Part III: An Interlude – Varieties Of Renaissance Writing

(The Fiction Of English Reformation, Revolution And Restoration)


1485 – 1509 The reign of Henry VII
1509 Accession of Henry VIII
1521 Henry VIII given title "Defender of the Faith" by the Pope
1529 Fall of Cardinal Wolsey; Sir Thomas More becomes Lord Chancellor
1533 Thomas Cranmer appointed Archbishop of Canterbury;
Henry VII divorces Catherine of Aragon and marries Anne Boleyn
1534 The Pope's authority over England is abolished - King Henry VIII becomes the head of the Church of England
1535 Sir Thomas More executed
1536 Anne Boleyn executed;
William Tyndale burned in the Netherlands
1536 Dissolution of monasteries began (ended in 1539)
1539 "The Six Articles" of new, reformed religion were enacted by Parliament
1547 Death of Henry VIII;
Edward VI became the King
1549 Act of Uniformity – The Book of Common Prayer issued
1533 Death of Edward VI;
accession of Mary;
counterreformation began
1555 – 1556 Executions of the "Oxford martyrs" (Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer)
1558 Death of Mary;
Accession of Elizabeth I
1570 Elizabeth excommunicated by the Pope
1577 Sir Francis Drake begins his "circumnavigation"
1588 Defeat of Spanish Armada
1601 Essex rebellion
1603 Death of Elizabeth I
1603 James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England ("The Union of the Crowns")
1605 "Gunpowder plot" failed
1625 Death of James;
accession of Charles I
1629 Parliament was dissolved (not summoned until 1640)
1640 "The Short Parliament" summoned and dissolved when refusing money for war against the Scots
1640 "The Long Parliament" met in November and effectively started the four years' war against the King
1642 Charles I failed to arrest the five members of the Long Parliament and was forced to flee and established his headquarters at Oxford;
beginning of armed hostilities between Parliamentary and cavaliers' parties
1643 "Westminster Assembly" met to formulate a "Presbytarian system"
1644 Parliamentary victory at Marston Moor
1645 Oliver Cromwell's "New Model Army" won decisive battle of Naseby
1646 The surrender of Oxford;
King Charles fled to Scotland and was delivered over to Parliament next year
1648 The second phase of Civil War, this time between Parliament and the army, began. Army leaders purged The House of Commons called afterwards The Rump
1649 Charles I was executed and England was declared a Commonwealth;
Cromwell started military campaign against Ireland and Scotland
1653 The Rump Parliament discharged;
Cromwell became Lord Protector
1653 The death of Oliver Cromwell, he was succeeded by his son, Richard
1665 New change of régime – England was ruled by ten generals of the army
1659 Richard Cromwell was overthrown;
the Rump Parliament reconvened
1660 The Long Parliament was restored and called Charles II back from his French exile
1661 – 5 The "Clarendon Code" fully restored England as constitutional monarchy
1662 Restoration of Church of England and final (2nd) revision of Book of Common Prayer
1662 The Royal Society was founded
1665 The Great Plague of London
1666 The Great Fire destroyed much of London
1679 The Habeas Corpus Act was passed
1685 Death of Charles II;
accession of James II
1688 The Glorious Revolution;
James' son-in-law, William of Orange, landed in England, James II fled, and was afterwards deposed. William III of Orange and Mary II succeeded
1695 "The Licensing Act" (of the Press) expired and was not renewed
1701 "The Wars of Spanish Succession" began
1702 The death of William III;
succession of Anne
1704 Duke of Marlborough's victory at Blenheim
1707 The Act of Union of England and Scotland – "The Union of the Parliaments"
1711 The Tories came into power
1713 The Treaty of Utrecht. The end of the Wars of Spanish Succession
1714 The death of Queen Anne
1504 Religious reformer John Colet appointed Dean of St. Paul's
1516 Sir Thomas MORE's Utopia
1549 Thomas Cranmer, Book of Common Prayer
1560 "Geneva Bible"
1563 John Foxe, Actes and Monumentes ("The Book of Martyrs")
1577 Sir Philip Sidney, (Old) Arcadia
Ralph Holinshed, Chronicles
1578 John Lyly's Euphues
1581 Sir Philip Sidney, Defence of Poesy – (New) Arcadia
1597 Sir Francis BACON, Essays
1599 Thomas Nash(e), Lenten Stuffe
1601 Sir Francis BACON, Advancement of Learning
1621 Thomas Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy
1651 Thomas HOBBES, Leviathan
1660 Samuel Pepys begins his Diary
1677 Aphra Behn, The Rover
1678 John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress
1690 John LOCKE, Essay Concerning Human Understanding
1702 – 3 Earl of Clarendon, History of the Rebellion
1704 Early works of Jonathan SWIFT: The Battle of the Books, A Tale of a Tub


