In this episode, we examine the connection between poetry and plague in the early 1590s. An outbreak of the recurring sickness contributed to Shakespeare’s early career as a poet, and that poetry likely included his many sonnets. We also examine how an old acquaintance from Shakespeare’s hometown emerged as one of the leading printers in London and how his print shop influenced the development of English during the Elizabethan period.
William Shakespeare is widely considered to be the most important writer in the history of the English language, but relatively little is known about his personal life. The desire to know more about the ‘Bard of Avon’ has led to much speculation and conjecture over the centuries. In this episode, we try to separate fact from fiction as we look at the surviving documentation to determine what we actually know about the poet from Stratford-upon-Avon.
In this episode, we explore the Elizabethan fascination with witchcraft and mysterious creatures like fairies and demons. Those subjects feature prominently in the literature of the period, and they reveal a lot about the world view of the people who lived in England in the late 1500s. Among the texts analyzed in this episode are Reginald Scot’s ‘Discoverie of Witchcraft,’ Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus,’ Edmund Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queene,’ and William Shakespeare’s three history plays about Henry VI.
All languages have their own rhythm and cadence, and English is no exception. That rhythm has actually shaped the language over time. It contributed to the structure of English poetry, and during the Elizabethan period, it shaped the way drama was composed. In this episode, we look at the beginning of Modern English drama through the patterns of sound in ordinary speech.
In this episode from the Patreon archives, we examine the accent used by actors and actresses in very old movies. We look at the origin of that accent and examine why it was adopted by the film industry in the first few decades of sound in motion pictures.
In 1588, the Spanish Armada set sail for England in an attempt to depose Elizabeth I and replace her with a Spanish princess. In this episode, we examine how the English victory secured the status of English within the Church of England and ensured the spread of English as part of the nascent British Empire. We also explore how Spanish and Italian loanwords shaped the lexicon of modern warfare.
William Bullokar composed the first formal grammar of the English language in 1586. Prior to that point, the concept of grammar had been largely restricted to Latin. Bullokar’s work extended the concept to English, but it did so by employing the Latin grammatical framework. This approach was followed by subsequent grammarians, and it has shaped the way scholars think about English grammar to this day.
Throughout her long reign, Queen Elizabeth I was faced with many difficult decisions, and she often chose a middle path when she could. In this episode, we explore the middle paths taken during her reign, and the consequences of those decisions. In the New World, Elizabeth decided to let Walter Raleigh establish an English colony along the Mid-Atlantic coast of North America – between Florida and Newfoundland. That middle path soon came to be known as ‘Virginia’ in her honor. It was the first English-speaking settlement in the New World, and it laid the foundation for the spread of the English language across the continent.
By the second half of the Elizabethan period, the perception of English had changed significantly in England. It was increasingly perceived as a sophisticated language capable of matching the refinement of other European languages. One of the language’s most vocal advocates was a schoolmaster named Richard Mulcaster. His ‘Elementarie’ argued for the standardization of English spelling and established the foundation of many common spelling conventions used in Modern English.
In the 1570s, Francis Drake plundered Spanish ships throughout the New World with the private permission of Elizabeth I. His actions marked the first direct challenge to Spanish naval supremacy in the region, and also marked the beginning the English embrace of empire. In this episode, we explore those developments and examine the impact they had on the English language. We also examine the first novel composed in English and the first permanent theater built in London.