Renaissance English Literature Characteristics, Summary, Authors

Renaissance English Literature: Characteristics of Renaissance poetry were wit, beauty, and truth. Poets used repetition to emphasize their themes. Shakespeare was the master of the dramatic genre during the Renaissance.
His skills in characterization and word creation were evidence of his genius.

Renaissance in literature

The Renaissance is a period that generically encompassed all the arts: literature, music, painting, and so on. It consisted of a moment in which the sight was turned back to the classics to recover the essence of artistic creation and to recover some forms that had been lost. One of the most characteristic elements of the literature of this current is the importance that nature regains, a setting that becomes the symbol of perfection and pleasure.

But nature is now domesticated by man and presented in an orderly way in gardens, parks, etc. In this lesson from a PROFESSOR, we are going to discover the characteristics of Renaissance literature so that you better know the foundations of this movement that revolutionized culture and art in general.

Brief summary of the Renaissance in literature

The origin of Renaissance took place in Florence, Italy, during the 14th and 15th centuries. This was the time when the Middle Ages began to enter its final stage and all the canons that had marked the aesthetics and mentality of men began to be replaced by a new mentality where reason and science made their way.

The Renaissance took place in a period in which the society of the time was beginning to achieve great feats. In fact, the discovery of America that took place in 1492 occurred when this artistic trend invaded the letters and the arts. This caused that reason and science began to be overvalued over religious faith and, therefore, the man began to place himself at the center of research and thoughts.

In Renaissance literature, we find a great influence of science and rational research. A current that began to give great importance to the intelligentsia of the time and the great unknowns that plagued the reality of the moment. Themes such as love, nature, or sexuality were predominant in the writings of the time and, for this, new genres were cultivated such as essays, sonnets, lyrical poetry, and so on.

Humanism triumphed in society and this managed to penetrate a variety of literary works. In fact, we find humanists like Petrarch who began to write in Latin and Romance languages, thus creating vernacular literature.

9 characteristics of Renaissance literature

But to better understand what the Renaissance period was, below we will offer you a complete list of the most outstanding characteristics of Renaissance literature. They are as follows:

1. Anthropocentric vision

One of the characteristics of this period is that thanks to the advancement of science and the new discoveries that they had made in society, man changed his vision of the world towards a more anthropocentric idea. That is to say, the man is positioned in the middle of the interest and the intellectual debate to the detriment of the central position that, until now, the religion and the church had had.

2. The importance of nature: the “locus amoenus”

During the Renaissance, nature began to acquire very prominent importance since it is presented as a symbol of perfection. However, the natural settings that are presented to us in Renaissance work usually show us a domesticated nature, that is, controlled by the human being. This is the favorite space for poets and authors to place their characters and, here, they can talk about love.

3. The theme of love

Another characteristic of Renaissance literature is that love becomes one of the favorite themes of the authors of the period. In fact, it is one of the most recurrent themes that we find in these creations and, in general, it usually appears tinged with melancholy, sadness, pain, etc. Impossible love, the pains experienced by a lack of love, or the impossibility of love is the way in which this theme that abounds in Renaissance works is usually treated.

4. Other main themes of Renaissance literature

But, in addition to love, in Renaissance works we also find 2 other themes that are often very present in texts: nature and mythology. We have already indicated that nature is conceived as a space that invites reflection and thought, an almost “divine” place in which the poet can open his heart. On the other hand, mythological themes also recover a very prominent position in the writings of the time since the authors turn their eyes to the classics and use Greek myths as inspiration.

5. The ideal woman of the Renaissance

Another characteristic of Renaissance literature is that we are presented with a beloved woman who has specific features that make her “ideal.” As a general rule, this woman usually presents as follows.

  • Light colored eyes
  • Blonde hair
  • White skin

This is the “prototype” of the beloved woman of the Renaissance to whom many authors and poets sing their verses and cry for her unhappy love.

6. Appearance of lyrical poetry

One of the most defining elements of the Renaissance period in literature is that a new way of expressing oneself appeared that, until now, had not existed: lyrical poetry. It is a type of composition that shows extreme sensitivity and where, above all, the love and feelings of the poet are discussed. A genre that uses the sonnet to express itself.

7. Clear and simple expression

The poet talks about himself, his emotions, his thoughts, and his feelings. Literature is conceived as a reflective act that investigates the role of man in the world as well as his emotions. For this reason, in Renaissance literature, we find texts that flee from medieval obscurantism and offer natural, simple constructions that are easy to understand. Clarity is one of the most distinctive features of these works.

8. Reduction of morality in literature

Unlike the literary production of the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance, the presence of the moralizing function of the writings was greatly reduced. It is no longer written with the aim of educating society or instructing it for religious or ethical reasons but is written to be able to communicate human feelings and to better understand the human being in all its immensity.

9. The enunciator

And, finally, another of the characteristics of Renaissance literature is that a new poetic voice appears that, until now, had not existed: the enunciator. It is about the person who speaks in the poem, the voice that communicates with us to explain the story.

Outstanding works and authors of Renaissance literature

To end this lesson, we are now going to talk about some of the most prominent names in humanist and Renaissance literature. Here we offer you a list of the most important ones that are authentic representatives of this new literary and artistic trend.

Nicolas Machiavelli (1496-1527)

He was born in Florence and was a very prominent thinker of the time. His political option was in favor of a republican state and, therefore, he rejected the monarchy in a general way. For him, anarchy is the worst possible option to govern a country and, before reaching this point, Machiavelli believed that it was better to have the figure of a prince. His most outstanding work is “The Prince” where he argues that, if this state figure exists, he has to manage his power by taking into account the needs of the people.

Luis de Camoens (1524 – 1580)

Camoens was a poet from Portugal who was born in 1524. He had to go into exile for love reasons and, therefore, his poetry is full of these passionate, sensual, and idealized emotions. In this poet we find a clear example of the idealized love that was so present in the Renaissance. Of all his works, the best known is “Los Lusíadas”.

The main theme of his poetry is the conflict between passionate and sensual love and the Neoplatonic ideal of spiritual love. “Los Lusíadas” is his main poetic work. He is also the author of three comedies: “Anhost”, “El rey Seleuco” in 1545, and “Filodemo” in 1555.

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1467 – 1536)

Without a doubt, this is one of the best-known authors of the Renaissance. Originally from Holland, this author is considered the most outstanding humanist of the time. He was one of the forerunners of the modern spirit since he was totally open to the social, scientific, and philosophical innovations that took place in his time. He opted for a reform of the Church and society to achieve a much more humanistic society where a human being could grow and develop. “Elogio de la locura” is one of the best-known works of this author and, in it, he offers a voracious satire on the customs of the church.

Molière (1622-1673)

And we conclude this lesson to talk about Molière, a French playwright who created a type of theater full of comedy and reality. And is that, on the stage, we find characters that are very easily recognized by the society of the time and that show a portrait of the most common personalities of French society. “The precious ridiculous”, in 1659, is one of the best-known works of this playwright in which he talks about the dreams and desires of young women from the provinces.

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