poems"
Edmund Spenser  "The Faerie Queene" BOOK I, BOOK II, BOOK III, BOOK IV, BOOK V, BOOK VI  Illustrations by W. Crane
Thomas Lodge
George Peele
Thomas Nashe
Thomas Dekker
Thomas Campion
Nicholas Breton
Samuel Daniel
Michael Drayton
Fulke Greville
Barnabe Barnes
Giles Fletcher the Elder
Sir John Davies
Robert Southwell
Francis Beaumont
George Chapman
John Marston
Sir Walter Raleigh
Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex
Joseph Hall

Cyril Tourneur
Richard Hakluyt
John Stow
William Painter
Anthony Munday

Richard Hooker
Thomas Deloney


Literature and the age

In a tradition of literature remarkable for its exacting and brilliant achievements, the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods have been said to represent the most brilliant century of all. (The reign of Elizabeth I began in 1558 and ended with her death in 1603; she was succeeded by the Stuart king James VI of Scotland, who took the title James I of England as well. English literature of his reign as James I, from 1603 to 1625, is properly called Jacobean.) These years produced a gallery of authors of genius, some of whom have never been surpassed, and conferred on scores of lesser talents the enviable ability to write with fluency, imagination, and verve. From one point of view, this sudden renaissance looks radiant, confident, heroic—and belated, but all the more dazzling for its belatedness. Yet, from another point of view, this was a time of unusually traumatic strain, in which English society underwent massive disruptions that transformed it on every front and decisively affected the life of every individual. In the brief, intense moment in which England assimilated the European Renaissance, the circumstances that made the assimilation possible were already disintegrating and calling into question the newly won certainties, as well as the older truths that they were dislodging. This doubleness, of new possibilities and new doubts simultaneously apprehended, gives the literature its unrivaled intensity.

Social conditions

In this period England’s population doubled; prices rocketed, rents followed, old social loyalties dissolved, and new industrial, agricultural, and commercial veins were first tapped. Real wages hit an all-time low in the 1620s, and social relations were plunged into a state of fluidity from which the merchant and the ambitious lesser gentleman profited at the expense of the aristocrat and the labourer, as satires and comedies current from the 1590s complain. Behind the Elizabethan vogue for pastoral poetry lies the fact of the prosperity of the enclosing sheep farmer, who sought to increase pasture at the expense of the peasantry. Tudor platitudes about order and degree could neither combat nor survive the challenge posed to rank by these arrivistes. The position of the crown, politically dominant yet financially insecure, had always been potentially unstable, and, when Charles I lost the confidence of his greater subjects in the 1640s, his authority crumbled. Meanwhile, the huge body of poor fell ever further behind the rich; the pamphlets of Thomas Harman (1566) and Robert Greene (1591–92), as well as Shakespeare’s King Lear (1605–06), provide glimpses of a horrific world of vagabondage and crime, the Elizabethans’ biggest, unsolvable social problem.

Robert Greene

born July 1558?, Norwich, Eng.
died Sept. 3, 1592, London

one of the most popular English prose writers of the later 16th century and Shakespeare’s most successful predecessor in blank-verse romantic comedy. He was also one of the first professional writers and among the earliest English autobiographers.

Greene obtained degrees at both Cambridge and Oxford. He then went to London, where he became an intimate of its underworld. He wrote more than 35 works between 1580 and 1592. To be certain of supplying material attractive to the public, Greene at first slavishly followed literary fashions. His first model was John Lyly’s Euphues.

In the later 1580s Greene wrote prose pastorals in the manner of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, interspersed with charming, often irrelevant lyrics that have given Greene a reputation as a poet. The best of his pastorals is Pandosto (1588), the direct source of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

About 1590 Greene began to compose serious didactic works. Beginning with Greenes never too late (1590), he related prodigal son stories. That Greene drew on his own experience is evident from the tract Greenes groats-worth of witte, bought with a million of repentance, printed posthumously in 1592 with Greene’s admission that Roberto’s experiences were essentially his own. In Groats-worth appears the first printed reference to Shakespeare, assailed as “an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you . . . in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrie.” (The words in italics are from Shakespeare’s I Henry VI.) Greene is thought to be criticizing Shakespeare the actor.

Greene’s writings for the theatre present numerous problems; the dating of his plays is conjectural, and his role as collaborator has produced much inconclusive discussion. With The Honorable Historie of frier Bacon, and frier Bongay (written c. 1591, published 1594), the first successful romantic comedy in English, Greene realized his comic talent in drama. In The Scottish Historie of James the fourth, slaine at Flodden (written c. 1590, published 1598) he used an Italian tale but drew on fairy lore for the characters of Oberon and Bohan. It was a forerunner of As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As Marlowe anticipated the tragedies of Shakespeare, so, in a lesser way, Greene furnished him a model in dramatic comedy and romance.

In his last year Greene wrote exposés of the Elizabethan underworld, such as A Notable Discovery of Coosnage (1591) and the successful and amusing A disputation betweene a hee conny-catcher and a shee conny-catcher (1592).

Intellectual and religious revolution

The barely disguised social ferment was accompanied by an intellectual revolution, as the medieval synthesis collapsed before the new science, new religion, and new humanism. While modern mechanical technologies were pressed into service by the Stuarts to create the scenic wonders of the court masque, the discoveries of astronomers and explorers were redrawing the cosmos in a way that was profoundly disturbing:

And freely men confess that this world’s spent,
When in the planets, and the firmament
They seek so many new….

The majority of people were more immediately affected by the religious revolutions of the 16th century. A person in early adulthood at the accession of Elizabeth in 1558 would, by her death in 1603, have been vouchsafed an unusually disillusioning insight into the duty owed by private conscience to the needs of the state. The Tudor church hierarchy was an instrument of social and political control, yet the mid-century controversies over the faith had already wrecked any easy confidence in the authority of doctrines and forms and had taught people to inquire carefully into the rationale of their own beliefs (as John Donne does in his third satire [c. 1596]). The Elizabethan ecclesiastical compromise was the object of continual criticism, from radicals both within (who desired progressive reforms, such as the abolition of bishops) and without (who desired the return of England to the Roman Catholic fold), but the incipient liberalism of individuals such as John Milton and the scholar and churchman William Chillingworth was held in check by the majority’s unwillingness to tolerate a plurality of religions in a supposedly unitary state. Nor was the Calvinist orthodoxy that cradled most English writers comforting, for it told them that they were corrupt, unfree, unable to earn their own salvations, and subject to heavenly judgments that were arbitrary and absolute. Calvinism deeply affects the world of the Jacobean tragedies, whose heroes are not masters of their fates but victims of divine purposes that are terrifying yet inscrutable.

The race for cultural development

The third complicating factor was the race to catch up with Continental developments in arts and philosophy. The Tudors needed to create a class of educated diplomats, statesmen, and officials and to dignify their court by making it a fount of cultural as well as political patronage. The new learning, widely disseminated through the Erasmian (after the humanist Desiderius Erasmus) educational programs of such men as John Colet and Sir Thomas Elyot, proposed to use a systematic schooling in Latin authors and some Greek to encourage in the social elites a flexibility of mind and civilized serviceableness that would allow enlightened princely government to walk hand in hand with responsible scholarship. Humanism fostered an intimate familiarity with the classics that was a powerful incentive for the creation of an English literature of answerable dignity. It fostered as well a practical, secular piety that left its impress everywhere on Elizabethan writing. Humanism’s effect, however, was modified by the simultaneous impact of the flourishing Continental cultures, particularly the Italian. Repeatedly, crucial innovations in English letters developed resources originating from Italy—such as the sonnet of Petrarch, the epic of Ludovico Ariosto, the pastoral of Jacopo Sannazzaro, the canzone, and blank verse—and values imported with these forms were in competition with the humanists’ ethical preoccupations. Social ideals of wit, many-sidedness, and sprezzatura (accomplishment mixed with unaffectedness) were imbibed from Baldassare Castiglione’s Il cortegiano, translated as The Courtyer by Sir Thomas Hoby in 1561, and Elizabethan court poetry is steeped in Castiglione’s aristocratic Neoplatonism, his notions of universal proportion, and the love of beauty as the path to virtue. Equally significant was the welcome afforded to Niccolò Machiavelli, whose lessons were vilified publicly and absorbed in private. The Prince, written in 1513, was unavailable in English until 1640, but as early as the 1580s Gabriel Harvey, a friend of the poet Edmund Spenser, can be found enthusiastically hailing its author as the apostle of modern pragmatism. “We are much beholden to Machiavel and others,” said Francis Bacon, “that write what men do, and not what they ought to do.”

So the literary revival occurred in a society rife with tensions, uncertainties, and competing versions of order and authority, religion and status, sex and the self. The Elizabethan settlement was a compromise; the Tudor pretense that the people of England were unified in belief disguised the actual fragmentation of the old consensus under the strain of change. The new scientific knowledge proved both man’s littleness and his power to command nature; against the Calvinist idea of man’s helplessness pulled the humanist faith in his dignity, especially that conviction, derived from the reading of Seneca and so characteristic of the period, of man’s constancy and fortitude, his heroic capacity for self-determination. It was still possible for Elizabeth to hold these divergent tendencies together in a single, heterogeneous culture, but under her successors they would eventually fly apart. The philosophers speaking for the new century would be Francis Bacon, who argued for the gradual advancement of science through patient accumulation of experiments, and the skeptic Michel de Montaigne (his Essays translated from the French by John Florio [1603]), who denied that it was possible to formulate any general principles of knowledge.

Cutting across all of these was the persistence of popular habits of thought and expression. Both humanism and Puritanism set themselves against vulgar ignorance and folk tradition, but, fortunately, neither could remain aloof for long from the robustness of popular taste. Sir Philip Sidney, in England’s first Neoclassical literary treatise, The Defence of Poesie (written c. 1578–83, published 1595), candidly admitted that “the old song [i.e., ballad] of Percy and Douglas” would move his heart “more than with a trumpet,” and his Arcadia (final version published in 1593) is a representative instance of the fruitful cross-fertilization of genres in this period—the contamination of aristocratic pastoral with popular tale, the lyric with the ballad, comedy with romance, tragedy with satire, and poetry with prose. The language, too, was undergoing a rapid expansion that all classes contributed to and benefited from, sophisticated literature borrowing without shame the idioms of colloquial speech. An allusion in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606–07) to heaven peeping “through the blanket of the dark” would become a “problem” only later, when, for instance, Samuel Johnson complained in 1751 that such words provoked laughter rather than awe. Johnson’s was an age when tragic dignity implied politeness, when it was below the dignity of tragedy to mention so lowly an object as a blanket. But the Elizabethans’ ability to address themselves to several audiences simultaneously and to bring into relation opposed experiences, emphases, and worldviews invested their writing with complexity and power.


John Colet

born 1467, London
died Sept. 16, 1519, Sheen, Surrey, Eng.

theologian and founder of St. Paul’s School, London, who, as one of the chief Tudor Humanists, promoted Renaissance culture in England.

The son of a prosperous merchant who had been Lord Mayor of London, Colet studied mathematics and philosophy at Oxford and then travelled and studied for three years in France and Italy. He returned to England c. 1496 and was ordained in 1498. He lectured at Oxford University, to which he invited Desiderius Erasmus, the brilliant Humanist of the northern Renaissance. In addition to Erasmus, Colet collaborated with and influenced such prime Humanists as Sir Thomas More and Thomas Linacre, prototype of the scholar-physicians of the Renaissance. Colet was appointed dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1504 and founded St. Paul’s School c. 1509.

Colet’s devotion to Humanism was diversely expressed. His insistence that the classics be taught diffused a sounder knowledge of Greek and Latin and of ancient life and thought. He revered the 3rd-century philosopher Plotinus, founder of the Neoplatonist school; Marsilio Ficino, one of the leaders of Renaissance Platonism; and Dionysius the Areopagite, allegedly an early Christian convert regarded as the author of The Mystical Theology of the Celestial Hierarchies, on which Colet wrote a treatise. His contempt for contemporary ecclesiastical abuses was so intense that his denunciation of the sins of the clergy caused him to be suspected of heresy.

Colet’s works, mainly unpublished until the 19th-century editions of J.H. Lupton (1867–76), include commentaries on Romans and Corinthians and treatises on the sacraments and the church. With Erasmus and John Lily, he wrote a Latin grammar that was widely used for many years.



Sir Thomas Hoby

born 1530, Leominster, Herefordshire, Eng.
died July 13, 1566, Paris, France

English diplomat and translator of Baldassare Castiglione’s Il libro del cortegiano (“The Book of the Courtier”).

Educated at Cambridge, Strasbourg, and Padua, Hoby traveled extensively on the European continent. Given court employments in England under King Edward VI, he went into exile during the reign of Mary I. While in exile he translated Castiglione’s work, which he published as The Courtyer of Count Baldesser Castilio in 1561. The influence of Hoby’s translation in England was enormous, not only on the social pattern of life at court but on such writers as Shakespeare and Sir Philip Sidney. Hoby also translated a Latin work on the Church of England. He was knighted by Elizabeth I in 1566 and sent to Paris as English ambassador. He died that same year. Hoby’s diary was first published in 1902 as The Travels and Life of Sir Thomas Hoby.



John Florio

born c. 1553, London
died c. 1625, Fulham, near London

English lexicographer and translator of Montaigne.

Son of a Protestant refugee of Tuscan origin, Florio studied at Oxford. From 1604 to 1619 Florio was groom of the privy chamber to Queen Anne.

In 1580 he translated, as Navigations and Discoveries (1580), Giovanni Battista Ramusio’s account of the voyages of Jacques Cartier. Florio His Firste Fruites (1578), a grammar and a series of dialogues in Italian and English, was followed in 1591 by Florio’s Second Frutes and by Giardino di ricreatione, a collection of more than 6,000 proverbs in Italian. His Italian-English dictionary, A Worlde of Wordes (1598), for which he drew heavily upon the works of Giordano Bruno, contains about 46,000 definitions. The second edition, Queen Anna’s New World of Words (1611), was greatly enlarged.

In 1603 Florio produced his major translation, the Essais of Michel de Montaigne, which he revised in 1613. The freedom of this version is questionable by modern standards of accuracy, and the style is elaborate where Montaigne is subtle and terse, but the book is nevertheless thoroughly good reading.

Elizabethan poetry and prose

English poetry and prose burst into sudden glory in the late 1570s. A decisive shift of taste toward a fluent artistry self-consciously displaying its own grace and sophistication was announced in the works of Spenser and Sidney. It was accompanied by an upsurge in literary production that came to fruition in the 1590s and 1600s, two decades of astonishing productivity by writers of every persuasion and calibre.

The groundwork was laid in the 30 years from 1550, a period of slowly increasing confidence in the literary competence of the language and tremendous advances in education, which for the first time produced a substantial English readership, keen for literature and possessing cultivated tastes. This development was underpinned by the technological maturity and accelerating output (mainly in pious or technical subjects) of Elizabethan printing. The Stationers’ Company, which controlled the publication of books, was incorporated in 1557, and Richard Tottel’s Miscellany (1557) revolutionized the relationship of poet and audience by making publicly available lyric poetry, which hitherto had circulated only among a courtly coterie. Spenser was the first significant English poet deliberately to use print to advertise his talents.

Development of the English language

The prevailing opinion of the language’s inadequacy, its lack of “terms” and innate inferiority to the eloquent Classical tongues, was combated in the work of the humanists Thomas Wilson, Roger Ascham, and Sir John Cheke, whose treatises on rhetoric, education, and even archery argued in favour of an unaffected vernacular prose and a judicious attitude toward linguistic borrowings. Their stylistic ideals are attractively embodied in Ascham’s educational tract The Schoolmaster (1570), and their tonic effect on that particularly Elizabethan art, translation, can be felt in the earliest important examples, Sir Thomas Hoby’s Castiglione (1561) and Sir Thomas North’s Plutarch (1579). A further stimulus was the religious upheaval that took place in the middle of the century. The desire of reformers to address as comprehensive an audience as possible—the bishop and the boy who follows the plough, as William Tyndale put it—produced the first true classics of English prose: the reformed Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1549, 1552, 1559); John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1563), which celebrates the martyrs, great and small, of English Protestantism; and the various English versions of the Bible, from Tyndale’s New Testament (1525), Miles Coverdale’s Bible (1535), and the Geneva Bible (1560) to the syncretic Authorized Version (or King James’s Version, 1611). The latter’s combination of grandeur and plainness is justly celebrated, even if it represents an idiom never spoken in heaven or on earth. Nationalism inspired by the Reformation motivated the historical chronicles of the capable and stylish Edward Hall (1548), who bequeathed to Shakespeare the tendentious Tudor interpretation of the 15th century, and of Raphael Holinshed (1577).

