Renaissance literature is alive with drama, romance, humor, scandal and all the other elements that make the human experience so rich. Themes of the era ranged from political and dry to vulgar
and raw. This was a time when writers were challenging norms and breaking boundaries using the written word. What many people find most fascinating about Renaissance writers is the way they
were so able to welcome a new era of art while borrowing so heavily from the works of ancient times. This was an interesting time for the written word because emerging humanistic themes were
blending with biblical stories in a way that had never been done before. Readers were being introduced to the concept of fleshy, fallible icons from biblical stories. Gone were the rigid,
one-dimensional spiritual patriarchs that had been honored in the past. Renaissance writers weren't afraid to depict the flaws, uncertainties and missteps of man as he fumbled his way towards
reaching an understanding with his creator. The three biggest influences that helped to shape Renaissance literature were the emerging humanist philosophy, the recovery of literature from
ancient times and the invention of the printing press. The Christian themes that were woven into many of the most popular literary works of the day cannot be denied. It can be hard to tell
in many cases if a writer is writing words of profane blasphemy against religion or simply using dark beauty to sing the praises of his creator. The lines of the profane and the sacred were
blurred during the Renaissance in a way that had never been done so masterfully. There are several literary works that have stood the test of time to represent the essence of the Renaissance.
These works capture the beauty, turmoil and change that was shaping Europe during this vivid and world-altering period in history.
The Works of William Shakespeare
Williams Shakespeare was born towards the end of the Renaissance. His life on the stage took place at about the time England was ushering in the Elizabethan period. The Bard played an
interesting role in spreading the ideas of the Renaissance in England because of the way he brought an appreciation for ancient ideals to the mainstream world of English theater.
is credited as being the first person to truly bring the ideals of the Renaissance to the stage. He routinely brought tidbits from
classic works of Greek and Roman culture into his plays. Hamlet
is probably the best example of Shakespeare's use of the humanistic
approach to depict one of his characters. His ability to create psychologically complex and multi-dimensional characters truly stood out at the time. He was not afraid to give monarchs human
emotions and flaws. This is evident in works like King Lear
and Richard III
The Works of John Milton
John Milton's works embody the struggle that existed in the hearts and minds of men during the Renaissance. His works often touched on themes of vice and virtue. Milton is best known for
"Paradise Lost." This epic work is considered by many to be one of the most important religious-themed writing of all time. Milton takes the reader on a journey that imagines Satan's
relationship to man, depicts an angelic war and follows the separation of Adam and Eve from their creator. Themes of idolatry are evident to readers who are familiar with Milton's firm
anti-Catholic theological stance. What is remarkable about this work for many is the way Milton was able to bring a humanistic element to biblical figures.
The Works of Miguel de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes was a Spanish writer who is best known for writing "Don Quixote." This work was important because it is credited by many as being one of the founding pieces of Western
literature. The tale is seen by many as a satire on orthodoxy and nationalism.
The Works of Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò Machiavelli's works were focused on political science and commentary. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs and poems. He is best known for writing "The Prince." This book contains
maxims concerning politics and human behavior. It lays out the groundwork for how a leader should deal with the issues or morality while holding a public status. Themes of power, principle
and change are evident throughout the book.
The Works of Teresa of Ávila
Teresa of Ávila was a Carmelite nun with a robust literary legacy. She completed a number of religious works that focused on themes of mysticism, obedience and spiritual fulfillment.
She is best known for "The Way of Perfection" and "The Interior Castle."
The Works of Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was an English playwright and poet. He is best known for composing Elizabethan tragedies. Works like "The Jew of Malta" and "Edward the Second" touch on themes of
rebellion and unrest. Marlowe captured the deep human emotions and raw actions that were characteristic of the Renaissance movement.
The Works of Petrarch
Petrarch was an Italian scholar and poet. He is credited with rediscovering the works of Cicero. This act is what many scholars believe truly sparked the Renaissance. Petrarch is best
known by many for a work of poetry called "Canzoniere." He also authored an extremely popular self-help book called "Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul."
The Works of François Rabelais
François Rabelais was a French Renaissance writer with a background in medicine. His works often featured dark humor and extravagance. He is best known for a satirical work called
"Gargantua and Pantagruel." The book chronicled the adventures of two giants through a series of adventures that were labeled by many as obscene and violent at the time.
The Works of Alberico Gentili
Alberico Gentili was an Oxford professor with a literary career that revolved around legal doctrines. Many law students today still read "On the Laws of War and Peace" and
"De Juris Interpretibus Dialogi Sex."
Gil Vicente was a Portuguese playwright who often focused on the theme of the changing times he lived in. He routinely borrowed from biblical themes and ancient ideals. He is best
known for the plays "The Temple of Apollo" and "A Brief Summary of the Story of God."