The period between the mid-fifteenth and early seventeenth centuries is known in the history as the era of the Renaissance. Moreover, the Renaissance is the significant part of the culture and social life in the history of each European country which is characterized by the national peculiarities of the development. In Britain this period began in the sixteenth century, later than in the other European countries.
The main features of the Renaissance culture which also determine the elements of the Renaissance literature are the philosophy of humanism, the secular character of the art pieces, and the orientation on the antique patterns. To focus on the realization of the Renaissance values in the British literature, it is necessary to analyze the features of the works written by Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spencer, and Christopher Marlowe.
The formation of the Renaissance’s values depended on the development of new social relations which was also expressed in the liberation of the personality. That man who was liberated from the medieval class bonds faced the great opportunities of the creative realization in art. The era of humanism began when the spiritual dictatorship of the Church was broken, and the person became the center of the social and artistic interests (Baker and Maley). The man of the Renaissance is characterized by believing in his mind and power.
The world view of the man of the Renaissance is based on the freedom of thoughts and new visions of society and the universe. Moreover, the man of the Renaissance is inclined to combine the real facts with the poetic fiction and express it in different genres with using the elements of the figurative language and wide imagery (Bowers and Keeran). The ideals of the British Renaissance also depend on the works of such famous figures as Francesco Petrarca and Erasmus Roterodamus.
In spite of the orientation of all the Renaissance authors on similar patterns and following the same principles, their works are characterized by a lot of peculiarities and differences. Furthermore, it was a special period in the British literature during which new literature themes, genres, and forms developed with basing on the ideas of humanism and the works of the antique authors (Baker and Maley).
Sir Philip Sidney is one of the most famous poets of the Renaissance period. Nevertheless, he is also known as the author of the pastoral novel The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia which is considered by many critics as the experimental work which determined the beginning of the new age in the literature.
The final version of Sidney’s novel was published in 1590, and it was the presentation of the unique combination of prose, dramaturgy, and poetic works. The language and style of the novel are characterized by pretentiousness, exquisiteness, and the usage of a lot of metaphorical devices. This style became known as ‘euphuistic’, and it was named after the title of the novel written by John Lyly in which all these details were depicted vividly (Bowers and Keeran).
The values of the Renaissance were developed in The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia in a rather specific manner. The rejection of the religious motifs and the concentration on the human’s feelings and emotions determined the peculiarities of the plot of the novel and its genre (Baker and Maley).
The main accent was made on the inner world of the characters, their ideals, visions, and feelings. This novel can be considered as a romantic one in which the relations between the lovers are depicted. They are emphasized by a number of comic and tragic situations.
And all these elements are expressed with the help of the complex metaphorical language which is full of epithets, antitheses, quotations and references to the ancient authors (Hopkins and Steggle). The ‘euphuistic’ style marks the shift from the language of poetry to the language of drama and fiction with the elements of the language and speech typical for the secular society of that period.
The peculiarities of the vivid metaphorical writing style typical for the British literature of the Renaissance were also developed in the works by Edmund Spencer, especially in his The Faerie Queene. The author was working at the poem during the period of 1590-1596, but it was not finished. Today it is one of the most interesting allegorical poems considered by critics as the unique pattern with a lot of specific features.
Paying much attention to such antique ideals as virtue and courage, Spencer develops these motifs combining them with the principles of the heroic legends and novels about King Arthur. It is significant that Spencer concentrates on depicting a definite virtue in each of six books of the poem (Bowers and Keeran).
The allegorical nature of the poem can be explained by the fact that, creating the characters’ images of the fairy-tale world of the knights, the poet was inclined to depict the real people of the historic period. Thus, it was possible to observe the features of Queen Elizabeth in the image of the Faerie Queene, and Prince Arthur had the traits of Elizabeth’s favorite known as the Earl of Leicester (Hopkins and Steggle).
Emphasizing the unique and perfect nature of a human, Spencer creates a wonderful and fantastic world in which the knights defeat dragons and perform numerous feats, and fairies are the embodiment of beauty and perfectness.
Nevertheless, the literature of the Renaissance also concentrated on definite realism and truthfulness. That is why real descriptions of the English nature can be observed among the fabulous and decorative images of the poem.
There were not such vivid descriptions, fantastic and diverse images, flexibility and musicality of the verse, and the richness of the language means in the English poetry earlier. Spencer created a new poetic form while developing this poem. It is a stanza of nine lines with the special rhyme known today as ‘Spencer’s stanza’ (Bowers and Keeran).
If Edmund Spencer influenced a lot of poets of the later periods, Christopher Marlowe is famous for his impact on the works written by William Shakespeare. One of the most well-known plays written by Marlowe was The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus which was first published in 1588.
In this work the rejection of the medieval religious principles and the emphasis on the role of humanism and knowledge in the life of people were accentuated. Marlowe as the creator of the English tragedy of the Renaissance developed the play according to the principles of the antique literature in which he was interested in. The tragedy can be characterized by depicting the emancipation of the individual from the ascetic medieval morality (Baker and Maley).
Christopher Marlowe had his own vision of the role of the Church in society and criticized the religious principles, norms, and ideals. All his opinions on the religious topics were rather skeptic. Nevertheless, the rejection of the religious principles acquires a specific character in his The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. Doctor Faustus is a tragic titanic character who in his desire to have the unique knowledge rejects the religion and chooses the world of magic (Hopkins and Steggle).
Rejecting the principles of philosophy, law, medicine, and especially theology as a rather false science, Marlowe’s Faustus tries to find the realization of his hopes in the magic which is able to raise him up to the enormous height of the unique knowledge and power. Thus, Faustus as the real man of the Renaissance cannot find the satisfaction of his desire of knowledge in the passive examination of books. His extreme desire and energy made him being involved in the interactions with Mephisto which leads him to death.
Thus, there is a vivid depiction of the tragic destiny of the man of the Renaissance who knows that he has powers and wants to use them in order to create a new reality (Bowers and Keeran). The play is written with using the metaphorical and figurative language in the form where the free verse is combined with the prose.
The ideals of the humanism, the rejection of the religious principles, the orientation on the antique patterns and the secular society were developed as the main values of the Renaissance. These features were characteristic for the literature of all the European countries, but they also acquired definite national elements. The works of Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spencer, and Christopher Marlowe include all the specific details of the Renaissance culture and determine the development of these tendencies in Britain.
Baker, David J., and Wiliam Maley,. British Identities and English Renaissance Literature. USA: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.
Bowers, Jennifer, and Peggy Keeran. Literary Research and the British Renaissance and Early Modern Period: Strategies and Sources. USA: Scarecrow Press, 2010. Print.
Hopkins, Lisa, and Matthew Steggle. Renaissance Literature and Culture (Introduction to British Literature and Culture). USA: Continuum, 2007. Print.