What was the Renaissance? How did it influence English literature?

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wordprof eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Renaissance (rebirth) was a European rediscovery of the Greek and Roman culture, especially its philosophies, its principles, and its literatures (approximately 1000-1600). Through a gradual accumulation and translation of ancient texts, such as Aristotle’s Poetics and Homer’s epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Europe emerged from the Dark Ages into a new intellectual energy that resulted in a consolidation of the English language from its many origins (languages from invading hordes, from visitors, from its own origins in Wales and so on, from the Norman Invasion of 1066) into what can be called early modern English. The collective cultural events now referred to as the Renaissance brought Greek and Roman verse forms, dramatic structure, and epic rules to English literature, as well as logic and rhetoric, samples of which fill every anthology of English literature. To ask how the Renaissance influenced English literature is to ask where English literature came from, after its origins in oral traditions, early folk dramas, folk tales, and the like.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term Renaissance means "rebirth". It refers to the rediscovery of many Greek and Latin texts that had been unknown in the Latin west during the Middle Ages. The influence of these texts transformed many aspects of English literature.

In drama, medieval plays had focused primarily on religious themes, whereas the Renaissance marked a revival of both secular-themed tragedy and comedy. The tragedies of Seneca especially influenced the development of Elizabethan "revenge tragedy" and the Latin comedies of Plautus and Terence influenced English comedy.

The English novel was influenced by the sixteenth century translations into English (via the French of Amyot) of Hellenistic Greek novels. 

Many of the letter writing manuals of the Renaissance abandoned the medieval models of the artes dictandi and instead looked back to the newly rediscovered correspondence of Cicero. The Hellenistic pastoral influenced much of English lyric poetry, and Horace was an important influence on both poetry and criticism.