Discuss the impact of the Reformation on English literature.

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The English Reformation moved religious authority from the Roman Catholic Church to the bible and the individual conscience, asserting that a person could be in a direct relationship with God that was unmediated by priest or confessional booth. People, of course, were expected to shift their allegiance to the Church of England and obey its authority, but in reality, many shifted further over, into what were called "Dissenting" forms of Protestantism that called into question "high church" authority of any sort. This move to more radical Protestantism contributed both to the establishment of the American colonies and the English Revolution. 

This emphasis on individual interiority had a strong impact on English literature. Because authority shifted to the bible, or "sola scripture," and because people were meant to read the bible themselves, it was translated into English, first via many unauthorized translations, such as the Geneva Bible, and finally in the authorized but more conservative King James version. Literacy was encouraged so that people could read the bible. People were also encouraged to keep journals in order to examine their consciences and make sure they were not falling away from God's will in any way. Many critics have attributed the rise of the English novel to the interiority encouraged by this kind of confessional journaling. Novels such as Robinson Crusoe are based on this format, and the confessional format can even be traced in such later works as Wordworth's The Prelude, in which the narrator likens himself to a prophet and embarks on a minute examination of his interior development as a poet. Of course, closer in time to the Reformation, Protestant poems such as Milton's Paradise Lost had a profound influence on English literature, as did the language of the King James Bible. 

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Reformation was a religious movement that affected every aspect of English life and government. Although in a narrow sense, the Reformation in England was marked by the declaration by Henry VIII of the independence of the Church of England from Rome and the Papacy, in other ways the importation of the European Reformation ideals into England had consequences beyond the purely religious.

The first and most dramatic was the rise of the vernacular. Although this phenomenon had started in the late middle ages, the "sola scriptura" doctrine of reformed churches meant the translation of the Bible into English in the "Authorized Version" (popularly, albeit somewhat inaccurately, called the King James Bible) and the creation of the Book of Common Prayer, both still used throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion today. Both of these are considered great works of literature in their own right, and are not only frequently quoted in subsequent English literature, but influenced literary style.

Because Protestant churches emphasized the importance of all people reading the Bible, the English Reformation was one of the causes of rising literacy rates; in the early modern period, this emphasis on Bible reading lead to higher literacy rates in Protestant than in Roman Catholic countries. This expanded audience led to a broader audience for literary works and the growth of popular literature. 

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