Renaissance Literature

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What are the main features of the Renaissance?

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Main characteristics of the Renaissance include rediscovery, especially through expanded trade, which furthered access to knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome. An emphasis on secularism emerged as well, especially in terms of man. The printing press led to increased knowledge about the past, and the rise of nation-languages, such as English, French, and German, led to nationalism instead of Christendom.

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One of the main features of the Renaissance was a humanistic philosophy that put man firmly at the center of the universe. Previously, the emphasis was very much on God, but with the rediscovery of ancient modes of learning, the focus shifted to man. In particular, the focus now centered on man's abilities rather than his weaknesses.

Instead of being conceived as a weak, sinful creature lorded over by a wrathful God, man was now seen as God's greatest creation, capable of many remarkable things, all of which would ultimately redound to the glory of his divine creator.

Though just about all the great figures of the Renaissance—artists, poets, philosophers, and scholars—were devout Christians, they nonetheless adhered to a view of the cosmos that put man at the center. Now that man was regarded as being at the center of his own universe, he formed the basis of countless artworks, poems, and learned philosophical treatises, all of which sought to celebrate man's God-given talents and abilities.

Inevitably, such an attitude led in a number of cases towards hubris, with men believing themselves to have God-like infallibility as they acquired more and more knowledge of the universe around them. This attitude, and the dangers to which it could lead, were spelled out in graphic terms by Christopher Marlowe in his play Doctor Faustus, one of the great works of the Renaissance stage.

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One of the main features and characteristics of the Renaissance is the strong interest of the people to learn, to invent, to explore, and to create. The people believed in the power of knowledge and celebrated the idea that the humans are capable of achieving great things, mainly because of their nature, psychology, intellect, potential, and determination, as well as their identity, self-worth, individuality, independence, self-reliance, and freedom; thus, the Renaissance also marked the rise of Humanism and Individualism.

Science, philosophy, and art rose to prominence, which heavily impacted the socio-economic, political, and cultural climate of Europe and the world; in fact, the word Renaissance is of French origin and literally translates to "rebirth. "The Renaissance was essentially a period of social, cultural, economic, and political rebirth. The people showed a renewed interest in Ancient Greece and Rome, and many literary and artistic works explored more realistic and classic themes, which focused primarily on the people and their philosophies, thoughts, and emotions. Religion was still a powerful and authoritative institution; however, some began to question their beliefs and to open their minds to new ideas and opinions, thus promoting skepticism and secular thought.

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The Renaissance was a time of rediscovery.  Thanks to successful trading trips to the Middle East, more Europeans had access to ancient Greek and Roman learning.  Another thing that accelerated this learning was the fall of Constantinople in 1453.  As more Greek and Roman scholars came west, more people were curious to learn about ancient times.  While the Church was still quite powerful, literature took on more of a secular tone.  Erasmus's In Praise of Folly and Machiavelli's The Prince demonstrate a humanism which was rare in previous works of literature.  These works of literature put the works of man in the center; while religion was not entirely discounted, man was the centerpiece.  Also, new scientific works were being printed revealing the thoughts of ancient philosophers and medical practitioners.  As the trade caravans and voyages became more common, Europeans thirsted for travelogues as well.  The printing press made all of these works more widely available, and they were printed in the languages of the people rather than the classical Latin written by clergy and government officials.  The rise of English, French, and German languages would also lead to the rise of nationalism within these countries.  People began to see themselves as less a part of Christendom and more a part of a nation-state.  

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The French word renaissance means "rebirth."  The Renaissance was a period in which artists and writers rejected the restrictions of the Middle Ages in order to develop new ideals, enthusiasm, and interests; most notably, there was a Revival of Learning, a new thirst for knowledge and enjoyment in knowledge.  The results of this "rebirth" were a widespread study of art and literature, as well as a delving into the mysteries of the natural world.

The Renaissance did not so much result in a change in subjects of study as it did in establishing a new viewpoint from which well-known facts may be considered.  Humanism arose as did a devotion to Greek and Latin studies in a perfect form, rejecting the "dog-Latin" of the Middle Ages. Painters sought to capture real people rather than general types and individual personalities rather than universal human traits. Extending to all parts of Europe, the Renaissance brought new arts such as printing, new geographical discoveries, and cultivation of trade by sea. 

In fact, the spirit of the Renaissance was above all secular as the Renaissance scholar was more concerned with form than content--for example, the correct use of words, the purification of style, the restoration of classical languages.

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