In verse, Tottel’s much reprinted Miscellany generated a series of imitations and, by popularizing the lyrics of Sir Thomas Wyatt and the earl of Surrey, carried into the 1570s the tastes of the early Tudor court. The newer poets collected by Tottel and other anthologists include Nicholas Grimald, Richard Edwardes, George Turberville, Barnabe Googe, George Gascoigne, Sir John Harington, and many others, of whom Gascoigne is the most prominent. The modern preference for the ornamental manner of the next generation has eclipsed these poets, who continued the tradition of plain, weighty verse, addressing themselves to ethical and didactic themes and favouring the meditative lyric, satire, and epigram. But their taste for economy, restraint, and aphoristic density was, in the verse of John Donne and Ben Jonson, to outlive the cult of elegance. The period’s major project was A Mirror for Magistrates (1559; enlarged editions 1563, 1578, 1587), a collection of verse laments, by several hands, purporting to be spoken by participants in the Wars of the Roses and preaching the Tudor doctrine of obedience. The quality is uneven, but Thomas Sackville’s Induction and Thomas Churchyard’s Legend of Shore’s Wife are distinguished, and the intermingling of history, tragedy, and political morality was to be influential on the drama.


Sir John Cheke

born June 16, 1514, Cambridge, Eng.
died Sept. 13, 1557, London

English humanist and supporter of the Protestant Reformation who, as the poet John Milton said, “taught Cambridge and King Edward Greek” and who, with his friend Sir Thomas Smith, discovered the proper pronunciation of ancient Greek. Through his teaching he made the University of Cambridge the centre of the “new learning” and the Reformed religion. Henry VIII made him the first regius professor of Greek at Cambridge. He was tutor to Prince Edward (1544), who as King Edward VI knighted him in 1552.

On the accession of Mary I (1553), Cheke lost the last of a series of government positions, was imprisoned briefly, and fled abroad. There he published his letters on Greek pronunciation. In 1556 he was captured in Belgium and confined to the Tower of London. Faced with death, he recanted his Protestantism publicly and is said to have died of shame.

One of the most erudite men of his time, Cheke was an indefatigable translator. His English works are of little importance, except for their avoidance of foreign words and for his reformed phonetic spelling, which make his letters some of the best plain prose of the period.



Sir Thomas North

born May 28, 1535, London, Eng.
died 1601?

English translator whose version of Plutarch’s Bioi parallēloi (Parallel Lives) was the source for many of William Shakespeare’s plays.

North may have been a student at Peterhouse, Cambridge; in 1557 he was entered at Lincoln’s Inn, London, where he joined a group of young lawyers interested in translating. In 1574 North accompanied his brother on a diplomatic mission to France. Thomas North had an extensive military career: he fought twice in Ireland as captain (1582 and 1596–97), served in the Low Countries in defense of the Dutch against the Spanish (1585–87), and trained militia against the threatened invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588. He was knighted about 1596–97, was justice of the peace for Cambridge, and was pensioned by Queen Elizabeth in 1601.

In 1557 North translated, under the title The Diall of Princes, a French version of Antonio de Guevara’s Reloj de príncipes o libro aureo del emperador Marco Aurelio (1529; “The Princes’ Clock, or The Golden Book of Emperor Marcus Aurelius”). Although North retained Guevara’s mannered style, he was also capable of quite a different kind of work. His translation of Asian beast fables from the Italian, The Morall Philosophie of Doni (1570), for example, was a rapid and colloquial narrative. His The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes, translated in 1579 from Jacques Amyot’s French version of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, has been described as one of the earliest masterpieces of English prose. Shakespeare borrowed from North’s Lives for his Roman plays—Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Timon of Athens, and Coriolanus—and, in fact, he put some of North’s prose directly into blank verse, with only minor changes.



John Foxe

born 1516, Boston, Lincolnshire, Eng.
died April 18, 1587, Cripplegate, London

English Puritan preacher and author of The Book of Martyrs, a graphic and polemic account of those who suffered for the cause of Protestantism. Widely read, often the most valued book beside the Bible in the households of English Puritans, it helped shape popular opinion about Roman Catholicism for at least a century. The feeling of the English populace against Spain, important in the politics of the age, was fanned by the book’s description of the Inquisition. It dealt chiefly, however, with the martyrdom of English Protestants from the 14th century through the reign of Queen Mary I in Foxe’s own time.

After studying at the University of Oxford and holding a fellowship for seven years, Foxe fell under suspicion of harbouring Protestant views more extreme than the authorities of his college would allow. He resigned and in 1547 moved to London, where he became tutor to the grandchildren of the duke of Norfolk. He was ordained a deacon of the Church of England. Foxe worked for the Reformation, writing several tracts. He also began his account of martyrs but had carried it no further than 1500 when the accession of the Roman Catholic queen Mary I in 1553 forced him to flee overseas. In Strasbourg, France, he published his partly completed martyrology in Latin as Commentarii rerum in ecclesia gestarum (1554; “Commentaries on Affairs Within the Church”). He then went to Frankfurt, where he lent a moderating support to the Calvinistic party of John Knox, and thence to Basel, Switz., where he wrote a burning appeal to the English nobility to restrain the queen from persecuting Protestants: Ad inclytos ac praepotentes Angliae proceres (“To the Renowned and Powerful Nobles of England,” 1557). With the aid of manuscripts sent to him from England, he carried his account of the martyrs up to 1556 and had it printed in 1559, the year following the accession to the throne of the Protestant queen, Elizabeth I.

Foxe returned to London and devoted himself to the completion of his great work. Perusing official registers and using the memories of eyewitnesses, he enlarged his story. His English translation was printed in March 1563 under the title Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Dayes. It immediately acquired the popular name The Book of Martyrs. In 1570 he produced his greatly improved second edition. This was the crown of his achievement; he made few changes in his third (1576) and fourth (1583) editions.

Foxe was ordained an Anglican priest in 1560, but having Puritan scruples he refused all offices, obtaining two church stipends that required no duties. He often preached, however, and a sermon delivered at Paul’s Cross (A Sermon, Of Christ Crucified [1570]) had a wide sale. In the plague of 1563 he ministered to the victims and wrote a moving tract of consolation. When Anabaptists in 1575 and Jesuits in 1581 were condemned to death, Foxe wrote vehement letters to Queen Elizabeth and her councilors, begging reprieves.

Foxe’s monument is his book. It has been criticized as prolix, carelessly edited, one-sided, sometimes credulous, but it is factually detailed and preserves much firsthand material on the English Reformation unobtainable elsewhere.



Miles Coverdale

born 1488?, York, Yorkshire [now in North Yorkshire], Eng.
died Jan. 20, 1569, London

bishop of Exeter, Eng., who translated (rather freely; he was inexpert in Latin and Greek) the first printed English Bible.

Ordained a priest (1514) at Norwich, Coverdale became an Augustinian friar at Cambridge, where, influenced by his prior, Robert Barnes, he absorbed Lutheran opinions and later busied himself in biblical studies. In 1528, as a secular priest in Essex, he began preaching against images and the mass. In 1529 he helped William Tyndale translate the Pentateuch in Hamburg and then apparently settled in Antwerp, where he translated the Bible. He later returned to England and took up the Reform cause, translating tracts and editing the Great Bible (1539). In 1540 Henry VIII’s religious policies forced him to flee, and he settled in Strasbourg. After Henry’s death he returned to England, supported the new Protestant religious line, and was made bishop of Exeter (1551). Under the Roman Catholic Mary, Coverdale lost his bishopric and was spared burning by intercession from Denmark, where he then briefly went. During 1555–57 he was in Bergzabern near Strasbourg and thereafter until 1559 was in Switzerland. In 1559 he returned to England and helped consecrate Queen Elizabeth’s archbishop, Matthew Parker. Yet his Puritanism, strengthened by stays abroad, prevented him from resuming his bishopric of Exeter. He declined all preferments save a brief one (1564–66) at St. Magnus, Old London Bridge, but he often preached sermons that were highly esteemed.



Edward Hall

born c. 1498, London, Eng.
died April 1547, Eng.

English historian whose chronicle was one of the chief sources of William Shakespeare’s history plays.

Educated at Eton and at King’s College, Cambridge, Hall became common sergeant of London in 1533 and undersheriff in 1535. He was also a member of Parliament for Wenlock (1529) and Bridgnorth (1542) in Shropshire. The value of Hall’s great work, of which the full title is The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke (1548; 2nd ed., 1550), is very considerable for the contemporary reign of Henry VIII, and its literary quality is higher than that of most chronicles of the time.



Raphael Holinshed

died c. 1580

English chronicler, remembered chiefly because his Chronicles enjoyed great popularity and became a quarry for many Elizabethan dramatists, especially Shakespeare, who found, in the second edition, material for Macbeth, King Lear, Cymbeline, and many of his historical plays.

Holinshed probably belonged to a Cheshire family. From roughly 1560 he lived in London, where he was employed as a translator by Reginald Wolfe, who was preparing a universal history. After Wolfe’s death in 1573 the scope of the work was abridged, and it appeared, with many illustrations, as the Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande, 2 vol. (dated 1577).

The Chronicles was compiled largely uncritically from many sources of varying degrees of trustworthiness. The texts of the first and second (1587) editions were expurgated by order of the Privy Council, and the excisions from the second edition were published separately in 1723. An edition of the complete, unexpurgated text of 1587, edited by Henry Ellis and titled Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, was published in six volumes (1807–08, reissued 1976). Several selections have also appeared, including Holinshed’s Chronicle as Used in Shakespeare’s Plays, edited by Allardyce and Josephine Nicoll (1927); Shakespeare’s Holinshed, compiled and edited by Richard Hosley (1968); and The Peaceable and Prosperous Regiment of Blessed Queene Elisabeth (2005).



Nicholas Grimald


born 1519/20, Huntingdonshire, Eng.
died c. 1559

English scholar and poet, best known as a contributor to Songes and Sonettes (1557), known as Tottel’s Miscellany, an anthology of contemporary poetry he may have edited.

Grimald was educated at Cambridge and Oxford universities. He graduated with an M.A. from Oxford (1543) and was appointed to a lectureship in theology at Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1547. He was licensed as a preacher in 1551–52 and named chaplain to Nicholas Ridley, bishop of London. After the accession of the Catholic queen Mary I in 1553, Ridley was imprisoned, removed from his bishopric, and in 1554 executed. In 1555 Grimald was also imprisoned but was released, presumably because he recanted. In 1558 he is said to have returned to the Protestant belief.

The first edition of Tottel’s Miscellany, published in June 1557, contained 40 poems by Grimald, including two early examples of English blank verse. Only 10 of his poems appeared in the second edition (published two months later) and in later editions, perhaps because of his religious inconstancy. Grimald also wrote two plays in Latin: a tragicomedy, Christus Redivivus (1543), produced at Oxford, and a tragedy about John the Baptist, Archipropheta (1548), produced at Cambridge. His plays and his surviving poems, edited by L.R. Merrill, were published in 1925.



George Turberville

Woodcut of a Falconer, from George Turberville´s
The Booke of Faulconrie or Hauking and the Noble Arte of Venerie
(also called the Book of Hunting) (1575)

George Turberville, or Turbervile (1540? - before 1597) was an English poet, second son of Nicholas Turberville of Whitchurch, Dorset, who belonged to an old Dorsetshire family, the D'Urbervilles of Thomas Hardy's novel, Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Turberville became a scholar of Winchester College in 1554, and in 1561 was made a fellow of New College, Oxford. In 1562 he began to study law in London, and gained a reputation, according to Anthony à Wood, as a poet and man of affairs. He accompanied Thomas Randolph on a special mission to Moscow to the court of Ivan the Terrible in 1568. Of his Poems describing the Places and Manners of the Country and People of Russia mentioned by Wood, only three metrical letters describing his adventures survive, and these were reprinted in Hakluyt's Voyages (1589).

His Epitaphs, Epigrams, Songs and Sonnets appeared "newly corrected with additions" in 1567. In the same year he published translations of the Heroycall Epistles of Ovid, and of the Eglogs of Mantuan (Gianbattista Spagnuoli, also known as Mantuanus), and in 1568 A Plaine Path to Perfect Vertue from Dominicus Mancinus. The Book of Falconry or Hawking and the Noble Art of Venerie (printed together in 1575) may both be assigned to Turberville. The second of these is a translation from the French of La Venerie de Jaques du Fouilloux (1561). The title page of his Tragical Tales (1587), which are translations from Boccaccio and Bandello, says that the book was written at the time of the author's troubles. What these were is unknown, but Wood says he was living and in high esteem in 1594.




George Gascoigne, The Noble Art of Venerie or Hunting (1575)
Used by permission of The Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery.


George Gascoigne

1."Tam Marti quam Mercurio": self-portrait from the frontispiece of Gascoigne’s
The Steele Glas and Complaynte of Phylomene

2.George Gascoigne, The Tale of Hemetes the Heremyte (1576)
Used by permission of the British Library.


born c. 1539, Cardington, Bedfordshire, Eng.
died Oct. 7, 1577, Barnack, near Stamford, Lincolnshire

English poet and a major literary innovator.

Gascoigne attended the University of Cambridge, studied law at Gray’s Inn in 1555, and thereafter pursued careers as a politician, country gentleman, courtier, soldier of fortune, and man of letters, all with moderate distinction. He was a member of Parliament (1557–59). Because of his extravagance and debts, he gained a reputation for disorderly living. He served with English troops in the Low Countries, ending his military career as a repatriated prisoner of war. In 1575 he helped to arrange the celebrated entertainments provided for Queen Elizabeth I at Kenilworth and Woodstock and in 1576 went to Holland as an agent in the royal service. Among his friends were many leading poets, notably George Whetstone, George Turberville, and Edmund Spenser.

Gascoigne was a skilled literary craftsman, memorable for versatility and vividness of expression and for his treatment of events based on his own experience. His chief importance, however, is as a pioneer of the English Renaissance who had a remarkable aptitude for domesticating foreign literary genres. He foreshadowed the English sonnet sequences with groups of linked sonnets in his first published work, A Hundreth sundrie Flowres (1573), a collection of verse and prose. In The Posies of George Gascoigne (1575), an authorized revision of the earlier work, which had been published anonymously, he included also “Certayne notes of Instruction,” the first treatise on prosody in English. In The Steele Glas (1576), one of the earliest formal satires in English, he wrote the first original nondramatic English blank verse. In two amatory poems, the autobiographical “Dan Bartholomew of Bathe” (published in A Hundreth sundrie Flowres) and The Complainte of Phylomene (1576), Gascoigne developed Ovidian verse narrative, the form used by William Shakespeare in Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.

“The Adventures of Master F.J.,” published in A Hundreth sundrie Flowres, was the first original prose narrative of the English Renaissance. Another prose work, The Spoyle of Antwerpe (1576), is an early example of war journalism, characterized by objective and graphic reporting.

Gascoigne’s Jocasta (performed in 1566) constituted the first Greek tragedy to be presented on the English stage. Translated into blank verse, with the collaboration of Francis Kinwelmersh, from Lodovico Dolce’s Giocasta, the work derives ultimately from Euripides’ Phoenissae. In comedy, Gascoigne’s Supposes (1566?), a prose translation and adaptation of Ludovico Ariosto’s I Suppositi, was the first prose comedy to be translated from Italian into English. A dramatically effective work, it provided the subplot for Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. A third play, The Glasse of Government (1575), is a didactic drama on the Prodigal Son theme. It rounds out the picture of Gascoigne as a typical literary man of the early Renaissance.



Sir John Harington

born 1561
died Nov. 20, 1612, Kelston, Somerset, Eng.

English Elizabethan courtier, translator, author, and wit who also invented the flush toilet.

Harington’s father enriched the family by marrying an illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII; his second wife was an attendant to the Princess Elizabeth, who stood as godmother for John. Educated at Eton, Cambridge, and Lincoln’s Inn, London, Harington married in 1583. For translating and circulating among the ladies a wanton tale from the 16th-century Italian poet Ariosto, he was banished from court until he should translate the whole of Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso. The translation, published in 1591, remains one of the finest of the age. Probably at that time he invented the flush lavatory (toilet) and installed one for Queen Elizabeth in her palace at Richmond, Surrey. In 1596, in The Metamorphosis of Ajax (a jakes; i.e., privy), Harington described his invention in terms more Rabelaisian than mechanical and was again banished by Elizabeth. In 1599 he went on a military expedition to Ireland, winning a knighthood. His barbed epigrams and wanton writings gave too much offense, particularly under James I, to advance him beyond a reputation as Elizabeth’s “saucy godson.”



