Renaissance period summary



Renaissance period summary


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Renaissance period summary


Renaissance period:

A basic outline

"The Renaissance was a period of exploration in many new directions - the advancement of humanistic and scientific knowledge; the discovery of new worlds by navigating the globe; the continued growth of cities, with wealth in the hands of the merchant class and expanding national states; and an unparalleled outburst of productivity in the Arts.
Humanistic scholars saw the Renaissance as an intellectual awakening after a long medieval night. They searched the monasteries for neglected volumes and studied the Greco-Roman classics from a new view-point. After the fall of Constantinople, many Greek scholars found refuge in Italy, bringing with them their learning and ancient manuscripts. The humanists rediscovered the beauties of life in the here and now, rather than in the hereafter, and they reaffirmed the ancient belief that "nothing is more wonderful than man".


The invention of printing made books more readily available, aiding in the spread of knowledge. In the fifty years after Gutenberg first published his Bible in 1456, more books were printed than had been copied by hand in the previous thousand years.


More broadly, humanism promoted a revival of interest in the affairs of the everyday world, reasserted the faith of men and women in themselves, and reinforced the role of individuals in all spheres. Writers, dramatists, visual artists, and musicians flourished. Architects were inspired by the geometrical clarity and harmonious proportions of the ancient Roman style. Sculptors and painters studied geometry, optics, and anatomy in order to represent the world, objects, and the human figure in three dimensions as the eye beholds them.

In northern Europe, Renaissance humanism expressed itself less in terms of the revival of antiquity and more in scientific observation and careful study of natural phenomena. In the Arts this meant a shift away from medieval symbolism and heavenly visions toward a more careful description of forms as seen in the natural world.
The position of the Church, both as a powerful political force and as institution increasingly concerned with worldly affairs, came under close scrutiny.
Abuses among the clergy in amassing worldly goods set the stage for the Reformation, as did the papal interest in winning victories on the battlefield rather than caring for human souls. Reformers rejected the central authority of the Church and the mediation of the priesthood. They held that by reading the scriptures individuals could know and interpret the word of God for themselves.


During the Renaissance the merchant and artisan classes rose to challenge the entrenched position of the landed nobility. This progress of the new urban middle class was fortified by the expansion of trade in the wake of geographical explorations and by a broader spread of a political power among city officials and councils.
With these momentous developments in thought, science, religion, exploration, statecraft, and the Arts, the Renaissance was truly a rebirth for humanity at the dawn of the modern era.


Renaissance Ideas:


In the Renaissance, the desire for personal prestige through art became of prime importance. Wealthy families and individuals commissioned artists to build memorial churches and chapels as well as create statues and paintings. The high regard for individual personality is also mirrored in the number and quality of portraits painted at this time. since artists wer so eagerly sought after, their status rose accordingly, and sculptors and painters became important personalities in their own right.

The religious nature of the vast majority of the works of art has already been pointed out, but personal patronage was in the ascendancy. Brunelleschi build the Pazzi Chapel,Masolino and Masaccio decorated Brancacci Chapel, and Benozzo Gozzoli and Fra Filippo Lippi did the paintings for the Medici Chapel, all on commission from private donors as memorials to themselves and their families. San Lorenzo, the parish church of the Medici, was rebuilt and redecorated by Brunelleschi and Donatello - but the money came from Cosimo and not from the Church. Fra Angelico decorated the corridors of the monastery of San Marco, which was also under the protection of the Medici family. Piousness and the desire for spiritual salvation were not the only motives for such generosity. More important was the knowledge that the donor's present and future fame depended on building monuments and choosing artists to decorate them.

In addition to the circumstances of patronage, certain technical considerations within the arts of themselves point in the same individualistic direction. The development of perspective drawing, for implied that the subject in the picture - whether a Madonna, a saint, or an angel - was definitely placed in this world rather than symbolically in the next. Hence the figure was more on a basis of equality with the observer. The unification of space through the convergence of all the lines at the point on the horizon tended to flatter the spectator. By clear organization of lines and planes, linear perspective assumes that everything is seen from a single optical vantage point. While the point of view is actually that of the artist, it is made to seem as if it were also that of the observer. By closing the form, the artist further implies that nothing of importance lies outside the painting, and the whole of the picture can be taken in at a glance. Since nothing, then, is beyond the grasp of the viewer, and all can be understood with relatively little effort, the eye and mind of the onlooker are reassured.

Human figures, whether rendered as prophets or portraits, tended to become more personal and individual. Each statue by Donatello, be it "Lo Zuccone" or his David, was an individual person who made a powerful, unique impression. Even Fra Angelico's Madonna is a personality more than an abstraction, and his figure of Angel Gabriel possessed genuine human dignity. Whether the medium was marble, terracotta, paint, there was a clear evidence of the new value placed on human individuality. Whether the picture was a disguised family group, like Botticelli's "Adoration of the Magi', or a personal portrait, like Verrocchio's bust of Lorenzo, the figures were authentic personages rather stylized abstractions; even though Lorenzode'Medici was the most powerful political figure of Florence, Verrocchio saw him as a man, not as an institution.
The higher social status given to Florentine artists was evident in the inclusion of self-portraits in such paintings as that of Benozzo Gozzoli in his "Jorney of the Magi" and the prominent position Botticelli allowed himself in his "Adoration of the Magi". Giberti's personal reminiscences in his Commentaries were probably the first autobiography of an artist in history. His inclusion of the lives and legends of his famous 14th-century predecessors were the first biographies of individual artists. He also included a self-portrait in one of the round medallions in the center of his famous doors.
Signatures of artists on their works became the rule, not the exception. The culmination came when Michelangelo realized his work was so highly individual that he no longer needed to sign it. The desire for personal fame grew to such an extent that Benvenuto Cellini no longer was content to let his work speak for him but wrote a lengthy autobiography filled with self-prize. The painter Giorgio Vasari likewise took up the pen to record the lives of the artists he knew personally and by reputation.
In the late medieval and early Renaissance times, artists were content with their status as craftsmen. They were trained as apprentices to grind pigments, carve wooden chests, make engravings, and prepare wall surfaces for frescoes, as well as to carve marble reliefs and paint pictures. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, however, it was not enough for artists to create works of art. They had to know the theory of art and the place of art and the artist in the intellectual and social atmosphere of their period.


Roman Renaissance Style


On April 18,1506,when the foundation stone of the new Basilica of St. Peter was Laid Rome was well on its way to becoming the undisputed artistic and intellectual capital of the Western world. Pope Julius was gathering about him the foremost living artists in all field and together they continued the transformation of the Eternal City from its medieval past into the brilliant Rome of today.

            Donato Bramante originally from Umbria but educated in Lomabardy, was the architect at work on the plans for the new St. Peter’s, the central church of the Christian world. Michelangelo Buanorroti from Florence was collecting the marble for a monumental tomb for Julius and was about to begin the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Raffaelo Sanzio of Umbria would soon be summoned from Florence to decorate the rooms of the Vatican Palace. The Florentine Andrea Sansovino was carving a cardinal’s tomb in one of Julius’s favorite roman churches Santa Maria del Popolo, where the Umbrian Pintoricchio was covering its choir volts with a series of frescoes.

            The papal court under Julius II and his successor Leo X, was such a powerful magnet that for three years the three greatest figures of the Renaissance – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffael – found themselves at the Vatican. In 1517, however, the aged Leonardo abandoned the artistic field of honor there to join the court of Francis I of France.

      The flight of the Medici from Florence in 1494 had signaled a general exodus of artists. Many found temporary havens in the ducal courts of Italy, but Rome proved an irresistible attraction. Hence, during the days of the two great Renaissance popes, JuliusII and Leo X, the cultural capital shifted from Florence to Rome. And, since Leonardo, Andrea Sansovino, Michelangelo, and Pope Leo were from Florence, and since Bramante and Raphael had absorbed the Florentine styie and ideas in extended visits there, the cultural continuity was unbroken. It was, in fact, like a smooth transplantation from the confines of a nursery to an open field – a move that led artists to branch out from local styles into the universal air of Rome.

