Renaissance England

Cristian Sánchez-Bayton Griffith
Álvaro García del Valle Matínez


Renaissance means re-birth. From about 1500 to 1600 the world was reborn in many ways. The Renaissance began in Italy, especially in art and architecture in the 15th century. The English Renaissance is distinct from the Italian Renaissance in several ways. For example the dominant art form of the English Renaissance was literature, while in the Italian Renaissance, painting and sculpture were more important. The Renaissance impacted not only in art, but also in philosophy, pólitics, religion as well as culture.

This presentation is divided into four parts. In philosophy we’ll discuss humanism whose main English figure is Saint Thomas More. In pólitics, we’ll center the discussion on the Tudor Monarchs and how their decisions impacted religious life. And finally, in art the dominant form was theatre and the main figure, without a doubt, is William Shakespeare.


The most fundamental point of agreement is that the humanist mentality stood at a point midway between the past medieval supernaturalism and the future modern scientific attitude. Medievalists see humanism as the end of the middle Ages.
Perhaps the most we can assume is that the man of the Renaissance lived between two worlds. There was a contrast between the world of medieval Christianity and a new system of scientific concepts and social principles. In other words, the Renaissance man may indeed have found himself suspended between faith and reason.
Philosophy, religion, and pólitics are all together in the figure of Thomas More. THOMAS MORE was clearly this Renaissance man between faith and reason. Sir Thomas More also known as Saint Thomas More, was the most important person in England after the king , Lord Chancellor he aslo was an English lawyer, author, and statesman. More had come to believe that the rise of Protestantísm represented a grave threat to social and political order in Christian Europe.

In 1515 More wrote his most famous and controversial work: Utopia.(from Greek: «place that does not exist») It is a story about an imaginary island, depicted by Sir Thomas More as a perfect social, legal, and political system. In the book, More contrasts the contentious social life of European states with the perfectly orderly and reasonable social arrangements of the Utopia, where private property does not exist and almost complete religious toleration is practiced.
Furthermore, it is notable that Utopia is tolerant of different religious practices but does not advocate tolerance for atheists. More theorizes that if a man did not believe in God or an afterlife of any kind he could never be trusted as he would not be logically driven to acknowledge any authority or principles outside himself.

During his lifetime More earned a reputation as a leading humanist scholar and occupied many public offices, including that of Lord Chancellor from 1529 to 1532. He is chiefly remembered for his principled refusal to accept King Henry VIII’s claim to be supreme head of the Church of England, a decision which ended his political career and led to his execution as a traitor.

In 1935, four hundred years after his death, More was canonized in the Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI, and was later declared the patron saint of lawyers and statesmen.

Religion affected philosophy as it did politics. They were all intertwined. More was caught up by religion, by his philosophy; and the religious-politics of the Tudor Monarchs led him to his death.

The exact dates for the Renaissance vary from country to country. In England, most people agree that the English Renaissance began with the reign of the Tudor monarchs. After the War of the Roses Henry VII began his reign in 1485, he was succeeded by his son Henry VII in 1509. The most significant contribution of this reign was the separation from Rome and the creation of the Church of England. Henry’s motives for the break with Rome were dynastic, not religious: he needed a legitimate son and his queen, Catherine of Aragon, could not give him one. He was unable after long negotiations to obtain permission from Rome to divorce her. He then declared himself Supreme head of the English church. With this, he effectively joined Church and State and separated himself from Rome and the influence of the Catholic Church.
This decision set the stage for many years of political and religious conflict.
Henry Tudor´s three children also represented clearly this political-religious conflict.
With Edward VI, Protestantism was established for the first time in England.
But his half sister Mary Tudor who married Philip II of Spain is remembered for returning England to Roman Catholicism. She had almost three hundred religious dissenters executed; as a consequence, she is often known as Bloody Mary. Her religious policies, however, were in many cases reversed by her successor and half-sister, Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth established the English church in terms acceptable to the vast majority of her subjects. She imposed a form of service (Retaining much of the old roman ritual) And although she compelled her subjects to attend it, she left their consciences to themselves.
The Protestant Reformation became entrenched in the national mindset. 1559 The Elizabethan religious settlement finally sévered the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church after decades of uncertainty. English Catholics were pressured to convert and in the end, laws made Catholicism illegal.
Politically, England’s one great rival was Spain. The two countries conflicted both in Europe and the Americas in small battles that exploded into the Anglo-Spanish War of 1585–1604. An attempt by Philip II of Spain to invade England with the Spanish Armada in 1588 was defeated.
Elizabeth I reigned for about 44 years, during a period marked by increases in English power and influence worldwide, as well as great religious confrontation within England.
Elizabeth’s reign is referred to as the Elizabethan era or the Golden Age of Elizabeth. It was the height of the English Renaissance, and saw the flowering of English literature and poetry. This was also the time during which Elizabethan theatre flourished and William Shakespeare, among others, composed plays that broke away from England’s past style of plays


