Early New English is traditionally distinguished in the history of the language because it was in this period that the rest of the grammatical categories came into use, the last systematic and cardinal change in the sound system occurred, shifting the real sound form of the words from the spelling to almost the present-day state (since that period only slight, minor spelling changes were introduced in Britain, probably in the American variant the changes were a little bit more sizeable). Early New English was the period when borrowing of foreign words came not due to invasion, but because the English language was already free from its xenophobic qualities, and even the most strict scholars did not reject them; on the contrary, scholarly language abounded in borrowings too.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) was marked by extensive trade contacts and the struggle with England's European rivals - France, Spain and Portugal (in 1588 the Spanish Fleet, the invincible Armada was routed). Colonial expansion began.
The heightened activity of the age, uneven though it was, produced a most extraordinary outpouring of great art. The idealism of the age is represented in the living examples of such men as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Philip Sidney, who, like Hamlet, embodied the "courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword." Admired by all who knew him, Sidney wrote his spirited Defence of Poesie (1579-81; publ. 1595) as well as a long, complex prose pastoral, the Arcadia (1590). His contemporary Edmund Spenser, after composing The Shepheards Calendar (1579), a book of pastoral eclogues dedicated to Sidney, embarked on an epic romance, The Faerie Queene (1590-96). This great allegorical poem was intended to demonstrate the virtues of a Christian prince, Arthur, serving England and its sovereign, Elizabeth. The epic owed much to Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (1516), and many English writers drew heavily on continental literatures; they also infused their work with native traditions and originality, however, and were unencumbered by principles of classicism, so that their writings were far from merely imitative. Thus while William Shakespeare borrowed freely from Boccaccio and Montaigne, his plays and poems are not copies but transformations into something "rich and strange." The language itself experienced an immense expansion and increased flexibility. New words and new uses of existing ones together with borrowings from other languages combined to make English rich and versatile. Only the most pedantic of writers suffered constraints. In drama, multiple plots and frank violations of the unities of time and place were the rule, although such "classical" playwrights as Ben Jonson composed excellent comedies like Every Man in His Humour (1598) and Volpone (1606) within the unities. Translations became popular and influential. Sir Thomas Hoby's translation (1561) of Castiglione's The Courtier and Sir Thomas North's translation (1579) of Plutarch's Lives in their different ways promoted the ideals of courtly or heroic behavior. Marlowe, George Chapman, and others rendered classical poets into English. Although the novel remained in still rudimentary form, Thomas Nashe and Thomas Lodge (also University Wits) were but two of many who wrote prose fiction. John Lyly's novels and plays show an elegant if artificial style that directly influenced other writers and, it is said, even Elizabeth. The first true English-language essayist, Francis Bacon, published his Essays, Civil and Moral in 1597; the descriptive geographical works of Richard Hakluyt, based on actual voyages, were the most comprehensive of the time; and the Chronicles (1577) of Raphael Holinshed reflected the Elizabethans' interest in history.
The decade of the 1590s evinced a remarkable outburst of lyrical poetry. The Sonnets of Shakespeare were only one of many sonnet sequences, written by such poets as Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, Sidney, and Spenser-all influenced by Petrarch's sonnets.