            Such project as the building of the world’s largest church, the construction of Julius II tomb, the painting of the Sistine ceiling, and the Vatican Palace murals could be found only in Rome. Nowhere else were monuments of such proportions or commissions of such magnitude possible. In Rome also resided the Cardinals, who maintained palaces that rivaled the brilliance of the papal court.

            The interest in antiquity had animated many other Italian centers, but when the Renaissance got underway in Rome, it was, so to speak, no home soil. When antique statues were excavated elsewhere, they caused a considerable stir. In Rome, however, many of the ancient monuments were still standing, and when the archeological shovels probed the proper places, a veritable treasure was waiting. One by one the “Apolo Belvedere” marble, height 2,5 m, Vatican museums Rome; the “Venus of the Vatican” and the “Laoocon Group” marble, height 2,50m Vatican museums, Rome, came to light to stimulate the work of Michelangelo and other sculptors. The frescoes from Nero’s Domus Aurea and the Baths of Titus, provided the first important specimens of ancient painting. While the art of painting on fresh plaster had never died out, these ancient Roman fragments gave fresco painting a new impetus.

Julius II had received most of his training in diplomacy and state craft from his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV. Fortunately, a passionate love of the arts was included in this education. It was Sixtus who had built the chapel that has subsequently carried his name. Essentially a man of action, Julius II was an expert with the soldier’s sword as well as the bishop’s staff. He met his age on its own terms, and the spectacle of the pope riding a fiery horse into the smoke of battle had a remarkably demoralizing effect on his enemies. As one of the principal architects of the modern papacy, he also saw the need of a setting on a scale with the importance of the church founded by St. Peter and made it a matter of policy to command artists as well as soldiers. At the end of his career, Julius II became the subject of one of Raffaels most penetrating portraits: “Pope Julius II, National gallery, London, 100 x 80 sm.”

When Leo X ascended on the papal throne one of the saying went: “Venus has had her day, and Mars his, now comes the term of Minerva.” Venus symbolized the reign of the Borgia Pope Alexander VI; Mars, of course referred to Julius II; and Minerva, the Roman equivalent of Athena, was Leo. As the sun of Lorenzo the Magnificent, he brought with him to Rome the intellectual spirit of Florence, the latter-day Athens. Michelangelo, whom Leo had know since his childhood at the Medici Palace, was unfortunately bound by the terms of his contract to serve the heirs of Pope Julius, but the suave and worldly Raffael was available – and more congenial to the personal taste of Pope Leo than was the gruff titan Michelangelo. Once again Raffael served as papal portraitist in an unusually fine study: “Leo X with two cardinals.” Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.


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Renaissance period summary


I.        Definition of “The Renaissance”

A.    Rebirth (in French):  Renaissance society viewed itself as a rebirth of the Classical Civilization begun by Greece and Rome

B.    Time period:  No exact beginning or end

1.     Usually said to begin in Italy in mid-14th century (the writings of Francesco Petrarch) until the end of 16th century.

2.     Reached height in Europe in different places at different times.

a.      Ends in Italy with sack of Rome by troops of Charles V in 1527; returning troops helped to spread the Renaissance.

b.      Does not begin in England until reign of Henry VIII, 1509-1547, reaches height in England under Elizabeth I, 1558-1603.

3.     Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 brings end to the Roman Empire in the East

4.     Renaissance moved north out of Italy, ending in 1520s, and lasting in England until early 1600's

C.   Considered the beginning of modern European history

D.   Characterized by changes in areas of human thought and activity: political, cultural, economic, intellectual, scientific

E.    Printing with moveable type invented by Johann Gutenberg spread Renaissance writers and lowered cost of education and spread literacy.

F.    Spirit of the Renaissance was first widespread in Italy because of freedom city‑states to pursue own interests in banking and trade

1.     Italy had ruins of Roman civilization reminding Italians of the Classical Age

2.     Italy had never developed a complete feudal system

3.     Italy opened up trade with the high civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean area interacting with Byzantine and Muslim traders

4.     Trade brought wealth to support beautification efforts such as artistic pursuits

a.     Competing despots used their great wealth to beautify and improve their cities

b.     Patronage of the arts was a way of gaining support from masses

5.     Italian city‑states were at peace for High Renaissance

a.     High Renaissance coincides with peace and balance of power among the Italian city‑states

b.     Warfare ends the Renaissance in Italy but the invading armies carry home Italy’s developing high culture

6.     The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 brought many Greek scholars to Italy

II.      Characteristics

A.    Classicism:  admiration and imitation of the civilization of the Classical Age

1.     Renaissance looked to ancient Greece and Rome for its models rather than to Medieval Europe

2.     Earliest activities of Renaissance scholars were translating Classical documents found in monasteries into vernacular languages

3.     Early Renaissance works feature classical reference and imitation

B.    Secularism:  Describes the change in attitude toward life from the medieval to modern period

1.     Medieval emphasis was on earthly life as a preparation for afterlife

2.     Medieval attitude was replaced by a greater emphasis on enjoyment of life in this world

a.     Shift in emphasis from concentrating on afterlife to enjoying the gift of life in present

b.     Original Renaissance was not an attack on Church dogma

3.     Vernacular languages replaced Latin in literature and usage by educated class

C.   Individualism: Glorified individual man ‑ Medieval man was submerged in a group:  class or occupation

1.     Great medieval art produced by unknowns who worked silently for the glory of God and reward in the afterlife:  works were unsigned

2.     Renaissance artists signed their work, taking credit, developing individual styles distinctive from others

3.     New liberal education curriculum introduced (promoted by Vittoriano of Feltré) to train individual to be versatile and enjoy life

4.     Renaissance etiquette (Castiglione's Courtier, 1528) glorified talented and versatile individuals or patronizing such individuals

a.     Ideal man of the Renaissance knew everything about everything

b.     He was a man of much knowledge and many talents

5.     Renaissance was one of greatest periods in history for individual accomplishments

D.   Humanism:  Enthusiasm for Classical culture, art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome

1.     Early Renaissance defined Humanism narrowly as the search for, translation of, and the study of ancient manuscripts

2.     Humanism broadened into the study of humanity:  It emphasized the study of man and the world about him and his relationship to God

3.     Marsilio Ficino, translator of Plato, wrote that only the human has a unique faculty of intellect

4.     Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man expounded on human virtues

5.     Renaissance scholarship and education curriculum emphasized the "liberal arts":  literature, history, art, music, philosophy

E.    Rationalism or Reason:  A new trust in the individual abilities of the mind to discover new knowledge

1.     The works of ancient science were rediscovered through translations

2.     Humanists developed a questioning attitude in contrast to medieval man; free inquiry and experimentation followed

3.     Renaissance humanism contrasted with the medieval attitude of acceptance of knowledge based on faith, authority, and tradition

F.    Realism:  The effort to look at and portray life in its real, not ideal, sense

1.     Use of perspective, chiaroscuro, and other techniques to show realistic scenes of life

2.     The depiction of genuine emotion in art and literature

III.     Italian Renaissance literature

A.    Exhibited characteristics of classicism, humanism, secularism, individualism, and rationalism

B.    Leading contributors

1.        Dante Alighieri (1265‑1321) wrote Divine Comedy: Medieval view of life but written in Italian (vernacular) with Classical references

2.        Francesco Petrarch (1304‑1374)

a.     Called the “Father of Humanism”: Translated works of the ancient Romans expressing his admiration for the Classical age

b.     Wrote poetry:  the Petrarchan sonnet=from the Italian for song

3.        Giovanni Boccaccio (1313‑1375):  "Father of Italian Prose"; wrote Decameron, collection of classical and medieval stories

4.        Niccolo Machiavelli (1469‑1527):  Most noted of Italian writers on politics (new area of study)

a.     Chief work is The Prince, first work of modern, realistic politics

b.     Separated politics from morality; ruler may use any means to stay in power ("the end justifies the means")

c.     Wrote in period of foreign invasion of Italy hoping to inspire strong ruler to unify city-states into a nation and drive out invaders.

