Early Modern English (ca. 1485-ca. 1660)
The termini beginning and ending the EModE period are as loose as those marking the emergence and mutation of Middle English. One year sometimes suggested for its start is 1485 for the triumph of Henry Tudor (Henry VII) over the Yorkist king, Richard III, and the end of political instabilities sometimes called "The Wars of the Roses." The following period of the Tudor dynasty (Henry 7 & 8, Edward 4, Mary, and Elizabeth) and the early Stuart kings (James 1, Charles 1 & 2), saw a major increase in the centralization of political power in the Royal court in London, as well as a huge growth in literacy rates and public attendance at secular dramatic performances. Imperial expansion into New World and Asian colonies and the gradual extinction of medieval customs led to changes in London English. Competition and trade with France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, also brought new words to the EModE vocabulary which were unknown in Middle English. Speed and efficiency in pronunciation brought an end to Middle English pronunciation of the final "e" and shifted vowels to nearly their modern positions in the mouth (AKA "the Great Vowel Shift"). However, printers and grammar teachers had not yet succeeded in inventing the "rules" for English spelling, punctuation, usage, and grammar, and the oral/aural language was still changing rapidly.
The end of the Early Modern English period might be said to begin around the time of the English Civil Wars and the Puritan Protectorate (1647-60), another governmental shift which led to great increases in vernacular English literacy rates among commoners, and to an increase in the number and kinds of printed books by non-noble English authors. Some linguistic historians postpone the end of Early Modern English until 1700 or even later, when printing conventions and public education had time to establish a loose general consensus about rules for spelling, punctuating, and rhetorically organizing English prose. Some scholars stretch the "Early Modern" / "Modern" division to 1800, at least 100 years beyond any serious linguistic changes that would distinguish the language of Wordsworth or Dickens from that of Dryden or Astell. Click here for an overview of Early Modern English by Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the O.E.D.. If you are rushed for time, scroll down to his inset quotations of examples of regional dialect speech and the emerging consensus tongue of London and its neighboring shires.