Historically, the period from 1485 to 1714 is probably one of the most eventful times in English history. The English Reformation, Revolution, and Restoration substantially changed the religious, political, ideological, and constitutional condition of England. The change was so deep that within slightly less than two centuries' time a new nation in a new country was born.

The reign of Henry VII (1485 – 1509) was marked by everyday necessities of administering, organizing, and policing the country disrupted by long wars with France and short but devastating civil war (The Wars of the Roses) that had practically eliminated English nobles of the times. Shakespeare was well aware of the prosaic duties expecting the new king to leave the reign of Henry VII as a blank page after his victorious battle at Bosworth. Field. However, it was Henry that created the new institutional and legal basis that left England in a position to seize her opportunities in the era of his successors.

On the other hand, the reign of Henry VIII (1509 – 1547) sounds familiar to anybody who has ever come across English history or institution. In the course of history Henry's notoriety has provided a vast number of interpretations, both factual and fictional, positive and negative. He ruled in the times when great feudal territories of Western Europe tended to regroup themselves in the form of national states, where (from sheer necessity) power had to be concentrated in the king's hands. Whereas in France and Spain the new monarchies easily incorporated the old structures of the Roman Catholic Church, in England such incorporation was not possible and could not become a ground (either spiritual or secular) for the prince's absolute power. The solution had been found in the elimination of the clergy as a complementing political force and remodelling the old Parliament. The joint forces of the King and Parliament then effected a series of revolutionary steps that subordinated the Church to the State. Unlike France and Spain where religious institutions remained intact and institutions of feudal state were transformed to support the new absolute power of the monarch or lost their importance and often disappeared, in England religion was transformed into an instrument of the state and subordinated to royal power.

The point is, that, unlike generally accepted beliefs, Henry's revolutionary step was relatively moderate and definitely incomplete. It is true that the Church of England acknowledged Henry to be its Supreme Head (1531), papal authority over England was abolished (1534), monasteries were dissolved (partly in 1536 and completely in 1539), "The Six Articles" of religion were enacted by Parliament, monastic lands were sold (1543 – 1546), religion and spirituality of religious life as expressed by religious groupings and/or communities (from evidently Catholic-oriented " High Church" to various forms of revolutionary Protestantism – Presbyterians, "Levellers", "Diggers"), aspired on the focal place in the political life of the society. First, the breach with Rome did not mean the breach with the secular authority of the Church (old or new). Moreover, the transformation of Parliament into "body politic" both independent of and adding to the prince's authority was again rather a matter of agreement than a firm set of constitutional rules. English history from the reign of Henry VIII up to the accession of Hanoverian dynasty in 1714 might be also interpreted as a partisan struggle among a variety of factions from all the three branches.

