While exploring the literature of Renaissance London, I find myself drawn to the circulation of ideas – how they are conveyed from the pit of the Globe, the alcoves of St. Paul’s, or alehouses throughout the city and stir responses from authors across a broad range of the urban population. The public conversations that were sparked by a single performance or scrap of text each contributed to and influenced the social reality of the early modern metropolis, if only on a minute scale. The drama, poetry and fiction of late Tudor and early Stuart London both circulated within and engaged with the public sphere of the period in ways that we have yet to fully comprehend.
Whether addressing the noteworthy events of the day or approaching controversial ideas obliquely, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Thomas Deloney and others throughout the period expose the social world of early modern London – the people, what they cared about, and how they spoke to each other – through their work. And in the publics that emerges from these conversations, the political and cultural revolutions that define this period of English history can be better understood.
Through this lens, I investigate the intersection between literature and the public sphere of Renaissance London to appreciate how the people responded to the tumultuous times and, as a result, crafted some of the most enduring drama, poetry, and prose of English history. In this, I look beyond the mimetic representations found within a text to the productive work done by the literature of the period.