Thomas Sackville

born 1536, Buckhurst, Sussex, Eng.
died April 19, 1608, London

English statesman, poet, and dramatist, remembered largely for his share in two achievements of significance in the development of Elizabethan poetry and drama: the collection A Myrrour for Magistrates (1563) and the tragedy Gorboduc (1561).

Sackville settled in London in 1553. In 1558 he became a barrister and entered Parliament. He began an extended visit to Italy c. 1563 and returned upon his father’s death in 1566. The next year he was created baron of Buckhurst. He continued to serve the government, becoming a member of the Privy Council in 1585; he conveyed the death sentence to Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1586. He served on several diplomatic missions to The Hague and became chancellor of the University of Oxford (1591) and lord high treasurer (1599; conferred for life in 1603). He was created a knight and a baron in 1567 and earl of Dorset in 1604. His house in Kent, Knole, is one of the great buildings of the age.

Sackville’s “Induction,” the most famous part of the Myrrour, describes the poet’s visit to the infernal regions. Written with Thomas Norton, The Tragedie of Gorboduc is the earliest known English drama in blank verse.



Thomas Churchyard

born c. 1520, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, Eng.
died 1604, London

English writer who won brief fame through his occasional verse, pamphlets on wartime experiences, pageants for Queen Elizabeth I, and historical and antiquarian works—all reflecting aspects of a crowded career. His works have never been completely printed and are of only intermittent quality. Churchyard’s earliest work was A Myrrour for Man (about 1552), reflections on the estate of man. His most important poem, The Legend of Shore’s Wife, was printed in the 1563 edition of A Mirror for Magistrates, a collection of verse laments by several authors. He is also thought to have authored lyrics in Tottel’s Miscellany (1557).

After serving in the household of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Churchyard became a mercenary, for 30 years fighting in almost every campaign in Scotland, Ireland, the Low Countries, and France under various banners. Later, at court, he devised pageants for Queen Elizabeth’s progresses to Bristol (1574) and Norwich (1578), but a passage in his Generall rehearsall of warres (1579) offended Elizabeth, and Churchyard fled to Scotland. He was restored to favour about 1584 and received a small pension in 1593.

Sidney and Spenser

With the work of Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser, Tottel’s contributors suddenly began to look old-fashioned. Sidney epitomized the new Renaissance “universal man”: a courtier, diplomat, soldier, and poet whose Defence of Poesie includes the first considered account of the state of English letters. Sidney’s treatise defends literature on the ground of its unique power to teach, but his real emphasis is on its delight, its ability to depict the world not as it is but as it ought to be. This quality of “forcibleness or energia” he himself demonstrated in his sonnet sequence of unrequited desire, Astrophel and Stella (written 1582, published 1591). His Arcadia, in its first version (written c. 1577–80), is a pastoral romance in which courtiers disguised as Amazons and shepherds make love and sing delicate experimental verses. The revised version (written c. 1580–84, published 1590; the last three books of the first version were added in 1593), vastly expanded but abandoned in mid-sentence, added sprawling plots of heroism in love and war, philosophical and political discourses, and set pieces of aristocratic etiquette. Sidney was a dazzling and assured innovator whose pioneering of new forms and stylistic melody was seminal for his generation. His public fame was as an aristocratic champion of an aggressively Protestant foreign policy, but Elizabeth had no time for idealistic warmongering, and the unresolved conflicts in his poetry—desire against restraint, heroism against patience, rebellion against submission—mirror his own discomfort with his situation as an unsuccessful courtier.

Protestantism also loomed large in Spenser’s life. He enjoyed the patronage of the earl of Leicester, who sought to advance militant Protestantism at court, and his poetic manifesto, The Shepherds Calendar (1579), covertly praised Archbishop Edmund Grindal, who had been suspended by Elizabeth for his Puritan sympathies. Spenser’s masterpiece, The Faerie Queene (1590–96), is an epic of Protestant nationalism in which the villains are infidels or papists, the hero is King Arthur, and the central value is married chastity.

Spenser was one of the humanistically trained breed of public servants, and the Calendar, an expertly crafted collection of pastoral eclogues, both advertised his talents and announced his epic ambitions. The exquisite lyric gift that it reveals was voiced again in the marriage poems Epithalamion (1595) and Prothalamion (1596). With The Faerie Queene he achieved the central poem of the Elizabethan period. Its form fuses the medieval allegory with the Italian romantic epic; its purpose was “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline.” The plan was for 12 books (6 were completed), focusing on 12 virtues exemplified in the quests of 12 knights from the court of Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, a symbol for Elizabeth herself. Arthur, in quest of Gloriana’s love, would appear in each book and come to exemplify Magnificence, the complete man. Spenser took the decorative chivalry of the Elizabethan court festivals and reworked it through a constantly shifting veil of allegory, so that the knights’ adventures and loves build into a complex, multileveled portrayal of the moral life. The verse, a spacious and slow-moving nine-lined stanza, and archaic language frequently rise to an unrivaled sensuousness.


Illustration of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene
by Walter Crane

The Faerie Queene was a public poem, addressed to the queen, and politically it echoed the hopes of the Leicester circle for government motivated by godliness and militancy. Spenser’s increasing disillusion with the court and with the active life, a disillusion noticeable in the poem’s later books and in his bitter satire Colin Clouts Come Home Again (1591), voiced the fading of these expectations in the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign, the beginning of that remarkable failure of political and cultural confidence in the monarchy. In the Mutability Cantos, melancholy fragments of a projected seventh book (published posthumously in 1609), Spenser turned away from the public world altogether, toward the ambiguous consolations of eternity.

The lessons taught by Sidney and Spenser in the cultivation of melodic smoothness and graceful refinement appear to good effect in the subsequent virtuoso outpouring of lyrics and sonnets. These are among the most engaging achievements of the age, though the outpouring was itself partly a product of frustration, as a generation trained to expect office or preferment but faced with courtly parsimony channeled its energies in new directions in search of patronage. For Sidney’s fellow courtiers, pastoral and love lyric were also a means of obliquely expressing one’s relationship with the queen, of advancing a proposal or an appeal.


Sir Philip Sidney



born November 30, 1554, Penshurst, Kent, England
died October 17, 1586, Arnhem, Netherlands

Elizabethan courtier, statesman, soldier, poet, and patron of scholars and poets, considered the ideal gentleman of his day. After Shakespeare’s sonnets, Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella is considered the finest Elizabethan sonnet cycle. His The Defence of Poesie introduced the critical ideas of Renaissance theorists to England.

Philip Sidney was the eldest son of Sir Henry Sidney and his wife, Lady Mary Dudley, daughter of the duke of Northumberland, and godson of King Philip II of Spain. After Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne, his father was appointed lord president of Wales (and later served three times as lord deputy of Ireland), while his uncle, Robert Dudley, was created earl of Leicester and became the queen’s most trusted adviser. In keeping with his family background, the young Sidney was intended for a career as a statesman and soldier. At age 10 he entered Shrewsbury School, where his classmate was Fulke Greville (later a court official under Elizabeth), who became his lifelong friend and was his early biographer. In February 1568 he began a three-year period of studies at Christ Church, Oxford, afterward traveling in Europe between May 1572 and June 1575, perfecting his knowledge of Latin, French, and Italian. He also gained firsthand knowledge of European politics and became acquainted with many of Europe’s leading statesmen.

His first court appointment came in the spring of 1576, when he succeeded his father as cupbearer to the queen, a ceremonial position. Then in February 1577, when he was only 22, he was sent as ambassador to the German emperor Rudolf II and the elector palatine Louis VI, carrying Queen Elizabeth’s condolences on the deaths of their fathers. But along with this formal task, he also had secret instructions to sound out the German princes on their attitude toward the formation of a Protestant league—the chief political aim being to protect England by associating it with other Protestant states in Europe that would counterbalance the threatening power of Roman Catholic Spain. Sidney apparently brought back enthusiastic reports on the possibilities of forming such a league, but the cautious queen sent other emissaries to check on his reports, and they returned with less-optimistic accounts of the German princes’ reliability as allies. He did not receive another major official appointment until eight years later.

He nevertheless continued to busy himself in the politics and diplomacy of his country. In 1579 he wrote privately to the queen, advising her against a proposal that she enter into a marriage with the duke of Anjou, the Roman Catholic heir to the French throne. Sidney, moreover, was a member of Parliament for Kent in 1581 and 1584–85. He corresponded with foreign statesmen and entertained important visitors—including the French Protestant envoy Philippe de Mornay in 1577, the German Calvinist prince Casimir in 1578, the Portuguese pretender Dom António in 1581, and, later, a number of Scottish lords. Sidney was among the few Englishmen of his time with any interest in the newly discovered Americas, and he supported maritime explorations by the navigator Sir Martin Frobisher. In 1582 Richard Hakluyt, who published accounts of English explorers’ enterprises, dedicated his Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America to him. Sidney later became interested in the project to establish the American colony of Virginia, sent out by Sir Walter Raleigh, and he intended to set out himself in an expedition with Sir Francis Drake against the Spaniards. He had wide-ranging intellectual and artistic interests, discussed art with the painter Nicholas Hilliard and chemistry with the scientist John Dee, and was a great patron of scholars and men of letters. More than 40 works by English and European authors were dedicated to him—works of divinity, ancient and modern history, geography, military affairs, law, logic, medicine, and poetry—indicating the breadth of his interests. Among the many poets and prose writers who sought his patronage were Edmund Spenser, Abraham Fraunce, and Thomas Lodge.

Sidney was an excellent horseman and became renowned for his participation in tournaments—elaborate entertainments, half athletic contest and half symbolic spectacle, that were a chief amusement of the court. He hankered after a life of heroic action, but his official activities were largely ceremonial—attending on the queen at court and accompanying her on her progresses about the country. In January 1583 he was knighted, not because of any outstanding accomplishment but in order to give him the qualifications needed to stand in for his friend Prince Casimir, who was to receive the honour of admittance to the Order of the Garter but was unable to attend the ceremony. In September he married Frances, daughter of Queen Elizabeth’s secretary of state, Sir Francis Walsingham. They had one daughter, Elizabeth.

Because the queen would not give him an important post, he had turned to literature as an outlet for his energies. In 1578 he composed a pastoral playlet, The Lady of May, for the queen. By 1580 he had completed a version of his heroic prose romance, the Arcadia. It is typical of his gentlemanly air of assumed nonchalance that he should call it “a trifle, and that triflingly handled,” whereas it is in fact an intricately plotted narrative of 180,000 words.

Early in 1581 his aunt, the countess of Huntington, had brought to court her ward, Penelope Devereux, who later that year married the young Lord Rich. Whether or not Sidney really did fall in love with her, during the summer of 1582 he composed a sonnet sequence, Astrophel and Stella, that recounts a courtier’s passion in delicately fictionalized terms: its first stirrings, his struggles against it, and his final abandonment of his suit to give himself instead to the “great cause” of public service. These sonnets, witty and impassioned, brought Elizabethan poetry at once of age. About the same time, he wrote The Defence of Poesie, an urbane and eloquent plea for the social value of imaginative fiction, which remains the finest work of Elizabethan literary criticism. In 1584 he began a radical revision of his Arcadia, transforming its linear dramatic plot into a many-stranded, interlaced narrative. He left it half finished, but it remains the most important work of prose fiction in English of the 16th century. He also composed other poems and later began a paraphrase of the Psalms. He wrote for his own amusement and for that of his close friends; true to the gentlemanly code of avoiding commercialism, he did not allow his writings to be published in his lifetime.

The incomplete revised version of his Arcadia was not printed until 1590; in 1593 another edition completed the story by adding the last three books of his original version (the complete text of the original version remained in manuscript until 1926). His Astrophel and Stella was printed in 1591 in a corrupt text, his Defence of Poesie in 1595, and a collected edition of his works in 1598, reprinted in 1599 and nine times during the 17th century.

Although in July 1585 he finally received his eagerly awaited public appointment, his writings were to be his most lasting accomplishment. He was appointed, with his uncle, the earl of Warwick, as joint master of the ordnance, an office that administered the military supplies of the kingdom. In November the queen was finally persuaded to assist the struggle of the Dutch against their Spanish masters, sending them a force led by the earl of Leicester. Sidney was made governor of the town of Flushing (Dutch: Vlissingen) and was given command of a company of cavalry. But the following 11 months were spent in ineffective campaigns against the Spaniards, while Sidney was hard put to maintain the morale of his poorly paid troops. He wrote to his father-in-law that, if the queen did not pay her soldiers, she would lose her garrisons but that, for himself, the love of the cause would never make him weary of his resolution, because he thought “a wise and constant man ought never to grieve while he doth play his own part truly, though others be out.”

On September 22, 1586, he volunteered to serve in an action to prevent the Spaniards from sending supplies into the town of Zutphen. The supply train was heavily guarded, and the English were outnumbered; but Sidney charged three times through the enemy lines, and, even though his thigh was shattered by a bullet, he rode his horse from the field. He was carried to Arnhem, where his wound became infected, and he prepared himself religiously for death. In his last hours he confessed:

There came to my remembrance a vanity wherein I had taken delight, whereof I had not rid myself. It was the Lady Rich. But I rid myself of it, and presently my joy and comfort returned.

He was buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on February 16, 1587, with an elaborate funeral of a type usually reserved for great noblemen. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and scholars throughout Europe issued memorial volumes in his honour, while almost every English poet composed verses in his praise. He won this adulation even though he had accomplished no action of consequence; it would be possible to write a history of Elizabethan political and military affairs without so much as mentioning his name. It is not what he did but what he was that made him so widely admired: the embodiment of the Elizabethan ideal of gentlemanly virtue.

William Andrew Ringler, Jr.


Edmund Spenser


Illustrations by Walter Crane

born 1552/53, London, England
died January 13, 1599, London

English poet whose long allegorical poem The Faerie Queene is one of the greatest in the English language. It was written in what came to be called the Spenserian stanza.

Youth and education
Little is certainly known about Spenser. He was related to a noble Midlands family of Spencer, whose fortunes had been made through sheep raising. His own immediate family was not wealthy. He was entered as a “poor boy” in the Merchant Taylors’ grammar school, where he would have studied mainly Latin, with some Hebrew, Greek, and music.

In 1569, when Spenser was about 16 years old, his English versions of poems by the 16th-century French poet Joachim du Bellay and his translation of a French version of a poem by the Italian poet Petrarch appeared at the beginning of an anti-Catholic prose tract, A Theatre for Voluptuous Worldlings; they were no doubt commissioned by its chief author, the wealthy Flemish expatriate Jan Baptista van der Noot. (Some of these poems Spenser later revised for his Complaints volume.)

From May 1569 Spenser was a student in Pembroke Hall (now Pembroke College) of the University of Cambridge, where, along with perhaps a quarter of the students, he was classed as a sizar—a student who, out of financial necessity, performed various menial or semi-menial duties. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1573. Because of an epidemic, Spenser left Cambridge in 1574, but he received the Master of Arts degree in 1576.

His best-known friend at Cambridge was the slightly older Gabriel Harvey, a fellow of Pembroke, who was learned, witty, and enthusiastic for ancient and modern literature but also pedantic, devious, and ambitious. There is no reason to believe that Spenser shared the most distasteful of these qualities, but, in the atmosphere of social mobility and among the new aristocracy of Tudor England, it is not surprising that he hoped for preferment to higher position.

Spenser’s period at the University of Cambridge was undoubtedly important for the acquisition of his wide knowledge not only of the Latin and some of the Greek classics but also of the Italian, French, and English literature of his own and earlier times. His knowledge of the traditional forms and themes of lyrical and narrative poetry provided foundations for him to build his own highly original compositions. Without the Roman epic poet Virgil’s Aeneid, the 15th-century Italian Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, and, later, Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata (1581), Spenser could not have written his heroic, or epic, poem The Faerie Queene. Without Virgil’s Bucolics and the later tradition of pastoral poetry in Italy and France, Spenser could not have written The Shepheardes Calender. And without the Latin, Italian, and French examples of the highly traditional marriage ode and the sonnet and canzone forms of Petrarch and succeeding sonneteers, Spenser could not have written his greatest lyric, Epithalamion, and its accompanying sonnets, Amoretti. The patterns of meaning in Spenser’s poetry are frequently woven out of the traditional interpretations—developed through classical times and his own—of pagan myth, divinities, and philosophies and out of an equally strong experience of the faith and doctrines of Christianity; these patterns he further enriched by the use of medieval and contemporary story, legend, and folklore.

