The Writing of English Literary History

  • Lynne Walhout Hinojosa


From 1880 to 1920, literary historians worked to standardize Shakespeare’s Englishness and thereby joined all those theater and public figures who were trying to reclaim Shakespeare from the Germans and to reestablish England’s cultural reputation. Like those involved in the movements for a national theater, literary historians wanted to institutionalize England’s cultural history, and they began to construct comprehensive histories of English literature in order to validate English as a scientific, university discipline. As competition increased between England and Germany over the national and racial nature of Shakespeare, nationalist and imperialist sentiment shaped both the content of these literary histories and the historical methods their authors used. Scholars standardized the Elizabethan Age as a period term idealizing England’s cultural and imperial past and marking the origins of the modern English language and a national English literature, and they denigrated the earlier “Anglo-Saxon” period. They also rejected the German-influenced philological and scientific methods of late Victorian Shakespeare scholarship, and instead, conceptualized and researched historical periods in national cultural history. Like the other texts of cultural history examined in this book, these literary histories filled typological and allegorical structures, rejecting aspects of modernity (here attributed to the Germans) while idealizing an earlier unified period (the Elizabethan Age) and seeing culture as the hope for England’s future.


English Literature National Culture Literary History Scientific Attitude Historical Method 
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  1. 4.
    A partial list of such histories produced both in England and the United States includes: Henry Morley, English Writers, an Attempt towards a History of English Literature (London: Cassell, 1887–1895);Google Scholar
  2. Alfred John Wyatt, The Tutorial History of English Literature (London: Clive, U Tutorial P, 1900);Google Scholar
  3. George L. Craik, A compen-dius History of English Literature, and of the English Language, from the Norman Conquest (New York: Scribners, 1885);Google Scholar
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  13. 5.
    In addition to the English usage, Taine and Jusserand used the term “English Renaissance” to denote the period. For an account of the American use of the term “English Renaissance,” see Douglas Bruster, Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2000, and “Shakespeare and the End of History: Period as Brand Name,” in Shakespeare and Modernity: Early Modern to Millenium, ed. Hugh Grady. New York: Routledge, 2000.Google Scholar

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© Lynne Walhout Hinojosa 2009

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  • Lynne Walhout Hinojosa

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