IV.  Northern Renaissance literature

A.    The Northern Renaissance ran in conjunction with Reformation

1.     Individualism meant religion was to be meaningful to each individual life

2.     The qualities of individualism, humanism, and rationalism inspired Reformation leaders

3.     Secularism provided the grounds for much of the acceptance of Renaissance ideals in literature

B.    Greater interest in studying ancient Greek as the language of New Testament of the Bible

C.   Northern humanists interested in religion as basis for morality and ethical life stressing piety and humility over individual accomplishment

D.   Major contributors

1.     Johann Reuchlin ‑ German (1455‑1522):  Published Hebrew‑Latin dictionary for Old Testament of the Bible translation

2.     Desiderius Erasmus – Dutch (1466‑1536) – leading Christian Humanist attempting to reform the Church through humanist scholarship

a.      In Praise of Folly:witty, biting satire on human behavior of the time

b.      Translated the New Testament of the Bible from Greek into Latin exposing errors in accepted Bible of the day

c.      Argued for greater imitation of Christ’s lifestyle rather than on extensive worship

3.     Thomas More ‑ English (1478‑1535):  Wrote Utopia expressing his ideal view of society and, indirectly, his criticism of his own world

4.     Francois Rabelais ‑ French (1495‑1553):  Wrote Gargantua and Pantagruel, biting satire on behavior (in French)

5.     Michel de Montaigne ‑ French (1533‑1592):  Essays show classicism and individualism and his opposition to oppressive dogma

6.     William Shakespeare ‑ English (1564‑1616):  Plays and poems reveal humanistic ideas, classical inspiration, and patriotism

7.     Miguel de Cervantes ‑ Spanish (1547‑1616):  Wrote Don Quixote ridiculing knighthood and chivalry of medieval times

V. Fine arts of the Renaissance

A.   Characteristics

1.     Influenced by Classical works; sculpture and architecture often imitated classical works

2.     Works emphasized realism, attention to detail, and a desire for perfection

a.        Fillipo Brunelleschi discovered the mathematical rules of linear perspective to show depth on a flat surface

b.        "chiaroscuro" was used to distinguish foreground from background colors demonstrating observation of the properties of vision

3.     Depicted religious themes but showed secular or classical influence; depicted secular scenes and individual portraits

4.     Emphasized nature and its beauty through realistic depiction

B.    Evolved from Medieval art depicting religious themes with new techniques; showed a new sense of realism in backgrounds and greater attention to realistic depiction of human beings

1.     Giotto (1276‑1336):  Allegorical backgrounds and religious subjects were shown with realistic naturalism

a.        He is the transition figure from Medieval to Renaissance

b.        His attempt at perspective is based on observation not mathematical rules

c.        His figures show the first attempt at emotional expression

2.     Masaccio (1401‑1428):  Pioneered perspective and the realistic depiction of human body

a.      The first to apply Brunelleschi’s rules of linear perspective to actual work

b.      Most famous works:  The Trinity, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

C.   Italian painters achieved a great sense of naturalism and realism that had been lost in Medieval Period

1.     Leonardo da Vinci (1452‑1519):  Versatile genius who used scientific studies of proportion and perspective in the achievement of realism; known best for "Last Supper" and "Mona Lisa"

2.     Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475‑1564):  primarily a sculptor but his Sistine chapel frescos of "Creation" and "The Last Judgment" are often regarded as his greatest single masterpiece

3.     Raphael Santi (1483‑1520):  Height of painting in combination of realistic skills and composition; famous for his "Madonnas"

4.     Titian (Tiziano Vicellio) (1477‑1576):  the leading figure of Venetian school which perfected the use of color; noted for his portraits

D.   Northern Renaissance developed oil painting earlier than the Italians; expressed ideas of Renaissance with northern alterations

1.     Flemish school (of late Middle Ages) noted for realism and use of oils (oil paints discovered in Flanders in 14th century

2.     Hubert Van Eyck, Flemish, (1366‑1426) and Jan Van Eyck (1386‑1440):  perfected the use of oil as paint base; noted for realism and detail:  Jan Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait

3.     Albrecht Dürer, German, (1471‑1528):  depicted strange, mythological fantasies and realistic subjects; painted and did wood cut prints

4.     Hans Holbein, the Younger ‑ German (1497‑1543):  noted for portraits showing depth of character; court painter to Henry VIII

E.    Sculpture in the Renaissance was mostly Italian

1.     The realism and attention to detail of Classical sculpture was adopted

2.     Individualism in style and depiction were added

3.     Medieval sculpture had been used only as decoration for architecture usually in bas relief

4.     The Renaissance developed sculpture as separate art form

5.     Leading contributors

a.     Ghiberti (1378‑1455):  Best known for doors of Baptistry in Florence cast in bronze, "The Gates of Paradise"

b.     Donatello (1386‑1466):  Best known for "St. George" in armor and "David", the first free‑standing nude since classical times

c.     Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475‑1564):  greatest of sculptors; noted for "David", "Moses", 3 "Pieta"

F.    Architecture individually used Greco‑Roman elements

1.     Fillipo Brunelleschi (1379‑1446):  designed the dome of the cathedral of Florence, "Il Duomo"

2.     Donato Bramante (1444‑1514):  designed St. Peter's Basilica

3.     Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564):  designed the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

4.     French architects were the best outside Italy; their best example: The Louvre (1515)

G.   Renaissance music developed polyphonic forms in the North and melodic forms in Italy

1.     Palestrina (1526‑1594):  His “Masses” serve as best example of this  combination

2.     Vocal form of the madrigal developed in Italy

3.     Harpsichord and violin family of instruments developed during the Renaissance; strings and woodwinds dominate instrumental music

4.     Music reflected individualism and the new found joy in a secular life; the purpose could be for enjoyment rather than worship

VI.  The Renaissance as the prelude to the Scientific Revolution

A.    The interest of the humanists in the Classical Age rediscovered and translated earlier writings from the Classical Age

B.    Careful translation of Classical documents served as the model for careful experimentation

C.   Renaissance technicians used experimentation and observation to test their conclusions reached by reason

D.   Many individuals combined the pursuit of any knowledge with the spirit of Renaissance, e.g., Leonardo da Vinci

E.    Printing presses of Johann Gutenberg and others were used to spread the new discoveries

VII. The Renaissance and trends in politics

A.    Territorial unification by marriage, conquest, or contract saw the increase in the size of states

B.    Increasing centralization of government continued from late Middle Ages: most powerful states had unified and centralized

C.   Decrease in the power of the nobility continued

D.   Royal encouragement of commerce and industry (can been viewed as patronage) continued to grow

E.    Encouragement of dynastic patriotism, loyalty to nation‑state through monarch, brought growth of centralization and unification

F.    Encouragement of the arts came through royal patronage

1.     Italy:  Medici family in Florence; Popes, e.g., Nicholas V, Julius II; Doges (rulers) of Venice

2.     France:  Charles VIII, Louis XII, Francis I

3.     England:  Henry VIII, Elizabeth I

VIII. The Renaissance and world exploration

A.    Humanism brought the study of ancient geographic writings

B.    The pursuit of money brought an interest in world trade

C.   An interest in the outside world brought exploration

D.   The questioning attitude and experimentation encouraged voyages of adventure

E.    Exploration was part of Renaissance man's effort to find his real place in the surrounding world


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Renaissance period summary

The Renaissance (1500-1660)

Early Tudor Renaissance


After Chaucer: general decline in literature
3 main categories of 15th-century English literature: didactic, moralistic, religious
15th cent.: political and economic transition (1454-1485: Wars of the Roses destroyed nobility; middle class rose steadily; establishment of Tudor monarchy)
Middle Ages: culture was moulded by the Church of Rome
16th century: new literature centred on the Crown;
vast complex of movements: Renaissance (invention of printing; fall of Constantinople in 1453; geographical discoveries, Protestant Reformation)
Important aspects of Humanism: scholarly: recovery of the accurate text of the classics; stylistic: interest in classical rhetoric and literary criticism; vital interest in an improved vernacular language (cf. La Pléaide in France); ethical: concerned with the highest ideals of Greek and Roman thought (Platonic Academy at Florence: Marsilio Ficino 1450-99;)
theocentric view replaced by a homocentric universe


Henry VII (1485-1509): literature: retrospective, skeptical of the future
some measure of political stability: Renaissance could take root

Henry VIII (1509-1547) Renaissance began flowering
Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542)
large collection of short secular poems purporting to record isolated moments of personal emotional experience;


Italian influence:

  • ottava rima (eight-line stanza, rhyming abababcc) cf. Byron: Don Juan; Yeats: Sailing to Byzantium;
  • terza rima (3-line stanzas, rhyming aba bcb cdc ..., introduced by Dante in the Divina Commedia) cf. Shelley: Ode to the West Wind;
  • sonnet Italian sonnet (Petrarch): 14 lines, iambic pentametre, rhyming abba abba cde cde (or dcd dcd, or cde dce); octave (statement) separated from sestet (counterstatement) by a turn/volta.

