Most Important Communicative Needs and Genres

The Early Modern English Period was characterized by a huge increase in genres and text types.

A new variety of books and prints were available to the public. Before the invention and use of the printing press, the distribution and duplication of books was a privilege of the church. Towards the end of the 15th century, this changed. As a result, the price of books dropped drastically, they became available to the broader sections of the public and additionally, there was a renewed interest in literacy.

  • Pamphlets

Pamphlets were an early form of mass media. They were printed on one broadsheet and either folded in a special pattern that allowed to fit eight “pages” on one sheet, or not folded at all. They commonly "discussed" the topic of the day in the most polemic way.

  • Drama

A new genre that was not directly linked to the appearance of the printing press.
It derived from medieval mystery plays. Before, plays were used to enact biblical stories during church service.

In the 14th and 15th century, they became more elaborate and were shown on market places or in front of churches, mostly by guilds or groups of gamblers. During the reign of Elizabeth I a new form of drama established itself and became very popular. The most important writers were William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) and Ben Jonson (1572-1593).

Drama was performed in public theaters by professional actors. These groups of actors used to have a patron, which they named themselves after, for example the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” or even “The King’s Men”. Women’s roles were taken over by young men whose voices were still high.

The first of these theaters was built in the late sixties and seventies of the sixteenth century.
Many groups had their own playwrights,the most famous Elizabethan playwright being William Shakespeare.

No substantial manuscripts of Shakespeare have survived but he published several “Folios”, collections of his plays.

  • Bible Translations

Source of the picture:
The most influential of the Bible translations was the Authorized Version of the Bible, or King James Bible. This version was commissioned by King James I in 1603, after he had succeeded to the throne.
54 translators worked on the translation. They did not, however, want to produce a new Bible, but improve old translations.
The style was quite conservative, few new words were used and the third person singular present tense verbs still ended on –(e)th, instead of –s, as in other texts at that time.

  • Scientific Writing

At the end of the Early Modern English Period, English had asserted itself as the language of science. In the 15th century, handbooks were established as a new genre for scientific writing, due to the rise of the middle class' increased literacy and a desire for education.

  • Newspaper

The first English newspaper was called “corantos” and appeared in 1620. It was a translation of the Dutch corantos and collected different news from all over Europe on a single sheet of paper once a week.
In contrast to today’s newspapers, there were no headlines, so one had to read through the text and find out where the information ended and the other begun.

  • Court records

Another interesting source to analyze spoken English in early modern England are court records, although we do not know how accurately the court clerks wrote down the dialogue inside the courtroom.