Renaissance: Impact on English Literature
"Renaissance" is a French word which means rebirth, reawakening or revival. In literature the term "Renaissance" is used to denote the revival of ancient classical literature and culture and re-awakening of human mind, after the long sleep in the Medieval Ages, to the glory, wonders and beauty of man's earthly life and nature. The great literary movement, Renaissance began in Italy with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. But its influence was not felt in England till the last years of the fifteenth century when the English scholars who visited Italy at the time came back to England nourished on the Renaissance humanism. The Renaissance, however, had its full blossoming in the Elizabethan period (1551-1603). This late flowering of the Renaissance was due to the religious dissension (Reformation) which swept over England before Elizabeth's accession to the throne. The most interesting significant product of the early Renaissance was the translation of Greek and Roman literature. The translators opened for their countrymen a window into the enchanted world of classical antiquity which appeared with all the freshness of a new discovery, the world of the gods and the goddesses of Greece and the great soldiers and statesmen and the Roman Empire. Moreover they brought their readers too into contact with the life and thought of contemporary Europe, and especially of Renaissance Italy. The invention of the printing press placed the translations within the reach of the common people. The translators amassed rich stores of material for the dramatists and poets of the future. Let us now consider the impact of the Renaissance on Elizabethan poetry, drama and prose. Under the influence of the Renaissance English poetry awoke as from a long sleep at the court of Henry VIII. The English poetry was kindled into new life by contact with the Italian Renaissance. There appeared a group of courtier-poets who, under the influence of Renaissance individualism, inaugurated a new fashion of writing poems of personal kind (for the great characteristic of medieval poetry was its impersonal character) dealing particularly with love. The two members of this group-Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey were the chieftains of the new literary movement. Wyatt abandoned the conventions of the long poem and the allegory which had hampered the late medieval poets and produced the monstrosities of Lydgate and Hawes. He imparted a new dignity and a new power the short poem. He introduced into English poetry the sonnet, the most compact form for the short poem. Surrey is more definitely a humanist poet than Wyatt. He was influenced by Petrarch and like Wyatt he translated from the Italian. He translated from Martial, Horace and Virgil and his translations have something of the lucidity, conciseness and elegance of the originals. If Wyatt introduced the sonnet into English, it is Surrey who introduced blank verse, the great epic and dramatic measure in English. His translation of the two books of Virgil's Aeneid is doubly significant as the first English verse translation of Virgil and also as the first example of blank verse; one of the effects of the study of the classics was to lessen the prestige of rhyme. Surrey's blank verse was a definite step in the direction of a literary form in which the greatest Elizabethans won their highest triumphs. The Renaissance turned England into a huge nest of singing birds. The zest for life was one of the gifts of the Renaissance, and this zest found its expression in songs. This song is everywhere; it resounds in the drawing-rooms, it wanders along the roads; it is in the town and in the country, it abounds on the stage and in the novel. Indifferent to the plastic arts,England became the impassioned lover of song. One important effect of the Renaissance was the revival of classical literature, the revival which...
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