Baroque literature: what it is, how it arose and its characteristics


What was baroque literature?

The Baroque is known as a particularly cultural period that took place from the second half of the sixteenth century until the early part of the eighteenth century in the European continent mainly, although it also developed in Latin America and other areas that were subjected to European colonization.

One of the main characteristics of the Baroque, which distinguishes it from the Renaissance, had to do with the expression of a pessimistic sensibility of being, together with an important criticism that was evident in the literary production seen from the psychological, political and social perspective. Thus, the literary creations developed during the Baroque period will come to be known as Baroque literature or Baroque literature.

What was baroque literature

On the other hand, many experts defined baroque literature as “art of seeming”, highlighted by three determining traits: spectacularity, emotionality and effectiveness.

Emergence of Baroque literature

Many experts agree that the literary expressions of the Baroque emerged especially in areas such as France, Italy and England, since they were areas where the literary elements defined within the Baroque were more exalted and clearer. As is clear, the Baroque comes from a conflicting process preceded by the Renaissance. In contrast, the proposals of overloaded Baroque literature emerge after the fracture of Renaissance literature with an intention of expansion.

Thus, in the face of the overloaded space that began to appear, the use of the term served to refer to these artistic manifestations catalogued as exaggerated and with a lot of movement, which would later become one of its main characteristics.

Baroque literature was considered a literary movement mainly of an ideological nature, because although it employs formal resources of writing in an excessive way, the intention and ideological sense is greater. This is due to the fact that the authors’ creations take as a starting point the crises of their context, defining a relationship close to processes such as the Counter-Reformation, for example. In this sense, themes such as hunger, begging, need, plague, will be central themes of the writers, guided by a pessimistic, sad and hard vision.

Development of literature in the Baroque

Faced with the processes that begin to appear at this time, aspects such as excess, but also the use of literary figures, will take an important part in the development of literature during the Baroque. Thus, one of the most important characteristics that gradually began to consolidate in this literature was the use of details, in which the fundamental resource was the literary figures, mainly the metaphor, the hyperbaton, the ellipsis, the periphrasis and the antithesis.

It is important to bear in mind that the Baroque will also inherit several elements of Renaissance literature, which we have already mentioned above. Among them are the literary genres, especially in dramaturgy, where various forms of comedy and tragicomedy continue to appear, confronting the classical structure that predominated.

In its development, baroque literature adopts different literary currents such as culteranismo, also known as gongorismo, which values form over content. And on the other hand, the conceptismo, in which the content stands out above the form.

Literary genres

Poetry was one of the most worked genres, oriented by a hopeless air in which special attention was paid to the expression of feelings but with proposals of each author with forms configured by their own interests. The prose is promoted by Spain with an important production of writings, in particular the novel and with outstanding forms such as the picaresque novel with a protagonist of the pleve and the courtly novel that evidenced the life of luxury.

On the other hand, the theater had an important impact of the Baroque movement marked by the direct way in which it seeks to reach the public using the explicit that leaves aside the distinction of social classes. Thus, among its main themes, it is possible to identify historical, religious and mythological relations and references as the most used axes of construction. Their authors distinguished themselves by creating environments of grace related to the pontiffs and leaders. At this time, established theater companies emerged from traveling theaters.

Characteristics of Baroque literature

Below we will see some important points about baroque literature that were determinant for its development during this time and that consolidated its strongest features. Among them we find the following:

Horror vacui

This is a Latin expression that refers to the “horror of emptiness”. This was due to the fact that in general, the authors of the Baroque art manifestations were focused and interested in an important use of elements with which their works would be seen as too loaded or pompous, seeking to fill the space.

Presence of pessimism

The Baroque was also seen as a conflictive time for the human being, reason why its artistic expressions, especially in the literary field, were scenarios that put in evidence the pessimism that was felt in front of the historical crisis that this time went through. That is why one of the most important themes in his works will be history, although others also appear, this will be central and with it the drama.

Permanent tension

Another of the most important points about literature in the Baroque is related to the frequent presence of tension. Here there is something relevant and it is the sense of dynamism that is handled in his works, where the tension weaves one of the fundamental axes of development away from the state of stillness and prioritizing the tension in writing and content.

Topics of literature

Among the main topics that are developed in this literature, there are mainly those related to the disenchantment and transience of life, such as: “World as theater” in which the world is uncertain and incites reflection, “World upside down” that rejects injustice, “Memento mori” that refers to the inevitable death, “Changing fortune”, “Carpe diem”, among others.

Renewing literature

Many experts saw the proposal of baroque literature as a proposal that brought with it several innovations, especially related to the structure of literature. One of the key elements was the tercet, but also the sonnet, the redondilla and the quatrain. Thus, most Spanish writers adopted the literary manifestations of nearby regions, adjusting them to their own language.

works of literature in the Baroque period

Main representatives and works of literature in the Baroque period

Let’s take a look at some of the most important authors of Baroque literature with their most recognized works, which were key to the continuation of literary development not only in Europe, but also in other parts of the world: Luis de Góngora with works such as Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea; Soledades, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz with Divino narciso; Redondillas; Primero sueño; Los empeños de una casa, Pedro Calderón de la Barca with La vida es sueño; El gran teatro del mundo; El príncipe constante, Lope de Vega who wrote Fuenteovejuna; El perro del hortelano; Francisco de Quevedo with his plays Sueños y discursos; El Parnaso español; Historia de la vida del Buscón; Jean Racine with Fedra; Andromache; Ifigenia; Tirso de Molina with El burlador de Sevilla; El condenado por desconfiado; El vergonzoso en palacio; John Milton with El paraíso perdido; Veintitrés sonetos; Comus; Arcades.

On the other hand, other great authors are Giovan Battista Marino with works such as Le Rime; La lira; ‘L’Adone’, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin or Molière with his most representative works Tartuffe; El enfermo imaginario; El médico a palos, among others. .

Undoubtedly, literature in the Baroque was of great importance for the literary development, that is why it is necessary to know more about it. You can find in our Literature sections, much more information about other relevant movements and learn more about this important field of art.