The reign of Henry VIII is difficult to grasp in few simple statements. In his long life he was a champion in tennis, an orthodox Catholic prince given an honorary title "Fidei Defensor" by the Pope, friend of Church reformer John Colet and great humanist scholar Sir Thomas More (whom he eventually sent to the traitors' scaffold), a man who burnt Protestant as well as Catholic opponents to his reforms and met with popular approval for doing this, the head of the new Church that, beside others, practically overnight supressed the old and traditional cult of Thomas Becket and famous Canterbury pilgrimage. He was the king that built the Navy whose modern ships were constructed and manned to fight effectively and defeated unrivalled fleets of Spain and Portugal. Last but not least he was a father of three children born by three different mothers (Mary by Catherine of Aragon, Elizabeth by Anne Boleyn, and Edward by Jane Seymour) whose divergent destinies formed the destiny of England in the decades to come.

His only son, Edward VI, was nine years old on his accession and he reigned from 1547 to 1553. He was an early matured, invalid child with a fanatic and even cruel strain in his character prone to overdriving and it was his fanaticism that nearly ruined the Reformation cause in England. The moderate transformation of the Roman Church as expressed for instance by Henry's "Act of Six Articles" was repealed, rigid Protestant orthodoxy was established and strictly enforced (The Second Act of Uniformity in 1552), and shortly before Edward's death forty two new articles strictly defining the doctrine of the new faith and duties of the believers were issued. It is no wonder that more than Edward's reign itself , the two dominant intellectual figures (both inherited from his father) are conmemmorated. The first is Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, whose Book of Common Prayer, based largely on his translation from late Latin into the purest English of the Tudor age had found for the Church of England what it needed – a positive and unifying religious atmosphere of its own appealing to the temperament and spiritual emotion of large segments of the population. Cranmer's friend, Hugh Latimer, a free lance preacher at St. Paul's Cross in London who by his rough, homely sermons set the standards of English pulpit oratory and together with The Authorized Version, Cranmer's Prayer Book, and Foxe's Book of Martyrs effected the popular conversion to Protestantism.

Mary Tudor (1553 – 1558) began her reign in an atmosphere of popular consent that quickly dissipated when her mother's (Catherine of Aragon) origin and religion drew her towards Spain and Catholic Church. After insisting on marrying Philip II of Spain she made England just another Spanish province. When she revived papal jurisdiction over the country she dared a step that challenged the national pride. And when she burnt 300 Protestants ("The Oxford Martyrs" – Ridley, Cranmer, and Latimer being among them) in four years of her reign she definitely made Catholic religion appear to the English as foreign, unpatriotic, restless, and cruel, an impression more permanent than it might have deserved. The loss of Calais, a cherished relic from The Hundred Years' War, in a war fought by England to please Spain, politically and geographically irrelevant, added heavily to Mary's unpopularity. The year of her death (1558) was considered and felt to be the lowest ebb of English history.

The third and last of Henry's children, Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603), was invited to turn the tide of the previous history. With the help of the rising middle class, mainly Londoners, with the sea-faring population, and with the more enterprising of country squires as represented in the House of Commons, Elizabeth re-established the supremacy of the secular state with a moderate Protestant national church (Henry's Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity were re-established as early as 1559) . During the rest of her long reign she cautiously adapted and modified the habits of the people to this new settlement and defended it (rather remorselessly) against internal malcontents (strictly enforced The Thirty-nine Articles in 1563, and execution of Mary Stuart in 1587 and Earl of Essex in 1601) and foreign aggressors ( The Spanish Armada was defeated by the English Navy in 1588, English campaigned in the Netherlands in 1597).

The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 was probably the most spectacular event in Elizabeth's reign and definitely put her in a prominent position among European monarchs. If her victory ensured the existence of the Dutch Republic and the emancipation of France under Henri IV, it less directly saved Protestant Germany from the well organized forces of the Counter-Reformation, her reign helped to bring in an element of liberalism and toleration into Europe.

