What were the effects of the Renaissance on English literature?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The effects of the Renaissance on English literature were an increased emphasis on humanism and individuality, as well as an increased willingness of writers to satirize existing institutions such as the church and state and to write secular rather than religious works. Poetry from the Italian Renaissance such as the sonnets of Petrarch, one of the first humanists, influenced the poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Earl of Surrey, and Sir Philip Sidney, among others. Wyatt introduced the sonnet into English, and the Earl of Surrey was the first to write in blank verse in English. Sidney and other poets wrote about their experience of love in a way that was individualized and secular, two hallmarks of the Renaissance.

The Renaissance, inspired by classical drama by the Greeks and Romans, brought innovation to English drama, which was formerly mainly concentrated on mystery plays that were religious in nature. During the Renaissance, drama became secularized. Shakespeare's plays, written during the English Renaissance, are commentaries on the human condition and a reflection of the Renaissance's emphasis on humanism. For example, Hamlet includes the themes of the father-son relationship, of guilt, of women's relationships to men, of mother-son relationships, of madness, and many other themes that define us as humans and that we still wrestle with. Other works during the English Renaissance such as More's Utopia were discourses on the components of the ideal society and offered criticism of the current state of England. Writers during this time period were willing to criticize the church and state in search of greater happiness for individuals within the society. 

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Renaissance had several major effects on English literature.

First, it marked a rediscovery of many classical texts that had been unknown in the Middle Ages. For example, the recovery of Greek novels, and in particular their translation into French by Amyot, led to a certain type of pastoral English novel, exemplified by Lyly's Euphues.

Classical models strongly influenced drama. Seneca's tragedies were models for the Elizabethan and Jacobean genre of revenge tragedy, and Latin versions of Greek New Comedy influenced romantic comedy.

Protestantism, with its emphasis on reading the Bible in the vernacular, contributed to the growth of vernacular literacy, and thus the audience for literary works in English.