Wisdom is the daughter of experience
Leonardo da Vinci
Renaissance literature marks one of the most brilliant pages in the history of mankind’s artistic and spiritual development. Its extraordinary success is explained by the peculiarities of the historical period (14th-16th centuries in Italy and late 15th-16th centuries in other European countries) when the novel capitalism matured in the bowels of the old feudal system.
The main distinguishing feature of Renaissance literature is a new humanistic worldview that gave prominence to a man (homo), the creature with its unfettered, freed from the medieval dogmas, mind, and the scope of feelings worthy of the closest attention. Of course, its influence on the development of world literature cannot be underestimated. The period revealed a remarkable crowd of Renaissance writers who definitely left an indispensable mark in the work of countless authors that you may know.
The literature review writing specialists present a list of the most important Renaissance writers everyone should read. So, if you are still not familiar with them, we recommend that you do this immediately.
1. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
Perhaps the first name that comes to mind when we think of the Italian Renaissance is Dante Alighieri. There is hardly a person who has not even heard at least something about his monumental Divine Comedy. In it, Alighieri depicted his imaginary wanderings in the afterlife, recreating the society of his time with all its flaws and human sins: from the political strife to the declined authority of the corrupt church to the tragedy of human individuality that never managed to get rid of harmful passions and habits. Dante’s work had a significant impact on the further development of European culture and the completion of the Italian literary language formation process.
2. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375)
Boccaccio is one of the founders of intimate humanistic literature of the Italian Renaissance and the author of the renowned collection of short stories The Decameron and the novel Filocolo. The Decameron is undoubtedly his most famous work that comprises humanistic-orientated stories imbued with the freethinking spirit, sprinkled with good humor, and united by a mutual theme. Their main content and aim are the disclosure of the papal immorality and the monks’ debauchery, the mockery of the ascetic medieval morality, and the glorification of earthly pleasures and sensual love.
3. Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) (1304-1374)
Considering the most influential Renaissance poets and their works, we cannot but mention Petrarch. This Italian poet went down in history as the initiator of the humanistic Renaissance culture. He expressed his worldview, which was based on the idealization of the ancient cultural heritage, in Letters to Posterity. However, real worldwide fame came to him with his Songbook (Il Canzoniere), a collection of love poems dedicated to Laura, a chance encounter in a church, which captured him for the rest of his life. The poetry cycle in two parts, On the Life of Madonna Laura and On the Death of Madonna Laura, includes 317 sonnets, 29 songs, 9 sestinas, 7 ballads, and 4 madrigals, forming a kind of diary that showcases the contradiction and variability of love experiences. Petrarch’s love lyrics became a classic example of poetry, enriching it with musicality, figurative sophistication, and stylistic poetic devices, particularly antitheses and rhetorical questions that emphasize emotional experiences.
4. François Rabelais (1494-1553)
Rabelais is perhaps the most famous French Renaissance writer, who is best known as a “comic genius.” His series of books Gargantua and Pantagruel is written in a folklore style full of puns, grotesque, and heroes’ double-morality play that showcases the thirst for wine and knowledge. The giant Gargantua travels through the reality of the time, experiencing its joys and pains, intelligence and stupidity, dignity and insignificance. Rabelais’ novels in this cycle, which are directed against obscurantism and scholasticism, became a real encyclopedia of the French Renaissance artistic culture.
5. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Molière) (1622-1673)
Molière, the representative of the late French Renaissance, was also well known for his humor. At the time, his social satire had a remarkable influence on culture in France. Perhaps, only the king’s favoritism can explain Molière’s durable and extensive literary activity. Considering his daring attempts to attack powerful figures in the French politics, culture, and religion of the time, his work was quite risky and dangerous.
6. Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)
The truly great Spanish writer entered the world culture mainly as the author of the parody novel Don Quixote. Indeed, even if you do not know Miguel de Cervantes, you definitely know the book with its specific Spanish flavor. According to the plot, two noble romantics – the knight Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza – stubbornly try to resist the passive social environment, which constantly and inevitably pushes them into a myriad of funny adventures. The great artistic power of the writer helped him show how tragicomic the enthusiasm of a noble human personality is under the conditions of the practical petty bourgeoisie supremacy and the lack of spirituality. Don Quixote is a sad ridicule of romanticism in the era that had already become history. On the other hand, the novel reveals the collapse of the high nobleness of a person’s thoughts while graciously destroying the rhythms of reality.
7. Lope de Vega (1562-1635)
Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio was a Spanish playwright, poet, and novelist. The most famous dramatic works in his immense literary heritage are The Sheep Well, The Dance Teacher, The Dog in the Manger, The Innocent Girl, and Madness in Valencia. Imbued with anti-feudal pathos, deep democracy, cheerfulness, and humor, they promoted freedom of feelings and women’s equality in love and marriage. Due to this direction, Lope de Vega’s creative legacy has always been and remains relevant, realistically reflecting life on theater stages.
8. William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
It is impossible to imagine a person who has never heard about William Shakespeare, has never read his plays, or has never seen a movie based on his plots. Indeed, the dramatic works by this great English playwright and poet, such as Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III, and many others, have become universally acknowledged classics, the unsurpassed examples of tragic art. A characteristic feature of Shakespeare’s plays is the concentration of multiple life contradictions in human relationships. He drew the image of a person in all its versatility, significance, greatness, complexity, and dynamics. The entire world of human passions, desires, and aspirations, commonly dubbed “Shakespearean,” perfectly fitted into his works. Shakespeare’s creative heritage is rightly considered to be one of the world art’s peaks.
9. Geoffrey Chaucer (1340s–1400)
However, even Shakespeare’s plays would not be possible without Geoffrey Chaucer, “the father of English literature.” When the royal family referred themselves to the French royalty, French became the official language of the court and a sign of prestige and nobility, while English was considered the low-grade dialect of the uneducated common men. Amidst this unjust linguistic opposition, The Canterbury Tales emerged as something unthinkable and almost divine – the first really serious literary work in late Middle English. But above that, the meter used by Chaucer in his verse became the ancestor of iambic pentameter, which would be used by later poets, including William Shakespeare.
10. John Milton (1608-1674)
Another influential figure in English poetry is undoubtedly John Milton. His epic poem Paradise Lost was written in blank verse, a technique that was rather uncommon at the time. In addition to being one of the earliest examples of unrhymed lines, it also became one of the most influential works due to the way Milton presented a well-known biblical story about Adam and Eve.
In literature, everything is interconnected and tangled. Earlier literary works give rise to later forms and genres and open the door for a myriad of future innovators. While Renaissance was not the start of literature or its most prominent period, it was definitely one of its important links that marked a transition between the Middle Ages and modernity. Everything could turn quite differently if it was not for the writers who worked during that period. Most of the literature review writing services recommend getting acquainted with the most influential Renaissance writers to understand the further evolution of world literature and perhaps see the works by contemporary authors clearer.