Initially, “literature” was understood in a comprehensive sense as written material, only gradually did today’s (fictional) concept of literature emerge. Thus, even in the Renaissance, a clear distinction between philosophical, didactic or historiographical works on the one hand and fictional texts on the other is not possible.
Renaissance and Humanism
Renaissance and humanism took hold in England, not least because of the turmoil of the civil war in the 15th century, with a delay compared to the European continent and were only reluctant to prevail over medieval views. Scholars and courtiers who had studied in Italy (such as T. More ) or who – e. B. on a diplomatic mission – had visited the mainland. Conversely, one of the most important European humanists, Erasmus von Rotterdam , spent some time at the London court of Henry VIII.In contrast to the development in Italy or France, Renaissance humanism in England took on a specifically nationalist and Protestant coloring and made itself felt less in painting and architecture than in education and literature. At the grammar schools that were newly founded after the abolition of the monasteries, ancient authors were read, classical rhetoric was taught and Latin plays were performed in accordance with humanistic principles. At the same time, the pedagogue Richard Mulcaster (* 1531?, † 1611) advocated giving preference to English as the language of education and learning over Latin. Authors such as the diplomat Thomas Wilson (* 1525?, † 1581) recommended classical rhetoric as a stylistic principle also for the English language, and finally a lively translation activity developed in the second half of the 16th century: in addition to contemporary Italian, French and Spanish literature, especially ancient works were translated into English (including Arthur Golding (* 1536, †) 1606): Ovid, 1567; Thomas North (* 1523, † 1601): Plutarch, 1579; T. Norton : Seneca, 1581; G. Chapman : Homer, 1598; P. Holland : Livius, 1600). Many of these translations have the character of independent reproductions.
The influence of the continental Renaissance culture was also noticeable in poetry, at a time when poetry – also as a result of the sound shift in the 15th century – was looking for new forms of verse art. While J. Skelton continued the local tradition in his satires directed against the court and Cardinal Wolsey and written in coarse Knittel verse and A. Barclay in his Eclogues and his version of S. Brant’s “Ship of Fools”, the so-called “courtly makers” orientated themselves. T. Wyatt and H. Howard , Earl of Surrey, on Italian models (especially on Petrarch ) and made the sonnet at home in English literature. Surrey also used the blank verse for the first time in a Virgil translation, which was soon to become the predominant meter of drama.
According to nexticle.net, the reformatory impulse of English Renaissance humanism can be grasped above all in prose literature. T. More , who held a high political office as Lord Chancellor, criticized the social conditions of his time in ” Utopia ” (Latin 1516, English 1551) and at the same time drafted the concept of a reasonable ideal state based on common property. The focus of the works of T. Elyot (“The book named the governor”, 1531) and Roger Ascham (* 1515?, † 1568) (“The schoolmaster”, 1570), on the other hand, is a humanistic ideal of education that is clearly Protestant-Christian and bears patriotic traits.
For its part, the Reformation produced extensive prose literature, which largely consisted of pamphlets, treatises, leaflets and pamphlets. Among the theological works, R. Hooker’s “Laws of ecclesiastical polity” (1593), a justification for the Anglican compromise, should be emphasized. At the beginning of the century, W. Tyndale began the work of the New English Bible translation (published in Worms 1526), which had a long-term impact on the English language, which M. Coverdale completed in 1535 and that, after further, partly collective Bible translations, in that of then reached its climax in the authoritative »Authorized version« (1611).
With the beginning of the Tudor period, a lively historiographical prose literature emerged, which was responsible for the creation of the so-called “Tudor myth”, a providential historical narrative that legitimized the rule of the Tudors. Among the best-known of these works are T. More’s “The history of king Richard the third” (1513), Thomas Hall’s “Union of the two noble houses and illustrious families of York and Lancaster” (1548) and above all R. Holinshed’s “Chronicles.” of England, Scotland, and Ireland ”(1587), which Shakespeare provided the material for his histories.
The Elizabethan Age (1558–1603), a period of increasing national self-confidence, economic boom and increasing social mobility, is a high point in the history of English literature. The poems of the “courtly makers” of the early 16th century, which had previously only been in handwritten circulation in aristocratic circles, now appeared for the first time in print (especially in “Tottel’s miscellany”, 1557; 7 editions up to 1584) and thus became accessible to a wider audience.
In the last two decades of the 16th century, sonnet cycles became fashionable, which as a medium of neo-Platonic inspired love poetry were based on continental models (especially Petrarch ). In addition to the first of these cycles, P. Sidney’s“Astrophel and Stella” (publ. 1591), E. Spenser’s “Amoretti” (publ. 1595) and above all Shakespeare’s “Sonnets” (1598?; publ. 1609) should be emphasized thematic richness and linguistic complexity allow them to protrude far beyond the works of contemporaries.