Spenser’s religious training was a most important part of his education. He could not have avoided some involvement in the bitter struggles that took place in his university over the path the new Church of England was to tread between Roman Catholicism and extreme Puritanism, and his own poetry repeatedly engages with the opposition between Protestantism and Catholicism and the need to protect the national and moral purity of the Elizabethan church. Contrary to a former view, there is little reason to believe that he inclined toward the Puritanical side. His first known appointment (after a blank of several years, when he may have been in the north of England) was in 1578 as secretary to Bishop John Young of Rochester, former master of Spenser’s college at Cambridge. Spenser’s first important publication, The Shepheardes Calender (1579 or 1580), is more concerned with the bishops and affairs of the English church than is any of his later work.

Early works
The Shepheardes Calender can be called the first work of the English literary Renaissance. Following the example of Virgil and of many later poets, Spenser was beginning his career with a series of eclogues (literally “selections,” usually short poems in the form of pastoral dialogues), in which various characters, in the guise of innocent and simple shepherds, converse about life and love in a variety of elegantly managed verse forms, formulating weighty—often satirical—opinions on questions of the day. The paradoxical combination in pastoral poetry of the simple, isolated life of shepherds with the sophisticated social ambitions of the figures symbolized or discussed by these shepherds (and of their probable readership) has been of some interest in literary criticism.

The Calender consists of 12 eclogues, one named after each month of the year. One of the shepherds, Colin Clout, who excels in poetry but is ruined by his hopeless love for one Rosalind, is Spenser himself. The eclogue “Aprill” is in praise of the shepherdess Elisa, really the queen (Elizabeth I) herself. “October” examines the various kinds of verse composition and suggests how discouraging it is for a modern poet to try for success in any of them. Most of the eclogues, however, concern good or bad shepherds—that is to say, pastors—of Christian congregations. The Calender was well received in its day, and it is still a revelation of what could be done poetically in English after a long period of much mediocrity and provinciality. The archaic quality of its language, sometimes deplored, was partly motivated by a desire to continue older English poetic traditions, such as that of Geoffrey Chaucer. Archaic vocabulary is not so marked a feature of Spenser’s later work.

The years 1578–80 probably produced more changes in Spenser’s life than did any other corresponding period. He appears by 1580 to have been serving the fascinating, highly placed, and unscrupulous Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester and to have become a member of the literary circle led by Sir Philip Sidney, Leicester’s nephew, to whom the Calender was dedicated and who praised it in his important critical work The Defence of Poesie (1595). Spenser remained permanently devoted to this brilliant writer and good nobleman, embodied him variously in his own poetry, and mourned his early death in an elegy. By 1580 Spenser had also started work on The Faerie Queene, and in the previous year he had apparently married one Machabyas Chylde. Interesting sidelights on his personal character, of which next to nothing is known, are given in a small collection of letters between Spenser and Gabriel Harvey that was printed in 1580. The ironies in that exchange of letters are so intricate, however, as to make it difficult to draw many conclusions from them about Spenser, except that he was young, ambitious, accomplished, and sincerely interested in the theory and practice of poetry. In 1580 Spenser was made secretary to the new lord deputy of Ireland, Arthur Lord Grey, who was a friend of the Sidney family.

Career in Ireland
Sixteenth-century Ireland and the Irish were looked on by the English as a colony, although the supposed threat of an invasion by Spain and the conflict between an imposed English church and the Roman Catholicism of the Irish were further complicating factors. Irish chieftains and the Anglo-Irish nobility encouraged native resistance to newly arrived English officials and landowners. As Grey’s secretary, Spenser accompanied the lord deputy on risky military campaigns as well as on more routine journeys. He may have witnessed the Smerwick massacre (1580), and his poetry is haunted by nightmare characters who embody a wild lawlessness. The conflict between Grey’s direct, drastic governmental measures and the queen’s characteristic procrastinating and temporizing style soon led to Grey’s frustration and recall. But Spenser, like many others, admired and defended Grey’s methods. Spenser’s A View of the Present State of Ireland (written 1595–96, published 1633), a later tract, argues lucidly for a typically 16th-century theory of rule: firm measures, ruthlessly applied, with gentleness only for completely submissive subject populations.

For four or five years from roughly 1584, Spenser carried out the duties of a second important official position in Ireland, deputizing for his friend Lodowick Bryskett as clerk of the lords president (governors) of Munster, the southernmost Irish province. The fruits of his service in Ireland are plain. He was given a sinecure post and other favours, including the right to dispose of certain forfeited parcels of land (he no doubt indulged in profitable land speculation). For a time he leased the small property of New Abbey, County Kildare, and on this basis was first designated “gentleman.” Finally, he obtained a much larger estate in Munster. One of the chief preoccupations of the presidents of this province, scarred as it was by war and starvation, was to repopulate it. To this end, large “plantations” were awarded to English “undertakers,” who undertook to make them self-sustaining by occupying them with Englishmen of various trades. In 1588 or 1589 Spenser took over the 3,000-acre (1,200-hectare) plantation of Kilcolman, about 25 miles (40 km) to the north and a little to the west of Cork. No doubt he took there his son and daughter and his wife, if she was still alive (she is known to have died by 1594, when Spenser married Elizabeth Boyle, a "kinswoman" of the earl of Cork, one of Ireland’s wealthiest men). By acquiring this estate, Spenser made his choice for the future: to rise into the privileged class of what was, to all intents, a colonial land of opportunity rather than to seek power and position on the more crowded ground of the homeland, where he had made his poetic reputation. In his new situation he, like other undertakers, had much conflict with the local Anglo-Irish aristocracy and had limited success in filling the plantations with English families. Nevertheless, it was under these conditions that Spenser brought his greatest poetry to completion.

The Faerie Queene and last years
In its present form, The Faerie Queene consists of six books and a fragment (known as the “Mutabilitie Cantos”). According to Spenser’s introductory letter in the first edition (1590) of his great poem, it was to contain 12 books, each telling the adventure of one of Gloriana’s knights. Like other poets, Spenser must have modified his general plan many times, yet this letter, inconsistent though it is with various plot details in the books that are extant, is probably a faithful mirror of his thinking at one stage. The stories actually published were those of Holiness (the Red Cross Knight), Temperance (Sir Guyon), Chastity (Britomart, a female knight), Friendship (ostensibly concerning Triamond and Cambello, although these play a small part), Justice (Artegall), and Courtesy (Calidore). As a setting Spenser invented the land of Faerie and its queen, Gloriana. To express himself he invented a nine-line stanza, the first eight of five stresses and the last of six, whose rhyme pattern is ababbcbcc.

What is most characteristic of Spenser in The Faerie Queene is his serious view of the capacity of the romance form to act as a paradigm of human experience: the moral life as quest, pilgrimage, aspiration; as eternal war with an enemy, still to be known; and as encounter, crisis, the moment of illumination—in short, as ethics, with the added dimensions of mystery, terror, love, and victory and with all the generous virtues exalted. Modern readers’ impatience with the obscure allusions in the poem, with its political and ecclesiastical topicalities, is a failure to share the great conflict of Spenser’s time between Protestant England and Roman Catholic Spain; to Spenser, the war between good and evil was here and now. In The Faerie Queene Spenser proves himself a master: picture, music, metre, story—all elements are at one with the deeper significance of his poem, providing a moral heraldry of colours, emblems, legends, folklore, and mythical allusion, all prompting deep, instinctive responses.

The poem was published with the help of Sir Walter Raleigh, who owned large lands to the east of Spenser’s estate. He and the poet came together at Kilcolman in 1589 and became well acquainted with one another’s poetry. Spenser implies that Raleigh persuaded Spenser to accompany him back to England to present the completed portion of The Faerie Queene to Queen Elizabeth herself. The history of this episode is charmingly evoked in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (completed 1595), which is also one of Spenser’s most effective pastoral embodiments of a provincial innocent up against the sophistications of a centre of power, with subsequent reflections on false, superficial love and the true love that finally animates a concordant universe.

Arriving thus in London with the support of the queen’s favourite, Spenser was well received—not least by Elizabeth herself. The first three books of The Faerie Queene were duly published in 1590, together with a dedication to her and commendatory sonnets to notables of the court. Spenser saw the book through the press, made a hurried visit to Ireland, and returned speedily to London—presumably in the hope of preferment. At this time he supervised the printing of certain other of his poems in a collection called Complaints (1591), many of which had probably been written earlier in his career and were now being published so as to profit from the great success of his new heroic poem. It is difficult to believe that the many titles of poems that have not survived but were mentioned earlier in his career were not published in revised form and under other titles in his known work, for Complaints suggests by its miscellaneous and uneven character that Spenser was hastily bringing to the light of day nearly every last shred that he had to offer; early translations, an elegy, and the delightful mock-heroic poem Muiopotmos are contained in it. Another item, the beast fable Prosopopoia; or, Mother Hubberd’s Tale, apparently caused the authorities to withdraw unsold copies of the volume (perhaps in 1592) because it contained a covert attack on Lord Burghley, who was one of the most powerful figures of the court. Nevertheless, in 1591 Queen Elizabeth gave Spenser a small pension for life.

Back in Ireland, Spenser pressed on with his writing, in spite of the burdens of his estate. In early 1595 he published Amoretti and Epithalamion, a sonnet sequence and a marriage ode celebrating his marriage to Elizabeth Boyle after what appears to have been an impassioned courtship in 1594. This group of poems is unique among Renaissance sonnet sequences in that it celebrates a successful love affair culminating in marriage. The Epithalamion further idealizes the marriage by building into its structure the symbolic numbers 24 (the number of stanzas) and 365 (the total number of long lines), allowing the poem to allude to the structure of the day and of the year. The marriage is thus connected with the encompassing harmonies of the universe, and the cyclical processes of change and renewal are expressed in the procreation of the two mortal lovers. However, matters are less harmonious in Books IV, V, and VI of The Faerie Queene, which appeared in 1596 and are strikingly more ambiguous and ironic than the first three books. Book V includes much direct allegory of some of the most problematic political events of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, and Book VI’s Sir Calidore is a far less confident and effective fairy knight than his predecessors were. In the only surviving fragment of a projected seventh book (published posthumously in 1609), Spenser represents Elizabeth herself as subject to Mutability, the inexorable processes of aging and change.

This burst of publication was the last of his lifetime. His early death may have been precipitated by the penetration into Munster of the Irish uprising of 1598. The undertakers and other loyalists failed to make headway against this. Kilcolman was burned, and Spenser, probably in despair despite the Privy Council’s having just recommended his appointment to the important post of sheriff of Cork, carried official letters about the desperate state of affairs from the president to London, where he died. He was buried with ceremony in Westminster Abbey close by the grave of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Spenser was considered in his day to be the greatest of English poets, who had glorified England and its language by his long allegorical poem The Faerie Queene, just as Virgil had glorified Rome and the Latin tongue by his epic poem the Aeneid. Spenser had a strong influence upon his immediate successors, and the sensuous features of his poetic style, as well as his nine-line stanza form, were later admired and imitated by such poets as Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley in the Romantic period of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He is widely studied today as one of the chief begetters of the English literary Renaissance and as a master who embodied in poetic myth a view of the virtuous life in a Christian universe.

A. Kent Hieatt


Elizabethan lyric

Virtually every Elizabethan poet tried his hand at the lyric; few, if any, failed to write one that is not still anthologized today. The fashion for interspersing prose fiction with lyric interludes, begun in the Arcadia, was continued by Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge (notably in the latter’s Rosalynde [1590], the source for Shakespeare’s As You Like It [c. 1598–1600]), and in the theatres plays of every kind were diversified by songs both popular and courtly. Fine examples are in the plays of Jonson, John Lyly, George Peele, Thomas Nashe, and Thomas Dekker (though all, of course, are outshone by Shakespeare’s). The most important influence on lyric poetry, though, was the outstanding richness of late Tudor and Jacobean music, in both the native tradition of expressive lute song, represented by John Dowland and Robert Johnson, and the complex Italianate madrigal newly imported by William Byrd and Thomas Morley. The foremost talent among lyricists, Thomas Campion, was a composer as well as a poet; his songs (four Books of Airs, 1601–17) are unsurpassed for their clarity, harmoniousness, and rhythmic subtlety. Even the work of a lesser talent, however, such as Nicholas Breton, is remarkable for the suggestion of depth and poise in the slightest performances; the smoothness and apparent spontaneity of the Elizabethan lyric conceal a consciously ordered and laboured artifice, attentive to decorum and rhetorical fitness. These are not personal but public pieces, intended for singing and governed by a Neoplatonic aesthetic in which delight is a means of addressing the moral sense, harmonizing and attuning the auditor’s mind to the discipline of reason and virtue. This necessitates a deliberate narrowing of scope—to the readily comprehensible situations of pastoral or Petrarchan hope and despair—and makes for a certain uniformity of effect, albeit an agreeable one. The lesser talents are well displayed in the miscellanies The Phoenix Nest (1593), England’s Helicon (1600), and A Poetical Rhapsody (1602).


Thomas Lodge


born c. 1557, London?, Eng.
died 1625, London

English poet, dramatist, and prose writer whose innovative versatility typified the Elizabethan age. He is best remembered for the prose romance Rosalynde, the source of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

He was the son of Sir Thomas Lodge, who was lord mayor of London in 1562. The younger Lodge was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and at Trinity College, Oxford, and he studied law at Lincoln’s Inn, London, in 1578. Lodge’s earliest work was an anonymous pamphlet (c. 1579) in reply to Stephen Gosson’s attack on stage plays. His next work, An Alarum Against Usurers (1584), exposed the ways in which moneylenders lured young heirs into extravagance and debt. He then engaged in varied literary activity for a number of years. His Scillaes Metamorphosis (1589), an Ovidian verse fable, is one of the earliest English poems to retell a classical story with imaginative embellishments, and it strongly influenced Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. Lodge’s Phillis (1593) contains amorous sonnets and pastoral eclogues from French and Italian originals. In A Fig for Momus (1595), he introduced classical satires and verse epistles (modeled after those of Juvenal and Horace) into English literature for the first time. Aside from Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacie (1590), which provided the plot for Shakespeare’s comedy, Lodge’s most important romance was A Margarite of America (1596), which combines Senecan motives and Arcadian romance in an improbable love story between a Peruvian prince and a daughter of the king of Muscovy. His other romances are chiefly notable for the fine lyric poems scattered through them. Lodge continued to write moralizing pamphlets such as Wits Miserie, and the Worlds Madnesse (1596), and in 1594 he published two plays: The Wounds of Civill War and (with Robert Greene) A Looking Glasse for London and England.

To escape poverty Lodge took part in unprofitable freebooting voyages to the Canary Islands in 1588 and to South America in 1591. In 1597 he became a Roman Catholic, and he graduated in medicine from the University of Avignon in 1598. He received another M.D. degree from Oxford in 1602 and thereafter practiced medicine in London and in Brussels, where he took refuge as a recusant following exposure of the Gunpowder Plot (1605). He was back in England by 1612, became a distinguished physician in London, and died there while fighting the plague in 1625. His later works include A Treatise of the Plague (1603) and two major translations: The Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca (1614) and The Famous and Memorable Works of Josephus (1620), both of which went through many editions.

Much of Lodge’s work before 1600 was surreptitious translation, but in this regard he shows a real talent for creative selection and assimilation from classical, French, and Italian sources. His reputation remains based chiefly on his poetry and his romances. Of his pamphlets, Wits Miserie and the Alarum are memorable for their cameos of London life, reminiscent of the writings of Thomas Nashe.



George Peele

born , c. July 25, 1556, London, Eng.
died , c. Nov. 9, 1596

Elizabethan dramatist who experimented in many forms of theatrical art: pastoral, history, melodrama, tragedy, folk play, and pageant.

Peele’s father was a London clerk who contributed to several city pageants. Peele was educated at Oxford, where he translated into English a play by Euripides. He later moved to London, but in 1583 he returned to Oxford to supervise the performance at Christ Church of two Latin plays by the noted academic dramatist William Gager (1555–1622).

In London he became associated with Robert Greene and others known as the university wits, who were attempting to make a living as professional authors, and he experimented with poetry in various forms. His earliest important work is The Arraignment of Paris (c. 1581–84), a mythological extravaganza written for the Children of the Chapel, a troupe of boy actors, and performed at court before Queen Elizabeth.

