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Seventeenth Century British Literature Research Guide


There are several strategies you may employ to search for books about seventeenth century British literature.

If you are looking for books about a particular author, you can always use the "Subject Begins with" search in the CUNY Catalog to search for that author by last name. However, the seventeenth century produced many authors, such as Shakespeare and Milton, about whom there is such a wealth of information that you may want to search more specifically. In such cases, you may want to use the Advanced Search to add further terms to your search. For instance, John Milton, Radical Politics and Biblical Republicanism is one of many books you would find by searching for “Milton” as a subject and combining it with “politics” as a keyword.

You may also be interested in some books that cover the period more generally, especially if you are writing about the way that an author fits into the broader milieu. Here is a sampling of subject headings pertaining to seventeenth-century British literature and its contexts.

Some Subject Headings

  • Christianity and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century
  • English drama -- 17th century -- History and criticism
  • England -- Intellectual life -- 17th century
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism
  • Poets, English -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- Biography
  • Epic poetry, English -- History and criticism
  • Milton, John, 1608-1674 -- Influence
  • Pastoral poetry, English -- History and criticism
  • Politics and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 17th century
  • Theater -- England -- History -- 17th century
  • Women and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century

You can also define your search by format, if you're interested in e-books or films, or by location in the library, which is relevant if you want to limit your search to authoritative reference works.

You can also find books through physical browsing. While it may appear old fashioned, browsing is in fact a highly efficient method of taking advantage of the way the library is organized to find many books on a topic. If you need reference works, which can be especially useful if you want to better understand the historical background or otherwise establish context for a work, then you should browse the reference collection on Level 3; most other print material, including most criticism, is located on Levels 4 and 5 (for literature, mostly Level 5).

Call Numbers

  • DA 370-461 History of Great Britain -- The Seventeenth Century
  • PN 721-749 Literature of the Renaissance (1500-1700)
  • PR 431-439 Seventeenth century British literature
  • PR 521-549 Renaissance and seventeenth century British poetry
  • PR 641-701 Renaissance and seventeenth century British drama
  • PR 3291-3785 Seventeenth century authors by surname

Note that in the Library of Congress system, the earlier sequences usually refer to more general topics.

Reference Works

Reference resources may address many different needs, but in general they provide background information that helps readers understand complex concepts within literary works. Depending on the specificity of the resource, one can look up a particular work, an author, a common theme, a historical landmark, and more, and discover its significance in the context of seventeenth-century literature. They tend to cover a wide range of material, as opposed to a detailed analysis of an individual work. As mentioned above, you might need to search for a particular author or theme to get more in-depth analysis of a particular facet of seventeenth-century literature.

Here are some examples:

Historical Dictionary of Stuart England, 1603-1689 DA 375 .H57 1996
An alphabetical reference to significant events and people of the seventeenth century.
The Cambridge History of British Theatre PN 25781 .C36 2004
Historical introductory essays on the development of theatre in Great Britain, including several essays on the seventeenth century.
The Jacobean and Caroline Stage PN 2592 .B4
Information about the companies performing at this time. Includes history, actor lists, repertories and more.
The Cambridge History of Early Modern English Literature PR 421 .C26 2002
Introductory essays on many different aspects of literature in this period.
The Cambridge History of English Literature, 1660-1780 PR 442 .C36 2005
Introductory essays on many different aspects of literature in this period.

You may also find useful reference works on specific authors, such as A Milton Encyclopedia (PR3580 .M5) or A Ben Jonson Companion (PR2630 .B7 1983). All the reference works I have mentioned are available on the third floor of the library, in our reference collection. You can also find such works in Gale Virtual Reference Library.




MLA International Bibliography
When you are searching for literary criticism, this should be your first stop, because it is the most comprehensive index of scholarly work on language and literature. Here, you can search by the title of a work or the name of an author, and add keywords to search for specifically what you need. Please note that you will need to click through Find It to get full text.
Humanities Source
Although it is less comprehensive than MLA, Humanities Source provides coverage of the humanities more broadly, including journals on literature but also some which focus on theatre, history, women's studies, or other disciplines. This can be particularly useful if you are researching drama and need information on performance history. Includes both full-text searching and indexing.
JSTOR and Project Muse
These are both full-text, multidisciplinary resources. They provide no indexing, so choosing comprehensive search terms is very important. Most of the materials available in these databases can also be found elsewhere; their strength is that you can search for a particular phrase of interest to you. Note that JSTOR includes very little material from the past three years due to licensing agreements.
Literature from 1400–1800, part of Literature Criticism Online
This is a book series which collects important criticism on particular authors or works. Some of the entries include articles that were recent when the entry was published, while others provide a historical perspective. In some cases, this includes documents contemporary with the work under consideration, which can help you to understand the work's reception.
International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance
An important resource for research on drama, particularly if you are interested in productions or production histories of plays.
Dictionary of Literary Biography
Short, critical biographies of authors. This, too, can help you to understand the historical context in which they wrote.
17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers
British newspapers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. An excellent source for contemporary reception of your works of interest, and also a good place to find historical information if you need it.
World Shakespeare Bibliography Online
A browsable index of work on Shakespeare. You can browse by play or look through reference works, articles on stage productions, and more. Does not use Find It, so you will need to know how to find items in our catalog.


Web Resources

The web has a wealth of material, including primary texts, interesting digital projects and bibliographies pointing to more traditional works. Here are some sites related to the seventeenth century:

Early Modern Hub
A large collection of scholarship and primary sources relating to early modern Europe on the web. Includes primary sources, e-journals and interesting digital projects, as well as the Early Modern Commons, which aggregates blogs by scholars of this period.
Early Modern Sandbox
Several projects having to do with early modern English dramatists.
Biographies and bibliographies of seventeenth century authors, along with links to digital texts.


MLA Style

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed.

  • Stacks (Call # A-L Level 4; Call # P-Z Level 5) - LB2369 .G53 2009
  • Reference Level 3 - LB2369 .G53 2009

Online MLA Formatting and Style Guide from the OWL at Purdue.

RefWorks is a database for research management, writing, and collaboration. Users can create a personalized profile to create, gather, manage, store, and share citations regardless of original format. Citation lists and bibliographies can be generated using many standard citation formats, including MLA. A code is needed to access RefWorks from home — please ask at the Library Research Office (RO 339).

If you use Firefox, you may also want to check out Zotero, a citation manager that works directly from your browser.


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