Genres And Writers Of Elizabethan Prose

Genres And Writers Of Elizabethan Prose

There was a great development in prose during the Elizabethan era. Various kinds/genres of prose were being discovered. This article will discuss the different prose genres in the Elizabethan Period and the significant writers for each of them.

If you are a literature student, pursuing an MA in English Literature or preparing for UGC NET English Literature, then you should definitely check out this article.

Also, you should see: UGC NET Syllabus For English Literature – 2023

Genres And Writers Of Elizabethan Prose

Prose In Early Renaissance

  • Early Renaissance prose mainly comprised translations. Writers of this era were educators and reformers rather than creative authors.
  • Writers of this era were educators and reformers rather than creative authors.

Sir Thomas More

  • Sir Thomas Moe, an early humanist, was the first prose writer of great literary importance.
  • His famous work “Utopia” was originally in Latin but translated to English by Ralph Robinson in 1551.
  • “Utopia” was influenced by Plato and is considered the prologue of the Renaissance.
  • It’s often regarded as the first monument of modern socialism.
  • More advocated democratic communism, emphasizing a people’s state, elected government, equal wealth distribution, and a nine-hour workday.
  • Introduced foundational ideas of civilized society: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.
  • Supported religious tolerance.
  • Thomas More is remembered in English literary history for his original ideas more than his writing style.

Roger Ascham

  • Roger Ascham was a significant educationist of the period.
  • His first work, “The School of Shooting”, was written in English.
  • Criticized the state of the English language, emphasizing its poor quality compared to Greek and Latin.
  • His second work, “The School Master”, offered intellectual guidance for the youth.
  • Known for an economical and precise prose style.
  • The first to write an English speech for Englishmen.
  • Recognized as the first English stylist.

Sir Thomas Elyot And Sir John Cheke

  • Sir Thomas Elyot’s “The Governor” is a treatise on moral philosophy and education.
  • His prose is classical and not focused on the common man.
  • Sir John Cheke, a Greek art teacher at Cambridge, wrote “The Hurt of Sedition”.
  • Influenced by classicism and antiquity.
  • Emphasized the importance of both form and content.
  • His prose style is vigorous, argumentative, eloquent, and humorous.

The Essay

The essay was a popular prose form during this era.

An essay is a short composition, often somewhat incomplete.

It can cover a wide range of subjects, similar to how a lyric can in poetry.

Sir Francis Bacon

  • Bacon is a significant figure in English prose.
  • He wrote various types of prose, including philosophical works like “The Advancement of Learning”, historical texts like “History of Henry VII”, and speculative pieces like “New Atlantis”.
  • Bacon’s essays, starting with ten in 1597, mark the beginning of essay writing in English literature.
  • Subsequent editions expanded the collection to 38 and 58 essays respectively.
  • These essays cover familiar topics and reflect the musings of a trained and knowledgeable mind.
  • They contain practical wisdom and are known for their lucid, clear, and aphoristic style.
  • Bacon pioneered the essay in English literature, introducing a new literary form.
  • His writing style is characterized by lucidity, clarity, economy, precision, directness, masculinity, and mathematical plainness.
  • He employs simple and illustrative figures of speech to convey his ideas effectively.

Ben Jonson

  • Ben Jonson wrote an aphoristic essay collected in “The Timber of Discoveries”, published posthumously around 1641.
  • His essays focus on moral and critical topics.
  • Jonson’s style is marked by clarity, conciseness, and strength.
  • He presents subjects in a straightforward and plain manner.

John Selden

  • John Selden’s “Table Talk” is rich in sharp, acerbic aphorisms, showcasing practical common sense and limited imagination.
  • He is considered one of the practitioners of aphoristic essays, following in the footsteps of Bacon and Ben Jonson.
  • Selden also authored works like “The Titles of Honour” and “The History of Titles”.

Character Writers

In the 17th century, a new form of essay emerged known as character writing.

Character writers were influenced by Theophrastus, Seneca, and dramatists.

They were also inspired by Francis Bacon, who provided a style pattern characterized by conciseness and pointedness. 

Thomas Dekkar

  • Thomas Dekkar authored “Bellman of London” and “A Strange Horse Race”, known for their vivid character sketches.
  • His character sketches are characterized by unusually short sentences.

Joseph Hall

  • Joseph Hall wrote “Good Magistrate” and “Virtues and Vices”, featuring character sketches with a strong satirical tone. 
  • He possessed the qualities needed for character writing.

Thomas Overbury

  • Thomas Overbury’s “Characters” consists of numerous well-portrayed characters, often associated with specific trades or occupations.
  • Characters draw their virtues and vices from their respective occupations.
  • His style is characterized as artificial, with form taking precedence over substance.


  • Earle is considered superior to Hall and Overbury as a character writer.
  • His collection of character sketches, “Microcosmography”, is known for its delightful and witty style.
  • His writing is easy, vigorous, and fluent.

