Renaissance in England, Essay Example
Substitute a different text from the one already used Renaissance text speaks most elegantly to you in 2013? (Any text besides Marlowe)
The Renaissance in England shared some common traits with the Renaissance in Florence and other Italian cities, in the sense that new ideas and new ways of looking at the world were being expressed and discussed after centuries of cultural and social domination of the Church. There were also some marked differences in the way that the periods now known as The Renaissance were manifested in the two different countries. The Italian Renaissance was still steeped in spirituality, and the influence of the Church, while lessened, was hardly insignificant. The works of art created during the Italian Renaissance were often visual, with the most notable figures of the period taking such forms as painters, sculptors, and architects. The Renaissance in England, by contrast, was notable for being based more on ideas and the words used to express those ideas. During this time the English language as we know it today was still being born and English was not the dominant language it would later become. The famous writers of this period were not just creatively expressing new ideas, they were also creatively shaping and expanding the scope of the language itself. Among the writers and works that resonate strongly with me today are those of Sir Phillip Sidney in The Defence of Poetry.
Sidney’s work was written at a time when humanism was pushing aside old ways of thinking. It was a period of enormous creativity, with many famous written works, such as Shakespeare’s plays, still being viewed today as among the most important contributions to the English language and to the world of literature. While these new ways of seeing and thinking about the world were popular among many people, there were also those who believed that this new era of humanism was dangerous and would corrupt the human spirit. One notable critic of the world of theater was Stepehn Grosson, who was himself a playwright before he changed his views. Grosson wrote The School of Abuse, a famous critique of plays and what he believed were the ways that they were harmful to society. Largely in response to Grosson, Sidney wrote The Defence of Poetry.
In Sidney’s view, poetry and literature were important contributions to society and culture. Sidney opposed the idea that poetry was a corrupting influence, and in The Defence of Poetry he explained why he believed poetry was so important. Sidney provides readers with an overview of the history of poetry, and connects this history to significant figures from history such as Plato and other philosophers. Sidney acknowledges the arguments philosophers had made against poetry by subverting those arguments. Many historically-significant philosophers stressed the importance of logic and rationality, two traits which poetry often lacks. Sidney frames this lack as one of the benefits or positive attributes of poetry, in direct contrast to the typical arguments made against poetry.
It is not that Sidney did not appreciate logic or rational thought: as he saw it, poets did not just use their talents to reflect reality; they used those talents to create their own realities using their imaginations. In this framework, poets are not limited by the constraints of reality, and they are free to express themselves in ways that transcend logic or rationality. In these acts of creation poets added to reality in ways that could provide insight into that reality by offering new and different perspectives. In a sense, poets offered a bridge between the world of reality and the worlds of imagination.
What makes The Defense of Poetry timely in the contemporary world is the way that Sidney was using his skills to battle against the social and cultural conservatives of his day. In our politically-polarized society, social conservatives are locked in a constant battle with social liberals. Conservatives often express the belief that the world is growing corrupt because “traditional” values (which for many conservatives means “Christian” values) are being abandoned in favor of a more secular and humanist set of values. Some public schools in the U.S. are teaching Biblical creation myths alongside, or even in place of teaching factual biological science. Many conservatives argue for prayer in schools and insist that the U.S. is a “Christian nation.” This battle between conservative values and ideas and more liberal and progressive values and ideas is, in its way, quite similar to the arguments that took place between people like Grosson and Sidney centuries ago. What makes Sidney’s work timelessly compelling is the way he embraced rational thought and the world of imagination at the same time. What makes it so specifically relevant to contemporary times is that he fought against the censorship of words and ideas from those who feared words and ideas. For someone who wants to experience such a thing today, both The Defence of Poetry and the 24-hour cable news channels offer surprisingly similar and familiar arguments.
Discuss the theme of knowledge of itself and the nature in the work of any three writers read in this term.
In the 16th century Francis Bacon wrote “knowledge itself is power.” This phrase could be used to describe the underlying theme of the entire Renaissance in England.” For centuries the Catholic Church had dominated virtually all aspects of life in much of Europe. By the 16th century many people were challenging the authority of the Church. As the Church’s grip on power and authority began to weaken, writers, philosophers and theologians all began to consider new idea and new ways of thinking. This quest for knowledge was often its own reward, and it would serve as the driving force for centuries of change to come. Along with Bacon, other writers of the Renaissance in England included themes in their works that considered the nature of knowledge and its significance in the human experience.
