1796 in literature
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- Samuel Ireland publishes a collection of Shakespearean forgeries in his Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments Under the Hand and Seal of William Shakespeare (dated this year but actually produced on 24 December 1795). Edmond Malone exposes them in his An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments on 31 March, and the forged 'Shakespearean' play, Vortigern and Rowena, is able to sustain just a single performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, on 2 April. Ireland's son, William Henry, confesses to the fraud in An Authentic Account of the Shakespearean Manuscripts.
- February 29 - The Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal is established as the Royal Public Library of the Court in Lisbon.
- March 1 - Samuel Taylor Coleridge launches his periodical The Watchman; it lasts for only ten issues.
- July 30 - A performance of an historical drama, Jane Shore, is given in Sydney, Australia; the playbill, printed by George Hughes, is the earliest known surviving item printed in the country.
- September 22 - Mary Lamb commits matricide.
- Robert Bage - Hermsprong: or, Man As He Is Not
- Elizabeth Bonhôte - Bungay Castle
- Edmund Burke - A Letter from The Right Honourable Edmund Burke to a Noble Lord, on the Attacks made upon him and his pension
- Fanny Burney - Camilla
- Denis Diderot (died 1784) - Jacques the Fatalist (Jacques le fataliste et son maître, first complete edition of original French text)
- Edward Gibbon - Memoirs of My Life and Writings
- Mary Hays - Memoirs of Emma Courtney
- Susannah Willard Johnson - A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Johnson (edited by John Curtis Chamberlain)
- Matthew Lewis - The Monk
- Eliza Parsons - The Mysterious Warning, a German Tale
- Jane Purbeck - Matilda and Elizabeth
- Regina Maria Roche - The Children of the Abbey: a Tale
- John Gabriel Stedman - The Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam
- Jane West as 'Prudentia Homespun' - A Gossip's Story, and a Legendary Tale
- Mary Wollstonecraft - Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Egmont
- Richard Cumberland - Don Pedro
- Mary Darby Robinson - The Sicilian Lover
Main article: 1796 in poetry
- January 4 – Henry George Bohn, English bibliographer and publisher (died 1884)
- February 17 – Charlotte Anley, English didactic novelist and religious writer (died 1893)
- May 1 – Junius Brutus Booth, English-born actor (died 1852)
- May 4 – William H. Prescott, American historian (died 1859)
- September 19 – Hartley Coleridge, English poet, biographer and essayist (died 1849)
- July 15 – Thomas Bulfinch, American writer on mythology (died 1867)
- December 19 – Manuel Bretón de los Herreros, Spanish playwright (died 1873)
- Unknown date – Frederick Chamier, English novelist and Royal Navy captain (died 1870)
- January 13 – John Anderson, Scottish natural philosopher and scientist (born 1726)
- February 17 – James Macpherson, Scottish poet (born 1736)
- May 6 – Adolf Freiherr Knigge, German writer on etiquette (born 1752)
- July 21 – Robert Burns, Scottish poet (born 1759)
- October 7 – Thomas Reid, Scottish philosopher (born 1710)
- Elisabetta Caminèr Turra, Venetian writer and translator (born 1751)