Renaissance Handout

English 203

Dr. Fike


  1. Renaissance:  definition and basic facts.
    1. From rinascita (Italian:  rebirth).  Therefore, the Renaissance = an __________________ rebirth.  Also called the Early Modern Period.
    2. Dates:

                                                               i.      In Italy:  1420-1600.

                                                             ii.      In England it arrived later:

1.      Either 1485-1660 (Henry VII-the accession of Charles II)

2.      Or 1509-1660 (Henry VIII-Charles II)

    1. Attempts to free the individual from two medieval institutions; medieval habits of mind newer attitudes, beliefs, disciplines.

                                                               i.      Feudalism

                                                             ii.      The Church

1.      Medieval view:  Life should be lived for the future.

2.      Renaissance view:  emphasis on the here and now + openness to classical antiquity.

  1. Cosmology:  Ptolemy Copernicus.
    1. Geocentric vs. heliocentric.
    2. Donne's "Anniversary" poems.

And new philosophy calls all in doubt

The element of fire is quite put out;

The sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit

Can well direct him where to look for it.

And freely men confess that this world's spent,

When in the planets, and the firmament

They seek so many new; then see that this

Is crumbled out again to his atomies*.                              * Tiny particles

'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone;

All just supply, and all relation:

Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,

For every man alone thinks he hath got

To be a phoenix, and that then can be

None of that kind, of which he is, but he.

  1. The Protestant Reformation.
    1. Martin Luther published his 95 theses in 1517.
    2. John Calvin published his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1532.
    3. The role of King Henry VIII in 1535:  "declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England."
    4. Church of England.
    5. Kind Edward VI (1547-1553), Queen Mary (1553-1558), Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603).

                                                               i.      Marian Persecution and John Foxe's Acts and Monuments.

                                                             ii.      1588:  Spanish Armada.

                                                            iii.      Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Book I.


  1. Humanism:  the influence of Mediterranean learning on European thinkers.
    1. Valued ancient texts for their own sake, not for their usefulness to Christianity.
    2. Classical study, not religion, was considered the highest expression of human values and the best way to develop a free and responsible individual.  Opposed the medieval tendency to denature ancient learning.
    3. What humanists believe:

                                                               i.      Not the "secular humanists" whom we talk about today; humanists were Christians.

                                                             ii.      Believed in optimism and anthropocentrism: 

1.      Rejected the doctrine of original sin, stressed man's innate ethical sense and ability to improve himself.

2.      Means of doing this:  education, reason, free inquiry.

iii.  Greatest English humanist:  Thomas More (cf. Utopia).