Elizabeth's domestic policy, however brilliant her reputation had been of successfully creating "The Elizabethan Age", should be viewed with more caution. There were at least two different stages in her policy at home. During the first decade of her reign, although she returned to the moderate Reformation of her father with the Book of Common Prayer as the only ritual text sanctioned and enforced by law, Catholics were not persecuted except by smaller fines. No one in that period was sentenced to death on account of his religious belief and many private Catholic services were frequently held even among the servants of the Crown. When in 1570 the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth and explicitly absolved her subject from the allegiance to her the situation had dramatically changed for the worse. The Jesuits from abroad started to travel through the country hiding in "priestholes" and the political consequences of their propaganda were seriously taken as leading to the deposition of the Queen and another total and disrupting change in the life of the country, this time fully incorporated into general process of European Counter-Reformation. Moreover the Pope organized his own military expedition to Ireland to relieve Irish Catholics. Elizabeth struck back without any hint of previous benevolent tolerance, Jesuits missionaries were hanged as traitors but they were regarded as martyrs by the Catholic Church. The case of the Jesuit missionary Edmund Campion (for a brief period he taught and preached in Brno) who was caught and hanged even though he definitely cared more for his religion and novices than politics. So in the middle of Elizabeth reign England was in a state resembling siege and the Queen acted accordingly. The propaganda of the Protestant religion went forward, favoured by the alarmed authorities, identified a new Church with patriotism, defiance of Spain, with England's sea power, with Francis Drake's American adventures, with the worship of the Queen. Such circumstances definitely set a limit to the steady growth of individual liberty already enlarged by economic and intellectual freedom. The point was that the right of Catholics and Puritans to worship God each according to their own conscience was not granted. No political opposition was allowed; nobody might criticize the Queen and the establishment. The split between the forces of free judgement and thinking were more and more represented by Parliament and the growing embarrassment of Elizabethan statesmen defending the right of the Crown to monopolize this free judgment and thinking in the Established "State" Church led eventually to the outbreak of Civil War.

The Scottish House of Stuarts ascended the English throne in 1603, and (on account of Henry VII's sister Margaret marrying James IV of Scotland). James VI of Scotland (the son of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, executed by Elizabeth in 1587) became James I of England and brought with him a splendid gift – the union of Scotland and England. However, not only did England remain "terra incognita" to the first James, but he had never become aware of his ignorance. In Scotland he ruled "by the Grace of God" and all of sudden he had to cope with the completely strange institution of the House of Commons. He did not and could not understand the squires and lawyers refusing to raise him money from his subjects at his will and advising him on serious affairs of ecclesiastical and foreign policy which, he felt, understood better because of his "divine right". (In 1605, after a promise of partial relief, James reinforced and raised the fines for "recusants" i.e. secret Catholics, who decided to form the Gunpowder Plot for the destruction of the King and the two Houses of Parliament together.) Moreover, in foreign affairs he frequently let the initiative to ambitious Duke of Buckingham and the results were often disastrous (the aid for the French Protestants sieged in LaRochelle is the example with generally known literary connotation) and the initiative of his own was no better (his engagement during the Bohemian phase of the Thirty Years' War in the affairs of his son-in-law Frederick of Bohemia and his daughter "The Winter Queen" Elizabeth is notorious, too). Being a Scot of that period he had no idea of the importance of organized military in general and sea-power in particular. He was the only Stuart King of England who neglected the Navy which deprived the English of some good effects in the treaty that ended Elizabeth's war with Spain (the English claim to trade with Spanish America and Portuguese Africa and Asia was not mentioned in the treaty and led to private "buccaneering" mainly in the American Indies).

