The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement in England dating from the early 16th century to the early 17th century. It is associated with the pan- European Renaissance that many cultural historians believe originated in Tuscany in the 14th century. This era in English cultural history is sometimes referred to as “the age of Shakespeare” or “the Elizabethan era”, the first period in English and British history to be named after a reigning monarch.
Poets such as Edmund Spencer and John Milton produced works that demonstrated an increased interest in understanding English Christian beliefs, such as the allegorical representation of the Tudor Dynasty in The Faerie Queen and the retelling of mankind’s fall from paradise in Paradise Lost; playwrights, such as Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, composed theatrical representations of the English take on life, death, and history.
Nearing the end of the Tudor Dynasty, philosophers like Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Bacon published their own ideas about humanity and the aspects of a perfect society, pushing the limits of metrification at that time. England came closer to caching modern science with the Bacon Method, a forerunner of the Scientific Method. The notion of calling this period “The Renaissance” is a modern invention, having been popularized by the historian Jacob Bureaucrat in the 19th century.
The idea of the Renaissance has come under increased criticism by many cultural historians, and some have contended that the “English Renaissance” has no real tie with the artistic achievements and aims of the northern Italian artists (Leonardo dad Vinci, Michelangelo, Donated) who are closely identified with the Renaissance. Indeed, England had already experienced a flourishing of literature over 200 years before the time of Shakespeare when Geoffrey Chaucer was working.
Saucer’s popularizing of English as a medium of literary composition rather than Latin occurred only 50 years after Dante had started using Italian for serious poetry. At the same time William Landing, author of Piers Plowman, and John Grower were also writing in English. The Hundred Years’ War and the subsequent civil war in England known as the Wars of the Roses probably hampered artistic endeavor until the relatively peaceful and stable reign of Elizabeth I allowed drama in particular to evolve. Even during these war years, though, Thomas Malory, author of El Mortem D’art, was a notable figure.
For this reason, scholars find the singularity of the period called the English Renaissance questionable; C. S. Lewis, a professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford and Cambridge, famously remarked to a colleague that he had “discovered” that there was no English Renaissance, and that if there had been one, it had “no effect whatsoever”. Historians have also begun to consider the word “Renaissance” as an unnecessarily loaded word that implies an unambiguously positive “rebirth” from the supposedly more primitive Middle Ages.
Some historians have asked the question “a renaissance for whom? ,” pointing out, for example, that the status of women in society arguably declined during the Renaissance. Many historians and cultural historians now prefer to use the term “early modern” for this period, a term that highlights the period as a transitional one that led to the modern world, but attempts to avoid positive or negative connotations. “renaissance” is apt, there was undeniably an artistic flowering in England under the Tudor monarchs, culminating in Shakespeare and his contemporaries.