The Renaissance and It’s Affect on William Shakespeare’s Works

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It’s very easy to see William Shakespeare as an amazing literary genius who had a perspective on life that, to simply put it, no one else has ever had. However Shakespeare was the product of the English Renaissance. The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement spanning from the later 15th century until the early 17th century, it is associated with the Italian Renaissance which started in the 14th century. Like most of northern Europe, England did not get the full effect of the Renaissance until about a century later and the height of the English Renaissance is considered to be in the Elizabethan Era (1558–1603). The Renaissance was how all of Europe moved away from the Middle Ages and into the new world. The Renaissance was not only a rebirth of society; it was an age of new discoveries - both geographical and intellectual. Europe was discovering the Americas and settling there, expanding their horizons. From the 15th century onwards people were challenging everything they knew: Copernicus challenged science; Martin Luther challenged religion; and society challenged society. William Shakespeare was born in 1564 right in the midst of the Renaissance; it only makes sense that his work would have Renaissance ideas embedded in them. William Shakespeare used different Renaissance practices and beliefs to make his plays more relatable and sophisticated; and by using Greek and Roman influences, the ability to explore new characters, and incorporating many different Renaissances ways, that is what he accomplished. William Shakespeare is often referred to as England's “National Poet” due to the amount of work he has produced and the widespread love of it, Shakespeare has written 38 plays, 154 sonnets and many more poems and all of his plays have been translated into every major living language.

Shakespeare used his knowledge of Greek and Roman history and mythology for ideas in his plays. Before the Renaissance age these texts would have been suppressed by the Church. The genre of tragedy is rooted in the Greek dramas of Aeschylus (525-456 B.C., e.g. the Oresteia and Prometheus Bound), Euripides (ca. 480?-405 B.C., e.g. Medeaand The Trojan Women) and Sophocles (496-406 B.C., e.g. Oedipus Rex and Antigone). While Shakespeare probably did not know Greek tragedy directly, he would have been familiar with the Latin adaptations of Greek drama by the Roman (i.e. Latin-language) playwright Seneca (ca. 3 B.C.-65 A.D.; his nine tragedies include a Medea and an Oedipus) (Schwartz, 2005). Shakespeare never uses a mythological name or place name inaccurately, suggesting a genuine knowledge of the sources.” (Showerman, 2004). One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Julius Caesar, believed to be written in 1599 (Shakespeare, 1998), was based off of the work of Plutarch, a Greek historian, biographer and essayist. Plutarch documented the lives of over 46 notable Greeks and Romans (Blackburn, 2008). Although Shakespeare found use for most of the material through his several Roman plays, for Julius Caesar he focused on Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar and Marcus Brutus (Mabillard, 2000). Coriolanus, one of Shakespeare's later plays (1608), was based on Plutarch’s Life of Coriolanus. The play follows the novel closely, staying true to many , if not all, of the main elements. The play itself is very different from others written at the same time, the main character, Caius Marcius Coriolanus, is possibly one of the most opaque of all Shakespeare’s tragic heroes. In the duration of the play he rarely pauses to soliloquise or reveal his motives. His character is more like the characters from ancient classic literature, such as Achilles, Odysseus and Aeneas. Shakespeare would often blend different cultures together. Christianity and Greek and Roman myths were the two that he put together most often, especially in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and also in The Merry Wives of Windsor. One of Shakespeare’s later plays, The Tempest, features...
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