British Renaissance: A Historical Overview

The Renaissance encompassed the entire period during which Europe transitioned from a mediaeval to a modern civilization. The Renaissance reflected the fructification of the human mind as a result of contact with Greece and Rome’s classical culture. It was the’revival of learning,’ and particularly the study of Greek, that first loosened the middle ages’ rigid conventions. Each of the transitional events, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the development of printing, has been identified as the pivotal event.


The Renaissance is a French term that translates as “rebirth,” “revival,” “floridation,” or “re-awakening.” The Renaissance was both a resurgence of classical mythology, literature, and culture and a reawakening of the human mind following the Middle Ages’ long slumber. M.H. Abrams describes it as ‘the creation of the modern world from the ashes of the dark ages’. When the Turks captured Constantinople, the Greek scholars fled for their lives. The majority of them relocated to Italy and began their studies anew. This phenomenon is referred to as ‘New Learning or Renaissance’. The movement spread throughout Europe. England was likewise impacted by the Renaissance. The Renaissance movement widened people’s perspectives. It impacted the works of ‘University Wits,’ Shakespeare, and Ben Johnson, and reached a zenith in Spenser and Sidney’s works. Francis Bacon infused his works with Renaissance culture. Utopia, by Thomas More, paints a vivid image of the renaissance.

The Renaissance was a period marked by extraordinary achievements in the arts, architecture, music, literature, philosophy, science, and technology. It was a period of transition in both economics and the fundamental structure of European society. The Renaissance had an effect on the Christian Church as well. The Renaissance emphasised humanist principles. It elevated classic literature and art to the status of primary pillars of contemporary literature and art. It inaugurated a new cult of beauty, a new cult of knowledge, and a new era of statesmanship. The Renaissance is characterised by the following characteristics: a thirst for knowledge, a desire for unlimited wealth and power, a spirit of adventure, a passion for classical learning, a passion for beauty and sensuality, a passion for travel, exploration, and regional conquests, the use of figures of speech, the spirit of inquiry and individualism, the spirit of adventure and discovery, and humanism.

The Renaissance’s influence on England arrived much later – around the end of the 15th century. Henry VII was a capable king and a strong monarch who restored political and social order and restrained nobles’ rights. Caxton’s press, founded in 1476 in London, was the forerunner of the English Renaissance. King Henry VIII, who ascended to the English throne in 1509, inaugurated an era of profound and planned transformation. He promoted commerce and manufacturing, thereby increasing the country’s riches. He accelerated the decline of feudalism by elevating those of low birth to positions of prominence. Men of ability and learning acquired a place of honour in his court. Edward VI reigned between 1547 and 1553. Religious strife marred Queen Mary’s reign from 1553 to 1558. The Elizabethan and Jacobean periods of English literature are often referred to as the Age of Shakespeare. This historical period is known as the golden age of literature.

The English Renaissance exhibited nearly all of the characteristics of the Italian, French, and German Renaissances. The mind was emancipated and expanded. The Reformation sparked the first uprising against spiritual authority. Men marvelled at the skies and the earth as a result of navigators’ and astronomers’ discoveries. Scholars discovered superior beauty in ancient Greece and Rome’s literature. Simultaneously, the English Renaissance possessed unique qualities, and it was as a result of these characteristics that a really national literature developed. The Renaissance impacted literature in England later and more slowly than in other European countries, owing to the immaturity of the national language and the continued use of Latin by the best humanists. As a result, English literature blossomed later than Italian and French literatures. Second, English literature remained more mediaeval in nature than that of Italy or France. There was a propensity in England to adapt Italian learning to indigenous tradition and to keep far more of the mediaeval worldview than the Italians did. Though the Renaissance and Reformation opened men’s eyes to new possibilities, England remained more devoted to the cult of the past than the continent.

Indeed, the English Renaissance began in the sixteenth century with the works of writers such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Sir Thomas More, Sir Philip Sidney, John Milton, and Francis Bacon.

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