The Renaissance and the Elizabethan Age England as an Example of the European Rebirth

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The Renaissance was a re-awakening of learning following about a thousand years of "sleep." Europe began to experience great change by about 1450. Within one hundred years, Columbus had sailed to America, literacy spread, scientists made great discoveries, and artists created work that still inspires us today.

Historians call the next period of European history the "Renaissance," or the "rebirth." The Renaissance is the beginning of modern history.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the Renaissance is that it was, above all, a kind of rediscovery. The Europeans of the early Renaissance looked back across time to the examples of Greece and Rome. But they wrote their works in their own languages.

Although the Renaissance officially began in the fifteenth century, it "peaked" in the sixteenth. The sixteenth century in Europe was a time of unprecedented change. It was the beginning of the modern era, and it saw a revolution in almost every aspect of life.

The century opened with the discovery of a new continent. The Renaissance, which began in Italy, was peaking and spreading north, even arriving in backwaters like England. Life was largely prosperous for the average person, the economy was growing.

The mechanisms of commerce, systems of international finance, ocean-going trading fleets, an entrepreneurial bourgeoisie, were all building a recognizably capitalist, money-based economy.

Geniuses were stepping all over each other on the street corners producing scientific innovation after innovation. Technological innovations like gunpowder were changing the nature of warfare and the military caste nature of society -- the cannon probably had a great deal to do with the rise of the centralized nation state as we know it.

Review, cont.

Because the Renaissance was so wide-spread, and involved such a major change in all areas of Europe--and by a less-than-peaceful extension, the world--we will focus here on the English Renaissance of the sixteenth century.

Sixteenth century England was ruled by the Tudor dynasty. This dynasty began with Henry VII, then continued through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I (Bloody Mary), and Elizabeth I.

The English Renaissance reached its height during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This period (1558-1603) has often been called "The Golden Age" of England.

During Elizabeth's reign, England went from a backwater to the most powerful country in the world. Arts and literature flourished, along with commerce. Many of the writers that worked in Elizabeth's time are still read today. One of them, William Shakespeare, is believed by many to be the greatest of all time.

Review, cont. In fact, so many great writers created so many great works during the Elizabethan Age, it is impossible to discuss even a meaningful fraction of them here.

Writers like Sir Thomas More, Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, John Lyly, Thomas Nashe, Mary Herbert, and Thomas Campion (to name a few) thrived in the can-do atmosphere of Elizabethan England.

Drama was reborn during the Elizabethan Age. Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare were the foremost dramatists during the reign of Elizabeth. Their plays were performed on stage in London to audiences that ranged from groundlings (commoners who paid almost nothing to stand in front of the stage) to royalty.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote many of his plays, and his celebrated sonnets, during this time.

Review, cont.

We know that A Midsummer Night's Dream (probably written in late 1594 or 1595), Romeo and Juliet (probably 1595) Richard II (probably 1595), King John (probably 1596) The Merchant of Venice (1596-97) and the Henry IV plays (probably 1597-98) date from the last decade of the sixteenth century.

The 1590's are often called Shakespeare's lyric period based on the poetry in plays such as Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet and Richard II....
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