The remainder of his career was devoted to writing plays for the popular stage, only four of which survive: a tragedy, The Battle of Alcazar (c. 1589); a chronicle history, Edward I (c. 1593); a biblical tragedy, The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe (1594); and his most enduring achievement, the fantastical comic romance The Old Wives’ Tale (c. 1591–94). He also wrote commemorative poems and city pageants.



Thomas Nashe

Polemical woodcut deriding Nashe as jailbird

born 1567, Lowestoft, Suffolk, Eng.
died c. 1601, Yarmouth, Norfolk?

pamphleteer, poet, dramatist, and author of The Unfortunate Traveller; or, The Life of Jacke Wilton (1594), the first picaresque novel in English.

Nashe was educated at the University of Cambridge, and about 1588 he went to London, where he became associated with Robert Greene and other professional writers. In 1589 he wrote The Anatomie of Absurditie and the preface to Greene’s Menaphon. Both works are bold, opinionated surveys of the contemporary state of writing; occasionally obscure, they are euphuistic in style and range freely over a great variety of topics.

In 1589 and 1590 he evidently became a paid hack of the episcopacy in the Marprelate controversy and matched wits with the unidentified Puritan “Martin.” Almost all the Anglican replies to Martin have variously been assigned to Nashe, but only An Almond for a Parrat (1590) has been convincingly attributed to him. He wrote the preface to Thomas Newman’s unauthorized edition of Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella (1591). Though Nashe penned an extravagant dedication to Sidney’s sister, the countess of Pembroke, the book was withdrawn and reissued in the same year without Nashe’s foreword.

Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Divell (1592), a satire focused on the seven deadly sins, was Nashe’s first distinctive work. Using a free and extemporaneous prose style, full of colloquialisms, newly coined words, and fantastic idiosyncrasies, Nashe buttonholes the reader with a story in which a need for immediate entertainment seems to predominate over any narrative structure or controlling objective. Having become involved in his friend Greene’s feud with the writer Gabriel Harvey, Nashe satirized Harvey and his brothers in Pierce and then joined the combat in an exchange of pamphlets with Harvey, Strange Newes (1592) and Have with You to Saffron-Walden (1596). If Harvey is to be credited, Nashe was a hack for the printer John Danter in 1593. The controversy was terminated in 1599, when the archbishop of Canterbury ordered that “all Nasshes bookes and Doctor Harveyes bookes be taken wheresoever they maye be found and that none of theire bookes bee ever printed hereafter.”

Apparently Nashe wrote Strange Newes while he was living at the home of Sir George Carey, who momentarily relieved his oppressive poverty. In Christs Teares over Jerusalem (1593), Nashe warned his countrymen during one of the country’s worst outbreaks of bubonic plague that, unless they reformed, London would suffer the fate of Jerusalem. The Terrors of the Night (1594) is a discursive, sometimes bewildering, attack on demonology.

Pierce Penilesse excepted, Nashe’s most successful works were his entertainment Summers Last Will and Testament (1592, published 1600); his picaresque novel The Unfortunate Traveller; or, The Life of Jacke Wilton; Dido, Queen of Carthage (1594; with Christopher Marlowe); and Nashes Lenten Stuffe (1599). The Unfortunate Traveller is a brutal and realistic tale of adventure narrated with speed and economy. The book describes the travels through Germany and Italy of its rogue hero, Jacke Wilton, who lives by his wits and witnesses all sorts of historic events before he is converted to a better way of life. Lenten Stuffe, in praise of herrings, contains a charming description of the town of Yarmouth, Norfolk, a herring fishery. Nashe retreated to Yarmouth when he and Ben Jonson were prosecuted as a result of their satirical play The Isle of Dogs (1597).

Nashe was the first of the English prose eccentrics, an extraordinary inventor of verbal hybrids. The Works were edited by R.B. McKerrow, 5 vol. (1904–10; reprinted and reedited by F.P. Wilson, 1958).



Thomas Dekker

born c. 1572, London, Eng.
died c. 1632

English dramatist and writer of prose pamphlets who is particularly known for his lively depictions of London life.

Few facts of Dekker’s life are certain. He may have been born into a family of Dutch immigrants living in London and is first mentioned as a playwright in 1598. He apparently wrote to support himself, and he had a hand in at least 42 plays written in the next 30 years. In the dispute known as “the poets’ war” or “the war of the theatres,” he was satirized in Ben Jonson’s Poetaster (produced 1601) as Demetrius Fannius, “a very simple honest fellow. . . a dresser of plays.” This precipitated Dekker’s own attack on Jonson in the play Satiro-mastix (produced 1601). Thirteen more plays survive in which Dekker collaborated with such figures as Thomas Middleton, John Webster, Philip Massinger, John Ford, and William Rowley.

Of the nine surviving plays that are entirely Dekker’s work, probably the best-known are The Shoemakers Holiday (1600) and The Honest Whore, Part 2 (1630). These plays are typical of his work in their use of the moralistic tone of traditional drama, in the rush of their prose, in their boisterousness, and in their mixture of realistic detail with a romanticized plot. Dekker’s ear for colloquial speech served him well in his vivid portrayals of daily life in London, and his work appealed strongly to a citizen audience eager for plays on middle-class, patriotic, and Protestant themes.

He exhibited a similar vigour in such prose pamphlets as The Wonderfull Yeare (1603), about the plague; The Belman of London (1608), about roguery and crime, with much material borrowed from Robert Greene and others; and The Guls Horne-Booke (1609), a valuable account of behaviour in the London theatres.

Between 1613 and 1619 Dekker was in prison for debt. This firsthand experience may be behind his six prison scenes first included in the sixth edition (1616) of Sir Thomas Overbury’s Characters. Dekker was partly responsible for devising the street entertainment to celebrate the entry of James I into London in 1603; he provided the lord mayor’s pageant in 1612, 1627, 1628, and 1629. All this labour did not bring prosperity, however, for Dekker was likely in debt when he died.



Thomas Campion

born Feb. 12, 1567, London
died March 1, 1620

English poet, composer, musical and literary theorist, physician, and one of the outstanding songwriters of the brilliant English lutenist school of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. His lyric poetry reflects his musical abilities in its subtle mastery of rhythmic and melodic structure.

After attending the University of Cambridge (1581–84), Campion studied law in London, but he was never called to the bar. Little is known of him until 1606, by which time he had received a degree in medicine from the University of Caen, France. He practiced medicine from 1606 until his death.

Campion’s first publication was five sets of verses appearing anonymously in the pirated 1591 edition of Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella. In 1595 his Poemata (Latin epigrams) appeared, followed in 1601 by A Booke of Ayres (written with Philip Rosseter), of which much of the musical accompaniment and verses were Campion’s. He wrote a masque in 1607 and three more in 1613, in which year his Two Bookes of Ayres probably appeared. The Third and Fourth Booke of Ayres came out in 1617, probably followed by a treatise (undated) on counterpoint.

Campion’s lyric poetry and songs for lute accompaniment are undoubtedly his works of most lasting interest. Though his theories on music are slight, he thought naturally in the modern key system, with major and minor modes, rather than in the old modal system. Campion stated his theories on rhyme in Observations in the Art of English Poesie (1602). In this work he attacked the use of rhymed, accentual metres, insisting instead that timing and sound duration are the fundamental element in verse structure. Campion asserted that in English verse the larger units of line and stanza provide the temporal stability within which feet and syllables may be varied.

With the exception of his classic lyric Rose-cheekt Lawra, Come, Campion usually did not put his advocacy of quantitative, unrhymed verse into practice. His originality as a lyric poet lies rather in his treatment of the conventional Elizabethan subject matter. Rather than using visual imagery to describe static pictures, he expresses the delights of the natural world in terms of sound, music, movement, or change. This approach and Campion’s flowing but irregular verbal rhythms give freshness to hackneyed subjects and seem also to suggest an immediate personal experience of even the commonest feelings. The Selected Songs, edited by W.H. Auden, was published in 1972.



Nicholas Breton

born 1553?
died 1625?

prolific English writer of religious and pastoral poems, satires, dialogues, and essays.

Breton’s life was spent mainly in London. He dedicated his works to many patrons, including James I; his chief early patron was Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. In 1598 Breton was accounted one of the best lyrical poets, but he outlived his reputation. His satires are rather mild and general; more successful are the descriptions of simple country pleasures, whether in the pastoral poetry of The Passionate Shepheard (1604) or in the prose descriptions of the months and the hours in his Fantasticks (1604?), which in some respects anticipates the fashion for character books. Modeled on the Characters of the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, which became available in Latin translation in 1592, these books contained brief sketches, describing a dominant virtue or vice in such characters as the thieving servant, the cringing courtier, the generous patron, or the pious fraud. Breton himself wrote two character books, The Good and the Badde (1616) and Characters Upon Essaies (1615), the latter containing essays as well.

The sonnet sequence

The publication of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella in 1591 generated an equally extraordinary vogue for the sonnet sequence, Sidney’s principal imitators being Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Fulke Greville, Spenser, and Shakespeare; his lesser imitators were Henry Constable, Barnabe Barnes, Giles Fletcher the Elder, Lodge, Richard Barnfield, and many more. Astrophel had re-created the Petrarchan world of proud beauty and despairing lover in a single, brilliant stroke, though in English hands the preferred division of the sonnet into three quatrains and a couplet gave Petrarch’s contemplative form a more forensic turn, investing it with an argumentative terseness and epigrammatic sting. Within the common ground shared by the sequences, there is much diversity. Only Sidney’s sequence endeavours to tell a story, the others being more loosely organized as variations focusing on a central (usually fictional) relationship. Daniel’s Delia (1592) is eloquent and elegant, dignified and high-minded; Drayton’s Ideas Mirror (1594; much revised by 1619) rises to a strongly imagined, passionate intensity; Spenser’s Amoretti (1595) celebrates, unusually, fulfilled sexual love achieved within marriage. Shakespeare’s sonnets (published 1609) present a different world altogether, the conventions upside down, the lady no beauty but dark and treacherous, the loved one beyond considerations of sexual possession because he is male. The sonnet tended to gravitate toward correctness or politeness, and for most readers its chief pleasure must have been rhetorical, in its forceful pleading and consciously exhibited artifice, but, under the pressure of Shakespeare’s urgent metaphysical concerns, dramatic toughness, and shifting and highly charged ironies, the form’s conventional limits were exploded.

Samuel Daniel

born 1562?, Taunton, Somerset, Eng.
died 1619

English contemplative poet, marked in both verse and prose by his philosophic sense of history.

Daniel entered Oxford in 1581. After publishing a translation in 1585 for his first patron, Sir Edward Dymoke, he secured a post with the English ambassador at Paris; later he travelled in Italy, visiting the poet Battista Guarini in Padua. After 1592 he lived at Lincoln in the service of Sir Edward Dymoke, at Wilton as tutor to William Herbert, later earl of Pembroke, and at Skipton Castle, Yorkshire, as tutor to Lady Anne Clifford. In 1604 Queen Anne chose him to write a masque, The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses, in which she danced. She awarded him the right to license plays for the boy actors at the Blackfriars Theatre and a position as a groom, and later gentleman, of her privy chamber.

Edmund Spenser praised Daniel for his first book of poems, Delia, with The Complaint of Rosamond (1592). Daniel published 50 sonnets in this book, and more were added in later editions. The passing of youth and beauty is the theme of the Complaint, a tragic monologue. In The Tragedie of Cleopatra (1594) Daniel wrote a Senecan drama. The Civile Warres (1595–1609), a verse history of the Wars of the Roses, had some influence on Shakespeare in Richard II and Henry IV; it is Daniel’s most ambitious work.

Daniel’s finest poem is probably “Musophilus: Containing a Generall Defence of Learning,” dedicated to Fulke Greville. His Poeticall Essayes (1599) also include “A Letter from Octavia to Marcus Antonius.” His Defence of Ryme, answering Thomas Campion’s Observations in the Art of English Poesie, a critical essay, was published in 1603. Fame and honour are the subjects of “Ulisses and the Syren” (1605) and of A Funerall Poeme uppon the Earle of Devonshire (1606). He had to defend himself against a charge of sympathizing with the Earl of Essex in The Tragedie of Philotas, acted in 1604 (published 1605). His other masques include Tethys’ Festival (1610), staged with scenery by Inigo Jones, and The Queenes Arcadia (published 1606), a pastoral tragicomedy in the Italian fashion. Daniel’s last pastoral was Hymens Triumph (1615). He also wrote The Collection of the Historie of England (1612–18) as far as the reign of Edward III.



Michael Drayton

born 1563, Hartshill, Warwickshire, Eng.
died 1631, London

English poet, the first to write odes in English in the manner of Horace.

Drayton spent his early years in the service of Sir Henry Goodere, to whom he owed his education, and whose daughter, Anne, he celebrated as Idea in his poems. His first published work, The Harmonie of the Church (1591), contains biblical paraphrases in an antiquated style. His next works conformed more nearly to contemporary fashion: in pastoral, with Idea, The Shepheards Garland (1593); in sonnet, with Ideas Mirrour (1594); in erotic idyll, with Endimion and Phoebe (1595); and in historical heroic poem, with Robert, Duke of Normandy (1596) and Mortimeriados (1596). The last, originally written in rhyme royal, was recast in Ludovico Ariosto’s ottava rima verse as The Barrons Warres (1603).

Drayton’s most original poems of this period are Englands Heroicall Epistles (1597), a series of pairs of letters exchanged between famous lovers in English history.

Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Drayton, like most other poets, acclaimed in verse the accession of King James I, but he failed to receive any appointment or reward. The disappointment adversely affected his poetry of the next few years: it is reflected in his bitter satire The Owle (1604) and in his nostalgia for the previous reign and his implicitly negative attitude toward James I. In Poemes Lyrick and Pastorall (1606) he introduced a new mode with the “odes,” modeled on Horace. “The Ballad of Agincourt” shows Drayton’s gift for pure narrative.

Further collected editions culminated in his most important book, Poems (1619). Here Drayton reprinted most of what he chose to preserve, often much revised, with many new poems and sonnets. He had also published the first part of his most ambitious work, Poly-Olbion (1612), in which he intended to record comprehensively the Elizabethan discovery of England: the beauty of the countryside, the romantic fascination of ruined abbeys, its history, legend, and present life. He produced a second part in 1622. Written in alexandrines (12-syllable lines), Poly-Olbion is among the longest poems in English. Although a monumental achievement, it is read only rarely today.

In his old age he wrote some of his most delightful poetry, especially the fairy poem Nymphidia (1627), with its mock-heroic undertones, and The Muses Elizium (1630). The Elegies upon Sundry Occasions (1627), addressed to his friends, often suggest, with their easy, polished couplets, the manner of the age of Alexander Pope.



Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke

born October 3, 1554, Beauchamp Court, Warwickshire, England
died September 30, 1628, Warwick

English writer who, on his tomb, styled himself “Servant to Q. Eliz., councellor to King James, and friend to Sir Philip Sidney,” but who is best remembered as a powerful philosophical poet and exponent of a plain style of writing.

Greville’s Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney (1652) is a valuable commentary on Elizabethan politics. His sonnet collection Caelica (first printed 1633) differed in tone from most Elizabethan cycles, its treatment being realistic and ironic. His mind was melancholy and Calvinistic, emphasizing the “wearisome condition of humanity,” torn between this world and God’s commands. His tragedies on Oriental themes traced the political results of this division, and his verse treatises showed how statesmen can best keep order in a naughty world. His poem “Humane Learning” was skeptical about the instruments and aims of earthly knowledge and, in stressing practical improvements, probably owed something to his friend Francis Bacon. Greville was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth.

After matriculating at the University of Cambridge in 1568, he was given a post in the Court of the Welsh Marches in 1576 but the next year went on an embassy to Europe—the first of several diplomatic missions—and later visited the Low Countries, Ireland, and France. Grants of land and minor offices enriched him, and in 1598 he became treasurer of the navy.

By alienating the influential Sir Robert Cecil, he forfeited immediate promotion to high office at James I’s accession but was made a Knight of the Bath. He later restored Warwick Castle (bestowed on him in 1605 by James) and wrote verse treatises and plays. His tact and business ability were finally rewarded: he was made chancellor of the Exchequer in 1614 and a baron in 1621.

Works definitely by Greville are Certaine learned and elegant workes (1633) and Remains (1670). The tragedy Mustapha was printed (probably piratically) in 1609, and some songs were set to music.

