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English Renaissance Literature/Characteristics

The term Renaissance means “Rebirth”. The movement had its origin in Italy and it
gradually spread throughout the Europe. The movement had significant influence over the
English Literature.

After the end of the War of the Roses (1453-87), Tudor Dynasty came to power in England.
Henry VIII was the ruler of English from 1509-1547. He desired to annul his first marriage as he
had no heir from his wife. However, polygamy was prohibited under the rule of Catholic Church.
Thus he fell into conflict with the Church.
He was even ex-communicated by Church but he did not pay heed to it. To fulfill his desire he,
for the first time in the History of England, ended the rule of Catholic Church and established
himself as both the head of the state as well as of the Church. This step of his influenced every
aspect of English including life, culture, literature, thoughts etc from that time onward.
1. The Influence of the classics:
During the Elizabethan Age, there was a revival of classical learning. The ideals of the
classical Greek literature attracted the men of the Renaissance. The ancient Greeks were
worldly men in that their whole lives and hopes were centered on this present world
rather than on some future one. The Greek literature also reveals that a strong
individualism was a trait of the ancient Greek. The result of this individualism was that
the Renaissance men cared not a fig for authority, they were free in making their own
decisions, right or wrong and his freedom found expression in the plays of Marlowe.

2. Individualism/Materialism/Beauty
The Renaissance was, in essence, an intellectual rebirth. It showed itself in the effort of the
individual to free himself from the rigid institutions of the Middle Ages, feudalism and the
church; and to assert his right to live, to think and to express himself in accordance with a
more flexible secular code. And thus the Renaissance gave birth to individualism and
worldliness. The Renaissance spirit is marked, on the other hand, with a growing sense of
beauty and an increasing enrichment of life. The Elizabethan age was therefore an age of
Materialism and frank and bold enjoyment of life. Beauty was a passion with the Elizabethans
and women were regarded as adorable creatures. England’s trade and commerce flourished
and the country grew rich and prosperous.

3. Reforms in the Institutions

In the earlier times, literature was dominated by the spirit of religion and blind faith. However, in
the Renaissance Age, institutions were questioned and re-evaluated. Renaissance broadened and
took the cognitive level of human mind to new heights.

2. Dominance of Reason
In the Renaissance age, it was the reason instead of the religion that governed the human
behavior. The man was free to make the use of his power. Now reason dominated all the spheres
of life that decreased the influence of religion on the people. Most of the blind faiths and
practices were given up.

3. Man-Centred Society/Humanism
Earlier religion was the center of interest. Hence the main concern of literature was to deal with
the religion directly or indirectly. In the Renaissance age, the focus shifted from religion to man
and man became the center of interest.

4. Development of Science
The age was accompanied by the birth of modern science, mathematics, astronomy etc. In the
4th decade of 16th century, Copernicus replaced Aristotle’s system with the sun, instead of earth
at the center of the universe. In astronomy, Harvey discovered circulation of blood in 1628. In
addition to this, there was the use of clocks, telescopes, thermometers, compasses, microscopes
etc. Hence there was a considerable development in the scientific field.
5. The era of Renowned Names
The literature of the English Renaissance contains some of the greatest names in all world

 Dramatists: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster, and Jonson.

 Poets: Sidney, Spenser, Donne, and Milton.
 Prose Writers: Bacon, Nashe, Raleigh, Browne, and Hooker.
 Authorised Version of Bible was published in 1611.
6. The Counter-Reformation
The Counter-reformation also took birth in response to reformation soon after the fame of the
later touched skies. It began with the Council of Trent (1545–1563). The primary objective of
this movement was to reform the Christian Catholic Church and counter the influence of