Periods: Renaissance

Here you will find Old English prosody and style. Other pages cover a general overview and major authors.

Reference Works:

Web Sites:

Library Reference Guide

Luminarium, 17th Century
CUNY Brookly guide



Early English Books On-Line (UMass only)
Literature Online (UMass only)

George Puttenham, The Art of English Poesy

Free editions at Luminarium


Renaissance Prosody and Style


The Renaissance was one of the great ages of experimentation in English prosody. A good history of English prosody that covers this period is George Sainstsbury, A History of English Prosody from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day. Here is a handy guide to its contents, linked to chapters.

Here is a handout on reading poetry along with an overview of prosody.

An example of prosody during the pamphlet wars can be found at Joe Black's Martin Marprelate site, here.


In both literature and art, the dominant style of the period is called the Baroque. In art, it follows Mannerism and precedes Rococo. It is characterized by fecundity, linguistic experimentation, and a decorative impulse.

The Renaissance marks an important change in the English language. While Middle English is very difficult for today's speakers of English to understand, Renaissance English is very close to today's English. One of the major changes was vocabulary. Renaissance writers coined new words, many of which survive today. Some went overboard coining new words, which were mockingly called "Inkhorn terms." You will find that Renaissance vocabulary often requires you to read with a dictionary in one hand. Also, old inflections dropped away. Chaucer marked the dative objects of a sentence with a final -e, and the genitive with -es. Not so in the Renaissance. Plurals in -en disappear, except for a handful (brethren, children, oxen). And syntax changes, as well. The modal verb do becomes part of the language, as do modals meant to indicate time. Chaucer could not distinguish between past perfect and past imperfect, but Shakespeare could. In short, the English language becomes a much more finely tuned instrument for expressing thoughts.