Wyatt: 14 lines, iambic pentameter, abba abba cddcee, (sestet ends in a couplet: beginning to show the "English" structure)
32 sonnets, 17 of these adaptations of Petrarch
Petrarchism: imitation of the writings of Petrarch (esp. Canzoniere); standard topics of love, incl. a catalogue of lovely features, eg. hair: golden wire, lips: coral, bosom: white as snow, eyes: sparkling diamonds; typical metaphors: eyes as windows of the soul, flowers and jewels as symbols of the lady's beauty, fire as lust, ice as chastity; lady of angelic purity and dazzling beauty; the poet's anguish over unfulfilled desire, admiration of her purity in conflict with the desire to possess her; fondness for image play (conceit), paradox, oxymoron

Wyatt's translations/adaptations of Petrarch: coexistence of imitation and individualism;
poet and lover are virtually the same thing BUT! neither love nor poetry is seen as inspired by a superior being; lover and lady confront each others as equals (poet's service deserves its "reward")
love is not a transcendental thing, but obsessive and embittering (My lute, awake!; They flee from me)

Tottel's Miscellany(1557) 96 poems by Wyatt, 40 poems by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, 40 poems by Nicholas Grimald and 95 by 'Uncertain Authors'

Ah Robin
Gentle Robin
Tell me how thy leman [loved one] doeth
And thou shalt know of mine.

My lady is unkind I wis!                                                            I cannot think such doubleness
Alack why is she so!                                                                  For I find women true,
She loveth another better than me,                                          She hath ta'en my heart and left me well,
And yet she will say no.                                                            She will change for no new.
(Refrain)                                                                                      (Refrain)


Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind                  A pure white doe upon green grass  (Petrarch Una candida cerva)

But as for me, hélas, I may no more.                                   Appeared to me, with two horns of gold

The vain travail hath wearied me sore                Between two streams, in the shade of a laurel,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind                        While the sun was rising, in the bitter season.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind                          Her appearance was sweetly proud,

Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore                       That to follow her I abandoned all work;
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,                              Like the miser who in seeking treasure

Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.                           With delight makes his work less bitter.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,                      ’Let no one touch me’ round abut her beautiful neck

As well as I may spend his time in vain                             was written with diamonds and topazes;
And graven with diamonds in letters plain                       ’It pleased my Ceasar to set me free’

There is written, her fair neck round about:                      And already the sun had turned to midday,

Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,                                        My eyes wearied with gazing, not satiate,

And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.                      When I fell into the water, and she disappeared.


They flee from me that sometime did me seek                              

With naked foot, stalking in my chamber                                          walking carefully in a stealthy way

I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,

That now are wild and do not remember

That sometime they put themself in danger                                        under obligation to me, in my debt (or possibly

To take bread at my hand; and now they range,                               even: in my power)

Busily seeking with a continual change


Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise

Twenty times better; but once in special,

In thin array after a pleasant guise,                                                        pleasing style, or possibly behaviour or dress

When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,

And she me caught in her arms long and small;                slender

Therewithall sweetly did me kiss

And softly said, "dear heart, how like you this?"                       ’heart’ or ’hart’


It was no dream: I lay broad waking.                                                    wide awake

 But all is turned thorough my gentleness                                             through

Into a strange fashion of forsaking;

And I have leave to go of her goodness,                                                    her gracious permission to go (ironically)

And she also, to use newfangleness.                                                      fondness for novelty; fickleness

But since that I so kindly am served                                                   in a kind way (ironically); according to nature (as a

I would fain know what she hath deserved.                                     wild animal would behave)


They fle from me that sometyme did me seke
With naked fote stalking in my chambre.
I have sene theim gentill tame and meke
That nowe are wyld and do not remembre
That sometyme they put theimself in daunger
To take bred at my hand; and nowe they raunge
Besely seking with a continuell chaunge.

Thancked be fortune, it hath ben othrewise
Twenty tymes better; but ons in speciall
In thyn arraye after a pleasaunt gyse
When her lose gowne from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her armes long and small;
Therewithall swetely did me kysse,
And softely saide 'dere hert, howe like you this?'

It was no dreme: I lay brode waking.
But all is torned thorough my gentilnes
Into a straunge fasshion of forsaking;
And I have leve to goo of her goodenes,
And she also to vse new fangilnes.
But syns that I so kyndely ame serued,
I would fain knowe what she hath deserued.

      Title in Tottel’s Miscellany: "The louer sheweth how he is forsaken of such as he sometime enioyed"


V. Innocentia                                                           1. The Latin title adapts Psalm 16.9: "My enemies
Veritas Viat Fides                                                          surround my soul." Wyatt's name ("Viat") in the
title is surrounded by Innocence, Truth, and Faith.
me inimici mei


Who list his wealth and ease retain
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.2                                       2. "It thunders through the realms," Seneca, Phaedra, 1.1140.
The first two stanzas paraphrase lines from that play.
The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.

These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.


Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517?-1547)
Metrical innovations: poulter's measure: heterometric rhymed couplet consisting of one line of 12 syllables followed by one of 14. ("What sweet relief the showers to thirsty plants we see / What dear delight the blooms to bees, my true love is to me"); early dramas used this metre (its unsophistication ridiculed by Shakespeare in Midsummer’s Night’s Dream

blank verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter (translated Book II and IV of "Aeneid",

sonnets (16 credited to him)
Surrey's sonnets: abab cdcd efef gg  4 quatrains and a closing couplet: epigrammatic conclusion (English sonnet)
traditional Petrarchan theme of love (Alas! so all things now), autobiographical pieces (So cruel prison)
extreme elegance of auditory and syntactical pattern

Alas! so all things now do hold their peace,
Heaven and earth disturbed in nothing.
The beasts, the air, the birds their song do cease,
The night{:e}s chare the stars about doth bring.                                              chariot
Calm is the sea, the waves work less and less:
So am not I, whom love, alas, doth wring,
Bringing before my face the great increase
Of my desires, whereat I weep and sing
In joy and woe, as in a doubtful ease.
For my sweet thoughts sometime do pleasure bring,
But by and by the cause of my disease                                                 dis-ease, discomfort
Gives me a pang that inwardly doth sting,
When that I think what grief it is again
To live and lack the thing should rid my pain.


Tottel's title: "A complaint by night of the louer not beloued." An adaptation of Petrarch's 145th (113th) sonnet.


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Renaissance period summary

Chapter I  The Renaissance Period (the 14th and mid-17th centuries)

   A. Introduction:

   The significance and influence of the Renaissance

   As a historical period between the 14th and mid-17th centuries, the Renaissance, stimulated by the rediscovery of ancient Roman and Greek classics, geographical and astrological discoveries and the religious reformation, characterizes itself a movement of thinking. In the period, humanists intended to put an end to feudalist ideas of the Middle ages, to introduce new ideas of the rising bourgeoisie, and to recover the purity of the Christian Church.

The Renaissance, which means rebirth or revival, is actually a movement stimulated by a series of historical events, such as the discovery of ancient Roman and Greek culture, the new discoveries in geography and astrology, the religious reformation and the economic expansion. The Renaissance, therefore, in essence, is a historical period in which the European humanist thinkers and scholars made attempts to get rid of those old feudalist ideas in medieval Europe, to introduce new ideas that expressed the interests of the rising bourgeoisie, and to recover the purity of the early church from the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church.

