The Influence of the Renaissance on English Literature

Topics: Renaissance, Poetry, Drama Pages: 7 (2635 words) Published: January 5, 2012
It is difficult to date or define the Renaissance. Etymologically the term, which was first used in England only as late as the nineteenth century, means' "re-birth". Broadly speaking, the Renaissance implies that re-awakening of learning which came to Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Renaissance was not only an English but a European phenomenon; and basically considered, it signalised a thorough substitution of the medieval habits of thought by new attitudes. The dawn of the Renaissance came first to Italy and a little later to France. To England it came much later, roughly about the beginning of the sixteenth century. As we have said at the outset, it is difficult to date the Renaissance; however, it may be mentioned that in Italy the impact of Greek learning was first felt when after the Turkish conquest of Constantinople the Greek scholars fled and took refuge in Italy carrying with them a vast treasure of ancient Greek literature in manuscript. The study of this literature fired the soul and imagination of the Italy of that time and created a new kind of intellectual and aesthetic culture quite different from that of the Middle Ages. The light of the Renaissance came very slowly to the isolated island of England, so that when it did come in all its brilliance in the sixteenth century, the Renaissance in Italy had already become a spent force. It is difficult to define the Renaissance, but its broad implications in England do not defy discussion. Michelet exaggeratedly calls the Renaissance "discovery by mankind of himself and of the world." This is, indeed, too sweeping. More correctly we can say that the following are the implications of the Renaissance in England : (a) First, the Renaissance meant the death of mediaeval scholasticism which had for long been keeping human thought in bondage. The schoolmen got themselves entangled in useless controversies and tried to apply the principles of Aristotelean . philosophy to the doctrines of Christianity, thus giving birth to a vast literature characterised by polemics, casuistry, and sophistry which did not advance man in any way. (b) Secondly, it signalised a revolt against spiritual authority-the authority of the Pope. The Reformation, though not part of the revival of learning, was yet a companion movement in England. This defiance of spiritual authority went hand in hand with that of intellectual authority. Renaissance intellectuals distinguished themselves by their flagrant anti-authoritarianism. (c) Thirdly, the Renaissance implied a greater perception of beauty and polish in the Greek and Latin scholars. This beauty and this polish were sought by Renaissance men of letters to be incorporated in their native literature. Further, it meant the birth of a kind of imitative tendency implied in the term "classicism."

(d) Lastly, the Renaissance marked a change from the theocentric to the homocentric conception of the universe. Human life, pursuits, and even body came to be glorified. "Human life", as G. H. Mair observes, "which the mediaeval Church had taught them [the people] to regard but as a threshold and stepping-stone to eternity, acquired suddenly a new momentousness and value.".The "otherworldliness" gave place to "this-worldliness". Human values came to be recognised as permanent values, and they were sought to be enriched and illumined by the heritage of antiquity. This bred a new kind of paganism and marked the rise of humanism as also, by implication, materialism. Let us now consider the impact of the Renaissance on the various departments of English literature. Non-creative Literature:

Naturally enough, the first impact of the Renaissance in England was registered by the universities, being the repositories of all learning. Some English scholars, becoming aware of the revival of learning in Italy, went to that country to benefit by it and to examine personally the...
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