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What Was the English Renaissance?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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Most historians believe that the English Renaissance began in about 1500 and extended through the first few decades of the next century. This period in English history was generally marked by increased affluence for the nation. Civil unrest associated with the War of the Roses may have helped to spur changes in popular thinking and cultural standards during this time. The reign of English Queen Elizabeth I, from about 1588 to about 1603, is often credited with bringing the peace and prosperity that helped literature and theater thrive during the years of the English Renaissance. The Protestant Reformation, and the establishment of the Church of England orchestrated by King Henry VIII, are also credited with helping to strengthen new secular ideas in Renaissance England, leading to advancements in education and the growth of a strong body of English literature.

Literature and theater prospered during this era. William Shakespeare wrote his many plays during the years of the English Renaissance. English poetry thrived at this time, with poets such as Thomas Campion, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe solidifying many English poetic forms and adapting many poetic forms already in use by poets writing in Italian.

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People living in England during these decades also found themselves exposed to a new, more secular worldview. England's break with the Catholic Church in the early 1500s lessened that institution's grip on the nation's popular ideology, allowing more humanistic ideas to take hold. The philosophies and knowledge of classical Roman and Greek culture generally became more valued. Many people began to place emphasis on the importance of human logic and individual worth. Technological advances allowed the widespread dissemination of printed materials, and institutes of higher education, as well as primary and secondary schools of all types, began to flourish.

The English Renaissance is often regarded as an extension of the cultural and artistic Renaissance that took place in continental European countries, beginning on the Italian peninsula in the 1300s. Renaissance philosophers and artists are said to have revisited the ideas, learning and artistic conventions of antiquity, as a more secular view of human nature and life itself began to take hold in European culture. Most historians believe that the English Renaissance took hold a bit later than the Italian Renaissance and the Northern European Renaissance, because England was embroiled in the Hundred Years' War, followed by the War of the Roses, during these centuries.

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serenesurface
Post 3

The English Renaissance would have started after the Italian Renaissance even if England was not occupied with war. Because the Renaissance began in Italy among Italian writers and philosophers.

ddljohn
Post 2

@ysmina-- Humanism is a philosophical notion about finding meaning in life and it tries to bring attention to individual worth and abilities. This is in contrast to previous philosophical theories of the time that concentrated on religious ideas and life in the next world. So humanism is about rationality and the need to think and ponder rather than readily accept what is given to us.

In a way, it's the opposite of how people were living and thinking at the time and it's the opposite of the way of life encouraged by the Catholic Church. What the Church said was final and people followed it without any thought or criticism. Humanism encourages people to think and decide for themselves.

I personally think that it's about liberation of thought and it's a bit revolutionary as well.

ysmina
Post 1

I was not aware that the English Renaissance involved a move towards a more secular way of thinking. But that makes sense since this was after England separated from the Catholic Church.

Can anyone explain what humanism means though? What are we talking about when we say "humanistic ideas" in the English Renaissance?

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