James I died in 1625 but his death made little difference, for Buckingham's influence grew even stronger over the new king, Charles I. He himself lowered the prestige of the monarchy by bringing the Crown into serious conflict with the House of Commons. Once the King established the right to tax his subjects at will, his subjects felt, there would certainly be an end of Parliament in England. After a violent quarrel with the House of Commons (over "Tonnage and Poundage" enabling him to do without taxing), the Parliament was dissolved and was not held for eleven years (until 1640). Thus Charles removed every constitutional check on his actions and gradually had lost the loyalty not only of his English subjects but in 1638 the Scots made a "Covenant with God" and revolted against the king. In 1640 the Parliament was summoned and immediately dissolved (it is called "The Short Parliament") after refusing money for the war against Scotland. In November 1640 so called The Long Parliament met and in the course of 1641 passed The Grand Remonstrance (condemning the king and demanding more powers for the House of Commons) and tried, outlawed, and executed the king's first minister Earl of Strafford. In the year after Charles failed in his attempt to arrest five members of Parliament and had to leave London and established his new capital in Oxford. Within the following four years he lost his cause completely. In 1643 a Presbyterian system was introduced and the Puritans came to power and two victories of Parliamentary "New Model Army" under Oliver Cromwell at Marston Moor(1644) and Naseby (1645) practically ended The First Civil War. The Second Civil War, this time between Parliament and the army, began in 1648 over the trial of captured king, Charles I when the troublesome members of the House of Common were ejected by army officers. The Rump Parliament then tried and executed the King (1649) and England was declared a Commonwealth; monarchy and the House of Lords were abolished. The army leaders started the war against the Dutch (1652 – 1654) and proclaimed Oliver Cromwell the Lord Protector, however, from 1655 he had to share the power with ten generals of the army. In 1658 Cromwell died and after a short interregnum of his incompetent son, Richard, the Long Parliament was restored in 1660 and the exiled Charles II was called back home. Legally and constitutionally, the Restoration, as the period is called, consisted of five acts ("The Clarendon Code") that created a completely new political situation different not only from that of the Commonwealth but also from the condition of England during the reign of the first two Stuarts. Charles II, with the help of his Parliament (The Cavalier Parliament elected in 1661 was dissolved as late as 1678), did his best to heal the wounds inflicted by Revolution (The Indemnity and Oblivion Act – 1660), nonethless, he fought against many obstacles natural (The Great Plague – 1665, The Great Fire of London – 1666) and political (the king's first minister, Earl of Clarendon, was impeached and sent into exile, and The Test Act of 1670, prohibiting the Catholics and "dissenters" the part in public life, became a constant source of discontent among various and opposing religious parties and groupings, the first Dutch war was followed by the second and third). On the other hand THE HABEAS CORPUS ACT (passed in 1679) was a cornerstone of English civil liberties, and an act never ever dreamed of in the rest of Europe ruled by the absolute power of monarchs.

The conflict of the three existing streams in English political life culminated in the reign and deposition of James II (1685 – 1688). At the very beginning of his rule Monmouth Rebellion of Puritans against the persecution they suffered gave him the excuse to built up a standing army (commanded by Roman Catholic officers) and nearly outlaw any dissenting religious opinion. With the reliance on the army (mistaken as it appeared) he adopted rapid methods of Catholic counter-reformation and thus defided the Parliament and the Church of England. It seems that such a course of events smoothed the path of the Dutch "Stadholder" and the husband of James' sister Mary, William of Orange. Finally, James'attempt to replace the complete "power elite" of England (the members of Privy Council, the rural and municipal magistrates, the Lords Lieutenants and the Sheriffs) by Roman Catholics regardless of the existing laws, then the issue of two Declarations of Indulgency (1687 and 1688) suspending practically all the legislation (historical one included) against the influence of Catholics, and, finally, turning of Magdalen College at Oxford (the holy place of English Protestantism where the Oxford Martyrs were burnt) into a Roman Catholic Seminary broke his neck. In November William of Orange landed in England, in December James II fled from the country and was eventually dethroned. This so called "Glorious Revolution" and a series of quickly passed acts (The Riot Act, The Toleration Acts, and the Bill of Rights) created the ground for the long awaited stability of English public life.


