Renaissance in English literature

Renaissance was a Europe-wide intellectual and cultural movement that started in the 14th century. The exact denotation of the term ‘renaissance’ is “re-birth or re-awakening”.

During the renaissance, arts and literature had reached such a height that they had never been before. We can also call Renaissance a time of intellectual rebirth because the concept of humanism was also developed during the renaissance. It displayed itself in the attempt of the individual to liberate himself from the rigorous tradition of the medieval period, feudalism and the religion; and to claim his right to act, to convey, and to live in accordance with a more open secular or non-religious code. 

Why did the Renaissance happen?

The learning and knowledge of Greeks have a significant impact on the renaissance. Many believed that due to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, many Greek philosophers came to Italy with their manuscripts and that raised the interest in the ancient books especially the works of Plato.

Read More: Humanism in English Literature

Salient features of the renaissance in English literature:

When we talk about Renaissance, we also have to talk about many advanced technologies. The most important technology that was developed in the time of the renaissance was printing which greatly advocated learning and education. Before the invention of printing, the Church completely dominated education, but secular learning began to expand in the renaissance and many grammar schools were also established at this time. 

Read More: Reformation in English Literature

Printing in England:

It was William Caxton who first brought the technology of printing to England in 1476. Some famous works which were published from Caxton’s printing press were Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales, and Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur”. The consequences of printing were extensive in England as there were many schools and universities were founded. John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible was another important event during this time. It was this translation that planted the seeds of objection to numerous practices and beliefs of the Medieval Church which eventually led to the Reformation. 

Read More: Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” as a representative of his age

New discoveries during the renaissance:

The Renaissance period was not only about the rediscovery of Greek and classical knowledge but also about many new discoveries which were essential for western civilization. In 1492, Columbus discovered America, and Vasco da Gama discovered the seaway from the Western countries to the Eastern countries. During the 16th century, many ships sailed out of the Western Countries and returned with wealth and marvelous things. The literature of that time was also significantly affected by all these new discoveries. For example, Shakespeare’s famous work “The Tempest” is also a result of the fresh imagination produced by the new expeditions. 

Read More: Aristotle’s concept of imitation and catharsis

Scientific discoveries during the renaissance:

Many scientific discoveries took place at the time of the Renaissance. Scientific intellects such as Nicolas Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler changed the whole definition of astronomy. Astronomy of the Medieval Age was based on Ptolemy of the 2nd century. According to Ptolemy, the Earth remains stationary and the other planets revolve around it. But in 1543, Copernicus rejected this theory and gave a new one. Copernicus says that the Earth is not stationary, but the Earth and the rest of the planets revolve around the Sun which is the center of the entire universe. This radical theory of Copernicus changed the earlier worldview and which had governed Christian theology and astronomy. 

The influence of the renaissance in literature:

During the renaissance, the interest in the ancient Greek and Roman authors prompted numerous works of translations. That is why, Aristotle, Petrarch, Ovid, and a great number of Greek and Roman authors were rewritten and avidly read. Ovid’s mythological and legendary tales, Virgil’s poetry, and Petrarch’s sonnets were highly encouraging for the authors of England.

We can see the impact of the Renaissance on Poetry. The new poetic genre – sonnet – was borrowed by Wyatt from Italy. Wyatt’s ideal was the prominent Italian poet Petrarch. Later Shakespeare also wrote 154 sonnets

Read More: Shakespeare as a dramatist

But the effect of the renaissance was seen the most in the field of drama. Emulating the model of Seneca, Sackville and Norton composed the first-ever tragedy in English “Gorboduc”. After this many more dramas were written in the same way like “Jocasta”, “The Misfortune of Arthur”, etc. Although these tragedies were not as impactful but they laid the foundations for the exceptional tragedies of Shakespeare and Marlowe.

Famous Renaissance writers:

William Shakespeare

Ben Johnson

John Calvin

Sir Philip Sidney

Ben Jonson

Thomas More.

Leave a Comment