Differences between medieval & renaissance literature

Written by nadine smith
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Differences between medieval & renaissance literature
Monks sometimes wrote Medieval texts. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The medieval era in Europe, also known as the Dark Ages or Middle Ages, spanned approximately 1000 years from the years 400 to 1500. The Renaissance period followed and lasted into the 1600s. The periods are strikingly different from each other, as the Renaissance is largely a reaction to what people of that time considered an ignorant, primitive period -- hence the name "Dark Ages."

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Medieval Philosophy and Worldview

The literature of any period reflects and expresses the predominant worldviews of its time. Religion and the exertion of physical power over others largely concerned medieval literature, as evinced in one of the earliest pieces of medieval literature, the epic poem "Beowulf." However, although the period is generally considered a religious one, peoples at this time subscribed to various faiths, including Christianity, paganism and Islam. Because of this, medieval philosophy became a hodgepodge of pagan, classical and Christian beliefs over the centuries, until more widespread translation of classical texts helped give birth to the Renaissance.

Renaissance Philosophy and Worldview

The Renaissance, also known as the Enlightenment, considered the medieval period intellectually empty. Renaissance poets Dante and Petrarch both wrote poetry after the classical tradition. Later Renaissance art and literature reflected a general movement toward freedom of thought and expression, as expressed in many of Shakespeare's plays, which reference scientific and religious advancements, such as Galileo's discovery that the earth revolves around the sun and the Protestant Reformation.

Medieval Genres and Literary Conventions

As most people were not literate in the medieval period, medieval literature generally reflects the ideals and beliefs of the aristocracy. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote poetry for the aristocratic court before producing "The Canterbury Tales," which narrates stories of individuals of all social ranking. Many medieval texts extol physically powerful heroes, such as in "Beowulf" and "The Song of Roland," both by anonymous authors. Courtly love became a subject of medieval poetry, where an honourable knight serves and suffers for a virtuous lady.

Renaissance Genres and Literary Conventions

The invention of the printing press and the subsequent mass publication of the Bible and other texts increased the availability of literature and the number of literate readers. The Renaissance arose in several European countries, but famous English writers of the Renaissance period include William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Thomas More, Sir Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson, Francis Bacon and more. The sonnet is often considered a poetic form characteristic of the Renaissance; monarchs such as Queen Elizabeth enjoyed dramas in the form of tragedies, comedies and histories.

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