Periods: Renaissance

Here you will find a general overview of the Renaissance or Early Modern Period. Other pages cover Major Authors and style and prosody.

Reference Works:

Web Sites:

Library Reference Guide

Stuarts On-Line (includes short films)
Luminarium, 17th Century
CUNY Brookly guide



Early English Books On-Line (UMass only)
Literature Online (UMass only)
Renascence Editions

Free editions at Luminarium


Renaissance (c. 1500 – c. 1688)

The Renaissance takes place at different times in different countries. The English Renaissance (also called the Early Modern period) dates from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and from the height of the Quattrocento (1400's) in Italy. Renaissance is a French term meaning "rebirth." The period is characterized by a rebirth among English elite of classical learning, a rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman authors, and a recovery of the ancient Greek spirit of scientific inquiry. (Compare the Renaissance of the Twelfth Century and the rediscovery then of Aristotle.) The period is also characterized by widespread religious wars, geographical discovery and colonization, and major reforms of state. In terms of culture, it is important to remember that not everyone was similarly affected by the Renaissance: illiterate, beer-swilling shepherds did not suddenly take up a study of Aristotelian metaphysics. The period marks the high water mark of English literary accomplishment. It is the age of William Shakepeare, John Milton, John Donne, and Katherine Philips. Queen Elizabeth I was fluent in classical Greek, wrote poems in Latin hexameter, and produced beautifully polished English prose.

Literary culture was most influenced by the advent of printing. Quick, mass reproduction of texts meant a wider audience. Textbooks were cheaper, and therefore more widely available to students from primary school to college. Shakespeare had access to Greek and Latin classics in his small grammar school in the country town of Stratford-on-Avon. A larger market also meant that writers could start making a living, not from patronage, but from sales. (Booksellers first appeared in London after 1400.)

Other aspects of the English Renaissance will be covered in your textbooks or by your professors.