Beginning of Renaissance: in English Literature

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      The Renaissance in the sixteenth century is a European phenomenon. It means the liberation of the human mind from the authority of the Church and the new spirit of inquiry and challenges and freedom from all blind faith in conventions and dogmas. In the words of the French historian Michelet the renaissance means "the discovery of the world and the discovery of man, by man". The periods of Regeneration or Renaissance are the great ages of the world. The age of Pericles in the history of Greece was such an age. One such age came over Western Europe particularly Italy, Germany, France and England, at the end of the middle age. The middle ages were dominated by religion, which insisted on man's unquestioning faith in and obedience to the words of the monks. It suppressed freedom of thought and freedom of action. Knowledge was a forbidden fruit, which none was allowed to taste except at the risk of being burnt. The Renaissance in the new world meant a liberation from the deadly tyranny of religion and the spiritual authority of the monkish scholasticism. This reawakening is also called by the name of the "Revival of Learning. It was due to the study of the ancient classics of Greece and Rome, which for centuries remained sealed books to the common man. The manuscripts were in possession of the monks, who lived in Constantinople. The movement familiarised the people of Western Europe with the classical art and culture. Love of beauty, deep humanism, freedom of imagination and thought, sense of wonder, these are the legacies of the classical literature.

The Renaissance in sixteenth century is a European phenomena.
Beginning of Renaissance

      The fifteenth century in England was a period of blight or sterility in so far as English literature is concerned. Yes, it was a seed-time. It provides as an illustration of the old saying that it is darkest before the dawn. While England was slumbering great things were going in the continent - invention of gunpower, the discovery of America and lastly what is of the greatest moment for the students of English literature, the rediscovery of ancient Greece. Italy was the first home of this Renascence. With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, the monks Drought the manuscripts of Greek writings with them. These were now studied with zeal and eagerness. A passion for Greek and Latin fired the rival academies of Naples, Rome and Florence and led to that literary and artistic revival which is called the Italian Renascence, England, as usual, lagged behind the continent in this renewed interest in classical literature, which is also called 'humanism. By 1500 Greek and Latin were taught in Oxford and Cambridge respectively; but the study remained purely academic; it little influenced the vernacular literature.

      English scholars were then eager to visit Italy, particularly Florence to see and tread the manuscripts of the classical masterpieces that the refugee Greeks had saved and brought with them. These scholars returned from Italy with a new fire burning in them and established the teaching of Greek on round principles in the country. William Lily and John Erasmus revised Latin grammar which became the standard work on the subject. The famous St. Paul's school was established in 1504 by Colet in order to reform teaching based on Greek and Latin. The New Learning thus acquired a tremendous prestige. The study of the classics was the best means of promoting the largest human interests. Renaissance came to mean humanism, wonder at the new earth and sky as revealed by the navigators and astronomers, perception of beauty in the Greek and Latin classics.

      The revival stirred men just as the voyages of Vasco da Gama and Columbus stirred the mariners. First came the sciences and inventions of the Arabs making their way slowly against the prejudice of their authorities and opening men's eyes to the unexplored realms of nature. Then came the flood of Greek literature which the new art of printing carried swiftly to every school revealing a new wonder of poetry and philosophy. Scholars flocked to the universities. Truth only was authority; to search for truth everywhere, as men sought for new lands. Thus man's vision was widened with Renaissance and new aspirations awoke in him. Man came to know his own worth. The human dignity which was suppressed by the authority of the church came to assert itself with the Renaissance.

      Two books in England gave a new impetus to the renaissance movement. These were More's "Utopia and Erasmus's The Praise of Folly. Both were written in Latin but they were speedily translated into all European languages. The Praise of Folly is like a song of victory for the new learning which has driven away ignorance and superstition. Folly is represented as donning a cap and bell and mounting a pulpit where the vice and cruelty of kings, and the selfishness of the clergy are satirized. More's Utopia is a powerful study of social conditions. There is the recognition of the goodness of human nature and the author sings hymns to the glory of the senses which reveal nature's wonders. The scholars like Elyot Wilson and Ascharm played their parts in the revival of humanism.

      The humanistic spirit of the Renaissance was supported and strengthened by the Reformation which made Protestantism triumphant in England. In so far as the Renaissance was and aspiration towards beauty in every form and the development of every activity, it never breathed quite freely in the Puritan atmosphere.

      Renaissance broke the insularity of England and English scholars drank deep in the fountains of the Greek and Latin and continental pieces of literature. Translations of Latin and Greek dramas and romances, poetry from Italy and tales of chivalry from Italy, France and Spain fostered the growth of English drama, poetry and romances. The first tragedy Written on classical model is Gorboduc which appeared in 1562 and the first comedy, Ralph Roister Doister (1541) was written on the model of Italian comedians Plautus and Terence. English drama however was romantic drawing its sustenance from native traditions. But the renaissance spirit of daring, inquiry and explorations imbued all types of literature. The spirit of individualism affected drama, poetry and prose. Marlowe imbibed the deepest spirit of the Renaissance in his aspirations and audacity of imagination. Shakespeare indicated the interest, worth and glory of man in his innumerable plays. Spenser laid the tradition of new poetry with his invention of new vocabulary, new stanzaic forms and humanistic themes and sensuous imagery. Bacon adapted the Latin syntax to establish a clear, self-conscious, and precise prose style, New forms of poetry like sonnets, elegies, pastorals enriched English poetry. Romances and picaresque tales led to the development of prose fiction.

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