Identify some of the main features of English Renaissance that were to influence Milton's poetic work.
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The English Renaissance was a historical period that roughly spanned the years 1500-1660. What marked this period as distinct from where it emerged from was a change in the perspective of human reason and potential. Scientific advances and philosophical belief challenged perspectives of humanity being chained to ignorance and there was a strong belief in the Renaissance man as being author of his own destiny, supported by various discoveries and inventions, that seemed to predict a brighter future that centred on progress and development. The printing press was a key invention in this period, and allowed for the spread of new ideas throughout Europe and beyond. This was particularly key in the Reformation, which sprung from the Renaissance period as a natural response to the iron hold of Catholicism over the Renaissance man, who was now no longer willing to accept the unthinking power and control that the Catholic church exerted.
Such views can be seen in Milton's poetry where he openly criticises the church of his day and in some cases attacks the ruling elite of the church in barely veiled allegorical fashion. This is particularly evident in "Lycidas," where in the guise of pastoral poetry Milton attacks the religious leaders of his day by refering to the "shepherds" and their abuse of their charge and how they neglect their "flock":
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread...
The phrase "Rot inwardly" is particularly graphic, as it paints a picture of congregations self-destructing from within thanks to the neglect of those charged with their spiritual oversight. Milton's work can therefore be seen as being heavily influenced by Renaissance values that gave thinkers such as himself the voice to stand back and criticise what before were viewed as sacrosanct institutions.
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