John Heywood was a playwright and poet who made two important contributions to the history of English. He was a key figure in the emergence of modern English drama which led directly to William Shakespeare at the end of the century. He was also a proverb collector who assembled most of the common proverbs in English into a popular poem that serves as an important resource for modern historians of the language. In this episode, we examine English proverbs, the emergence of modern English drama, and words associated with comedy and humor in Tudor England.
During the reign of Henry VIII, medical books and herbals proved to be some of the most popular publications in England. The people of England wanted medical books that they could read in the own language. The largely unregulated medical marketplace meant that people often had to find a way to treat diseases on their own. In this episode, we explore the nature and terminology of disease in early Tudor England, and we examine the many illnesses that plagued the people of England, including Henry VIII and his family. We also examine how the diagnosis and treatment of disease took the first steps toward a modern scientific approach during this period.
In the 1530s, Henry VIII declared himself to be the ‘Supreme Head’ of the Church of England, and he demanded absolute loyalty from his subjects. Those who crossed him risked the loss of their heads. Meanwhile, the modern punctuation system started to emerge with the introduction of the comma and other punctuation marks. In this episode, we look at the intersection of ‘capital’ offenses, ‘capital’ letters, and the origin of modern punctuation.
In the years following Martin Luther’s protest against the Catholic Church, small fractures soon turned into a major rift. The Protestant Reformation led to the break-up of the Western Church. Meanwhile in England, the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon was also coming to an end. Those two events came together in the 1520s to set the stage for the permanent break between the Church of England and the Catholic Church. This break-up also created an environment in which William Tyndale could produce an English translation of the Bible that served as the foundation of the King James Bible. It was a translation that coined many common words and idioms that are still used in Modern English.
In the early 1500s, a series of marriages between European royal families re-shaped the face of Europe and brought together separate regions under the leadership of a single ruler. This led to creation of modern Spain and the formation of a massive European empire ruled by the Habsburg family. It also secured the position of the Tudors in England, and laid the foundation for the union of England and Scotland as Great Britain. In this episode, we explore those developments and examine the poetry of Middle Scots, the creation of the first modern postal system, and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
The European Renaissance provided a transition to the early modern era by looking back to the culture of classical Greece and Rome. It led to a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Latin and a new world view known as humanism. But scholars in England doubted the ability of English to handle the new learning associated with this cultural movement. They felt that English was ‘rude’ and ‘rusty,’ and could only convey the new ideas and concepts by borrowing words from Greek and Latin. In this episode, we examine how the Renaissance fundamentally changed the English language by expanding its vocabulary and by giving it a new register of scholarly and technical synonyms.
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The voyage marked the beginning of the European discovery of the Americas. Columbus encountered natives in the Caribbean who spoke a Native American dialect called Arawakan. As the Europeans encountered the native culture of the region, several Arawakan words passed into Spanish and then into English. In this episode, we look at what happened when these separate ecosystems began to mix together in the late 1400s.
The period of European exploration and discovery began in the 1400s as part of an effort to find new trading routes to Africa and Asia. In this episode, we look at how European sailors and merchants began to think of the ocean as an international highway rather than a barrier to travel. We also examine the naval accounts of Henry VII’s ships to reveal a variety of words recorded for the first time in English.
In the second half of the 1400s, there is written evidence of word play and new word formations within English. These new terms included words for the sounds made by animals and collective nouns for various groups of animals and people. This was also a period when the Plantagenet era came to an end, and the first Tudor monarch seized the throne. In this episode, we examine those linguistic and historical developments.
In this bonus episode of the regular podcast, we explore the effects of the Great Vowel Shift on the pronunciation of English by reading Geoffrey Chaucer’s last known poem in Middle English, early Modern English and contemporary English.