Looking back at the English Renaissance period from a 21st century point view, we can already see in the England of the sixteenth and seventeenth century the beginnings of many a concept that literary scholars have been widely discussing over these past centuries. The extraordinary richness of the literature produced in the Renaissance clearly underlines the idea of the English Renaissance as a time of extraordinary change – a time in which people’s eyes were being opened to new worlds around them: the establishment of new global networks of trade, a new understanding of the cosmos that questioned the old certainty of the earth being at the centre of the universe, a new historical consciousness of the past, the new social and ethnic mix in the rapidly expanding city of London, and the new spiritual dispensation known as Protestantism. It was during that time that a new “entertainment industry”, i.e. the permanent theatre, emerged and appealed to all classes of society, reflecting the changes of the period in the plays put on stage. 

            It is in this context that course participants shall embark on an adventure into English Renaissance childhood, particularly as portrayed in the plays by Jacobean playwrights such as Middleton, Jonson, Dekker and Webster. The aim of this course will be to understand the function of child characters in the plays and their relation to both the actual state of children during the time as well as their relation to the discourse of the history of childhood prominent in the eighteenth century. By way of doing so, we will update our modern perceptions of the living conditions of children in the English Renaissance and dispense with possible misconceptions about childhood as influenced by the model set out by Ariès.