He never married but was “a constant courtier of the ladies.” He died of stab wounds inflicted by a disgruntled manservant.



Barnabe Barnes

born 1569?, Yorkshire, Eng.
died 1609

Elizabethan poet, one of the Elizabethan sonneteers and the author of Parthenophil and Parthenophe.

Barnes was the son of Richard Barnes, bishop of Durham. He entered Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1586 but took no degree; in 1591 he joined the expedition to Normandy led by the Earl of Essex. On his return he published Parthenophil and Parthenophe (1593), containing sonnets, madrigals, elegies, and odes, on which rests his claim to fame. In 1598 he was prosecuted in the Star Chamber on a charge of attempted poisoning, but he escaped to the north. His other works include A Divine Century of Spiritual Sonnets (1595), Four Books of Offices (1606) in prose, and two plays, The Battle of Hexham (now lost) and the anti-Roman Catholic The Devil’s Charter (1607). At his best his poems, particularly the madrigals, have exuberance and occasional felicity of language; the sonnets show French influence.



Giles Fletcher the Elder

born c. November 1546, Cranbrook, Kent, Eng.
died March 11, 1611, London

English poet and author, and father of the poets Phineas Fletcher and Giles Fletcher the Younger; his writings include an account of his visit to Russia.

Educated at Eton and at King’s College, Cambridge, Fletcher was employed on diplomatic service in Scotland, Germany, and Holland. In 1588 he was sent to Russia to the court of the tsar, Fyodor I, with instructions to conclude an alliance between England and Russia, to restore English trade, and to obtain better conditions for the English Muscovy Company. He returned to England in 1589 and in 1591 published Of the Russe Common Wealth, a comprehensive account of Russian geography, government, law, methods of warfare, church, and manners. In 1610 Fletcher was employed to negotiate with Denmark on behalf of the merchants of the Eastland Company.

Of the Russe Common Wealth was issued in an abridged form in Richard Hakluyt’s The principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries (2nd ed., 1598); in Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625); and as History of Russia in 1643. Fletcher also wrote a sonnet sequence, Licia (1593).

Other poetic styles

Sonnet and lyric represent one tradition of verse within the period, that most conventionally delineated as Elizabethan, but the picture is complicated by the coexistence of other poetic styles in which ornament was distrusted or turned to different purposes; the sonnet was even parodied by Sir John Davies in his Gulling Sonnets (c. 1594) and by the Jesuit poet Robert Southwell. A particular stimulus to experiment was the variety of new possibilities made available by verse translation, from Richard Stanyhurst’s extraordinary Aeneid (1582), in quantitative hexameter and littered with obscure or invented diction, and Sir John Harington’s version of Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (1591), with its Byronic ease and narrative fluency, to Christopher Marlowe’s blank verse rendering of Lucan’s First Book (published 1600), probably the finest Elizabethan translation.

The genre to benefit most from translation was the epyllion, or little epic. This short narrative in verse was usually on a mythological subject, taking most of its material from Ovid, either his Metamorphoses (English version by Arthur Golding, 1565–67) or his Heroides (English version by Turberville, 1567). This form flourished from Lodge’s Scillaes Metamorphosis (1589) to Francis Beaumont’s Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (1602) and is best represented by Marlowe’s Hero and Leander (published 1598) and Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (1593). Ovid’s reputation as an esoteric philosopher left its mark on George Chapman’s Ovid’s Banquet of Sense (1595) and Drayton’s Endimion and Phoebe (1595), in which the love of mortal for goddess becomes a parable of wisdom. But Ovid’s real attraction was as an authority on the erotic, and most epyllia treat physical love with sophistication and sympathy, unrelieved by the gloss of allegory—a tendency culminating in John Marston’s The Metamorphosis of Pigmalion’s Image (1598), a poem that has shocked tender sensibilities. Inevitably, the shift of attitude had an effect on style: for Marlowe the experience of translating (inaccurately) Ovid’s Amores meant a gain for Hero and Leander in terms of urbanity and, more important, wit.

With the epyllion comes a hint of the tastes of the following reign, and a similar shift of taste can be felt among those poets of the 1590s who began to modify the ornamental style in the direction of native plainness or Classical restraint. An astute courtier such as Davies might, in his Orchestra (1596) and Hymns of Astraea (1599), write confident panegyrics to the aging Elizabeth, but in Sir Walter Raleigh’s Eleventh Book of the Ocean to Cynthia, a kind of broken pastoral eclogue, praise of the queen is undermined by an obscure but eloquent sense of hopelessness and disillusionment. For Raleigh, the complimental manner seems to be disintegrating under the weight of disgrace and isolation at court; his scattered lyrics—notably The Lie, a contemptuous dismissal of the court—often draw their resonance from the resources of the plain style. Another courtier whose writing suggests similar pressures is Greville. His Caelica (published 1633) begins as a conventional sonnet sequence but gradually abandons Neoplatonism for pessimistic reflections on religion and politics. Other works in his sinewy and demanding verse include philosophical treatises and unperformed melodramas (Alaham and Mustapha) that have a sombre Calvinist tone, presenting man as a vulnerable creature inhabiting a world of unresolved contradictions:

Oh wearisome condition of humanity!
Born under one law, to another bound;
Vainly begot, and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sick, commanded to be sound.


Greville was a friend of Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex, whose revolt against Elizabeth ended in 1601 on the scaffold, and other poets on the edge of the Essex circle fueled the taste for aristocratic heroism and individualist ethics. Chapman’s masterpiece, his translation of Homer (1598), is dedicated to Essex, and his original poems are intellectual and recondite, often deliberately difficult and obscure; his abstruseness is a means of restricting his audience to a worthy, understanding elite. Daniel, in his verse Epistles (1603) written to various noblemen, strikes a mean between plainness and compliment; his Musophilus (1599), dedicated to Greville, defends the worth of poetry but says there are too many frivolous wits writing. The cast of Daniel’s mind is stoical, and his language is classically precise. His major project was a verse history of The Civil Wars Between the Two Houses of Lancaster and York (1595–1609), and versified history is also strongly represented in Drayton’s Legends (1593–1607), Barons’ Wars (1596, 1603), and England’s Heroical Epistles (1597).

The form that really set its face against Elizabethan politeness was the satire. Satire was related to the complaint, of which there were notable examples by Daniel (The Complaint of Rosamond, 1592) and Shakespeare (The Rape of Lucrece, 1594) that are dignified and tragic laments in supple verse. But the Elizabethans mistakenly held the term satire to derive from the Greek satyros, a satyr, and so set out to match their manner to their matter and make their verses snarl. In the works of the principal satirists, Donne (five satires, 1593–98), Joseph Hall (Virgidemiarum, 1597–98), and Marston (Certain Satires and The Scourge of Villainy, 1598), the denunciation of vice and folly repeatedly tips into invective, raillery, and sheer abuse. The versification of Donne’s satires is frequently so rough as barely to be verse at all; Hall apologized for not being harsh enough, and Marston was himself pilloried in Jonson’s play Poetaster (1601) for using ridiculously difficult language. “Vex all the world,” wrote Marston to himself, “so that thyself be pleased.” The satirists popularized a new persona, that of the malcontent who denounces his society not from above but from within. Their continuing attraction resides in their self-contradictory delight in the world they profess to abhor and their evident fascination with the minutiae of life in court and city. They were enthusiastically followed by Everard Guilpin, Samuel Rowlands, Thomas Middleton, and Cyril Tourneur, and so scandalous was the flood of satires that in 1599 their printing was banned. Thereafter the form survived in Jonson’s classically balanced epigrams and poems of the good life, but its more immediate impact was on the drama, in helping to create the vigorously skeptical voices that people The Revenger’s Tragedy (1607) and Shakespeare’s Hamlet (c. 1599–1601).


Sir John Davies

born April 1569, Tisbury, Wiltshire, Eng.
died Dec. 8, 1626

English poet and lawyer whose Orchestra, or a Poem of Dancing reveals a typically Elizabethan pleasure in the contemplation of the correspondence between the natural order and human activity.

Educated at the University of Oxford, Davies entered the Middle Temple, London, in 1588 and was called to the bar in 1595. Much of his early poetry consisted of epigrams published in various collections. Epigrammes and Elegies by J.D. and C.M. (1590?) contained both Davies’ work and posthumous works by Christopher Marlowe and was one of the books the archbishop of Canterbury ordered burned in 1599. Davies’ Orchestra (1596) is a poem in praise of dancing set against the background of Elizabethan cosmology and its theory of the harmony of the spheres. In Nosce teipsum (1599; “Know Thyself”), he gave a lucid account of his philosophy on the nature and immortality of the soul. In the same year, he published Hymnes of Astraea in Acrosticke Verse, a series of poems in which the initials of the first lines form the words “Elisabetha Regina.” His last poetic works were two dialogues contributed to Francis Davison’s Poetical Rhapsody (1602). He published a collected edition of his poetry in 1622.

On the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Davies was one of the messengers who carried the news to James VI of Scotland, who succeeded Elizabeth as James I. James received him with great favour, sent him to Ireland as solicitor general, and conferred a knighthood on him. In 1606 Davies was made attorney general for Ireland and created sergeant-at-law. He took an active part in the Protestant settlement of Ulster and wrote several tracts on Irish affairs. He entered the Irish Parliament and was elected speaker; on his return to England he sat in the English Parliament of 1621. He was appointed lord chief justice in 1626 but died before he took office. He was one of the founders of the Society of Antiquaries.



Robert Southwell

born 1561, Horsham St. Faith, Norfolk, Eng.
died March 4, 1595, London

English poet and martyr remembered for his saintly life as a Jesuit priest and missionary during a time of Protestant persecution and for his religious poetry.

Southwell was educated at Jesuit colleges in France and in Rome. In 1585 he was ordained priest and made prefect of studies at the English College at Rome. He returned to England as a missionary in 1586, when he became chaplain to Anne Howard and spiritual adviser to her husband, the 1st Earl of Arundel, a recusant imprisoned in the Tower of London. Southwell lived in concealment at Arundel House, writing letters of consolation to persecuted Roman Catholics and making pastoral journeys. His An Epistle of Comfort was printed secretly in 1587; other letters circulated in manuscript.

Southwell was arrested in 1592 while celebrating mass. He was tortured in an attempt to make him reveal the whereabouts of his fellow priests and imprisoned in the Tower of London in solitary confinement. In 1595 he was tried for treason under the anti-Catholic penal laws of 1585 and executed. Southwell’s devotional lyrics and prose treatises and epistles reflect the ardent piety of his life. His best works achieve an unusual directness and simplicity, and his use of paradox and striking imagery is akin to that of the later Metaphysical poets. He is the foremost representative of Roman Catholic letters in Elizabethan England.



Francis Beaumont

born c. 1585, Grace-Dieu, Leicestershire, Eng.
died March 6, 1616, London

English Jacobean poet and playwright who collaborated with John Fletcher on comedies and tragedies between about 1606 and 1613.

The son of Francis Beaumont, justice of common pleas of Grace-Dieu priory, Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire, Beaumont entered Broadgates Hall (later Pembroke College), Oxford, in 1597. His father dying the following year, he abruptly left the university without a degree and later (November 1600) entered London’s Inner Temple, where he evidently became more involved in London’s lively literary culture than in legal studies.

In 1602 there appeared the poem Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, generally attributed to Beaumont, a voluptuous and voluminous expansion of the Ovidian legend that added to the story humour and a fantastic array of episodes and conceits. At age 23 he prefixed to Ben Jonson’s Volpone (1607) some verses in honour of his “dear friend” the author. John Fletcher contributed verses to the same volume, and, by about this time, the two were collaborating on plays for the Children of the Queen’s Revels. According to John Aubrey, a 17th-century memorialist, in Brief Lives,

They lived together on the Banke side, not far from the Play-house, both batchelors; lay together…; had one wench in the house between them…; the same cloathes and cloake, &c., betweene them.

Their collaboration as playwrights was to last for some seven years. In 1613 Beaumont married an heiress, Ursula Isley of Sundridge in Kent, and retired from the theatre. He died in London in 1616 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

It is difficult to disentangle Beaumont’s share in the 35 plays published in 1647 as by "Beaumont and Fletcher" (to which another 18 were added in the 1679 collection). Scholars now believe that only 10 of these were by the two friends, while Beaumont’s hand also appears in 3 plays substantially written by Fletcher and Philip Massinger. The rest are plays written by Fletcher alone or in collaboration with other dramatists, except for The Knight of the Burning Pestle, which is Beaumont’s unaided work. Attempts to separate the shares of Beaumont and Fletcher in any given work are complicated by the fact that Beaumont sometimes revised scenes by Fletcher and Fletcher edited some of Beaumont’s work. The Knight of the Burning Pestle parodies a then popular kind of play—sprawling, episodic, with sentimental lovers and chivalric adventures. It opens with The Citizen and his Wife taking their places on the stage to watch “The London Merchant”—itself a satire on the work of a contemporary playwright, Thomas Dekker. Citizen and Wife interrupt, advise, and insist that the play should be more romantic and their apprentice should take a leading part. Thereafter these two contradictory plots go forward side by side, allowing Beaumont to have fun with bourgeois naïveté about art.




George Chapman

born 1559?, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, Eng.
died May 12, 1634, London

English poet and dramatist, whose translation of Homer long remained the standard English version.

Chapman attended the University of Oxford but took no degree. By 1585 he was working in London for the wealthy commoner Sir Ralph Sadler and probably traveled to the Low Countries at this time. His first work was The Shadow of Night . . . Two Poeticall Hymnes (1593), followed in 1595 by Ovids Banquet of Sence. Both philosophize on the value of an ordered life. His poem in praise of Sir Walter Raleigh, De Guiana, Carmen Epicum (“An Epic Poem about Guiana,” 1596), is typical of his preoccupation with the virtues of the warrior-hero, the character that dominates most of his plays.

The first books of his translation of the Iliad appeared in 1598. It was completed in 1611, and his version of the Odyssey appeared in 1616. Chapman’s Homer contains passages of great power and beauty and inspired the sonnet of John Keats “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” (1815).

Chapman’s conclusion to Christopher Marlowe’s unfinished poem Hero and Leander (1598) emphasized the necessity for control and wisdom. Euthymiae Raptus; or the Teares of Peace (1609), Chapman’s major poem, is a dialogue between the poet and the Lady Peace, who is mourning over the chaos caused by man’s valuing worldly objects above integrity and wisdom.

Chapman was imprisoned with Ben Jonson and John Marston in 1605 for writing Eastward Ho, a play that James I, the king of Great Britain, found offensive to his fellow Scots. Of Chapman’s dramatic works, about a dozen plays survive, chief of which are his tragedies: Bussy d’Ambois (1607), The Conspiracie, and Tragedie of Charles Duke of Byron . . . (1608), and The Widdowes Teares (1612).



John Marston

baptized Oct. 7, 1576, Oxfordshire, Eng.
died June 25, 1634, London

English dramatist, one of the most vigorous satirists of the Shakespearean era, whose best known work is The Malcontent (1604), in which he rails at the iniquities of a lascivious court. He wrote it, as well as other major works, for a variety of children’s companies, organized groups of boy actors popular during Elizabethan and Jacobean times.

Marston was educated at the University of Oxford and resided from 1595 at the Middle Temple, London. He began his literary career in 1598 with The Metamorphosis of Pigmalions Image and Certaine Satyres, an erotic poem in the newly fashionable Ovidian style. In the same year, the rough-hewn, obscure verses of The Scourge of Villanie, in which Marston referred to himself as a “barking satirist,” were widely acclaimed.

In 1599 Marston began writing for the theatre, producing Histrio-mastix (published in 1610), probably for performance at the Middle Temple. In his character Chrisoganus, a “Master Pedant” and “translating scholler,” the audience was able to recognize the learned Ben Jonson. A brief, bitter literary feud developed between Marston and Jonson—part of “the war of the theatres.” In Poetaster (produced 1601) Jonson depicted Marston as Crispinus, a character with red hair and small legs who was given a pill that forced him to disgorge a pretentious vocabulary.

For the Children of Paul’s, a theatre company, Marston wrote Antonio and Mellida (1600); its sequel, Antonio’s Revenge (1601); and What You Will (1601). The most memorable is Antonio’s Revenge, a savage melodrama of a political power struggle with elements of parody and fantasy.