When speaking about English Renaissance, we usually mean the period from about 1509 to Restoration in 1660, that is the reign of Henry VIII and his children and the first two Stuart kings. In our text it includes the revolutionary government of the Commonwealth and, to a great extent, it proceeds, at least culturally, nearly until the end of the century. It is true that the Restoration, with its French-oriented court and literary tastes, its irreversibly altered political system belonged more to newly born Europe of Enlightenment, however, many other continuities remained, among them those that had started with early Tudor humanistic scholars and men of letters, and evident, remarkable and definite reliance upon domestic literary tradition quite easily surviving fashions imported from abroad.

As many historical terms, the term "Renaissance" is interpreted with embarrassing broadness. For the purposes of this text it is quite sufficient to make the following assumptions:

  • Renaissance is purely a matter of Europe stemming from the crisis of the Church (Great Western Schism);
  • Renaissance primarily refers to a rebirth of interest in some (not all) ideas and formal patterns of classical antiquity (this time not only Latin but also Greek and Hebrew) that were further developed and amplified;
  • Renaissance brings in a radical notion of ORIGINALITY involving going back to true sources and seeking the SELF-AWARENESS OF HUMAN INDIVIDUALITY;
  • Renaissance gradually brings in a new concept of an artist – he is no longer considered "a maker" but in his best production "a creator".

One of the important features of English Renaissance is the advent of New Learning (Colet, Bacon) which meant interest in and access to classical cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. Unlike the rest of Europe in England the intent of the court, local nobles, wealthy families, and, last but not least, corporate municipalities was focused on the international, domestic, and mainly religious politics and was not able to bring together arts and learning until the last years of Elizabeth years. We might carefully guess that even if there are generally acknowledged notions of the artistic greatness of the period (for instance "The Elizabethan Age", "The Elizabethan Theatre", "The Age of Spencer", "The Age of Shakespeare", "The Age of Milton"), it was rather the age of influential religious reformers, great preachers, religious (later political) pamphletists, and this is precisely where the English people of the age were mainly interested.

So in the Renaissance England as well as elsewhere the spiritual and intellectual life was focused on the various movements to substitute for the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1517 Martin Luther announced his ninety-five theses on the door of his church in Wittenberg, in 1532 Jean Calvin published his Institutes in Geneva, in 1535 Henry VIII proclaimed himself the Head of the Church of England, and in 1558 the Scottish reformer John Knox returned from Geneva and turned the Scottish "Kirk" (Church) from Episcopal to Presbyterian. It must be remembered that the process of Reformation was by no means ended by the dates just mentioned. In 1539 the Great Bible was used in churches and The Book of Common Prayer published in 1549, the Articles of Faith making the Church of England a Protestant one were issued in 1553, but it seems that the country still thought of itself as Catholic as late as the first part of the reign of Elizabeth I. And, of course, there was an influential group, which we vaguely call Puritans, reaching from those who wanted to abolish the Catholic rites, worshipping, and hierarchy (namely bishops) completely to those who slowly proceeded towards the re-unification with Rome. The English Reformation should therefore be seen as an institutional process which continued as a kind of individual positions and visions of religious thinkers (e.g. for John Milton the matter of English Reformation was identical with the matter of Commonwealth). The primary movement of the Renaissance was towards internalization – towards individual conscience, towards unmediated relation between God and Man, towards identification of Christ with an inner light within men. It was the process that continued in various sects of "dissenters": Nonconformists, Quakers, and later on in the religious revivalism among the rising middle class in the eighteenth century – Methodist movement within the Church of England.

The literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was in a state of flux. True, the production was enormous but religious and political issues were vastly overshadowing. The humanist programme definitely contributed to the development of literature – it established the authority of antiquity (frequently thought of as multilateral and destructive to the omnipresent authority of the Church) and made practical steps to fulfill it in the vernacular. For a twentieth-century reader, with his notion that prose and drama are plain and ordinary in their expression and that verse is special and ornamental, it is essential to understand that this was not true at least till the end of the seventeenth century (i.e. till the times of Defoe). The high degree of a poetic competence (frequently not only in English but certainly in Latin and often in Greek) of the age was "a must" for any person claiming to be literate. The formal, poetic diction therefore constituted the equivalent of formal, common prose in our day. The same applies for drama with few modifications stemming from its newly acquired position of popular entertainment.