B. Typical characteristic of literary works in the Renaissance England

  1. New poetical forms introduced, e.g. blank verse and sonnet, enriched the native stock of English literature, and conventional ones were adopted to fit new subjects as shown in the use of the pastoral convention in Spenser’s “The Shepheardes Calender”. Both of the two tendencies well served the goals of humanistic goals: skillful handling of conventions, force of language, and the dominating plan to get all the devices combined to frame the emotional theme and throw it into high relief.
  2. Based itself on the models of Roman and Greek classics, and the precedents from Italy and Spain, the English drama evolved from the interludes and morality plays and developed into a sophiscated art form. With the most well-known playwrights, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, who wrote plays with such universal qualities of greatness, this extraordinary drama left a monument of the Renaissance in the history of English literature.
  3. The universal tend of humanism in emphasizing man’s dignity and his worldly happiness was reflected in the works produced in the period. Wyatt and Surrey, imitating Petrarch sang songs of love, Marlowe depicted the Renaissance man and expressed his desire for knowledge and power. Donne wrote about the physical love of human beings. And, Shakespeare most powerfully drew a picture of the age in its colourful variety. Thus, the concern for man’s living in this world presented itself in almost any of the literary texts in Renaissance England.

   The English Renaissance was perhaps England’s Golden Age, especially in literature. Among the literary giants were Shakespeare, Spenser, Jonson, Sidney, Marlowe, Bacon and Donne.

   Humanism & Reformation

   Sonnet, blank verse, iambic pentameter, terza rima  and sestina

   Spenser----- The Shepherdes Calender

   Marlow----- The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

The Elizabethan drama is the real mainstream of the English Renaissance. The famous dramatists in the Renaissance England are Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson.

   Francis Bacon, the first important English essayist.

Edmund Spenser ( known as “the poets’ poet.”)----- the Faerie Queene


The Shepheardes Calender

Spenser’s masterpiece is The Faerie Queene, a great poem of its age. He intended to write it as a “historical poem” to present the example of a perfect gentleman. This epic poem, according to Spenser’s own explanation, would contain 12 books, with 12 knights as the examples of 12 virtues, undertaking each an adventure, on the 12 successive days of the annual festival of Queen Gloriana (i.e. Queen Elizabeth I). But of the 12 books, only 6 books and 2 cantoes of the seventh book were completed upon the death of the poet. According to the original scheme of this poem, King Arther, symbolizing the perfection of all moral virtues, has a vision of Gloriana, the Queen of the land of the faeries. Determined to seek her, he is brought into the adventures of the several knights and helps them to a successful issue.

In the poem, the humanist tradition of the Renaissance may be traced in the adventurous spirit characteristic of the age, in the joy of the present life, in the love of nature and natural beauty, and in the eulogy of the power and capabilities of man. Written with great artistic skill, the metrical pattern and the musical qualities that have exerted great influence upon a number of English poets in later centuries, including the great romantic poets of the 19th century Byron, Shelley and Keats.

The five main qualities of Spenser’s poetry are 1) a perfect melody; 2) a rare sense of beauty; 3) a splendid imagination; 4) a lofty moral purity and seriousness; and 5) a dedicated idealism. In addition to the above, Spenser uses strange forms of speech and obsolete words in order to increase the rustic effect. It is Spenser’s idealism, his love of beauty, and his exquisite melody that make him known as “the poets’ poet.”

The excerpt is taken from Canto I, Book I, in which Redcross Knight sets out on his adventures. Here the knight, symbolizing the Anglican Church, is the protector of the Virgin Una who stands for the truth or the true religion. The poem reflects the idea of reformation.

Some tips to better understand and appreciate the poem:

  1. to make clear the rhyming scheme of the poem

( note: the poem is written in the stanza invented by the poet himself, the Spenserian stanza, i.e., a stanza of nine lines, with the eight lines in iambic pentameter and last line in iambic hexameter, rhyming ababbcbcbcc.)

  1. to find out the obsolete words and replace them with the modern ones if necessary
  2. to divide each stanza into sentences and analyze the sentences (pay special attention to the inverted lines if any)

the main qualities of Spenser’s poetry:

a. a perfect melody; b. a rare sense of beauty; c. a splendid imagination; d. a lofty moral purity and seriousness; and e. a dedicated idealism


Selected Reading:

An Except for The Faerie Queene

   The except is taken from Canto I, Book I, in which Redcrosse Knight sets out on his adventures. Here the Knight, symbolizing the Anglican Church, is the protector of the Virgin Una who stands for the truth or the true religion.


Christopher Marlowe

The works by C. Marlowe: (plays) Tamburlaine; Dr. Faustus; The Jew of Malta

(non-dramatic poetry) Hero and leander, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

Marlowe’s greatest achievement lies in that he perfected the blank verse and made it the principal medium of English drama.

Marlowe’s second achievement is his creation of the Renaissance hero for English drama. Such a hero is always individualistic and full of ambition, facing bravely the chanlenge from both gods and men. He embodies Marlowe’s humanistic ideal of human dignity and capacity. With endless aspiration for power, knowledge, and glory, the hero interprets the true Renaissance spirit. Both Tamburlaine and Faustus are typical in possessing such a spirit. They seek power and knowledge respectively

Though Marlowe is masterful in handling blank verse and creating dramatic effects, he is not so strong in dramatic construction and compared with Shakespeare, his women characters are rather pale. But his brilliant achievement as a whole raised him to an eminence as the pioneer of English drama


Selected Readings:

1. An Excerpt from Dr. Faustus

Marlowe’s masterpiece, and the story of the play

   “Dr. Faustus” is a tragedy based on a German legend of a magician.

   The hero of the play, Dr. Faustus, a brilliant scholar is bored of the study of medieval theology and turns to magic. By incantations at night, he calls Mephistophilis, the Devil’s servant. Faustus signs a bond with his own blood to sell his sold to the Devil so that he can get the services of Mephistophilis who will give him everything he desires. After the contract with the Devil, Fgaustus gives a full display of his magic and sees the Pope, Alexander the Great and even the beautiful Helen of Greece. Yet he has to bear a mental conflict at the same time. in the final scene, the anguish of the hero’s mind is poignantly expressed.

   His tragedy is symbolic of a humanist in the Renaissance.

2. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

   This short poem is considered to be one of the most beautiful lyrics in English literature. It derives from the pastoral tradition, in which the shepherd enjoys an ideal country life, cherishing a pastoral and pure affection for his love. Strong emotion is conveyed through the beauty of nature where lovers are not disturbed by worldly concern.


William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Introduction: William Shakespeare is one of the most remarkable playwrights and poets the world had ever known. With his 38 plays, 154 sonnets and 2 long poems, he has established his giant position in world literature. He has also been given the highest praises by various scholars and critics the world over. In the past four hundred years or so, books and essays on Shakespeare and his works have kept coming out in large quantities.

William Shakespeare, as a humanist, kept the principle that a powerful and just soverign should exist as a necessity when he wrote his history plays. He was against feudal tyranny, disunity and internal struggle for power which caused civil wars. So, to uphold social order, a good king was needed for the good of the people.

He satirized and criticized religious persecution, racial discrimination, the insatiable lust for money and the bourgeois egoism, while eulogizing youth, the power of human life and worldly happiness. If his comedies can be said to be a song of the earthly love of human beings, his tragedies must be one of their dignity, nobility and goodness. In tragedies, there can also be found the profound analysis of social evils and their causes. Even in his tragic-comedies written he became old, there can found his unbending will for a brave new world.

In writing, he kept to the principle “to hold, as it were, the mirror up to nature” that is, to reflect human nature and social reality. This must be his dominating humanist view on the ‘end’ of dramatic creation. With the emphasis on the combination of beauty, kindness and truth, the view can be regarded as a systematic theory of the dramatist, showing a great humanist centering round man and his concerns.

In a word, with his humanistic ideas, William Shakespeare remains the greatest playwright in the Renaissance England, and in the whole history of English literature as well.

2 narrative poems: Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece

His dramatic career is divided into four periods:

The first period: (apprenticeship)

History plays: Henry VI, Richard III, Titus Andronicus;

Four comedies: The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, and Lover’s Labour’s Lost

The second period: (highly individualized)

Five histories: Richard II, King John, Henry IV, and Henry V.

Six comedies: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and The Merry Wives of Windsor;

Two Tragedies: Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar

The third period: (greatest tragedies)

Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, (the four great tragedies) Antony and Cleopatra, Troilus and Cressida

Two comedies: All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure

The Last period: The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest


Shakespeare’s history plays are mainly written under the principle that national unity under a mighty and just sovereign is a necessity.

