Renaissance literature: what it is, origin, literary development, representative works and authors


What is Renaissance literature?

Renaissance literature, as it is also known, refers to all the literature that was produced during the Renaissance, a period that spans from the 15th to the 16th century in the European continent. It was mainly characterized by the return to the classical forms of the Greco-Latin era, a process that took place not only in literature, but also in other artistic expressions, in addition to philosophy.

Many authors and artists considered that during the Middle Ages the humanism that had characterized the classical period was left aside, which is why the term -Renaissance-, takes title at this time to retake the ideas. This was especially important due to the invention of the printing press, a tool that contributed substantially to the dissemination of the ideas that arose during this period in cultural and intellectual matters.

History and origin of Renaissance literature

The Renaissance literature movement was born in Italy, considered a cultural center, which later allowed it to spread to other regions of the European continent. During this time, the arrival of the Spaniards in America also took place, a process that had an important influence on literary expressions, leading to an overvaluation of reason over faith and science.

What is Renaissance literature

This event will be crucial, as it will lead authors to works with an intense sense of human reason as one of the supreme values. Thus, specifically in Florence, Renaissance literature will take its first place of development. However, in addition to this, Renaissance literature will be in the midst of two fundamental paths; on the one hand, the expression of the idealization of reality, and on the other, the quest to embody critical realism.

Literary development in the Renaissance 

This moment will be crucial for the development of literature, as new forms of writing begin to emerge, among which the novel stands out fundamentally. However, other subgenres also appeared, such as the sonnet, the essay and the hendecasyllabic verse as a form of composition.

Renaissance literature will continue to cultivate lyric poetry, as well as poetry with religious content, including in its productions the pastoral novel and the books of chivalry, continuing with dramatic representations. On the other hand, it is necessary to mention that in addition to the use of decasyllabic verse as the style of the time, foreign themes that often refer to universality begin to be worked on.

Likewise, the introduction of the figure of the enunciator who gives life to the poetic voice, the use of prose in order to express ideas and opinions, the aesthetic use of myths and legends, the way in which themes that are not from the same region appear, and above all, the reduction of the moralizing function within literature, since in medieval literature this was a constant aspect due to the power of the Catholic Church and its subjugation of the arts, stand out in this period.

Main characteristics of Renaissance literature

Among the most important characteristics of this period for literature, we find the following:

Themes: the themes that abound in Renaissance literature are often love that sings to the beauty of the soul and body, as well as the tragedy that looms when love is not achieved. There are also themes related to the idealization of nature and the way it inspires artists, classical mythology to bring back characters from this historical moment, the exploits of knights, social criticism that points out injustices and inequalities, as well as criticism of the Church, questioning its ways of acting, corruption and management of power. It also includes religious sentiments.

Although he has a series of varied themes for his creations, the woman continues to be an axis of inspiration for the poet, highlighting clear and preferential physical characteristics that highlight the beauty only in the woman who has a white complexion, blond hair and light eyes.

Greco-Latin tradition: let us remember that this era owes its name to the authors’ view of the classical Greco-Latin cultural tradition, which seeks to bring back its forms and above all the humanism that characterized classical art, including classical literature.

Anthropocentric vision: an essential aspect of this moment has to do with the place occupied by the human being, since he is considered to be the central axis of the world, thus configuring an anthropocentric vision in Renaissance literature. This aspect contrasts with the ideas professed in medieval literature, where it is God who occupies the center of the universe, previously developing a theocentric vision.

Reason: during this period, another fundamental aspect of literary and artistic development has to do with the fact that reason becomes more important than faith, so that reason is placed above faith, emphasizing the need to cultivate a critical and rationalistic spirit that will be exalted and worked on in literature. To this must be added that the mentality of the time was given to curiosity, a stimulus that provoked in many people a taste for research and science.

This is due to the fact that in the Renaissance period important inventions were developed, such as the printing press, the compass, the telescope and later, the Protestant reform within the Catholic Church. It was precisely the printing press that facilitated the knowledge of writing and reading among people, which considerably increased the number of readers and was reflected in the growth of the demand for literary productions.

Nature: for this time and one of the most important constants, especially in poetic expression, will be the vision of nature, since it is considered as the ultimate symbol of perfection, thus putting it with an idealized vision of nature.

Main works of the Renaissance period

This period is characterized by a great literary production, as previous authors such as Dante, Bocaccio and Petrarch inspire many of the later writers for their own artistic productions under the splendor of the Renaissance.

Among the main works and authors that are part of Renaissance literature we find for example: “Utopia” by Thomas More, “Don Quixote of La Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, “Dark Night” by St. John of the Cross, “In Praise of Folly” by Erasmus of Rotterdam, “Gargantua and Pantagruel” by Francois Rabelais, “El lazarillo de Tormes” by an anonymous author, “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, “The Fairy Queen” by Edmund Spenser, “The Courtier” by Baltasar Castiglione, among others.