William Shakespeare (1564 –1616) was an English poet and playwright widely regarded as the greatest writer of the English language, and as the world’s most well known dramatist. He wrote approximately 38 plays and 154 sonnets, as well as a variety of other poems. He is often considered to be England’s national poet.
Shakespeare is the most quoted writer in the literature and history of the English-speaking world, and many of his quotations have passed into everyday usage in English and other languages.
To be or not to be. Hamlet
He is counted among the few playwrights who have excelled in both tragedy and comedy; his plays combine popular appeal and at the same time debate the basic elements of what it means to be human Shakespeare’s plays tend to be placed into three main stylistic groups:
• Comedies for example A Midsummer’s Night Dream
• Histories like Richard II
• Tragedies like Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet.
When Shakespeare arrived in London, theatre was changing. The building, the players and even the play itself all contributed to the popularity of renaissance drama.
The place
The main factor in the success of English renaissance drama was the building of the first public theatres, a place where drama could become a fixed and permanent phenomenon. In the past, the morality and academic plays were only performed in private homes or outside the churches.
Both The players and the performances increased in number.
Actors needed the patronage of the noblemen. Before the reign of Elizabeth I, companies of players performed mystic or morality plays seasonally in various locations. As the number and variety of performances increased, the actors went on tours. However, a 1572 law eliminated the companies lacking formal patronage by calling them vagabonds. Professional companies with noble patrons grew in number and quality during Elizabeth’s reign.
One distinctive feature of the companies was that the female parts were played by adolescent boy players in women’s costume.
At this time there were several companies of actors in London. Shakespeare was part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, that later became the King’s Men in James I’s reign. Shakespeare not only acted with this company, but eventually became a leading shareholder and principal playwright. Shakespeare was unique because of his total dedication to the theater.
The audience was also different. It was the first time that theater was open to the lower classes. The groundlings were low class spectators that enjoyed the action scenes as well as the comedy perhaps missing the higher meaning.

Shakespeare’s works have been a major influence on subsequent theatre. Shakespeare also transformed English theatre by expanding expectations about what could be accomplished through characterization, plot, action, language, and genre. His poetic artistry helped raise the status of popular theatre, permitting it to be admired by intellectuals as well as by those seeking pure entertainment
Many of Shakespeare’s plays have the reputation of being among the greatest in the English language and in Western literature. All of Shakespeare’s works have been translated into every major living language, and are continually performed all over the world.


The Renaissance impacted not only in art, but also in philosophy, pólitics, religion as well as culture. In England, This Age is viewed so highly because it contrasts with the periods before and after. It was a brief period of largely internal peace between the English Reformation and the battles between Protestants and Catholics . In fact the English Civil War abruptly marks the end of the Renaissance in England. Theaters were closed, the monarch beheaded, and the Puritan religion imposed. Clearly in order for culture to flourish, there must be peace.

The Renaissance was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life, and saw the advance of English literature and poetry and the seed of the future British Empire.