In his romantic comedies, Shakespeare takes an optimistic attitude toward love and youth, and the romantic elements are brought into full play. The most important play among the comedies is The Merchant of Venice, in which Shakespeare has created tension, ambiguity, a self-conscious and self-delighting artifice that is at once intellectually exciting and emotionally engaging.

The traditional theme of the play is to praise the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio, to idealize Portia as a heroine of great beauty, wit and loyalty, and to expose the insatiable greed and brutality of the Jew. But after centuries’ abusing of the Jews, especially the holocaust committed by the Nazi Germany during the second World War, it is very difficult to see Shylock as a conventional evil figure.

The successful romantic tragedy is Romeo and Juliet, which eulogizes the faithfulness of love and the spirit of pursuing happiness. The play, though a tragedy, is permeated with optimistic spirit.

Shakespeare, as a humanist of the time, was shocked by the feudal tyranny and disunity and internal struggle for power at the court which led to civil wars.

Lastly, to understand Shakespeare, it is necessary to study the subtlest of his instrument---the language.


Selected Readings:

1. Sonnet 18

(Sonnet 18 is one of the most beautiful sonnets written by Shakespeare, in which he has a profound meditation on the destructive power of time and the eternal beauty brought forth by poetry to the one he loves. A nice summer’s day is usually transient, but the beauty in poetry can last for ever. Thus Shakespeare has a faith in the permanence of poetry.)


   So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this (poem), and this (poem) gives life to thee.

2. An Excerpt from The Merchant of Venice

   The traditional theme of the play is to praise the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio, to idealize Portia as a heroine of great beauty, wit and loyalty, and to expose the insatiable greed and brutality of the Jew. But after centuries’ abusing of the Jews, especially the holocaust committed by the Nazi Germany during the Second World War, it is very difficult to see Shylock as a conventional evil figure. And many people today tend to regard the play as a satire of the Christian’s hypocrisy and their false standards of friendship and love, their cunning ways of pursuing worldliness and their unreasoning prejudice against Jews. Compared with the idealism of other plays, The Merchant of Venice takes a step forward in its realistic presentation of human nature and human conflict. Though there is a ridiculous touch on the part of the characters restrained by their limitations, Shakespeare’s youthful Renaissance spirit of jollity can be fully seen in contrast to the medieval emphasis on future life in the next world.

3. An Excerpt from Hamlet

   Hamlet is generally regarded as Shakespeare’ s most popular play on the stage, for it has the qualities of a “blood-and-thunder” thriller and a philosophical exploration of life and death. The play is based on a widespread legend in northern Europe. Shakespeare takes the bare outlines of Revenge Tragedy, but what he adds is infinitely more interesting than what he adopts. And the timeless appeal of this mighty drama lies in its combination of intrigue, emotional conflict and searching philosophic melancholy.

   The play opens with Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, appearing in a mind of world-weariness occasioned by his father’s recent death and by his mother’s hasty remarriage with Claudius, his father’s brother, while encountering his father’s ghost, Hamlet is informed that Claudius has murdered his father and then taken over both his father’s throne and widow. Thus, Hamlet is urged by the ghost to seek revenge for his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder.” But Hamlet has none of the single-minded blood lust of the earlier revengers. It is not because he is incapable of action, but because the cast of his mind is so speculative, so questioning, and so contemplative that action, when it finally comes, seems almost like defeat, diminishing rather than adding to the statue of the hero. Trapped in a nightmare world of spying, testing and plotting, and apparently bearing the intolerable burden of the duty to revenge his father’s death, Hamlet is obliged to inhabit a shadow world, to live suspended between fact and fiction, language and action. His life is one the constant role-playing, examining the nature of action only to deny its possibility, for he is too sophisticated to degrade his nature to the conventional role of a stage revenger. For such a figure, soliloquy is a natural medium, a necessary release of his anguish; and some of his questioning monologues possess surpassing power and insight, which have survived centuries of being torn from their context. But our interest is not only in Hamlet the tragic hero, for this play is also Shakespeare’s most detailed expose of a corrupted court---“an unweeded garden” in which there is nothing but “a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.” By revealing the power-seeking, the jostling for place, the hidden motives, the courteous superficialities that veil lust and guilt, Shakespeare condemns the hypocrisy and treachery and general corruption at the royal court.


Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon, a representative of the Renaissance in England, is a well-known philosopher, scientist and essayist. He lays the foundation for modern science with his insistence on scientific way of thinking and fresh observation rather than authority as a basis for obtaining knowledge. His Essays is the first example of that genre in English literature, which has been recognized as an important landmark in the development of English prose. And some phrases  have even entered the English literary tradition.

Bacon’s essays are famous for their brevity, compactness and powerfulness. Yet there is an obvious stylistic change in the Essays. The sentences in the first edition are charged and crowded with symmetries. They are composed in a rather affected way. However, the final edition not only enlarges the range of theme, but also brings forth the looser and more persuasive style. The essays are well-arranged and enriched by Biblical allusions, metaphors and cadence.

Selected Reading: Of Studies

  Of studies is the most popular of Bacon’s 58 essays. It analyzes what studies chiefly serve for, the different ways adopted by different people to pursue studies, and how studies exert influence over human character. Forceful and persuasive, compact and precise, Of studies reveals to us Bacon’s mature attitude towards learning.


   Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.

   Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.


Join Donne

   The term “metaphysical poetry” is commonly used to name the work of the 17th-century writers who wrote under the influence of John Donne. With a rebellious spirit, the metaphysical poets tried to break away from the conventional fashion of the Elizabethan love poetry. The diction is simple as compared with that of the Elizabethan or the Neoclassic periods, and echoes the words and cadences of common speech. The imagery is drawn from the actual life. The form is frequently that of an argument with the poet’s beloved, with God, or with himself.

   In his poetry, Donne frequently applies conceits, i.e. extended metaphors involving dramatic contrasts. His conceits may be divided into two kinds: easy ones and difficult ones. Easy conceits are not a novelty, but the difficult ones with new resources such as law, psychology and philosophy which endow his poetry with learning and wit, and which provide certain intellectual difficulties. By combining the easy conceits with the difficult ones, Donne achieves surprisingly good effects in his poetry.

   Donne’s poetry involves a certain kind of argument, sometimes in rigid syllogistic form. He seems to be speaking to an imagined hearer, raising the topic and trying to persuade, convince or upbraid him. With the brief, simple language, the argument is continuous throughout the poem. It begins with a certain idea but ends in quite a contrary one. It is not only playful but paradoxical; it is not only wetty, but implies different kinds of feelings, which can only be interpreted through the rhythms and inflections of the verse.


Selected Readings:

  1. The Sun Rising

Pay attention to the form and the easy and difficult conceits.

  1. Death, Be Not Pround (I)


John Milton

   John Milton is a versatile writer. He wrote sonnets, elegies, long narrative poems, short lyrics, and prose works. As a master poet and a great prose writer, Milton holds an important place in the history of English literature. He once had an ambition to write an epic which England would “not willingly let die;”.

   Milton became totally blind in 1652.

   His literary achievements can be divided into three groups: the early poetic works, the middle prose pamphlets and the last great poems.

   After the Restoration in 1660, when he was blind and suffering, and when he was poor and lonely, Milton wrote his three major poetical works: Paradise Lost (1667), Paradise Regained (1671), and Samson Agonistes (1671). Among the three, the first is the greatest, indeed the only generally acknowledged epic in English literature since Beowulf; and the last one is the most perfect example of the verse drama after the Greek style in English.

   Paradise Lost is a long epic divided into 12 books. The original story is taken from Genesis 3: 1-24 of the Bible. The theme is the “Fall of Man,” i.e. man’s disobedience and the lost of Paradise, with its prime cause---Satan. In Heaven, Satan led a rebellion against God. Defeated, he and his rebel angels were cast into Hell. However, Satan refused to accept his failure, vowing that “all was not lost” and that he would seek revenge for his downfall. The poem goes on to tell how Satan took revenge by tempting Adam and Eve, the first human beings created by God, to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge against God’s instructions. For their disobedience, Adam and Eve were driven out of Paradise. They were sorry for what they had done and prayed to God. In the last book they were given the hope for redemption. The poem ended with Adam and Eve walking away from Paradise, hand in hand, and gates of Eden were close behind them.

