Renaissance Literature

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Explain the Renaissance and its lasting impact on English literature.

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The Renaissance was an intense rebirth of interest in the literature and learning of the Classical world of the Greeks and Romans. The Renaissance flourished in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, primarily in Italy. Partially due to the Crusades and contact with the libraries and learning of Islamic cultures, Western Europeans were reignited into a fascination with the ancient world.

This led to many classic texts, such as Homeric epics, Greek and Roman myths, Greek and Roman history, Greek and Roman pastoral, and writers such as Ovid and Aristotle taking on a new importance. Educated people across Europe, including England, were learning Greek as well as Latin and reading, translating, adapting, and imitating these works.

The Renaissance made a lasting impact on English literature through a variety of great writers who engaged deeply with Classical texts. We would not have Romeo and Juliet or Julius Caesar without Shakespeare's interest in the Roman classics. We would not have Milton's Paradise Lost without his deep immersion in Classical epics. We would not have Pope's mock epic The Rape of the Lock without the Iliad.

Works by writers such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope had a deep influence on subsequent English literature--Wordsworth, for example, wanted to be a poet sage like Milton. Because the great English authors of the period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century were so influenced by the Classical authors resurrected by the Renaissance, the Renaissance has had a lasting influence on English literature.

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