The Renaissance (1485-1660)
The Renaissance is one of the most interesting periods in all of English history. The first part of the Renaissance, the Elizabethan period, saw the reign of five monarchs, including King Henry VIII and culminating with Queen Elizabeth I. The term Elizabethan is given to this era for essentially two reasons: first, for Elizabeth's long rule (forty-five years), and, second, because during her reign England attained new heights in world affairs, in art, in literature, in music, and in nearly every other aspect of human activity.
The humanistic renaissance that swept across Europe brought with it a new way of looking at the world. Human beings, more confident of their own capabilities, sought truth in themselves and nature. The thinking of such humanists as Erasmus (Henry VIII's tutor), Sir Thomas More, and John Colet was encouraged. Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were receptive to the creative accomplishments of writers, artists, and dramatists. Many of Shakespeare's plays were written to be performed at court, and nearly every writer of importance enjoyed the patronage of some noble or wealthy family.
The English Renaissance extends through the reigns of James I and
Charles I, encompassing the period of the Civil War and the Protectorate, and ends with the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. These historical events are all reflected in the diverse literature of this period.