This book explores the vexed issues raised for English Renaissance literature by the impact of two recent paradigms: the new British history and postcolonial criticism. The formation of the British state is increasingly on the agenda, as critics grapple with the extent to which 'English' identity is bound up with the emergence of 'Britain'. Nation, State and Empire in English Renaissance Literature explores this fresh conjunction, mapping out the contours of a 'multiple-kingdom'. The work is situated at the interface between literature and history, and at the cutting edge of studies of the period, showing the shaping power of literature in creating and contesting national and colonial identities. Through detailed readings of major canonical authors including Shakespeare, Spenser and Milton a picture emerges of a complex polity constructed on fragile foundations. This volume charts a dramatic shift from Irish to British concerns in the subtle interplay of the themes of union, plantation and conquest.