Renaissance Period In English Literature 1500 to 1660

Renaissance Period
Renaissance Period


   Renaissance Period is one of the most important periods in English literature. So far as the ‘Renaissance Period’ is concerned it began in 1453, but its effect on English life and literature was felt after 1500. For this reason, it is generally accepted that the renaissance period was at the beginning of the 16th century and continued till the Restoration period. It is a clear line between the middle and the modern English literature period.

The word Renaissance is derived from the Italian ‘Renescetia’ means rebirth. The French historian “Jules Michelet” used Renaissance for the first time. Italy was the cradle of the Renaissance. It began in Italy in the 14th Century and ended in the mid-seventeenth century. This period of 160 years is subdivided into two ages according to the ages:-

  • Elizabethan Age (1500 to 1620)
  • The Puritan Age (1620 to 1660)

The Elizabethan Age (1558-1603)

            This age is named after Queen ‘Elizabeth I’ who reigned over England from 1558 to 1603. This is the most glorious age of English literature. With the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, dynastic problems, and political chaos come to an end. Geographical and astronomical discoveries brought unlimited fortune during this period. Renaissance that had started earlier was now very strongly felt in England.

Major writers and Their Major works

Thomas More His famous works are ‘Utopia’ and it was originally written in Latin.

Edmund Spenser – He is called the poet of the poet because after his death many later English poets followed his art of Poetry. His famous work is the Faerie Queen’s and ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar’.

Thomas Kyd – He is one of the poets in the ‘group of University Wits’. His famous work is ‘The Spanish Tragedy’.

Sir Philip Sidney – He penned several major works including ‘Astrophel and Stella’, ‘Arcadia’ and ‘The Defense of Poesy’. ‘Advancement of Learning’.

University Wits: – It is the group of a dramatist who wrote and performed in London towards the end of the 16th century. They are called university wits because they were the witty students of ‘Cambridge or Oxford’. Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, and Thomas Kyd.

Christopher Marlowe – ‘Tamburlaine the Great’, ‘Dr. Faustus, ‘The Jew of Malta’ and ‘Edward II’ are his famous work.

William Shakespeare – Shakespeare was known as ‘England’s National Poet’ and ‘Bard of Avon’. He wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. His famous works are – Henry VI (Part 1, 2, 3), Richard III, Love’s Labour’s Last, Romeo and Julies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard II, Henry IV (Part 1, 2), Henry V, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, Julius Caesar, As you like it, Hamlet Twelfth Night, Othello Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear.

Ben Johnson – He wrote in a time when romanticism was the main mode of expression. He is called a neo-classical ruler of drame. ‘Every Man in his Humour’, ‘Volpone’, ‘The Silent Women’, and ‘The Alchemist’ is his famous work.

John Webster – John Webster wrote ‘The White Devil’ and ‘The Duchess Of Malfi’.

Literary Features of the period

            The Elizabethan Age is regarded as the Golden Age in the history of English Literature. The Renaissance brought Ancient Greek and Roman wisdom to England. The social life of England was marked by a strong national spirit, Humanism, religious broadmindedness, scientific progress, social content, and intellectual progress. All these aspects of social life are reflected in the writing of this period.

Puritan Age

            The Puritan age was named after the Puritan Movement in England in the 17th century. Puritans were a group of English-speaking Protestants who were dissatisfied with the religious reformation movement carried out during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. This age is also known as the ‘Age of Milton’, because the greatest literary figure ‘John Milton’ was a Puritan. This period is remarkable for the decay of drama and the closing of the theatres in 1642 gave a jolt to the development of drama.

            Puritan Poetry also called Jacobean and Caroline poetry during the reigns of James. I and Charles I respectively can be divided into three Pars –

  • Poetry of School of Spencer
  • Poetry of Metaphysical School
  • Poetry of the Cavalier poet

Poetry of School of Spencer

            The Spenserians were followers of Spencer. They considered Spencer as their master. ‘Phineas Fletcher’, ‘Giles Fletcher’, ‘William Browne’, and ‘Drummond’ are the poet of this age.

Poetry of Metaphysical School

            The term metaphysical may be applied to any poetry, that deals with spiritual or philosophical matters. Among these poets “John Donne” is the most notable. Other Metaphysical poets were – ‘George Hertbert’, Richard Crawshaw’, Henry Vaughan’, Thomas Carew’, ‘Abraham Cowley’, and ‘Andrew Marvell’. The term “Metaphysical Poets” was first used by Samuel Johnson.

Poetry Of The Cavalier Poet

            The Cavalier Poets wrote in the 17th century and supported king Charles I. These poets opposed Metaphysical Poetry. The best known of Cavalier poets are – ‘Robert Herrick’, ‘Richard Lovelace’, ‘Thomas Carew’ and ‘Sir John Suckling’.


            Thus, Renaissance Period ended with the beginning of the Restoration period. It has had a great effect on the development of English Literature. It was an important movement that illuminated the whole of English literature. ‘Paradise Lost’ is the last great triumph of the Renaissance.

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