“Tudor Literature” 1500-1603

Elizabethan Literature

The ‘Renaissance Period’ in English Literature is also called the ‘Elizabethan Period’ or ‘The age of Shakespeare’.[author]

  • The middle Ages in Europe were followed by the Renaissance.
  • Renaissance means the Revival of learning and it denotes in its broadest sense the gradual enlightenment of the human mind after the darkness of the Middle Ages.
  • The chief characteristic of the Renaissance was its emphasis on Humanism, which means man’s concern with himself as an object of contemplation.
  • This movement was started in Italy by Dante, Petrarch and Baccacio in the fourteenth other countries of Europe.
  • In England it became popular during the ‘Elizabethan period’.
  • The movement which focused its interest on ‘the proper study of mankind’ had a number of subordinate trends.
  • The first in importance was the rediscovery of classical antiquity and particularly of Ancient Greece.
  • The first Englishman who wrote under the influence of Greek studies was ‘Sir Thomas More’. His Utopia,written in Latin, was suggested by Plato’s Republic.
  • Sir Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poeise accepted and advocated the critical rules of the Ancient Greeks.
  • The second important aspect of Humanism was the discovery of the external universe, and its significance for Man.
  • But the more important than this was that the writers directed their gaze inward, and become deeply interested in the problems of human personality.
  • Now during the Elizabethan period, under the influence of Humanism, the emphasis was laid on the qualities which distinguish one human being from another, and give an individuality and uniqueness.
  • Moreover, the revealing of the writer’s own mind became full of interest.
  • It was this new interest in human personality, the passion for life, which was responsible for the exquisite lyrical poetry of the Elizabethan Age, dealing with the problems of death, decay, transitiveness of life etc.
  • An Italian diplomat and man of letters, castiglione, wrote a treatise entitled II cortigiano where he sketched the pattern of gentlemanly behavior and manners upon which the conduct of such men as Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh was modeled.
  • Though it suffered from exaggeration and pedantry, yet it introduced order and balance in English prose, and gave it pithiness and harmony.
  • Lyly wrote his romance of Euphues not merely as an exercise in a new kind of prose, but with the serious purpose of including righteousness of living, based on self control.
  • Sidney wrote his Arcadia in the form of fiction in order to expound an ideal of moral excellence.
  • Spenser wrote his Faerie Queene, with a view “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle disposition”.


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