Early Modern English

Early Modern English
Shakespeare's English, King James English
English
Sonnet 132 1609.jpg
William Shakespeare's Sonnet 132 in the 1609 Quarto
RegionEngland, southern Scotland, Ireland, Wales and British colonies
Eradeveloped into Modern English in late 17th century
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6emen
GlottologNone
IETFen-emodeng
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For a guide to IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Early Modern English, Early New English (sometimes abbreviated to EModE,[1] EMnE or EME) is the stage of the English language from the beginning of the Tudor period to the English Interregnum and Restoration, or from the transition from Middle English, in the late 15th century, to the transition to Modern English, in the mid-to-late 17th century.[2]

Before and after the accession of James I to the English throne in 1603, the emerging English standard began to influence the spoken and written Middle Scots of Scotland.

The grammatical and orthographical conventions of literary English in the late 16th century and in the 17th century are still very influential on Modern Standard English. Modern readers of English can understand texts written in the late phase of the Early Modern English, such as the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare, and they have greatly influenced Modern English.

Texts from the earlier phase of Middle English, such as the late-15th century Le Morte d'Arthur (1485) and the mid-16th century Gorboduc (1561), may present more difficulties but are still obviously closer to Modern English grammar, lexicon and phonology than are 14th-century Middle English texts, such as the works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

History

English Renaissance

Transition from Middle English

The change from Middle English to Early Modern English was not just a matter of changes of vocabulary or pronunciation; a new era in the history of English was beginning.

An era of linguistic change in a language with large variations in dialect was replaced by a new era of a more standardised language, with a richer lexicon and an established (and lasting) literature.

  • 1476 – William Caxton starts printing in Westminster; however, the language that he uses reflects the variety of styles and dialects used by the authors who originally wrote the material.
Tudor period (1485–1603)
  • 1485 – Caxton publishes Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the first print bestseller in English. Malory's language, while archaic in some respects, is clearly Early Modern and is possibly a Yorkshire or Midlands dialect.
  • 1491 or 1492 – Richard Pynson starts printing in London; his style tends to prefer Chancery Standard, the form of English used by the government.

Henry VIII

  • c. 1509 – Pynson becomes the King's official printer.
  • From 1525 – Publication of William Tyndale's Bible translation, which was initially banned.
  • 1539 – Publication of the Great Bible, the first officially-authorised Bible in English. Edited by Myles Coverdale, it is largely from the work of Tyndale. It is read to congregations regularly in churches, which familiarises much of the population of England with a standard form of the language.
  • 1549 – Publication of the first Book of Common Prayer in English, under the supervision of Thomas Cranmer (revised 1552 and 1662), which standardises much of the wording of church services. Some have argued that since attendance at prayer book services was required by law for many years, the repetitive use of its language helped to standardise Modern English even more than the King James Bible (1611) did.[3]
  • 1557 – Publication of Tottel's Miscellany.

Elizabethan English

Title page of Gorboduc (printed 1565). The Tragedie of Gorbodvc, whereof three Actes were wrytten by Thomas Nortone, and the two laste by Thomas Sackuyle. Sett forthe as the same was shewed before the Qvenes most excellent Maiestie, in her highnes Court of Whitehall, the .xviii. day of January, Anno Domini .1561. By the Gentlemen of Thynner Temple in London.
Elizabethan era (1558–1603)
  • 1582 – The Rheims and Douai Bible is completed, and the New Testament is released in Rheims, France, in 1582. It is the first complete English translation of the Bible that is officially sponsored and carried out by the Catholic Church (earlier translations into English, especially of the Psalms and Gospels existed as far back as the 9th century, but it is the first Catholic English translation of the full Bible). Though the Old Testament is ready complete, it is not published until 1609–1610, when it is released in two volumes. It does not make a large impact on the English language at large, it certainly plays a role in the development of English, especially in the world's heavily-Catholic English-speaking areas.
  • Christopher Marlowe, fl. 1586–1593
  • 1592 – The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd
  • c. 1590 to c. 1612 – Shakespeare's plays written.

17th century

Jacobean and Caroline eras

Jacobean era (1603–1625)
Caroline era and English Civil War (1625–1649)

Interregnum and Restoration

The English Civil War and the Interregnum were times of social and political upheaval and instability. The dates for Restoration literature are a matter of convention and differ markedly from genre to genre. In drama, the "Restoration" may last until 1700, but in poetry, it may last only until 1666, the annus mirabilis (year of wonders), and prose, it last until 1688, with the increasing tensions over succession and the corresponding rise in journalism and periodicals, or until 1700, when those periodicals grew more stabilised.

Development to Modern English

The 17th-century port towns and their forms of speech gain influence over the old county towns. England experiences a new period of internal peace and relative stability, which encourages the arts including literature, from around the 1690s onwards.

Modern English can be taken to have emerged fully by the beginning of the Georgian era in 1714, but English orthography remained somewhat fluid until the publication of Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, in 1755.

The towering importance of William Shakespeare over the other Elizabethan authors was the result of his reception during the 17th and the 18th centuries, which directly contributes to the development of Standard English[citation needed]. Shakespeare's plays are therefore still familiar and comprehensible 400 years after they were written,[4] but the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Langland, which had been written only 200 years earlier, are considerably more difficult for the average modern reader.