George Herbert

  • George Herbert’s “A Priest in the Temple” or “A Country Parson” stands out among character writers.
  • It is not a collection of disconnected sketches but a short treatise with 37 chapters. Each character delineates a facet of the parson’s life, aiming to impart realism.
  • Herbert’s goal is to promote religion through the portrayal of a charming and saintly life.

Thomas Fuller

  • Thomas Fuller, in his works like “Holy War” and “Profane State”, deviates from the Theophrastian model.
  • He possesses boundless humanity evident throughout his writings.
  • Fuller incorporates interesting stories into his character sketches.
  • His characters of virtues and vices are not mere exercises but are portrayed as real and concrete.
  • His writing style is condensed and discursive.

Religious Prose

The period saw a flourishing of religious controversy, which significantly impacted English prose.

Religious prose writers emerged during this time, contributing to the development of English prose style.

Sir John Tyndale

  • Sir John Tyndale is renowned for translating the Bible and the “Book of Common Prayer”.
  • His translation led to the foundation for “The Authorized Version of the Bible” (1611).
  • Tyndale’s prose is characterized by traditional language, purification from verbosity, oration, and triviality.
  • Notably, his style emphasizes simplicity, clarity, lucidity, and directness, aiming to make the Bible accessible even to peasants.


  • Latimer’s “Sermon on the Ploughers” and other writings are characterized by plain and straightforward English.
  • His prose style is unadorned and aims for clarity.

Richard Hooker

  • Richard Hooker authored “The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity”, a significant contribution to theology and prose style.
  • Hooker’s style is heavily influenced by Latin but remains free from pedantry and vulgarity.
  • It is marked by logical and persuasive arguments, musical cadence, clarity, and vigor.

Prose Romances

The period saw the emergence of prose romances, which foreshadowed the later novel genre in the Eighteenth Century.

These romances covered a range of themes, from adventure to romance, and explored contemporary life, courtly settings, and city life.

They displayed a blend of humor didacticism, realism, and fantasy, representing early drafts of the English novel.

George Gascoigne

  • George Gascoigne penned “Adventures of Master E.J.”, offering a lively portrayal of English country-house life.
  • His work features well-drawn characters.

John Lyly

  • John Lyly is a pioneer of the English novel and the first stylist in prose during this era.
  • His renowned work, “Euphues”, is incidentally the first English novel, focusing on love and romance.
  • “Euphues” hints at the emergence of the novel of manners, departing from medieval romance’s fanciful idealism.
  • Lyly’s style relies on alliteration, wordplay, and antithesis, emphasizing precision and emphasis by carefully balancing words and phrases.

Sir Philip Sidney

  • Sidney’s prose romance, “Arcadia” (1590), embodies the adventurous spirit of chivalry.
  • It creates a dream work blending classicism, Christianity, medieval chivalry, and Renaissance luxury.
  • The style of “Arcadie” is characterized by affectation and artificiality, with a high poetic equality.

Robert Greene

  • Robert Greene is known for prose romances such as “Pandosto”, “Mamillia”, and “Menaphone”.
  • His romances carry moral themes and are stylistically influenced by Lyly.
  • Greene’s writing exhibits cultural unity, restraint, and verisimilitude.
  • Notably, he skillfully portrays female characters.
  • In works like “Mourning of Garment” and “Never Too Late”, Greene introduces a realistic dimension. 


  • Lodge’s “Rosalynde” (1590) is a pastoral romance, written in imitation of Euphues’ ornate style.
  • It is considered the source for Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”.

Thomas Nashe

  • Thomas Nashe stands out as a realist who vividly depicts contemporary London life and manners.
  • He adds satire to his descriptions of respectable roguery.
  • Nashe’s notable work is “The Unfortunate Traveller” or “The Life of Jack Wilton” (1594), the first picaresque or rogue novel, combining comedy and tragedy.
  • It could also be termed as the first historical novel.
  • Nashe’s prose style is clear, lucid, simple, and engaging.

Thomas Deloney

  • Thomas Deloney is a realist who realistically portrays contemporary bourgeois life in works like “Thomas of Reading”, “Jack of Newbury”, and the “Gentle Craft”.
  • His style is marked by simplicity, clarity, directness, and spontaneity, often flowing into spirited dialogue.

Robert Burton

  • Robert Burton, a humanist, authored “The Anatomy of Melancholy” (1621), a significant philosophical prose work.
  • His prose style adapts to the subject matter, characterized by lucidity, tension, precision, and rhetoric.

Final Words

I hope that you have found this content useful in your preparation of whichever exam is upcoming. If there is any other topic related to English literature that you want content on, feel free to let me know in the comments. Till then, you can check out our other articles like The Elizabethan And Jacobean Ages“, or The Historical Overview Of Drama Upto Restoration Period

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