Writing a compare and contrast essay about any topic requires detailed research. This is especially true if you are writing about topics related to English literature. If you have been assigned a compare and contrast essay on medieval English literature vs Renaissance and do not have much time on your hands to begin a full-fledged research crusade, the following 13 facts will inspire you to come up with an essay thesis. However, if you are still having trouble coming up with a topic for your essay, check out our list of 20 English literature topics on medieval English literature vs. Renaissance for a compare and contrast essay.
- The Renaissance was a cultural movement which started in Italy during the 15th century. It later spread to Europe during the 17th century. The Renaissance was heavily influenced by the classic elements of language, literature and philosophy. It encompassed a modern approach to thinking about humanity and human potential, which was known as Renaissance Humanism. The famous English poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, flourished during this period of enlightenment and learning. He is often called the “Bard of Avon” and England’s national poet. Another notable author of this period is Miguel de Cervantes.
- Estimating literacy levels during the English Renaissance era is complicated. There is no way to accurately estimate the number of people who could read and write in the 16th and early 17th century. Mass literacy levels during the Renaissance were not kept track of by any institution. The only ones who could be termed well-educated were those fortunate enough to attend a Jacobean or Elizabethan school. The pupils of these institutes were literate in English and later on learned Latin, Greek, and, sometimes Hebrew. They studied Roman and Greek literature in the original language and were also trained to speak and write Latin.
- The advent of the printed word had transformative effects on the society during the Renaissance. Books which could only be reproduced by intensive labor were easily mass-produced. Religion also fueled the development of printing and literacy. The Protestant Reformation played a significant role in the development of printing. Other religions saw the potential of rapid dissemination of information as well. Numerous pamphlets and other religious materials were printed and distributed widely. More people became educated due to the indirect results of the printing press, making literature spread throughout Europe.
- The Restoration brought widespread change across all of Great Britain. After the islands were united as a single nation in 1707, large numbers of Italian and French artists migrated to England. This contributed to a revolutionary change in aesthetic tastes. As art and literature flourished, the scientific revolution also started. Direct observation was given a prime status and empiricism was established as a principle of scientific thought. John Locke was the one of the notable intellectuals who utilized this concept.
- During the Renaissance, feminism gained momentum as a powerful movement, both in literature and everyday life. The champion of this movement was Mary Astell. The first woman to make a living from writing was Aphra Behn. The old hierarchical system fell apart and traditions lost their hold on powerful institutions. By the time the 18th century ended, human rights had become the central focus of law and politics.
- Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” is a masterpiece of English literature. It is one of the most influential and finest examples of fiction from the Middle Ages. Written in Middle English, it is within the grasp of the modern reader, but requires the use of an extensive glossary in order to be properly appreciated.
- A major part of the works of medieval literature are anonymous. This is mainly because of the way authors were viewed in those times. The author of those times deeply respected classical writers, almost to the point of reverence. They would re-tell stories, but would claim that they were merely handing down something that was better said by an auctor (Latin for author or originator). The name of the individual author seemed less important, which is why many notable works cannot be attributed to an individual author. That is why the authors of classics such as” Sir Gawain and the Green knight” and “Beowulf” are not known.
- Of the many literary devices used in Medieval literature, the most prominent one is allegory. Almost all the authors of medieval literature relied heavily on allegories as vehicles of conveying morals to the reader. The works contain beautiful representations of abstract concepts, qualities, events, and institutions. Aurelius Clemens Prudentius wrote one of the most influential allegories Psychomachia (Battle of Souls). Other notable examples are The Divine Comedy, Romance of the Rose, Piers Plowman, Everyman, and Roman de Fauvel.
- Medieval literature blends elements from fantasy, religion and reality into an eclectic mix. The characters were often given human characteristics, but had the qualities of fictitious figures. These stories also incorporated the ideas of chivalry, romance, and complex codes of honor. However, most works had quite clear religious overtones. Even the works which did not deal with religion directly contained religious references.
- A written literary work was an expensive and rare thing in the Medieval era. The only way to produce a copy was to write out the work by hand. As literacy was not very high, monks usually copied out the works. The manuscripts were kept in monasteries and were within reach of only a few. A limited number of rich and the nobles owned copies. The peasants could only pass down the stories and poems orally.
- The cultural and linguistic landscape of Britain changed rapidly with the Norman Conquest in 1066. The vocabulary of the former started to accumulate words from the French language. Interestingly, unique English literature did not exist before the late 14th century. This changed, however, and eventually English replaced French as the language of government. The prestige of English was greatly enhanced by Geoffrey Chaucer, whose English poetry emulated Italian and French poetry but was written in his own vernacular.
- The Medieval period can be classified into three major sub-periods in terms of literary developments: The Anglo-Saxon period (c. 450-1066), the Anglo-Norman period (1066- c. 1200), and the period of Middle English literature (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries).
- The literature which appeared during the Renaissance (1660-1785) can be divided into three sub-periods of about 40 years each. The first period goes up to 1700 and ends with the death of Dryden. English literature witnessed a significant refinement during this period. The poetry and prose had an easy, sociable style, whereas comedy triumphed in theaters. The second period ended with the deaths of Pope and Swift (1744 and 1745 respectively). The works produced during this period focused on satire and were brilliant in their depth. However, they also possessed a playful quality. The third period ends with the death of Johnson in the year 1784. During this period, the literary works bring about a significant break with tradition and embrace revolutionary ideas. These ideas would be crystallized during the Romantic period.
With these in hand, you can come up with a good compare and contrast essay. If you need help in properly structuring your essay, you can refer to our handy guide on how to write a compare and contrast essay on Medieval literature vs. Renaissance. You can also use any of the references listed at the end to quickly discover relevant information about this subject. They will be very handy if you have left things up to the last minute, but still want an A.
Tired of all the guides and never-ending instructions?
Payne, M., & Hunter, J. (2003). Renaissance literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
Rivers, I. (1994). Classical and Christian ideas in English Renaissance poetry. London: Routledge.
Roberts, S., & Healy, T. (1994). New Latitudes: Theory and English Renaissance Literature. Renaissance Quarterly, 47(2), 427. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2862938
Difference Between Medieval and Renaissance Literature. (2016). Pediaa.Com. Retrieved 4 April 2016, from http://pediaa.com/difference-between-medieval-and-renaissance-literature/
Medieval Literature vs. Renaissance Literature. (2010). Advanced English @ EAWR. Retrieved 4 April 2016, from https://eawrap.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/medieval-literature-vs-renaissance-literature/
Faculty of English. (2016). English.cam.ac.uk. Retrieved 4 April 2016, from https://www.english.cam.ac.uk/admissions/graduate/MPhil_Info_MedRen.htm
Neuffer, S., & Neuffer, S. (2016). Differences Between Medieval & Renaissance Literature in England | eHow. eHow. Retrieved 4 April 2016, from http://www.ehow.com/info_8631099_differences-between-medieval-renaissance-literature.html