Although this period has often been called the Elizabethan Period due to the importance of Queen Elizabeth in increasing English prosperity and patronizing the arts, the entire Tudor family was responsible for ending the chronic warfare and introducing England to the modern age.

Elizabeth ruled England for almost fifty years and was the last of the Tudors. Though she never married and was known as the "virgin queen," her hand was sought by many during her reign.
Robert Dudley was the chief candidate for marriage, but constant political intrigues eventually brought him into disfavor with the crown. As with many foolish men of the time, Dudley underestimated the queen.
Philip of Spain once sought Elizabeth's hand, but he later married Mary, Queen of Scots. When Elizabeth ordered the execution of Mary, Philip attacked England with his famous fleet, the armada. Philip's defeat made England a leading power in Europe.

Along with promoting the arts, Elizabeth supported education. Oxford and Cambridge became leading centers of learning in Europe. Though the universities were oriented toward religious studies, many writers attended classes to broaden their knowledge of the classics in Greek and Latin.

Renaissance Drama

While poetry was chiefly considered as the only literary art, this period featured an explosion of activity in the London theaters. Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Jonson were only a few of the men of genius who wrote and produced works in the classical and popular styles.

Renaissance Poetry

While strongly influenced by the Italian verse structure, English poetry developed a character of its own. The sonnet became an English genre, using quatrains and couplets to contain iambic pentameter. These sonnets, often in sets or sequences, generally dealt with love and romance.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Sir Thomas Wyatt, a courtier of Henry VIII, is credited with having introduced the Italian sonnet to England. His "Whoso List to Hunt" deals with the entire court's obsession over the seductive Anne Boleyn, soon to the wife of the powerful Henry VIII. He warns the other courtiers to be careful.

Sir Philip Sidney

More than soldier, courtier, and literary critic, Sidney was a well-established poet. He made a name for himself in the court of Queen Elizabeth and was one of the most popular men of his time. Sidney's chief contribution to English literature is the addition of the sonnet sequence.
His Astrophel and Stella sonnets center on a frustrated man who has been separated from his lover because of her father's higher ambition for her marriage. These sonnets actually tell the true story of Sidney and Penelope Devereux. Penelope finally married another man.
Astrophel and Stella "Sonnet 31" has Astrophel asking the moon if he is suffering from the frustrated love that Cupid causes, and in "Sonnet 39" Astrophel calls upon sleep to ease his suffering and reunite him with Stella through his dreams.

Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe was mainly known as a playwright, though he wrote some poetry. The powerful blank verse of his plays tends to be superior to the poetry in the early works of Shakespeare. Critics believe that if Marlowe lived longer, his works would have exceeded Shakespeare's.
In Marlowe's Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, Faustus may have mirrored Marlowe's obsession with excess and living life to the fullest. Faustus sells his soul to the devil and is too proud to repent in the end. In reality, he battles himself and falls victim to his own ego.
Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" also voices the "live life to the fullest" philosophy. The shepherd offers all he has to win the woman he loves. This pastoral poem is fairly representative of the common style of the time.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh made a greater name for himself during Elizabeth's reign as a courtier, explorer, and soldier. His political intrigues brought him fame as well as adversity. Eventually, he was executed by the order of James I for his political views and actions.
Raleigh's non-literary activities have diminished his reputation as a poet and historian. Because of his dominating presence on the social scene, people didn't take his poetry very seriously. Also, much of his work was destroyed when he was tried and executed for treason.

"The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd" is a perfect parody for Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love." Both rhyme and meter are identical, but the message is a complete reversal. The Nymph tells the Shepherd that his promises are worthless because all elements of nature fade and eventually die in time.
The advice that Raleigh gives to his son in "To His Son" is quite ironic in light of the fact that Raleigh, himself, got into trouble with the authorities and was executed. He warns his son that irresponsible behavior, continually maintained, will lead to a hanging. His son, the "wag" is told what will happen when "wood" and "weed" meet.

Edmund Spenser

Edmund Spenser was Raleigh's close friend and probably the best "pure" poet of the period. Living in Ireland for most of his adult life, Spenser composed The Faerie Queen which is the longest narrative poem in English, as well as numerous sets of sonnets and other moderate length works. His work has had the greatest impact on future generations of poets who tend to imitate both his styles and his approaches.

In "Canto I" of The Faerie Queen, The Redcrosse Knight is ordered by Gloriana to follow a lady and eventually battle a dragon. The Redcrosse Knight meets Error, a troublesome beast, that he eventually defeats, after following some valuable advice. Now the Redcrosse Knight is ready for the next stage.
The Faerie Queen is composed of six and a half books, roughly a total of 34 thousand lines. The entire work is an allegory and employs Spencer's special nine-line stanza which uses iambic pentameter in a rhyme scheme of A B A B B C B C C. The last line of each stanza, called an alexandrine, has a caesura and two extra syllables.

