Study Guide

English Renaissance Literature Timeline

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How It All Went Down

1454-1455: Gutenberg Bible hits the (first) presses

While the exact date is debatable, there's no question that Gutenberg really set things off in the English Renaissance—get it? get it?—with his typesetting.

1513: Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince

Love or fear? When you need power, either will do. But fear tends to work its magic faster. At least, that's what's suggested in this famous Renaissance work.

1516: Thomas More's Utopia

Exploration. New lands. A perfect society. (Sort of.) All of the makings of a great read, and an objectively great piece of literature from the "Age of Exploration."

1517: Martin Luther publishes his thesis against the Catholic Church

What happens when you mix a little humanism into your Catholicism? You get Lutheranism. That's what happens, Shmoopers.

1543: Nicolaus Copernicus's Revolutions of the Celestial Orbits 

Earth, not so central. Now, the sun, that's where it's at. That's the planetary body around which we orbit.

Doesn't sound like such a revolutionary idea to you? Well, you weren't born in 15th-century England.

1558: Next King of England? Queen Elizabeth 

Be the leader of the most powerful naval force in the known world? Yes, don't mind if I do. Queen Elizabeth even refused to marry so that she could keep on keepin' on as king. Nice.

1564: William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe are born 

Aw, twinsies. Okay, not really. But these two were born in the same year, and when Marlowe's reign as premier Elizabethan tragedian came to an end (as a result of his untimely death), Shakespeare was happy to take the torch. You can see Marlowe's influence in a lot of the more renowned playwright's early work.

1571: The London Stock Exchange is created, and the Battle of Lepanto makes for choppy waters 

High finance and the high seas: we hope our ship's coming in. Don't forget that the English Renaissance was also all about the rise of the merchant class.

1576: The Theatre is built

The Theatre was the first successful permanent theatre—duh—in England. Kind of a big deal.

1577-1580: Francis Drake circumnavigates the world 

You explore that planet, sir. Help us come to terms with the fact that the world is not, in fact, flat. Minds blown.

1585: Shakespeare begins acting in and writing plays 

Our little playwright's all grown up now, acting in and penning his own plays. He'd only go on to become literally the most famous writer of all time. Not bad.

1588: The English fleet defeats the Spanish Armada

This was kind of a bloody battle; both sides lost a lot of lives. But it did a lot to tip the scales of international power toward the English. (You know, we want to be balanced in our reporting and all. Teehee.)

1590: Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen

This play lauding the good Queen was a real hit. Especially at the court of Queen Elizabeth herself—who wouldn't want to watch a play about how awesome you are?

1599: Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is built

Finally, our—their?—own place. Lucky for you, you can still go check it out today.

1616: Shakespeare dies

That's all, folks. Jk, there's still a little bit left to the Renaissance. Just a little, though.

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