United Kingdom Literature: Humanism and the Renaissance

United Kingdom Literature: Humanism and the Renaissance


The passage to the new epoch is equally evident in two representative authors such as Sir Th. Malory (ca. 1395-1471) and J. Skelton (ca. 1460-1529). The first culminates the long medieval tradition of prose, developed in the fourteenth century in the doctrinal works of R. Rolle (ca. 1290-1349), in the versions of John Trevisa (1326-1412), in the first complete translation of the Bible, inspired by J. Wycliffe (ca. 1328-84), and consolidated in the fifteenth century in the imaginary Travels of sir John Mandeville (ca. 1410-20; Sir John Mandeville’s travels) and in the equally famous Paston Letters (ca. 1440-86; Letters of the family Paston). Le Morte d’Arthur (The death of Arthur) by Malory, printed by W. Caxton in 1485, gives unity to the corpus of Arthurian legends, to which it confers the artistic seal of an inspired and elegiac prose, but it is basically the epicedium of the medieval world. In Skelton, on the other hand, the courteous element is overwhelmed by the grotesque and the full break with the Chaucerian tradition takes place. However, it is already in the sixteenth century: Humanism and the Renaissance appeared in England with a considerable delay compared to other European countries, being moreover deeply conditioned by the Reformation. Humanism, which is linked above all to the name of Sir Th. More (1478-1535), in fact he immediately turned not only or not so much to the study and rediscovery of the classics, but to a reconsideration of the sacred texts. The revival of studies coincided with a religious revival and had its main manifestation in an almost uninterrupted series of translations of the Bible culminating in the famous Authorized Version (Authorized version) of 1611, destined to become a model and quasi-stylistic foundation of modern English. With the Anglican schism (1534) the nation espoused the cause of Protestantism and the vital and cultural energies were directed to the defense and exaltation of that cause, both religious and national, which, by imposing a form of arduous civil and moral commitment and religious, characterized the whole of the English sixteenth century. The English Renaissance therefore coincided with the literary flowering of the Elizabethan era (1558-1603): it is a late phenomenon compared to continental models, of which it accepts the contemporary precious and mannerist forms even before having completely dissolved medieval ties. Two early 16th century poets such as Sir Th. Wyatt (1503-42) and the Earl of Surrey (1517-47), which was responsible for the introduction in England of the sonnet and the blank verse (the non-rhymed iambic pentameter that became the verse of narrative poetry and drama) respectively, remained essentially isolated. Only after 1570-80, with the consolidation of monarchical orthodoxy and Elizabethan military power, did the literary tradition revive, to give life to one of the most intense poetic, narrative and dramatic flourishes, practically uninterrupted until the civil war and the Puritan Commonwealth (1649-66).

According to Topb2bwebsites, poetry had its highest representatives in Sir Ph. Sidney (1554-86), perfect courtier and man of action, inspired sonnet and effective prose writer; in E. Spenser (1552-99), great poet, connoisseur, like Sidney, of the Italians and the French, author of exquisite Neoplatonic hymns and eclogues tinged with archaic medievalism, poetic and inspired elegies, allegorical and pastoral tales, sonnets, all works with which he seems to prepare himself for the great unfinished work, The Faerie Queene (1590-96; The queen of the fairies), with which he intended, rivaling Tasso and Ariosto, to give England the great national poem. Next to them and to Shakespeare there was a very large group of high-level poets such as Th. Watson (ca. 1557-92) and S. Daniel (1562-1619), Th. Lodge (1558-1625) and sir W. Raleigh (ca. 1552-1618), M. Drayton (1563-1631) and others, whom only the greatness of others can make us consider minor. Thus the prose developed through the pseudo-eufuistici novels of J. Lyly (ca. 1554-1606; author, also, of elegant courtesans comedies) and the already mentioned Sidney, to arrive at the exploitation that have made it polygraphs as R. Greene (ca. 1560-92, himself the author of delightful plays) and the aforementioned Th. Lodge, as well as Th. Deloney (ca. 1543-1600) and the more original Th. Nashe (1567-1601), before finding his model of rigor and measure in the Essays (1597 and 1625) by F. Bacone (1561-1626).


Even richer was the dramatic flowering, which maintained its link with the medieval tradition and expressed, as well as the orthodoxy, the ferments and tensions of an expanding era, enhancing its role of reconciliation between the courtly and popular public, cultured inspiration and popular roots, high language and rawness of scenic actions. Not being considered literature, the drama it is a little like no man’s land, or the common ground, on which such encounters are possible, and this also due to the particular configuration of the Elizabethan theater and stage, which allowed direct contact between authors and public, and between different social classes (nobles and commoners, writers and courtiers), to whom the playwright’s appeal was to be addressed simultaneously.

Hence his immediacy, and that vital mixture of the serious and the humorous, the lofty and the scurrilous, of realism and rhetoric that is found in the major playwrights of the period. Here too the ranks are very numerous: they range from Shakespeare’s precursors, such as Th. Kyd (1558-94) and C. Marlowe (1564-93), author of poems and love poems as well as fiery and inspired tragedies, to his great contemporaries such as G. Chapman (perhaps 1559-1634) and the “incomparable” B. Jonson (ca. 1572 -1637), an author of very high stature and breadth of interest, to whom only the presence of Shakespeare prevented him from attributing a position of absolute pre-eminence. With him we pass into the Jacobite age (1603-25), which, alongside the rise of the fairy tale drama of escape represented by F. Beaumont (1584-1616) and J. Fletcher (1579-1625), saw a resumption of the tragedy of blood and revenge of an exotic environment in C. Tourneur (ca. 1575-1626), J. Webster (1570 / 80-1634 / 38) and J. Ford (ca. 1586-ca. 1639), while to new examples of domestic tragedy, as in Th. Heywood (ca. 1574-1641) and Th. Dekker (ca. 1570-1632), alongside the satirical comedies marked by a robust realism by Ph. Massinger (1583-1640), J. Marston (ca. 1575-ca. 1634) or Th. Middleton (1580-1627).

United Kingdom Literature - Humanism and the Renaissance