     Paradise Lost, the only generally acknowledged epic in English since Beowulf, is Milton’s highest achievement. The poem narrates the process of the “Fall of Man” and traces its cause back to Satan. In the writing , Milton successfully introduces blank verse into and makes it an admirable tool for non-dramatic verse.

Paradise regained, a long narrative poem, tells how man, in the person of Christ, withstands the tempter and is established once more in the divine favor.

In Samson Agonistes, a verse drama modeled on the Greek tragedy, Milton presents to us a picture of how Samson, the Israel’s mighty champion, brings destruction down upon the enemy at the cost of his own life.


Selected reading:

  An excerpt from Paradise Lost

  Paradise Lost is Milton’s masterpiece. The story is taken from the Old Testament: Satan and other rebel against God, but they are defeated and driven from Heaven into Hell. Even amidst the furnace of Hell, Satan is determined to fight back. He assumes the shape of a snake and comes to the Garden of Eden, a paradise where Adam and Eve live. God, after knowing Satan’s plot, sends the Archangel Raphael to warn Adam and Eve of Satan. However, Satan still succeeds in seducing Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, which has been totally forbidden by God, thus causing the Fall of Man. As a result, Adam and Eve are exiled by God from the paradise and thereafter live a life full of hardship. The following excerpt is taken from Book I.

   Satan, in the image of a reble, still determines to fight back against God when he and his followers are cast into the Hell. The features of the character include his boldness, unbending ambition and his “unconquerable will.”

   The poem, as in other writings by Milton, is full of biblical and classical allusions, and is in Latinized style with one sentence running perhaps across several lines. But the majesty of expression suits well the sublimity of the poet’s thought.

   The conversation in Hell between Satan and Beelzebub, a prince of devils and enemy of Jehovah:


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Renaissance period summary




Period of European history—considered by modern scholars as that between 1300 and 1600—in which the fragmented feudal society of the Middle Ages, with its agricultural economy and church-dominated intellectual and cultural life, was transformed into a society increasingly dominated by central political institutions, with an urban, commercial economy and lay patronage of education, the arts, and music.

The term renaissance, meaning literally "rebirth," was first employed in 1855 by the French historian Jules Michelet (1798–1874) to refer to the "discovery of the world and of man" in the 16th century. The great Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt, in his classic The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), expanded on Michelet’s conception. Defining the Renaissance as the period between Giotto and Michelangelo, Burckhardt characterized the epoch as nothing less than the birth of modern humanity and consciousness after a long period of decay.

Modern scholars have exploded the myth that the Middle Ages were dark and dormant. The thousand years preceding the Renaissance were filled with achievements. Because of the scriptoria (writing rooms) of medieval monasteries, Latin writers, such as Vergil, Ovid, Cicero, and Seneca, were preserved. The legal system of modern continental Europe had its origin in the development of civil and canon law in the 12th and 13th centuries. Renaissance humanists continued the medieval tradition of grammatical and rhetorical studies. The traditions of Scholastic theology were continued in the Renaissance, as were the theological schools of Thomism, Scotism, and Ockhamism. Medieval Platonism and Aristotelianism were crucial to Renaissance philosophical thought. The advances of mathematical disciplines, including astronomy, were indebted to medieval precedents. The schools of Salerno, Italy, and Montpellier, France, were noted centers of medical studies in the Middle Ages.

The Italian Renaissance was above all an urban phenomenon, a product of cities that flourished in central and northern Italy, such as Florence, Ferrara, Milan, and Venice. It was the wealth of these cities that financed Renaissance cultural achievements. The cities themselves, however, were not creations of the Renaissance, but of the period of great economic expansion and population growth during the 12th and 13th centuries. Medieval Italian merchants developed commercial and financial techniques, such as bookkeeping and bills of exchange. The creation of the public debt, a concept unknown in antiquity, allowed these cities to finance their territorial expansion through military conquest. Their merchants controlled commerce and finance from London to Constantinople. This fluid mercantile society contrasted sharply with the rural, tradition-bound society of medieval Europe; it was less hierarchical and more concerned with secular objectives.

Breaks with tradition

The Middle Ages did not, of course, end abruptly. It could be a fallacy, however, to regard history as perpetual continuity and the Renaissance as a mere continuation of the Middle Ages. One of the most significant breaks with tradition came in the field of history. The Historiarum Florentini populi libri XII (Twelve Books of Florentine Histories, 1420) of Leonardo Bruni (1370–1444), the Istorie fiorentine (Florentine History, 1525) of Nicolò Machiavelli, the Storia d’Italia (History of Italy, 1561–64) of Francesco Guicciardini, and the Methods ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (Easy Introduction to the Study of History, 1566) of Jean Bodin (1530–96) were shaped by a secular view of time and a critical attitude toward sources. History became a branch of literature rather than theology. Renaissance historians rejected the medieval tripartite division of history that began with the creation, followed by the incarnation and the anticipated last judgment. The Renaissance vision of history was also tripartite: It began with antiquity, followed by the Middle Ages and then the golden age of rebirth that had just begun. Whereas medieval scholars looked askance at the pagan Greek and Roman world, believing that they were living in the final age before the last judgment, their Renaissance counterparts adored the ancients, condemned the Middle Ages as ignorant and barbaric, and proclaimed their own age one of light and the rebirth of the classical heritage; this view was expressed by many humanists.

Another cultural break with tradition may be summed up in the word humanism. According to the American scholar Paul Oscar Kristeller (1905–    ), this frequently misinterpreted term meant the general tendency of the Renaissance "to attach the greatest importance to classical studies and to consider classical antiquity as the common standard and model by which to guide all cultural activity." Classical texts were studied and valued on their own terms, no longer serving merely to embellish and justify Christian civilization. The intense interest in antiquity expressed itself in a feverish and successful search for classical manuscripts: Plato’s dialogues, the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, and the works of the Greek dramatists, poets, and church fathers were rediscovered and critically edited for the first time. Because of emigrant Byzantine scholars, who, after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, taught in Florence, Ferrara, and Milan, the study of Greek flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries. Although the study of ancient literature, history, and moral philosophy sometimes degenerated into a slavish imitation of the classics, it was meant to produce free and civilized human beings, people of taste and judgment, citIzens rather than priests and monks.

The perfection of the body by physical training, an ideal rarely acknowledged in the Middle Ages, became a prominent goal of Renaissance education. Humanistic studies, along with the great artistic endeavors of the age, were given encouragement and financial support by the Medici of Florence, the Este of Ferrara, the Sforza of Milan, the dukes of Urbino, the Gonzaga of Mantua, the doges of Venice, and papal Rome.

The arts

The recovery and study of the classics entailed the creation of new disciplines—classical philology and archaeology, numismatics, and epigraphy—and critically affected the development of older ones. In art, the decisive break with medieval tradition occurred in Florence about 1420 with the invention of linear perspective, which made it possible to represent three-dimensional space on a flat surface. The works of the architect Filippo Brunelleschi and the painter Masaccio are dazzling examples of the uses of this technique.

Another spectacular innovation was the sculptor Donatello’s bronze David, the first life-size nude since antiquity. From the mid-15th century on, classical form was rejoined with classical subject matter, and mythological motifs derived from literary sources adorned palaces, walls, furniture, and plates. The ancient practice of striking medals to commemorate eminent figures such as the Florentine statesman Cosimo de’ Medici was reintroduced by Pisanello. Portraits of notable figures, emphasizing individual characteristics, were painted by Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna, and Sandro Botticelli. The Renaissance ideals of harmony and proportion culminated in the works of Raphael and Michelangelo in the 16th century.

Science and technology

In medicine and anatomy, progress was made, especially after the first translation of many works of Hippocrates and Galen in the 15th and 16th centuries. Some of the most advanced Greek treatises on mathematics were translated in the 16th century, and advances made beyond the ancients included the solution of cubic equations and the innovative astronomy of Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Johannes Kepler. By the end of the 16th century, Galileo Galilei had taken the crucial step of applying mathematical models to the subject matter of physics. Geography was transformed by new empirical knowledge derived from explorations beyond Europe and from the first translations of Ptolemy and Strabo.