In the early 17th century Christopher Marlowe’s most famous play, commonly known as Doctor Faustus, was published. Written some years earlier, Marlowe’s play offers his own version of the tale of Faust, a man who sells his soul to Mephistophilis. Doctor Faustus was notable at the time for several reasons: one of these was that Marlowe created a new approach to structuring the writing using blank verse; the other significant component of the play is the actual content of the story. The character of Faustus is a scholar and student, and he sells his soul to the Devil for knowledge and for the power that knowledge will bring him. Faustus ends up squandering the knowledge given to him by Mephistophilis. Marlowe may have created a play that showed how the quest for knowledge can lead to sin and corruption, but the play was controversial anyway, primarily for even discussing such themes at all.
Like Marlowe, Edmund Spenser was an academic and scholar who attended Cambridge and who also was awarded a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree. Spenser also became renowned for his contributions to literature and to the English language, and his writing and poetry are still widely read and taught. In works such as The Faerie Queene Spenser expanded on the English language both by referencing earlier and even archaic writing structures while also adding his own inventive structures. Spenser’s contribution to the world of literature and the exploration of knowledge and ideas may be mostly found in the ways he expanded the scope of the language itself, helping to make English a more effective platform for the discussion and expression of ideas than it had previously been.
One of the most powerful voices of the 17th century was that of John Milton, author of Paradise Lost. The Renaissance in England was a period of profound change, and was marked by challenges to traditional ways of thinking and of seeing the world. English writers were building on the foundations of the English language, making it a more potent vehicle for the expression of new ideas and challenges made to old ideas. The nature of religion and how people viewed the Church were in flux, and Milton’s work addresses many of these themes. Milton’s own religious views were based in animist materialism, or the belief that all things that existed were comprised of the same substance. Milton’s religious beliefs contrasted with earlier philosophers who espoused dualism, but Milton’s beliefs and ideas are reflective of the nature of the Renaissance in that new and old ideas were constantly being considered, discussed, and argued over. This materialist view rejected the notion that reality was divided between the physical and non-physical or spiritual world. Milton was a also a proponent of republican political ideas, which put him at odds with many people of his time.
What these and other writers in the Renaissance in England had in common was an interest in learning and seeking knowledge. In their own ways, each of these writers challenged traditions by writing about the roles of religion and the Church, arguing in favor of new political structures, and exploring the boundaries and expanding the limits of creative expression through inventive use of language and structure. Through their works, they did not just offer new ideas and perspectives; they also provided a literary basis on which later writers and thinkers were able to build. By creating stories and poems that described the world in new and exciting ways, they contributed to the totality of human knowledge and paved the way for those who would continue to build on their work for centuries to come.
Discuss the variety image in attitude towards women in the Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne and Sidney. (Choose three of the four authors)
Issues of gender and sexuality were often represented in the written works of the Renaissance in England. The general social order of this time was built around patriarchy, with men serving as political, religious and family leaders. Girls were expected to follow the demands and wishes of their fathers, and women were expected to obey their husbands. After centuries of Church domination, writers in the Renaissance began to write about subjects that would have been off-limits in earlier times, and sexuality was one of those subjects. Gender roles were also written about in ways that sometimes contradicted the traditional expectations for men and women.
John Donne was one of the writers and poets who wrote about love and relationships in new ways. The traditions of courtly love which had been handed down for ages were being challenged by poets like Donne, who wrote about love in a more personal and intimate manner. Donne’s poems often described women and love in complicated terms, but his words were often quite direct. In “Lover’s Infiniteness” Donne writes “I yet I have not all thy love/Dear, I shall never have it all.” Donne writes as if he is writing directly to the woman he is writing about.
Shakespeare’s plays also contain many themes about gender, love, jealousy and relationships between men and women. He wrote love poems with references to women and plays that often featured females who played important roles in the plot. Women in Shalespeare’s plays did not always conform to the standards of the time, where women were generally considered inferior. Many of Shakespeare’s female characters were powerful, intelligent women who sometimes even outsmarted men. This was unusual for the time in terms of how women were depicted in literature.
Despite the prevailing attitudes of the day towards women, England had a female Queen, Elizabeth I, during the 16th century. In his epic poem The Faerie Queen, Edmund Spenser told a story that was partly an allegory for the life of Elizabeth I. This poem demonstrates the complicated relationship writers in the Renaissance had with the issue of gender. Some of Spenser’s poem is flattering to Elizabeth I, and praises her as a ruler. Other parts of the poem make it clear that Spenser still believed that the Queen was limited in how effective she could be because she was a woman.
Women appear throughout the literature of the Renaissance, but the ways they are depicted do not always reflect how women were actually treated in society at the time. Many poems and stories describe female characters that are smart or brave or powerful, but in reality women were generally considered to be less intelligent than men and in need of male protection. At the same time, some of the depictions of females seem to show that the traditional expectations that society had for women to always be subservient to men may have been contradicted in some ways. What the overall body of literature shows is that women were often being written about in new and different ways, just as many aspects of tradition were being questioned and reconsidered during the Renaissance.
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