Renaissance Literature, the Middle Ages, and Humanism

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Renaissance Essay

Literary movements are a way to divide literature into categories of similar philosophical, topical, or aesthetic features, as opposed to divisions by genre or period. Renaissance literature refers to European literature which was influenced by the intellectual and cultural tendencies associated with the Renaissance. The literature of the Renaissance was written within the general movement of the Renaissance, which arose in 14th-century Italy and continued until the 16th century while being diffused into the rest of the western world. It is characterized by the adoption of a humanist philosophy and the recovery of the classical antiquity.

The phrase “Middle Ages” tells us more about the Renaissance that followed it than it does about the era itself. Starting around the 14th century, European thinkers, writers and artists began to look back and celebrate the art and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. They dismissed the period after the fall of Rome as a middle or even dark age in which no scientific accomplishments had been made, no great art produced, no great leaders born.

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The Renaissance was a period of European cultural, artistic, political and economic “rebirth” following the Middle Ages. Generally described as taking place from the 14th through the 17th century, the Renaissance promoted the rediscovery of classical philosophy, literature and art. Some of the greatest authors, scientists and artists in human history succeeded during this era, while global exploration opened up new lands and cultures to European commerce. The Renaissance is credited with bridging the gap between the Middle Ages and modern-day civilization.

The Renaissance in Europe was an awakening from the long slumber of the Dark Ages. Even backsliding kind of society re-invested in the promise of material and spiritual gain. There was the sincerely held belief that humanity was making progress towards a perfect existence. This rebirth came to fruition is a matter of debate among historians. What cannot be debated is that humanity took an astounding leap forward after hundreds of years of drift. The 14 through 16 centuries in Europe witnessed a deliberate break with feudal modes of living. Greek and Roman mythologies and philosophies served as the inspirational material for a new wave of artistic creation. Intellectuals adopted a line of thought known as “humanism,” in which mankind was believed capable perfection beyond what had ever been imagined. The overwhelming spirit of the times was optimism, a belief that life was improving for the first time. The specter of the Dark Ages were still very fresh in people’s minds, and the promise of moving forward and away from such horrors was welcome.

During the 14th century, a cultural movement called humanism began to gain momentum in Italy. Among its many principles, humanism promoted the idea that man was the center of his own universe, and people should embrace human achievements in education, classical arts, literature and science.

Humanism was an intellectual movement embraced by scholars, writers, and civic leaders in the 14th and early 15th century Italy. The movement developed in response to the medieval scholastic conventions in education at the time, which emphasized practical, pre-professional, and scientific studies engaged in solely for job preparation, and typically by men alone. The movement was largely founded on the ideals of Italian scholar and poet Francesco Petrarca, which were often centered around humanity’s potential for achievement. While Humanism initially began as a predominantly literary movement, its influence quickly pervaded the general culture of the time, re-introducing classical Greek and Roman art forms and contributing to the development of the Renaissance. Humanists considered the ancient world to be the pinnacle of human achievement, and thought its accomplishments should serve as a model for contemporary Europe. Humanism was a hopeful idea that saw man as a rational being, with the ability to decide and think for himself. It saw man as inherently good by nature, which was in tension with the Christian view of man as the original sinner needing redemption.

Renaissance Humanists saw no conflict between their study of the Ancients and Christianity. The lack of perceived conflict allowed Early Renaissance artists to combine classical forms, classical themes, and Christian theology freely. Humanism affected the artistic community and how artists were perceived. By the mid-16th century, Humanism had lost much of its power. Europe was engaged in a war of words, ideas, and sometimes weapons over the nature of Christianity. Humanist culture was overtaken by rival ideology, becoming semi-independent disciplines governed by the area’s faith.

Poetry in the Renaissance became one of the most valued forms of literature and was often accompanied by music. According to The Literature Network, the poetic forms most commonly employed during this period were the lyric, tragedy, an elegy or pastoral. The goal of each poet was to capture the beauty in the modern world. One of the most significant poems written during this time is the epic Paradise Lost by John Milton. The purpose of Paradise Lost was to communicate the reasoning behind God’s decision involving Adam and Eve’s fall from Eden and to express the central Christian truths of freedom, sin, and redemption as he conceived.

John Milton was an English poet, who served as a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under its Council of State and later under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost, written in blank verse.

William Shakespeare dominated English drama during the Renaissance. Shakespeare’s ability to switch between different genres, comedy and tragedy, while continuously teaching a lesson is what made him different. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a tragedy in which a soldier goes rogue with greed, killing several people, he does all of this because of a prophecy. Shakespeare is regarded as one of the greatest playwrights and even created several words in the English language. However, much of Shakespeare’s life is unknown, there are gaps of time when Shakespeare’s presence is gone.

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely known as the greatest writer in the English language. He is often called England's national poet and the Bard of Avon.

The Renaissance is an important time period because the level of artistic and architectural production during this time is amazing, so much that years and years later works produced during the Renaissance continue to capture the public’s mind. There are many reasons why the Renaissance is important. Not only is the period highly interesting, but it also offers us several lessons, which we can approach the world today.

The Renaissance taught us the power of looking to the past for ideas. During the Renaissance, people looked to their past with a sense of admiration in search of guidance. They did not look to the previous century, but instead to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Patrons, scholars, artists, and engineers of the Renaissance looked back to their ancient ancestors in order to help them craft their world in the 15th and 16th centuries. While the Renaissance is mostly considered in light of the historical thinking that went on in the 15th and 16th centuries, leaders of that time could be very forward-thinking in their approaches.

The Renaissance is arguably the best example of a civilization with its feet in worlds of the past and also the future. Historians today consider the period before the Renaissance to be the Middle Ages, which effectively began with the fall of Rome in the 5th century and lasted for 8 or 9 centuries. Although the Middle Ages cannot be thought of as an entirely homogeneous entity, we might say that the rate of change during that time was relatively less when compared to history during and after the Renaissance.

Following the Renaissance, the world started changing in significant ways. The Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the Scientific Revolution gradually developed on the heels of the thinking that had emerged in the decades and centuries before. The Renaissance was the gateway to the modern world. After looking back through the history of Western Civilization, one can point to the Renaissance as the one period that best ties everything in its past with everything in its future.

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