In the field of technology, the invention of printing in the 15th century began to revolutionize the dissemination of knowledge. Printing increased the quantity of books, helped eliminate errors, furnished scholars identical texts with which to work, and turned intellectual endeavor into a collaborative rather than a solitary activity. The use of gunpowder transformed warfare between 1450 and 1550. Artillery proved devastatingly effective against the stone walls of castles and towns. The medieval army, led by cavalry and supported by bowmen, was gradually replaced by one made up of foot soldiers carrying portable firearms and masses of troops with pikes; such armies were the first standing armies of Europe.


In law the tendency was to challenge the abstract dialectical method of the medieval jurists with a philological and historical interpretation of the sources of Roman law. As for political thought, the medieval proposition that the preservation of liberty, law, and justice constitutes the central aim of political life was challenged but not overthrown by Renaissance theorists. They contended that the central task of government was to maintain security and peace. Machiavelli maintained that the creative force (virtù) of the ruler was the key to the preservation of both his own position and the well-being of his subjects—an idea consonant with contemporary politics.

Italian city-states were transformed during the Renaissance from communes to territorial states, each of which sought to expand at the expense of the others. Territorial unification also took place in Spain, France, and England. The process was aided by modern diplomacy, which took its place beside the new warfare when the Italian city-states established resident embassies at foreign courts. By the 16th century, the institution of permanent embassies spread northward to France, England, and the Holy Roman Empire


Renaissance churchmen, particularly in the higher echelons, patterned their behavior after the mores and ethics of lay society. The activities of popes, cardinals, abishops were scarcely distinguishable from those of secular merchants and political figures. At the same time, Christianity remained a vital and essential element of Renaissance culture. Preachers, such as San Bernardino of Siena (1380–1444), and theologians and prelates, such as Sant’Antonino of Florence (1389–1459), attracted large audiences and were revered. Moreover, many humanists were concerned with theological questions and applied the new philological and historical scholarship to the study and interpretation of the early church fathers. The humanist approach to theology and scripture may be traced from Petrarch to Erasmus; it made a powerful impact on Roman Catholics and Protestants.


The investment of disposable income in culture and luxury goods, Marxist historians contend, diverted capital from productive industrial and agricultural investments, thus resulting in a refeudalization of Italy in the 16th century and delaying the country’s development into a modern industrial state. Some medievalists contend that the inflated eloquence and vapid neoclassicism of much humanist writing undermine the claim that the Renaissance was a turning point in Western civilization. Although these contentions are valid to some degree, the Renaissance clearly was a time in which long-standing beliefs were tested; it was a period of intellectual ferment, preparing the ground for the thinkers and scientists of the 17th century, who were far more original than the Renaissance humanists. The Renaissance idea that humankind rules nature is akin to Sir Francis Bacon’s concept of human dominance over nature’s elements, which initiated the development of modern science and technology. Medieval notions of republicanism and liberty, preserved and defended with classical precedents by Renaissance thinkers, had an indelible impact on the course of English constitutional theory and may have been a source for the conception of government espoused by the Founding Fathers of American constitutionalism. Above all, however, the Renaissance has bequeathed monuments of beauty that stand as perennial definitions of Western culture.





ENGLISH REVOLUTION, also called the Puritan Revolution, general designation for the

period in English history from 1640 to 1660. It began with the calling of the Long Parliament by King Charles I and proceeded through two civil wars, the trial and execution of the king, the republican experiments of Oliver Cromwell, and, ultimately, the restoration of King Charles II.

Opposition to the King


The causes of the conflict can be traced to social, economic, constitutional, and religious developments over a century or more. Closer at hand were questions of sovereignty in the English state and Puritanism in the church. The immediate cause, however, was Charles’s attempt (1637) to impose the Anglican liturgy in Scotland. The Presbyterian Scots rioted; then they signed the National Covenant and raised an army to defend their church. In 1640 their army occupied the northern counties of England.

The Long Parliament, summoned by Charles to raise money in support of his war against the Scots, met on Nov. 3, 1640, and demanded reforms as the price for aid. It arrested and ultimately executed for treason the king’s chief advisers, Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, and William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury. It also put limits on the king’s prerogatives. The members split over the Root and Branch Bill to abolish bishops in the Anglican church, over raising an army to quell an Irish rebellion, and over the Grand Remonstrance, by which Parliament would control the choice of the king’s ministers. The political quarrel became an armed conflict in 1642. Most of the Lords and some members of the House of Commons sided with the king (thus making it technically incorrect to call it a war between king and Parliament).

Civil War

In August 1642 Charles gathered his army at Nottingham. The first battle, fought at Edgehill on October 23, was indecisive. In general, the king controlled the northwest, and Parliament controlled the southeast—including London. The king’s followers were called Cavaliers; those of Parliament were called Roundheads.

In 1643 Parliament secured the support of the Scottish army by promising that the recently convened Westminster Assembly would make the Anglican church conform to the Presbyterian church of Scotland. Meanwhile, Cromwell, an outspoken member of Parliament and a military genius, was perfecting his regiment of cavalry, which soon earned the name Ironsides. Parliament won the crucial Battle of Marston Moor on July 2, 1644. The following year, the Scots suffered a setback when James Graham, marquis of Montrose, rallied the Highland clans on behalf of King Charles. Cromwell, now second in command of Parliament’s New Model Army, destroyed the king’s army at the Battle of Naseby (June 14, 1645). In September the king’s Highland partisans were overcome by the Scottish army and Montrose fled to the Continent. The first civil war ended in May 1646 when Charles surrendered to the Scots who, in June 1647, turned him over to Parliament.

The king rejected Parliament’s conditions for his return to power; his intransigence aggravated the divisions among the victors. The Scottish forces soon departed. The army, more independent in religion and radical in politics than the Presbyterians who dominated Parliament, seized the king. During the ensuing political debate, Charles escaped. He made an alliance with the Scots, who pledged to restore him to the throne if he promised to make Presbyterianism the official religion of both kingdoms. The second civil war took place in 1648, with the army and Parliament fighting against Scotland and the king. A Scottish army invaded England, but was defeated by Cromwell in a battle at Preston, Aug. 17-19, 1648. Other Royalist opposition was soon suppressed.

The Commonwealth


The army, now firmly in control, proceeded to purge Parliament of its Presbyterian members. The remaining Rump, as it was called, created a commission to try the king for treason. Found guilty, Charles was executed on Jan. 30, 1649. The Rump Parliament then abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords, and declared England a Commonwealth. The king’s death deeply affected the people and made the creation of a stable government more difficult.

The first task was to put down the rebellion in Ireland, begun in 1641. This Cromwell and his army did with grim efficiency, killing all who resisted at Drogheda and Wexford. The Scots, meanwhile, had denounced the king’s execution and named his son, Charles II, as his successor. Cromwell subdued the Scots in two battles, at Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651). Both Ireland and Scotland then became parts of the Commonwealth.

The need for a permanent, settled government remained, and the power resided in Cromwell and the army. In 1653 Cromwell lost patience and dismissed the Rump Parliament. A nominated Parliament, often called Barebone’s Parliament , only lasted a few months. In December 1653 Cromwell accepted the Instrument of Government, a written constitution, which created a protectorate consisting of himself as Lord Protector (the chief executive) and a one-house Parliament. Only the will of Cromwell and the force of the New Model Army held things together over the next years.

Cromwell died on Sept. 3, 1658, and was briefly succeeded by his son Richard. The drift toward anarchy was halted by Gen. George Monck, commander of the army in Scotland. He marched into London with his troops and recalled the Long Parliament, which then restored (May, 1660) Charles II to the throne.



The English Revolution was the first of the so-called great revolutions. It began as a protest against an oppressive and uncompromising government. A moderate constitutional phase was followed by the use of military force, then the violent overthrow of the government, experiments with new institutions, the rule of a virtual dictator, and, finally, a restoration that embodied some new practices within the older tradition. The revolution was important because it generated new political and religious ideas and because it extended the English tradition that the government’s power should be limite



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