The period known as the Renaissance in Europe brought a flowering of creative activity in literature and the arts as well as science. One important contribution that greatly stimulated literary production was the invention of the moveable type printing press, credited to the German printer Johannes Gutenberg. Religious literature—including that associated with Protestantism—continued to be a significant component of printed material, but the era also brought a tremendous increase in secular writing.
In England, pastoral literature and utopian literature were two burgeoning fields. Pastoralism romanticizes rural life, frequently presenting circumstances as idyllic and emphasizing peasant farmers’ and herders’ connection with nature. While the Continental influences were strong, the English variant—in both poetry and prose—often veers into satire, as authors present contemporary political figures visible within the classical disguises. Two prominent authors were Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney.
Thomas More’s “Utopia,” in which he presents an ideal society, was popular in his day and ultimately lent its name to an entire genre. While his idealism is pronounced, the larger issue of social reform—as modern society is compared unfavorably to a perfect one—locates the literary works as important antecedents of the social sciences as well. More and others were influences as well by the growing body of literature describing—often fantastically—the Americas, which some imagined as the home of ideal societies. The European incursions into the New World stimulated writers’ imagination, and travelogues became a burgeoning subfield in nonfiction literature.