Discuss features of the English Renaissance that influenced John Milton's poetic work and life.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The English Renaissance brought changes that influenced people and how they viewed the world. After the death of Elizabeth I and James I, who were both great supporters of the arts of the Renaissance, affairs of "church and state" that had occurred before Elizabeth ever took the throne—specifically, the Protestant Reformation—had planted seeds of "a revolution." It began with Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses, but was adopted vigorously by Henry VIII for personal reasons—he wanted a divorce and Rome refused, so he created his own church and gave himself a divorce. This movement created a division with regard to religion—allowing people to question the precepts of their faith in general, and what it meant to them individually.

...many of the most fundamental assumptions about spiritual life were being called into question by the movement known as the Reformation.

By the time Charles I came to the throne, the Protestants were firmly in place. However, there was a split within this group. Charles I's followers were called Cavaliers; their motto was "Carpe Diem," or "seize the day" which means "live for today." These writers wrote of love and fleeting youth. "Across the table" sat the Puritans (called the Round-heads because of their haircuts) who were very strict about their faith and intolerant of those who were not.

The distinction of these two groups would shape not only English politics and religion, but literature of the time, as well. Ultimately, Charles I was executed, the Puritan government abolished the monarchy, and Puritans ruled under Oliver Cromwell "reigning supreme." Known as the Protectorate, the Puritans would govern from 1653 until 1659. Cromwell's death shook the Protectorate and by this time the English people had had enough of harsh Puritan rule. "Invited back," Charles II returned from exile in France and was welcomed to the throne.

All of this greatly influenced John Milton. Milton was the member of a financially successful household and was, therefore, granted its many advantages, including an excellent education. Early on, he had a strong sense of self and his art, writing his first poem on Christmas morning when he was eighteen, called "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity." This foreshadows the type of poet he would become: a religious one—he would be one of the outstanding voices of this Puritan-centered era. He would become the:

...principal propagandist of the ruling Protectorate established by Oliver Cromwell.

The free thought of the Renaissance would move Milton to write in support of "individual rights," "freedom of the press against government censorship," the people's right to remove tyrants from the throne, and the right to divorce one's spouse if husband and wife were found to be incompatible. He was a staunch Puritan and had to go into hiding when the Protectorate was dissolved. He believed in clear boundaries between church and state.

Milton began his career writing poetry, but with civil war and the Protectorate, he shifted his focus to public concerns. His relationship with God is apparent in his masterpiece Paradise Lost. While the English Renaissance brought about change and choices, Milton was one who had no desire to change in terms of faith, but did in terms of "political self-determination." Both of these areas were a result of his political and religious values.

Additional Source:

http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/16century/welcome.htm

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