Early Modern Literature

This page contains the following sections:

  1. Reference works;
  2. Background (historical and cultural);
  3. Online primary sources;
  4. General works; works on specific authors;
  5. Shakespeare.


Dewald, Jonathan, ed. Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004. A six volume encyclopedia available through the Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Hamilton, A. C. ed. The Spenser Encyclopaedia. London: Routledge, 1996.  More than just Spenser – an encyclopedia covering many of his contemporaries with a lot of detail about Tudor thought.

Hager, Allan. Major Tudor Authors: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Oxford Bibliographies, ‘Renaissance and Reformation‘. Expert recommendations on the best works available in each discipline.

Oxford Reference includes:

  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation;
  • The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance;
  • A Companion to Shakespeare.
Hatfield House, home of Elizabeth I before she became queen


Briggs, Julia. This Stage-Play World: Texts and Contexts, 1580-1625. 2nd rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Caferro, William. Contesting the Renaissance. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.  Up-to-date summary of the controversies about the nature of the Renaissance.

Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage, 1574-1642. 4th  ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Of relevance to all of the drama of the period.

Hattaway, Michael ed., A New Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture. 2 vols. Oxford: Blackwell, 2012. A collection of essays on all aspects of Renaissance culture that has been written for university students. Ebook.

Loewenstein, David, and Janel Mueller, eds. The Cambridge History of Early Modern English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.  Strong essays on a number of topics. E-book in Cambridge Core.

Milling, J., and P. Thomson. The Cambridge History of British Theatre, Volume 1: Origins to 1660. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. E-book in Cambridge Core.

Marshall, Peter. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Ebook.

Morrill, John. The Oxford Illustrated History of Tudor & Stuart Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Rivers, Isabel. Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry. 2nd  ed. London: Routledge, 1994. Ebook. An excellent book on topics that students often need help with.

Wiley Online Library. Contains:

  • A History of Seventeenth-Century English Literatur;
  • A Short History of Early Modern England: British Literature in Context;
  • Renaissance and Reformations: An Introduction to Early Modern English Literature;
  • The Restoration: England in the 1660s;
  • The Seventeenth-Century Literature Handbook.


Early English Books Online (EEBO). Digitised books from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These are copies of the original books and have no annotations.

Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). Digitised reproductions of books from the eighteenth century.

Literature Online (LION). Primary texts from the medieval period to the twentieth century.

*Luminarium. Sixteenth and seventeenth-century texts.

*Milton Reading Room. Texts of one of the most famous seventeenth-century writers.


Cambridge Companions to Literature via Cambridge Core. The  series is aimed at undergraduates and has excellent collections of essays on all the major authors of the period (e.g. Donne, Marlowe, Milton). Other relevant volumes include:

  • The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism;
  • The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry, Donne to Marvell;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Contemporary Dramatists;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Writing of the English Revolution;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism.

Duke University Journals. Includes the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies.

Oxford Handbooks Online. Includes volumes on Donne, Milton, Early Modern Theatre, Shakespeare, Spenser, Holinshed’s Chronicles, and Literature and the English Revolution (mid seventeenth-century literature).

Oxford Scholarship Online. A broad selection of books, including works on sixteenth and seventeenth-century literature, culture and history.

Wiley Online Library. Contains journals on Renaissance topics and books including:

  • A Companion to Milton;
  • A Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing;
  • Reading Paradise Lost;
  • Reading Sixteenth-Century Poetry.


There are many good editions of Shakespeare’s works. The one-volume, annotated Norton Edition (ed. Stephen Greenblatt) has useful introductions to each play. If you want editions of single plays use any of the following series: Arden Shakespeare, Cambridge Shakespeare, Oxford’s World’s Classics, Bedford Shakespeare Series, Norton Critical Editions.

Discovering Literature: Shakespeare – This British Library site has images from books and manuscripts from Shakespeare’s time as well as commentaries on particular plays.

Early English Books Online (EEBO). Digitized copies of the original sixteenth and seventeenth century printings of Shakespeare’s works.

Folger Shakespeare Library – An enormous collection of material written by and about Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Includes edited texts of Shakespeare’s work that can be read onscreen.

Shakespeare in Quarto – A British Library site reproducing the original quartos of Shakespeare’s plays.

Secondary Texts

Useful series that deal with individual plays include: Routledge Literary Sourcebooks, Norton Critical Editions, The Bedford Shakespeare Series, The Shakespeare Handbooks.

Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-AvonCambridge Companions Online. You have access to the following:

  • The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Stage;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Popular Culture;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s History Plays;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Last Plays;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry;
  • The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Tragedy.

JSTOR Understanding Shakespeare: Finds JSTOR articles for every line in Shakespeare’s works.

Oxford Handbooks Online: Includes The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare’s Poetry.

Oxford Reference. Includes the excellent A Companion to Shakespeare, 2nd ed.

Wiley Online Library. Includes, amongst other Shakespeare titles:

  • Thirty Great Myths About Shakespeare;
  • A Companion to Shakespeare and Performance;
  • A Companion to Shakespeare’s Sonnets;
  • A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, 4 vols;
  • Studying Shakespeare: A Guide to the Plays;
  • Shakespeare’s Ideas: More Things in Heaven and Earth;
  • The Life of William Shakespeare: A Critical Biography.
Ludlow Castle, the site of the first performance of Milton’s ‘Comus’.