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These two terms are attempts to break history up into distinct periods, although in truth the transitions from one “period” to another are amorphous. “Elizabethan” refers specifically to the reign of Britain’s monarch, Elizabeth 1, from 1558 to 1601. This period was notable for its English literature, especially drama and the works of William Shakespeare. Elizabeth’s reign was relatively stable and her court was friendly toward the arts. The Renaissance, on the other hand, refers to the awakening from the Middle Ages, the resuscitation of Greek and Roman literature, and the general enlightened social culture, roughly 1400-1800 (and Elizabeth’s reign is part of this period); its “rebirth” and development of these earlier cultures gave Europe its distinct social personality. Historical periods, remember, are labeled for the convenience of historians (compare Age of Enlightenment, Romantic Period, Victorianism, and the like), and seldom are named during their own existence.
The difference between the Elizabethan Age and Renaissance is that while the Renaissance era is considered to be the transition from the middle Ages to modern history in Europe, the Elizabethan Age is considered the transition from the feudal times before Queen Elizabeth 1 ascended the throne to the more stable era during her reign in England. The Elizabethan Age also existed within the renaissance period and borrowed much of its ideals from that period.
The renaissance period saw the development of art, literature, technology, invention and modern politics. The period also saw a surge in trade between different regions and the discovery of far flung continents.
The Elizabethan Age as part of the Renaissance period saw the development of Elizabethan poetry and the stability of England. The Queen supported development of art which contributed to the emergence and recognition of individuals such as William Shakespeare and Ben Johnson. She also supported exploration by sanctioning the voyage by Sir Francis Drake around the globe.
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