In 1604 Marston transferred his allegiance to the boy company at the Blackfriars Theatre (i.e., the Children of the Queen’s Revels, later Children of the Blackfriars), for which he wrote his remaining plays. The Dutch Courtezan (produced 1603–04) as well as The Malcontent earned him his place as a dramatist. The former, with its coarse, farcical counterplot, was considered one of the cleverest comedies of its time. Although Marston used all the apparatus of contemporary revenge tragedy in The Malcontent, the wronged hero does not kill any of his tormentors and regains power by sophisticated Machiavellian stratagems.

In 1605 Marston collaborated with Jonson and with George Chapman on Eastward Ho, a comedy of the contrasts within the life of the city. But the play’s satiric references to opportunistic Scottish countrymen of the newly crowned James I gave offense, and all three authors were imprisoned.

After another imprisonment in 1608, presumably once again for libel, Marston left unfinished The Insatiate Countesse, his most erotic play, and entered the Church of England. He took orders in 1609, married the daughter of James I’s chaplain, and in 1616 accepted an ecclesiastical post in Christchurch, Hampshire. In 1633 he apparently insisted upon the removal of his name from the collected edition of six of his plays, The Workes of John Marston, which was reissued anonymously the same year as Tragedies and Comedies.



Sir Walter Raleigh

born 1554?, Hayes Barton, near Budleigh Salterton, Devon, England
died October 29, 1618, London

English adventurer and writer, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, who knighted him in 1585. Accused of treason by Elizabeth’s successor, James I, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and eventually put to death.

Raleigh was a younger son of Walter Raleigh (d. 1581) of Fardell in Devon, by his third wife, Katherine Gilbert (née Champernowne). In 1569 he fought on the Huguenot (French Protestant) side in the Wars of Religion in France, and he is known later to have been at Oriel College, Oxford (1572), and at the Middle Temple law college (1575). In 1580 he fought against the Irish rebels in Munster, and his outspoken criticism of the way English policy was being implemented in Ireland brought him to the attention of Queen Elizabeth. By 1582 he had become the monarch’s favourite, and he began to acquire lucrative monopolies, properties, and influential positions. His Irish service was rewarded by vast estates in Munster. In 1583 the queen secured him a lease of part of Durham House in the Strand, London, where he had a monopoly of wine licenses (1583) and of the export of broadcloth (1585); and he became warden of the stannaries (the Cornish tin mines), lieutenant of Cornwall, and vice admiral of Devon and Cornwall and frequently sat as a member of Parliament. In 1587, two years after he had been knighted, Raleigh became captain of the queen’s guard. His last appointment under the crown was as governor of Jersey (one of the Channel Islands) in 1600.

In 1592 Raleigh acquired the manor of Sherborne in Dorset. He wanted to settle and found a family. His marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, possibly as early as 1588, had been kept a secret from the jealous queen. In 1592 the birth of a son betrayed him, and he and his wife were both imprisoned in the Tower of London. Raleigh bought his release with profits from a privateering voyage in which he had invested, but he never regained his ascendancy at court. The child did not survive; a second son, Walter, was born in 1593 and a third son, Carew, in 1604 or 1605.

Although Raleigh was the queen’s favourite, he was not popular. His pride and extravagant spending were notorious, and he was attacked for unorthodox thought. A Jesuit pamphlet in 1592 accused him of keeping a “School of Atheism,” but he was not an atheist in the modern sense. He was a bold talker, interested in skeptical philosophy, and a serious student of mathematics as an aid to navigation. He also studied chemistry and compounded medical formulas. The old idea that Shakespeare satirized Raleigh’s circle under the name of the "School of Night" is now entirely discredited.

Raleigh’s breach with the queen widened his personal sphere of action. Between 1584 and 1589 he had tried to establish a colony near Roanoke Island (in present North Carolina), which he named Virginia, but he never set foot there himself. In 1595 he led an expedition to what is now Venezuela, in South America, sailing up the Orinoco River in the heart of Spain’s colonial empire. He described the expedition in his book The Discoverie of Guiana (1596). Spanish documents and stories told by Indians had convinced him of the existence of Eldorado (El Dorado), the ruler of Manoa, a supposedly fabulous city of gold in the interior of South America. He did locate some gold mines, but no one supported his project for colonizing the area. In 1596 he went with Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex, on an unsuccessful expedition to the Spanish city of Cádiz, and he was Essex’s rear admiral on the Islands voyage in 1597, an expedition to the Azores.

Raleigh’s aggressive policies toward Spain did not recommend him to the pacific King James I (reigned 1603–25). His enemies worked to bring about his ruin, and in 1603 he and others were accused of plotting to dethrone the king. Raleigh was convicted on the written evidence of Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, and, after a last-minute reprieve from the death sentence, was consigned to the Tower. He fought to save Sherborne, which he had conveyed in trust for his son, but a clerical error invalidated the deed. In 1616 he was released but not pardoned. He still hoped to exploit the wealth of Venezuela, arguing that the country had been ceded to England by its native chiefs in 1595. With the king’s permission, he financed and led a second expedition there, promising to open a gold mine without offending Spain. A severe fever prevented his leading his men upriver. His lieutenant, Lawrence Kemys, burned a Spanish settlement but found no gold. Raleigh’s son Walter died in the action. King James invoked the suspended sentence of 1603, and in 1618, after writing a spirited defense of his acts, Raleigh was executed.

Popular feeling had been on Raleigh’s side ever since 1603. After 1618 his occasional writings were collected and published, often with little discrimination. The authenticity of some minor works attributed to him is still unsure. Some 560 lines of verse in his hand are preserved. They address the queen as Cynthia and complain of her unkindness, probably with reference to his imprisonment of 1592. His best-known prose works in addition to The Discoverie of Guiana are A Report of the Truth of the Fight About the Iles of Açores This Last Sommer (1591; generally known as The Last Fight of the Revenge) and The History of the World (1614). The last work, undertaken in the Tower, proceeds from the Creation to the 2nd century bc. History is shown as a record of God’s Providence, a doctrine that pleased contemporaries and counteracted the charge of atheism. King James was meant to note the many warnings that the injustice of kings is always punished.

Raleigh survives as an interesting and enigmatic personality rather than as a force in history. He can be presented either as a hero or as a scoundrel. His vaulting imagination, which could envisage both North and South America as English territory, was supported by considerable practical ability and a persuasive pen, but some discrepancy between the vision and the deed made him less effective than his gifts had promised.

Agnes M.C. Latham



Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex

born Nov. 10, 1567, Netherwood, Herefordshire, Eng.
died Feb. 25, 1601, London

English soldier and courtier famous for his relationship with Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558–1603). While still a young man, Essex succeeded his stepfather, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester (died 1588), as the aging queen’s favourite; for years she put up with his rashness and impudence, but their relationship finally ended in tragedy.

Devereux was a cousin of Elizabeth on his mother’s side, and when he was nine, he succeeded to the title held by his father, Walter Devereux, 1st earl of Essex. Young Essex first attained prominence by fighting bravely against the Spanish in the Netherlands in 1586. The following year Elizabeth made him master of the horse. Even at this early date he consistently provoked the queen’s anger while managing to remain in her favour. Contrary to her wishes, he took part in the English operation against Lisbon in 1589 and secretly married Frances Walsingham, widow of the poet Sir Philip Sidney, in 1590. In 1591–92 he commanded the English force in France, which helped King Henry IV, then still a Protestant, in his campaign against the French Roman Catholics.

For the next four years Essex remained in England, becoming an expert on foreign affairs in an unsuccessful attempt to challenge the long-established ascendancy in this field of the Cecil family. He was made privy councillor in 1593 and in 1594 uncovered an alleged plot against the queen’s life by her physician, Roderigo Lopez.

When the revival of offensive operations against Spain in 1596 opened new opportunity for military adventure, Essex became one of the commanders of the force that seized and sacked Cádiz on June 22. This spectacular but indecisive action put him at the height of his fortunes and made him a leading advocate of a more vigorous strategy against Spain. A force that he commanded in 1597, however, failed to intercept the Spanish treasure ships at the Azores. Next year the possibility of peace with Spain sharpened his rivalry with the Cecils, while the growing seriousness of a major rebellion in Ireland led to bitter differences between Essex and Elizabeth over appointments and strategy.

By this time Elizabeth was growing alarmed by Essex’ importunate ambition, finding him to be “a nature not to be ruled.” During one of their disputes, Essex turned his back upon the queen, who promptly slapped his face. Nevertheless, in 1599 she sent him to Ireland as lord lieutenant. After an unsuccessful campaign against the rebels he concluded an unfavourable truce and, suddenly deserting his post, returned to England to vindicate himself privately to the queen. She responded by depriving him of his offices (June 1600). Politically ruined and financially destitute but confined only to house arrest, he and 200 to 300 followers tried, on Feb. 8, 1601, to raise the populace of London in revolt. The poorly planned attempt failed, and Essex surrendered. He was executed at the Tower of London after being found guilty of treason. Francis Bacon, the scientist-philosopher for whose advancement in the government Essex had continually pressed, was one of the prosecutors at Essex’ trial.



Joseph Hall

born , July 1, 1574, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, Eng.
died Sept. 8, 1656, Higham, Norfolk

English bishop, moral philosopher, and satirist, remarkable for his literary versatility and innovations.

Hall’s Virgidemiarum: Six Books (1597–1602; “A Harvest of Blows”) was the first English satire successfully modeled on Latin satire, and its couplets anticipated the satiric heroic couplets of John Dryden in the late 17th century. Hall was also the first writer in English to emulate Theophrastus, an ancient Greek philosopher who wrote a book of characters, with Characters of Vertues and Vices (1608). As a moral philosopher he achieved a European reputation for his Christianization of Stoicism.

Educated under Puritan influences at the Ashby School and the University of Cambridge (from 1589), he was elected to the university lectureship in rhetoric. He became rector of Hawstead, Suffolk, in 1601 and concentrated chiefly on writing books for the money “to buy books.” Mundus Alter et Idem (c. 1605; “The World Different and the Same”), an original and entertaining Latin satire that influenced Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), dates from this period, as does Heaven upon Earth (1606), a book of moral philosophy. Hall later became domestic chaplain to Prince Henry (James I’s eldest son). He was made dean of Worcester in 1616 and accompanied King James to Scotland in 1617. He was a royal representative at the Synod of Dort (1618–19), an assembly of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands, and became bishop of Exeter in 1627. Suspected of Puritan leanings by William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, he counterattacked Puritans on episcopacy’s behalf.

Hall took part in the literary campaign between Anglicans and Puritans at the opening (1642) of the English Civil War. John Milton, poet and Puritan, wrote Animadversions against a Defence of Hall’s, but amid the ensuing exchange of invective Hall pleaded for unity and tolerance among Christians. In 1641 Hall was given the bishopric of Norwich but was imprisoned for four months by an anti-episcopalian House of Commons before arriving at his new see. Deprived of his episcopal revenues in 1643, he was finally ejected from his palace and retired to Higham.




Cyril Tourneur

born c. 1575
died Feb. 28, 1626, Kinsale, County Cork, Ire.

English dramatist whose reputation rests largely upon The Atheist’s Tragedie, which is written in verse that is rich in macabre imagery.

In 1625 Sir Edward Cecil appointed Tourneur secretary to the council of war. This appointment was canceled by the duke of Buckingham, but Tourneur sailed with Cecil on an expedition to Cádiz. On the return voyage, he was put ashore at Kinsale with other sick men, and he died there. His poetical satire, The Transformed Metamorphosis, was published in 1600.

The Atheist’s Tragedie: Or The Honest Man’s Revenge was published in 1611. The Revenger’s Tragedie, which is sometimes attributed to Tourneur, had appeared anonymously in 1607. In 1656 the bookseller Edward Archer entered it as by Tourneur on his list, but most recent scholarship attributes it to Thomas Middleton. The plays differ in their attitude toward private revenge; and The Revenger’s Tragedie, although earlier, is more mature in its structure and sombre brilliance.

Prose styles, 1550–1600

Prose was easily the principal medium in the Elizabethan period, and, despite the mid-century uncertainties over the language’s weaknesses and strengths—whether coined and imported words should be admitted; whether the structural modeling of English prose on Latin writing was beneficial or, as Bacon would complain, a pursuit of “choiceness of phrase” at the expense of “soundness of argument”—the general attainment of prose writing was uniformly high, as is often manifested in contexts not conventionally imaginative or “literary,” such as tracts, pamphlets, and treatises. The obvious instance of such casual success is Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Voyages, and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589; expanded 1598–1600), a massive collection of travelers’ tales, of which some are highly accomplished narratives. William Harrison’s gossipy, entertaining Description of England (1577), Philip Stubbes’s excitable and humane social critique The Anatomy of Abuses (1583), Reginald Scot’s anecdotal Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), and John Stow’s invaluable Survey of London (1598) also deserve passing mention. William Kempe’s account of his morris dance from London to Norwich, Kempe’s Nine Days’ Wonder (1600), exemplifies a smaller genre, the newsbook (a type of pamphlet).

The writers listed above all use an unpretentious style, enlivened with a vivid vocabulary; the early prose fiction, on the other hand, delights in ingenious formal embellishment at the expense of narrative economy. This runs up against preferences ingrained in the modern reader by the novel, but Elizabethan fiction is not at all novelistic and finds room for debate, song, and the conscious elaboration of style. The unique exception is Gascoigne’s Adventures of Master F.J. (1573), a tale of thwarted love set in an English great house, which is the first success in English imaginative prose. Gascoigne’s story has a surprising authenticity and almost psychological realism (it may be autobiographical), but even so it is heavily imbued with the influence of Castiglione.

The existence of an audience for polite fiction was signaled in the collections of stories imported from France and Italy by William Painter (1566), Geoffrey Fenton (1577), and George Pettie (1576). Pettie, who claimed not to care “to displease twenty men to please one woman,” believed his readership was substantially female. There were later collections by Barnaby Rich (1581) and George Whetstone (1583); historically, their importance was as sources of plots for many Elizabethan plays. The direction fiction was to take was established by John Lyly’s Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578), which, with its sequel Euphues and His England (1580), set a fashion for an extreme rhetorical mannerism that came to be known as euphuism. The plot of Euphues—a rake’s fall from virtue and his recovery—is but an excuse for a series of debates, letters, and speechifyings, thick with assonance, antithesis, parallelism, and balance and displaying a pseudoscientific learning. Lyly’s style would be successful on the stage, but in fiction its density and monotony are wearying. The other major prose work of the 1570s, Sidney’s Arcadia, is no less rhetorical (Abraham Fraunce illustrated his handbook of style The Arcadian Rhetoric [1588] almost entirely with examples from the Arcadia), but with Sidney rhetoric is in the service of psychological insight and an exciting plot. Dozens of imitations of Arcadia and Euphues followed from the pens of Greene, Lodge, Anthony Munday, Emanuel Forde, and others; none has much distinction.

Prose was to be decisively transformed through its involvement in the bitter and learned controversies of the 1570s and ’80s over the reform of the English Church and the problems the controversies raised in matters of authority, obedience, and conscience. The fragile ecclesiastical compromise threatened to collapse under the demands for further reformation made by Elizabeth’s more godly subjects, and its defense culminated in Richard Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (eight books, 1593–1662), the first English classic of serious prose. Hooker’s is a monumental work, structured in massive and complex paragraphs brilliantly re-creating the orotund style of Cicero. His air of maturity and detachment has recommended him to modern tastes, but no more than his opponents was he above the cut and thrust of controversy. On the contrary, his magisterial rhetoric was designed all the more effectively to fix blame onto his enemies, and even his account (in Books VI–VIII) of the relationship of church and state was deemed too sensitive for publication in the 1590s.

More decisive for English fiction was the appearance of the “Martin Marprelate” tracts of 1588–90. These seven pamphlets argued the Puritan case but with an un-Puritanical scurrility and created great scandal by hurling invective and abuse at Elizabeth’s bishops with comical gusto. The bishops employed Lyly and Nashe to reply to the pseudonymous Marprelate, and the consequence may be read in Nashe’s prose satires of the following decade, especially Piers Penniless His Supplication to the Devil (1592), The Unfortunate Traveller (1594), and Nashe’s Lenten Stuff (1599), the latter a pamphlet in praise of herring. Nashe’s “extemporal vein” makes fullest use of the flexibility of colloquial speech and delights in nonsense, redundancy, and disconcerting shifts of tone, which demand an answering agility from the reader. His language is probably the most profusely inventive of all Elizabethan writers’, and he makes even Greene’s low-life pamphlets (1591–92), with their sensational tales from the underworld, look conventional. His only rival is Thomas Deloney, whose Jack of Newbury (1597), The Gentle Craft (1597–98), and Thomas of Reading (1600) are enduringly attractive for their depiction of the lives of ordinary citizens, interspersed with elements of romance, jest book, and folktale. Deloney’s entirely convincing dialogue indicates how important for the development of a flexible prose must have been the example of a flourishing theatre in Elizabethan London. In this respect, as in so many others, the role of the drama was crucial.