"Sonnet 1" is given from a poet's point of view. He tells his love how all that he writes is for her eyes alone. He seeks no praise from others, and his efforts are rewarded if his "leaves" of poetry are blessed by even the slightest attention from her eyes. Indirectly, he praises her as his only source of inspiration.
"Sonnet 26" uses parallelism to restate how every plant has its "sweet" and "sour." However, the key point goes beyond the belief that you must take the bad with the good. Spenser contends that it is the pain or danger from the bad ("sour") that makes the good ( "sweet") so much more desirable. Thus, the bad makes the good better.
"Sonnet 75" is also given from a poet's point of view. When the woman tells the poet that his writing in the sand is a waste of time, that it will be washed away by the tide (symbolic of time passing), the poet responds that not all of his words will be washed away. Words he has written will keep their love love alive, hundreds of years after the two of them have died.

Thomas Nashe

Thomas Nashe, though a minor poet, is highly representative of the literary art of satire, so popular at this time. "Litany in Time of Plague" seems quite serious on the surface, reminding us we all must die; but Nashe is only using hyperbole to poke fun at those who are obsessed with the darker and depressing side of life.

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's name is instantly associated with drama, but Shakespeare also had a complete career as an Elizabethan poet. He has two narrative poems of considerable length and a set of 154 sonnets that employ his rhyme scheme of A B A B C D C D E F E F G G. These sonnets are dedicated to his patron, a mysterious and wealthy young man.

Shakespeare's Sonnets

"Sonnet 29" sounds like the ultimate complaint, as the poet says how everyone he knows has something better than he: skills, appearance, wealth, friends, and luck. When he reaches the point where he feels God refuses to hear his prayers, he remembers his love which makes him feel more wealthy than any other man.
In "Sonnet 73," the speaker is an older man, rapidly approaching the time when his hair will turn gray and fell from his head (this is compared to leaves turning yellow and eventually falling from trees each year as winter approaches). He claims that she loves him more because the sings of nature say she will lose him in the near future.
"Sonnet 116" attempts to define true love. The poet claims that, like the North Star which can always be found in the same spot in the night sky, true love never changes, even when there are good reasons for it to change. also, true love lasts until the end of time.
"Sonnet 130" is rather comical. The poet insults his lover in numerous ways, attacking her appearance, her lack of grace, and even her physical attributes like voice and breath. Eventually, he claims that these "unique" features make his love special and show that he really loves her.

Shakespeare's Songs (taken from plays)

"Tell Me Where Fancy Is Bred" comes from The Merchant of Venice. While it tells of one kind of love, fancy, the love of first impressions that is created in the eyes, it suggests that there are two other types. The love born in the mind is logical and calculating. True love,however, is the love born in the heart.
"It Was a Lover and His Lass" comes from As You Like It. Here, at a wedding ceremony, the singer says that Spring is the "ringtime," the time for marriage. More than simply saying that weddings are nicer in Spring, the song suggests that Spring is man's time of youth and people should marry when they're young.
"Fear No More the Heat o' the Sun" comes from Cymberline. Though sung by a clownish figure, the song has serious implications. To rationalize the loss of a loved one, the singer tells of all of the suffering and misery of life that no longer has to be endured when one is dead. Thus, death frees one from life's punishments.

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon was more of a philosopher and scientist than artist. His revolutionary ideas concerning the departure from traditional "natural science" and superstition were very dangerous for the times. It is because of the insights of Bacon and his fellow free-thinkers that western man was able to move out of the middle ages into the modern world.

Novum Organum: Idols of the Cave basically attacks the beliefs of the ancients that logic and reason were enough of an hypothesis for science. Bacon stresses the importance for continual testing and observation, in a never-ending search for the facts of nature.

King James Bible

King James Bible can be treated as literature and art. It was a huge project which was accomplished by a committee of scholars appointed by King James I to translate the bible from Greek and Latin, not the corrupted French. Also, these scholars were commissioned to employ verse forms wherever possible and appropriate.
"Psalm 23" is from the Old Testament. Psalm means song of praise. The theme is obedience and parental control by God who works in the role of the shepherd. If man obeys his God and remains within the flock, God will protect him and he will have no need to fear anything.
"Luke 15:11-32 (The Parable of the Prodigal Son)" is from the New Testament. a parable is a story with a lesson or moral to be deduced. The older brother who has done his duty is angry that the younger brother is welcomed back after behaving badly. The lesson, provided by the joyful father, is that love supersedes fairness or justice.
"I Corinthians 13" is from the New Testament. Paul, in his speech to the Corinthians, names the three chief virtues as faith, hope, and charity or love. Charity or love must be elevated above the others because it is completely unselfish and the other two virtues are worthless without it.