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LECTURE 5. ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE 16TH CENTURY

Henry VII was proclaimed King of England after the Wars of the Roses ended. Most of the great earls had killed one another in these wars and Henry VII was able to seize their lands without difficulty and give them to those who had helped him to fight for the Crown.

Thousands of small landowners appeared in England. They called themselves "squires". The squires let part of their estates to farmers who paid rent for the use of this land. The farmers, in their turn, hired labourers to till the soil and look after the sheep. The peasants in the villages had land and pastures in common.

By the reign of Henry VIII (son of Henry VII) trade had expanded. Trading companies sprang up and ships were built fitted to cross the ocean.

The English bourgeoisie strove for independence from other countries. The independence of a country is associated with the struggle for freedom. The Catholic Church was the chief obstacle and England rebelled against the Pope of Rome. Henry VIII made himself head of the English Church and took away monastic wealth (the lands and money that belonged to the monasteries), giving it to those of the bourgeoisie who sat in Parliament.

The Pope resisted England's struggle for independence, but the Church in England became part of the state. It was called the Anglican Church.

 

Elizabeth I

All the progressive elements now gathered around Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603). Even Parliament helped to establish an absolute monarchy in order to concentrate all its forces in defence of the country's economic interests against Spain, as Spain and England were rivals. Soon war between Spain and England broke out. Though the Spanish fleet was called the ‘Invincible Armada’, their ships were not built for sea battles, while the English vessels were capable of fighting under sail. The Armada was thoroughly beaten and dreadful storm overtook the fleet and destroyed almost all ships.

But in England all was joy and happiness. This was in 1588. Victory over the most dangerous political rival consolidated Great Britain's might on the seas and in world trade. Numerous English ships under admirals Drake, Hawkings and others sailed the seas, visited America and other countries, bringing from them great fortunes that enriched and strengthened the Crown.

At the same time the 16th century witnessed great contradictions between the wealth of the ruling class and the poverty of the people.

New social and economic conditions brought about great changes in the development of science and art. Together with the development of bourgeois relationship and formation of the English national state this period is marked by a flourishing of national culture known in history as the Renaissance.

 

THE RENAISSANCE

The word ‘renaissance’ means ‘rebirth’ in French and was used to denote a phase in the cultural development of Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. The Middle Ages were followed by a more progressive period due to numerous events. The bourgeoisie appeared as a new class. Italy was the first bourgeois country in Europe in the 14th century.



Columbus discovered America. Vasco da Gama reached the coast of India making his sea voyage. Magellan went round the earth. The world appeared in a new light.

The Copemican system of astronomy shattered the power of the Catholic Church, and the Protestant Church was set up. Printing was invented in Germany in the 15th century. Schools and universities were established in many European countries. Great men appeared in art, science and literature.

In art and literature the time between the 14th and 17th centuries was called the Renaissance. It was the rebirth of ancient Greek and Roman art and literature. Ancient culture attracted new writers and artists because it was full of joy of life and glorified the beauty of man.

The writers and learned men of the Renaissance turned against feudalism and roused in men a wish to know more about the true nature of things in the world. They were called humanists. Man was placed in the centre of life. He was no longer an evil being. He had a right to live, enjoy himself and be happy on earth.

The humanists were greatly interested in the sciences, especially in natural science, based on experiment and investigation.

These new ideas first appeared in Italy, then in France and Germany, and shortly afterwards in England and Spain.

The Italian painters and sculptors Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo glorified the beauty of man. The Italian poets Dante, Petrarch and the Italian writer Boccaccio, the French writer Rabelias, the Spanish writer Cervantes, and the English writer Thomas More and the poet Shakespeare helped people to fight for freedom and better future.

The renaissance was the greatest progressive revolution that mankind had so far experienced. It was a time which called for giants and produced giants — giants in power, thought, passion, character, in universality and learning. There was hardly anyman of importance who had not travelled extensively, who did not speak four or five languages.

Indeed, Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, mathematician and engineer. Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter and poet. Machiavelli was a statesman, poet and historian.

The wave of progress reached England in the 16th century. Many learned men from other countries, for, instance the German painter Holbein, and some Italian and French musicians, went to England. In literature England had her own men. One of them was the humanist Thomas More, the first English humanist of the Renaissance.

 

Thomas More (1478-1535)

Sir Thomas More was born in London and educated at Oxford. He began life as a lawyer. He was an active-minded man and kept a keen eye on the events of his time. The English writings of Thomas More include discussions on political subjects, biographies, poetry.

Thomas More was a Catholic, but fought against the Pope and the king's absolute power. The priests hated him because of his poetry and discussions on political subjects. Thomas More refused to obey the king as the head of the English Church, therefore he was thrown into the Tower of London and beheaded there as a traitor.

The work by which Thomas More is best remembered today is Utopia which was written in Latin in the year 1516. It has been translated into all European languages.

Utopia (which in Greek means "nowhere") is the name of a non-existent island. This work is divided into two books. In the first, the author gives a profound and truthful picture of the people's sufferings and points out the social evils existing in England at that time. In the second book Thomas More presents his ideal of what future society should be like. It is an ideal republic. Its government is elected. Everybody works. All schooling is free. Man must be healthy and wise, but not rich. Utopia describes a perfect social system built on communist principles.

The word ‘utopia’ has become a byword and is used in modern English to denote an unattainable ideal, usually in social and political matters.

 


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 1619


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