Transition from Middle English
The change from Middle English to Early Modern English was not just a matter of changes of vocabulary or pronunciation; a new era in the history of English was beginning.
An era of linguistic change in a language with large variations in dialect was replaced by a new era of a more standardised language, with a richer lexicon and an established (and lasting) literature.
- 1476 – William Caxton starts printing in Westminster; however, the language that he uses reflects the variety of styles and dialects used by the authors who originally wrote the material.
Tudor period (1485–1603)
- 1485 – Caxton publishes Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, the first print bestseller in English. Malory's language, while archaic in some respects, is clearly Early Modern and is possibly a Yorkshire or Midlands dialect.
- 1491 or 1492 – Richard Pynson starts printing in London; his style tends to prefer Chancery Standard, the form of English used by the government.
- c. 1509 – Pynson becomes the King's official printer.
- From 1525 – Publication of William Tyndale's Bible translation, which was initially banned.
- 1539 – Publication of the Great Bible, the first officially-authorised Bible in English. Edited by Myles Coverdale, it is largely from the work of Tyndale. It is read to congregations regularly in churches, which familiarises much of the population of England with a standard form of the language.
- 1549 – Publication of the first Book of Common Prayer in English, under the supervision of Thomas Cranmer (revised 1552 and 1662), which standardises much of the wording of church services. Some have argued that since attendance at prayer book services was required by law for many years, the repetitive use of its language helped to standardise Modern English even more than the King James Bible (1611) did.
- 1557 – Publication of Tottel's Miscellany.
Title page of Gorboduc
(printed 1565). The Tragedie of Gorbodvc, whereof three Actes were written by Thomas Nortone, and the two laste by Thomas Sackuyle. Sett forthe as the same was shewed before the Qvenes most excellent Maiestie, in her highnes Court of Whitehall, the .xviii. day of January, Anno Domini .1561. By the Gentlemen of Thynner Temple in London.
- Elizabethan era (1558–1603)
- 1582 – The Rheims and Douai Bible is completed, and the New Testament is released in Rheims, France, in 1582. It is the first complete English translation of the Bible that is officially sponsored and carried out by the Catholic Church (earlier translations into English, especially of the Psalms and Gospels existed as far back as the 9th century, but it is the first Catholic English translation of the full Bible). Though the Old Testament is ready complete, it is not published until 1609–1610, when it is released in two volumes. It does not make a large impact on the English language at large, it certainly plays a role in the development of English, especially in the world's heavily-Catholic English-speaking areas.
- Christopher Marlowe, fl. 1586–1593
- 1592 – The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd
- c. 1590 to c. 1612 – Shakespeare's plays written.
Jacobean and Caroline eras
Jacobean era (1603–1625)
Caroline era and English Civil War (1625–1649)
Interregnum and Restoration
The English Civil War and the Interregnum were times of social and political upheaval and instability.
The dates for Restoration literature are a matter of convention and differ markedly from genre to genre. In drama, the "Restoration" may last until 1700, but in poetry, it may last only until 1666, the annus mirabilis (year of wonders), and prose, it last until 1688, with the increasing tensions over succession and the corresponding rise in journalism and periodicals, or until 1700, when those periodicals grew more stabilised.
Development to Modern English
The 17th-century port towns and their forms of speech gain influence over the old county towns. From around the 1690s onwards, England experienced a new period of internal peace and relative stability, which encouraged the arts including literature.
Modern English can be taken to have emerged fully by the beginning of the Georgian era in 1714, but English orthography remained somewhat fluid until the publication of Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, in 1755.
The towering importance of William Shakespeare over the other Elizabethan authors was the result of his reception during the 17th and the 18th centuries, which directly contributes to the development of Standard English. Shakespeare's plays are therefore still familiar and comprehensible 400 years after they were written, but the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Langland, which had been written only 200 years earlier, are considerably more difficult for the average modern reader.