Updated: Feb 20
Guest writer for "The NZDream" blog
The era: 1550-1660
One of the important times in Western literary history to produce great poetry gave us famous poets such as,
William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Philip Sidney, John Donne, John Milton, and Ben Johnson.
The dominant forms of English literature during the Renaissance were the poem and the drama. Found in sixteenth-century England were the lyrical, - a poem that expresses deep personal feelings in a way that is like a song: According to Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary. The elegy, a poem or song that expresses sorrow for someone who has died. The tragedy, a medieval narrative poem or tale, typically describing the downfall of a great man. -Pastoral poetry is a very ancient genre of poetry. That deals with the loves and lives of shepherds and shepherdesses. They live far from towns, spend their lives singing, sometimes mourning the loss of a sheep or a fellow shepherd or a love affair that has gone wrong.
Conventions played a huge part in how particular poetic styles manifested. Exploring style, subjects, tone, and plot details were well-established for each poetic genre. A specific occasion required a particular form of poetry and these tried-and-true conventions. Frequently, the poetry of the era was to accompany the music. In any case, the consensus among critics is that the chief aim of the English Renaissance verse was to produce beauty and truth in words. English poetry of the period was vulgar, repetitious, betrayed a subtle wit.
The Age of Shakespeare 1564-1616
No one matched William Shakespeare's variety in drama, profundity, and exquisite use of language. His subject matter ran the gamut, from classical Greco-Roman stories to contemporary tales of unrequited love. Shakespeare was known for his ability to shift between comedy and tragedy, from complex character study to light-hearted farce. He was regarded for his formal structure, which all his plays demonstrated.
Shakespeare’s sonnets display images layered one on top of another in a collage. Strangely enough, few details of Shakespeare's life are known today. His uncertain biography has led to conspiracy theories, even to the point of questioning whether he was, in fact, a single person. One of the more tense problems in acknowledging ownership of any piece of literature from so long ago is that copyrights did not exist. A writer simply did not own their own words.
Elizabethan poetry, the maiden queen, is really the central figure of the Renaissance. She is Cynthia, she is Thetis, great queen of shepherds and of the sea; she is Spenser's Gloriana, and even Shakespeare, the most impersonal of poets, paid tribute to her in Henry VIII. Also in a more delicate and indirect way, in the allegory introduced in a Midsummer Night's Dream.
That very time I saw—but thou could'st not— Flying between the cold moon and the earth, Cupid all armed. A certain aim he took At a fair vestal thronëd by the west, And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts. But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft Quenched in the chaste beams of the watery moon, And the imperial votaress passed on In maiden meditation, fancy free—
An allusion to Leicester's unsuccessful suit for Elizabeth's hand.
Major Writers of the Renaissance Period
Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
Campion, Thomas (1567-1620)
Jonson, Ben (1572-1637)
Sir Philip Sydney (1554-1586)
Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder (1503-1542)
Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)
Calvin, John (1509-1564)
Wroth, Mary (ca. 1587- ca. 1651)