Renaissance Age

The Renaissance Age, also known as the Renaissance period or simply the Renaissance, was a transformative cultural and intellectual movement that took place in Italy (in particular) and Europe (in general) between the 14th and ended in England in the 17th centuries. It marked a transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era and had a profound impact on various aspects of society, including art, literature, science, philosophy, and politics. In this note, we will focus on the characteristics of the Renaissance Age and its influence on English literature.

Characteristics of the Renaissance Age

1. Humanism

Humanism was a key intellectual movement during the Renaissance. It emphasized the worth, dignity, and potential of human beings. Humanists sought to revive the ideas and knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome, placing great emphasis on the study of classical literature, history, philosophy, and art.

2. Revival of Classic Literature

Renaissance scholars rediscovered and translated numerous works of ancient Greek and Roman literature. They studied and imitated the works of famous classical authors such as Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. This led to a renewed interest in mythology, classical themes, and the use of classical literary forms.

3. Secularism

The Renaissance witnessed a shift in focus from the predominantly religious concerns of the Middle Ages to a more secular worldview. People began to explore worldly and humanistic themes, embracing the beauty and pleasures of life on Earth. This secular outlook influenced the literature of the time, as writers started to explore human experiences and emotions in a more realistic manner.

4. Individualism

The Renaissance celebrated the individual and the potential of human achievements. This focus on individualism encouraged self-expression, personal exploration, and the development of individual talents and abilities. In literature, this meant that authors began to create more complex and realistic characters, exploring their unique personalities and motivations.

5. Exploration and Discoveries

The Age of Exploration, which coincided with the Renaissance, opened up new horizons and expanded the European worldview. Explorers discovered new lands, cultures, and ideas, which had a profound impact on the literature of the time. Writers drew inspiration from these unfamiliar settings and incorporated them into their works, creating a sense of wonder and curiosity.

Impact on English Literature

renaissance age
The Winters Tale (Act IV, Scene 3) by William Shakespeare. Photogravure after a drawing by Gabriel von Max (German painter, 1840 – 1915), published in 1886.
1. Classical Form

Renaissance scholars and writers introduced classical forms of poetry, such as the sonnet, epic, and ode, into English literature. They adapted and experimented with these forms, creating new literary conventions that would greatly influence later poets.

2. Increased use of Vernacular

While Latin was still widely used in scholarly works, there was a growing emphasis on writing in the vernacular languages. In England, this meant a shift towards writing in English rather than Latin or French. Prominent writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare contributed significantly to the development of the English language and its literary potential.

3. Exploration of Human Emotions and Experience

Renaissance literature placed a greater emphasis on individual experiences, emotions, and psychological depth. Writers began to explore the complexities of human nature and the human condition, delving into themes of love, ambition, jealousy, and morality. Shakespeare’s plays, in particular, exemplify this exploration of human emotions and the depths of the human psyche.

4. Influence from Italian Literature

Italy was at the forefront of the Renaissance movement, and English writers were heavily influenced by Italian literary works. The works of Italian poets such as Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio introduced new literary techniques, themes, and ideas to English writers. For example, Shakespeare drew inspiration from Italian plays, adopting their intricate plots, vivid characterization, and themes of love and tragedy.

5. Rise of Drama and Theater

The Renaissance saw a flourishing of drama and theater in England. Playwrights like Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare created enduring works that showcased the complexities of human nature, explored moral and political issues, and entertained audiences with their wit and creativity. The Renaissance theater became a vibrant cultural institution that continues to influence drama to this day.

Prominent Authors and their Famous Works

During the Renaissance Age, various literary genres flourished. Some of the prominent genres that saw a rise in popularity during this period include poetry, drama, and prose. Here are a few prominent authors and their famous works from the Renaissance Age:

1. William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
“Vintage engraving from 1877 of William Shakespeare an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist”

“Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “Othello,” “King Lear,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Tempest,” and many more. Shakespeare’s plays are considered some of the greatest works in the English language and have had a profound and enduring impact on literature and theater.

2. Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
England: Supposed portrait of Christopher Marlowe (1564 Ð 1593), poet, playwright and translator. The ‘Corpus Christi Portrait’, oil on canvas, dated 1585. (Photo by: Pictures from History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“Doctor Faustus,” “Tamburlaine the Great,” “Edward II,” “The Jew of Malta.” Marlowe’s plays are known for their grand themes, powerful language, and exploration of human ambition and morality.

3. Edmund Spencer (1552-1599)

“The Faerie Queene,” an epic poem that presents an allegorical vision of the virtues of a Christian knight and explores themes of chivalry, morality, and religious devotion.

4. John Milton (1608-1674)

“Paradise Lost,” an epic poem that retells the biblical story of the Fall of Man, exploring themes of rebellion, temptation, and the nature of good and evil. Milton’s works also include “Paradise Regained” and “Samson Agonistes.”

5. Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)

“Utopia,” a work of political fiction that presents an ideal society and critiques the social and political structures of More’s time. “Utopia” coined the term that has come to represent an imaginary perfect world.

6. Sir Philip Sydney (1554-1586)

“Astrophel and Stella,” a sonnet sequence that explores themes of love, desire, and the nature of poetry. Sidney’s works were influential in the development of the Elizabethan sonnet tradition.

7. John Donne (1572-1631)

“Songs and Sonnets,” a collection of poems that showcases Donne’s metaphysical style and explores themes of love, religion, and the complexities of human relationships.

8. Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
English writer, scientist, philosopher and politician Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), 1st Viscount St Alban, circa 1600. From a print by Houbraken. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“Essays,” a collection of philosophical and moral reflections on various subjects. Bacon’s essays are known for their concise and aphoristic style, addressing topics ranging from truth and knowledge to friendship and revenge.