Renaissance came immediately after the Middle Ages. Renaissance cut across the whole of Europe beginning from Italy. Till today, most poets still pattern their works after Renaissance poetry. This unit simply examines what Renaissance is and its features.
What is Renaissance?
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life in the early modern period. The Renaissance began from Italy and spread to the rest of Europe by the 16th century. Its influence was felt in literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science, religion, and other aspects of intellectual inquiry. Renaissance scholars employed the humanist method in study, and searched for realism and human emotion in art (Wikipedia).
There remains a long debate about what exactly constituted the Renaissance. Essentially, it was a cultural and intellectual movement, intimately tied to society and politics of the late fourteenth to early seventeenth centuries, although it is commonly restricted to just the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In a way, some scholars claimed that it must have been stimulated by Petrarch, who had a passion for rediscovering lost manuscripts and a fierce belief in the civilizing power of ancient thought, and in part by conditions in Florence. The Renaissance was a movement dedicated to the rediscovery and use of classical learning. By classical learning we mean knowledge and attitudes from the Ancient Greek and Roman periods.
Literarily, Renaissance means “rebirth”, and Renaissance thinkers believed the period between themselves and the fall of Rome, which they labeled the Middle Ages, had seen a decline in cultural achievement compared with the earlier eras. Participants intended, through the study of classical texts, textual criticism and classical techniques, to both reintroduce the heights of those ancient days and improve the situation of their contemporaries.
Features of Renaissance
The main features of Renaissance include the following:
- Realism and expressionism – Realism is the general attempt to depict things accurately, from either a visual, social or emotional perspective.
- Humanism is another feature of Renaissance. Humanism is devoted to the study of mankind, instead of the theological devotion of the Middle Age. The Renaissance scholars were known as “humourists” and their subjects of study came to be called the “humanities”. In other words, they emphasized reason, a questioning attitude, experimentation, and free inquiry.
- It glorified the individual and approved worldly pleasures, viewing life as worthwhile for its own sake, not chiefly as a preparation for the life to come.
- It focused attention upon secular society rather than the medieval preoccupation with the church and religious affairs.
- It featured great achievements in literature, art, and science.
The English Renaissance
As early as the middle of the fifteenth century, English students were frequenting the Italian universities. Soon the study of Greek was introduced into England, also, first at Oxford; and it was cultivated with such good results that when, early in the sixteenth century, the great Dutch student and reformer, Erasmus, unable through poverty to reach Italy, came to Oxford instead, he found there a group of accomplished scholars and gentlemen whose instruction and hospitable companionship aroused his unbounded delight. One member of this group was John Colet, Later Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, who was to bring new life into the secondary education of English boys by the establishment of St. Paul’s Grammar School, based on the principle of kindness in place of the merciless severity of the traditional English system.
The established literary culture influenced Renaissance in England. While Greek was spoken so powerfully by the cultivated class, other forces were contributing to revolutionize life as a whole and all men’s outlook upon it. The invention of printing, multiplying books in unlimited quantities where before there had been only a few manuscripts laboriously copied page by page, absolutely transformed all the processes of knowledge and almost of thought. Not much later began the vast expansion of the physical world through geographical exploration. Toward the end of the fifteenth century, the new worlds were discovered. The discovery of the new worlds further helped in the expansion of Renaissance.
The whole of England was profoundly stirred by the Renaissance to a new and most energetic life, but not least was this true of the Court, where for a time literature was very largely centred. Since the old nobility had mostly perished in the wars, both Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor line, and his son, Henry VIII, adopted the policy of replacing the nobility with able and wealthy men of the middle class, who would be strongly devoted to themselves. The court therefore became a brilliant and crowded circle of unscrupulous but unusually adroit statesmen, and a centre of lavish entertainments and display. Under this new aristocracy the rigidity of the feudal system was relaxed, and life became somewhat easier for all the dependent classes. Modern comforts were largely introduced, and with them the Italian arts; Tudor architecture, in particular, exhibited the originality and splendor of an energetic and self-confident age. William Shakespeare and Thomas Wyatt were royal poet. Wyatt himself was popular with his courtly poems.
English Renaissance had a strong tradition of literature in the English vernacular and it gradually increased as the use of the printing press became common by the mid 16th century. The royal court really helped in popularizing arts and many English people had access to reading since the Anglican Church had adopted the use of English to communicate. Renaissance humanism became popular, even Queen Elizabeth herself was a product of Renaissance humanism. English people eventually dropped the medieval concern with faith, authority and tradition. Reason became glorified as more and more people began to read.
In this article, we have been able to introduce the Renaissance in England to you. We also gave you the peculiar features of Renaissance and where it probably started from. In the next unit therefore, you will be introduced to Elizabethan poetry. Here, you will be able to see how Renaissance features appear in most of these poems.