Richard Hakluyt

born c. 1552, London?
died Nov. 23, 1616, England

English geographer noted for his political influence, his voluminous writings, and his persistent promotion of Elizabethan overseas expansion, especially the colonization of North America. His major publication, The principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English nation, provides almost everything known about the early English voyages to North America.

Hakluyt’s family was of some social standing in the Welsh Marches and held property at Eaton. His father died when Richard was five years old, leaving his family to the care of a cousin, another Richard Hakluyt, a lawyer who had many friends among prominent city merchants, geographers, and explorers of the day. Because of these connections, and his own expertise in overseas trade and economics, the man was well placed to assist young Richard in his life work.

With the help of various scholarships, Hakluyt was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, entering in 1570 and taking his M.A. degree in 1577. His interest in geography and travel had been aroused on a visit to the Middle Temple, one of the four English legal societies, while in his early teens. As he writes in the “Epistle dedicatorie” to The principall Navigations, his cousin spoke to him of recent discoveries and of the new opportunities for trade and showed him “certeine bookes of Cosmographie, with an universall Mappe.” His imagination thus stirred, the schoolboy had thereupon resolved to “prosecute that knowledge and kinde of literature” at the university. Some time before 1580 he took holy orders, and, though he never shirked his religious duties, he spent considerable time reading whatever accounts he could find about contemporary voyages and discoveries.

Hakluyt also gave public lectures—he is regarded as the first professor of modern geography at Oxford—and was the first to display

both the olde imperfectly composed, and the new lately reformed Mappes, Globes, Spheares, and other instruments of this Art for demonstration in the common schooles.

He made a point also of becoming acquainted with the most important sea captains, merchants, and sailors of England. This was the time when English attention was fixed on finding the northeast and northwest passages to the Orient, and on Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of the world. Hakluyt was concerned with the activities of Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Martin Frobisher, who were both searching for a passage to the East; was consulting Abraham Ortelius, compiler of the world’s first atlas, and Gerardus Mercator, the Flemish mapmaker, on cosmographical problems; and was gaining approval for future overseas exploration from such politically prominent men as Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Sir Robert Cecil. He thus embarked upon his career as a “publicist and a counsellor for present and future national enterprises across the ocean.” His policy, constantly expounded, was the exploration of temperate North America in conjunction with the search for the Northwest Passage, the establishment of England’s claim to possession based on the discovery of North America by John and Sebastian Cabot, and the foundation of a “plantation” to foster national trade and national well-being. These views are first set out in the preface he wrote to John Florio’s translation of an account of Jacques Cartier’s voyage to Canada, which he induced Florio to undertake, and are further developed in his first important work, Divers voyages touching the discouerie of America (1582). In this he also pleaded for the establishment of a lectureship in navigation. In 1583 Walsingham, then one of the most important secretaries of state, sent Hakluyt to Paris as chaplain to Sir Edward Stafford, the English ambassador there. He served in Paris also as a kind of intelligence officer, collecting information on the fur trade of Canada and on overseas enterprises from French and exiled Portuguese pilots. In support of Walter Raleigh’s colonizing project in Virginia, he prepared a report, known briefly as The Discourse on the Western Planting (written in 1584), which set out very forcefully the political and economic benefits from such a colony and the necessity for state financial support of the project. This was presented to Queen Elizabeth I, who rewarded Hakluyt with a prebend (ecclesiastical post) at Bristol cathedral but took no steps to help Raleigh. The Discourse, a secret report, was not printed until 1877. In Paris, Hakluyt also edited an edition of the De Orbe Novo of Pietro Martire so that his countrymen might have knowledge of the early successes and failures of the Spaniards in the New World.

Hakluyt returned to London in 1588. The outbreak of war with Spain put an end to the effectiveness of overseas propaganda and the opportunity for further exploration so he began work on a project that he had had in mind for some time. This was The principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation . . . , which, by its scholarship and comprehensiveness, transcended all geographical literature to date; the first edition, in one volume, appeared in 1589. About this time he married Duglesse Cavendish, a relative of Thomas Cavendish, the circumnavigator, and was appointed to the parish of Wetheringsett in Suffolk. Until after the death of his wife in 1597, little is heard of any geographical work, but he then completed the greatly enlarged second edition of the Voyages, which appeared in three volumes between 1598 and 1600. Shortly before its completion, he was granted by the Queen the next vacant prebend at Westminster so that he might be at hand to advise on colonial affairs. He gave information to the newly formed East India Company and continued his interest in the North American colonizing project; he was one of the chief promoters of the petition to the crown for patents to colonize Virginia in 1606 and at one point contemplated a voyage to the colony. Nor did his belief in the possibility of Arctic passages to the East fade, for he was also a charter member of the Northwest Passage Company of 1612. In 1613 appeared the Pilgrimage of Samuel Purchas, another clergyman fascinated with the new discoveries of the age; in spirit, it was a continuation of Hakluyt’s own work, and the two editors probably became acquainted. Purchas procured some of Hakluyt’s manuscripts after his death and used them in Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes of 1625.

Works by Hakluyt in addition to those mentioned above include translations of Antonio Galvão’s Discoveries of the World . . . (1601) and of Hernando de Soto’s account of Florida, under the title Virginia richly valued by the description of . . . Florida . . . (1609). But it is the Voyages that remain his memorial. This, the prose epic of the English nation, is more than a documentary history of exploration and adventure; with tales of daring it mingles historical, diplomatic, and economic papers to establish British right to sovereignty at sea and to a place in overseas settlement. Its overriding purpose was to stimulate, guide, and encourage an undertaking of incalculable national import. Hakluyt was not blind to the profits arising from foreign trade. It has been asserted that the income of the East India Company was increased by £20,000 through a study of Hakluyt’s Voyages.

Gerald Roe Crone



John Stow

born 1525, London, Eng.
died April 6, 1605, London

one of the best-known Elizabethan antiquaries, author of a famous Survey of London (1598; revised and enlarged, 1603).

Stow was a prosperous tailor until about 1565–70, after which he devoted his time to collecting rare books and manuscripts, a hobby that left him impoverished. Self-educated, with a passion for learning, he became the friend of famous antiquaries and was employed by Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury, to edit medieval chronicles. He had already published an edition of Chaucer (1561) and a Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles (1565; many abridged versions). His first original work was The Chronicles of England (1580), revised as Annales of England (1592).

The Survey, which is in the form of a perambulation around the London wards, contains details of the buildings, monuments, people, life, and customs of London at a time of transition from medieval to modern, along with an account of the city’s origins and growth.



William Painter

born c. 1540
died February 1594, London, Eng.

English author whose collection of tales The Palace of Pleasure, based on classical and Italian originals, served as a sourcebook for many Elizabethan dramatists.

Educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, Painter was ordained in 1560. In 1561 he became a clerk of the ordnance in the Tower of London, a position in which he appears to have amassed a fortune out of public funds. In 1591 his son Anthony confessed that he and his father had abused their trust, but Painter retained his office until his death.

The first volume of The Palace of Pleasure, which appeared in 1566, contained 60 tales. It was followed in the next year by a volume including 34 new stories. An improved edition (1575) contained seven more new stories. To its popularity, and that of similar collections, is due the high proportion of Elizabethan plays with Italian settings.

Appius and Virginia, a Tragedy and Robert Wilmot’s The Tragedy of Tancred and Gismund were taken from Painter’s book, and it was also the source for William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens and All’s Well That Ends Well (and probably for details in Romeo and Juliet and The Rape of Lucrece), for Philip Massinger’s The Maid of Honour and The Picture, and for James Shirley’s Loves Crueltie.



Anthony Munday

born 1560?, London, Eng.—buried Aug. 9, 1633, London

English poet, dramatist, pamphleteer, and translator.

The son of a draper, Munday began his career as an apprentice to a printer. In 1578 he was abroad, evidently as a secret agent sent to discover the plans of English Catholic refugees in France and Italy, and under a false name he obtained admission to the English College at Rome for several months. On his return he became an actor and a prolific writer. He published popular ballads, some original lyrics, much moralizing in verse, translations of many volumes of French and Spanish romances, and prose pamphlets, but only two of his many plays were printed.

In 1581–82 Munday was prominent in the capture and trials of the Jesuit emissaries (many of whom he had known at Rome) who followed the martyr Edmund Campion to England. Critics have found his English Romayne Lyfe (1582) of permanent interest as a detailed and entertaining, though hostile, description of life and study in the English College at Rome. By 1586 he had been appointed one of the “messengers of her majesty’s chamber,” a post he seems to have held for the rest of Elizabeth I’s reign.

Munday wrote at least 17 plays, of which only a handful survive. He may be the author of Fedele and Fortunio (c. 1584), an adaptation of an Italian original; it was performed at court and printed in 1585. His best-known plays are two pseudo-histories on the life of the legendary outlaw hero Robin Hood, The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon and The Death of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon (both 1598). He was probably the main author of Sir Thomas More (c. 1590–93), a play that William Shakespeare helped to revise. Munday ceased to write plays after 1602, but during 1605–23 he wrote at least five of the pageants with which the lord mayor of London celebrated his entry into office. A friend of the chronicler John Stow, he was responsible for enlarged editions of Stow’s Survey of London in 1618 and 1633.



Richard Hooker

born March 1554?, Heavitree, Exeter, Devon, England
died November 2, 1600, Bishopsbourne, near Canterbury, Kent

theologian who created a distinctive Anglican theology and who was a master of English prose and legal philosophy. In his masterpiece, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie, which was incomplete at the time of his death, Hooker defended the Church of England against both Roman Catholicism and Puritanism and affirmed the Anglican tradition as that of a “threefold cord not quickly broken”—Bible, church, and reason.

Early years and Oxford
Hooker was born at the end of 1553 or the beginning of 1554 near the city of Exeter, Devon. His family lacked the financial means to send him to the University of Oxford, but, with John Jewel, bishop of Salisbury, as his patron, in 1568 Hooker entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The dominant influence in the Church of England at that time was John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and thus Hooker was trained in the traditions of Genevan Protestantism. Leading scholars at Oxford were, however, loyal to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and used the vestments demanded by the ecclesiastical law of the realm. Hooker, a staunch Anglican, went beyond even liberal Calvinism and read the best scriptural interpretation of his day, the early Church Fathers, and even Renaissance Thomism (the philosophical school influenced by the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas). He thus avoided the limits of narrow academic Calvinism and became a man of wide Renaissance learning. Hooker said that he grew in his opinions and gave up narrow conceptions previously held. Hooker became a scholar of Corpus Christi College in 1573, took his M.A. in 1577, and became a fellow of the college that same year.

Master of the Temple
In 1585 Hooker was elected master of the Temple Church in London. The other candidate for this position was Walter Travers, an ardent Calvinist who had written A Full and Plaine Declaration of Ecclesiastical Discipline out of the Word of God (1574); although he had not received Anglican orders, he was made lecturer (preacher) of the Temple Church. Hooker, a loyal Anglican, preached in the morning, and Travers, a firm Calvinist, in the afternoon. Thus it was said that the Temple congregations heard Canterbury in the morning and Geneva in the afternoon.

With the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the Church of England no longer faced the possibility of the restoration of Roman Catholicism in the country. However, the English church was now challenged by Calvinism, not only in doctrine but in ecclesiastical organization. Small cells, or conventicles, of Reformed worship were formed throughout the realm. Their hold on general sympathy was so strong that even the bishops were lukewarm about suppressing them and allowed their growth to increase unchecked. Travers, in fact, set up an organization in the afternoon congregation on the model of the Reformed Church in the Low Countries and chided Hooker for not using the Reformed organization in the Temple Church.

The difference between the two men was radical. Hooker did not agree with many of the decisions of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent (1545–63), which attempted to reform the Catholic church following the Protestant Reformation, but he did approve of many of the medieval Scholastic philosophers and theologians, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, and he used their teaching. This was anathema to Travers, who thought of the teaching of the Scholastics as sheer rubbish. Hooker seems to have lived not in the parsonage of the Temple but with John Churchman, a good friend of the Church of England. There were two reasons for this: first, the parsonage was not in good repair, and, second, Travers lived there.

On February 13, 1588, while still master of the Temple, Hooker married Joan Churchman, daughter of his friend and host. Izaak Walton, the English author and biographer, was responsible for the story, accepted for 300 years, that Hooker’s future father-in-law tricked him into the marriage with his ill-favoured daughter. In 1940 it was proved by examination of the Court of Chancery records about Hooker’s estate that the story was a tale devised to explain the incomplete state of the last books of the Politie. Joan Churchman brought with her a large dowry. At the time of his marriage Hooker had no known financial means, and yet at his death he left a considerable estate.

Title page of
Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie

His major work
Hooker left his position at the Temple Church in 1591 and accepted the living of Boscombe in Wiltshire. Despite his new position, Hooker continued to live in his father-in-law’s house, where he wrote his masterpiece, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie. The Politie was the final chapter of the so-called admonition controversy: in June 1572 the London clerics John Field and Thomas Wilcox had issued from a secret press An Admonition to Parliament, which demanded that Queen Elizabeth I restore the “purity” of New Testament worship in the Church of England. Although its consideration by Parliament was forbidden by the queen, the Admonition became the platform of the Puritans—members of the Church of England who wished for religious reforms along the lines developed in Geneva by Calvin. The leading bishops, now alarmed by the influence of the Admonition, knew that an answer was needed, and the archbishop of Canterbury turned to John Whitgift, vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge, to reply to the Admonition. Whitgift responded and was answered in turn by Thomas Cartwright, professor at Cambridge and the leading Puritan clergyman. The controversy was continued in a whole series of books.

The Admonition was still much in the mind of England when Hooker left the Temple, and he assumed the responsibility of replying to it. The Politie was to be a work of eight books, but the fifth book was the last one to appear in Hooker’s lifetime. The tradition that his manuscripts were destroyed by Puritan ministers who were assisted by Hooker’s wife does not seem to be correct. The incomplete condition of the last books of the Politie merely means that Hooker had not yet revised them at the time of his death.

In the Politie, Hooker defended the Elizabethan church against Roman Catholics and Puritans. He upheld the threefold authority of the Anglican tradition—Bible, church, and reason. Roman Catholics put Bible and tradition on a parity as the authorities for belief, while Puritans looked to Scripture as the sole authority. Hooker avoided both extremes, allowing to Scripture absolute authority when it spoke plainly and unequivocally; where it was silent or ambiguous, wisdom would consult the tradition of the church, but he insisted that a third element lay in human reason, which should be obeyed whenever both Scripture and tradition needed clarification or failed to cover some new circumstance. The core of Hooker’s thinking on the relations of church and state is unity. In his view, the Puritans adopted an impossible position: they claimed to be loyal to the queen while repudiating her church. By law and by reason, the people of England must be Anglican, pledged to serve Elizabeth as the supreme magistrate of the country and the supreme governor of the church.

According to tradition, Hooker served the churches at Drayton Beauchamp, Buckinghamshire, and Boscombe, Wiltshire, following his term as master of the Temple, but more probably he practiced pluralism, which means he received his salary as a vicar but allowed a lesser clergyman to perform the duties that the parish required. In 1595 he accepted an appointment as vicar of Bishopsbourne, near Canterbury, and in 1597 the fifth book of the Politie was published. He died three years later and was buried at Bishopsbourne.

John S. Marshall



Thomas Deloney

born 1543?, Norwich?, Eng.
died 1600

writer of ballads, pamphlets, and prose stories that form the earliest English popular fiction.

By trade a silk weaver, probably of Norwich, Deloney wrote topical ballads and, through his pamphlets, took part in religious controversy. He was proscribed in London for alleged sedition but, as an itinerant weaver and ballad seller, collected material in the provinces for his prose stories. His “many pleasant songs and pretty poems to new notes” appeared as The Garland of Good Will (1593). His Jacke of Newberie (1597), The Gentle Craft, parts i and ii (1597–c. 1598), and Thomas of Reading (1599?) furnished plots for such dramatists as Thomas Dekker. The Gentle Craft is a collection of stories, each devoted to glorifying one of the crafts: the clothiers, the shoemakers, the weavers.

Though widely read, Deloney was condemned by the university-educated writers as a mere ballad maker and purveyor of plebeian romance, and his literary merits went unrecognized until the 20th century.



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