Humanist style for contemporary English prose was modelled on Cicero (as on Seneca for drama and Ovid for poetry) – it was elaborate, ornamental, with many subordinated clauses and ornate periods. Its typical product is "euphuism" of Lily that together with Sidney's "arcadianism" made one of the two principal prosaic styles of the sixteenth century. The spoken language, on the other hand, did not replace the elegant and sophisticated early Elizabethan prose so easily as it may seem to us nowadays. The fiction of the period had only the plots of the fiction as we understand it in our day – and even picaresque novels as Thomas More's Utopia, and Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller (1594) are, in spite of the realistic themes and in Nashe's case roguish plot, written in a language that a modern reader definitely perceives as elevated if not a directly poetic one.

The explosion of vernacular triggered by the Reformation helped to establish new patterns of writing and predominantly those of reading (later interpreted as the evidence of "bourgeois" tastes) that might be viewed as a distant prelude to the rise of English novel in the first half of the eighteenth century. That was, precisely when the time was ripe to produce a mature literary product.


We have already established the consistent stress on the use of vernacular that the reformers of the English Church introduced from the very beginning. The importance of the Holy Scriptures in precise, scholarly translations from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek was stressed in the twenty-fourth of Elizabeth's Articles saying that services should be conducted "in a tongue(..) understanded of the people." When archbishop Cranmer ordered all parish priests to provide and display an English Bible in their churches the text was already printed and distributed under the title "Great Bible". This GREAT BIBLE was translated and edited by William TYNDALE (1494? – 1536), an Oxford theologian, who had gone into exile in Germany in 1524. When copies of his translation of the New Testament arrived in England they were suppressed as Lutheran propaganda. Tyndale then moved to Antwerp and issued the translation of the Pentateuch in 1530 and of the Book of Jonah in 1531. He also left the texts of the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles in manuscripts when he was arrested in 1535. He was strangled and burnt as a heretic near Brussels the following year. Tyndale's attitude is that of "a language patriot", fully confident in the "grace" of English. He strictly refused the charge that a native tongue (English) was an unsuitable instrument for a translation of the Bible in his tract The Obedience of a Christen man where he claimed the flexibility of English in translating from Hebrew and Greek and defended neologisms he had used in his works.

Tyndale's translation survived as the base from which Geneva Bible (1560) and The Authorized Version (1611) were developed.

The first complete printed English Bible appeared in 1537 and was the work of a minor scholar and translator, Miles COVERDALE, (1488 – 1568), ordained priest who adopted

Lutheran views. He lived and worked in Antwerp with Tyndale. Coverdale supervised the issue of the Great Bible of 1539; during the reign of Edward VI he became the Bishop of Exeter and exiled after Queen Mary's accession. In 1559 he returned to England and published his last book, Letters of Saintes (1564). His most lasting impact on English religious literature was the incorporation of his revised Book of Psalms (1539) into the Book of Common Prayer. Coverdale's Psalter thus became an integral part of the daily worship of the Church of England. Coverdale's talent for rhythmical phrasing (keeping at the same time the dignified mood of the original) is complemented with vivid imagery of the original Hebrew poetry. Some phrases from Coverdale's translation ("valley of the shadow of death" of Psalm 24 being probably the most famous) have been fully assimilated into spoken English.

In 1548, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas CRANMER, completed a single, comprhensive, and authoritative guide-book to the worship of both priest and people of the future English Church. Cranmer (1489 – 1556), a Cambridge graduate, propounded views in favour of the divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon. Appointed to the archbishopric in 1533 he supported Henry's claim to be the supreme head of the English Church. He supervised the first prayer-book in 1549, prepared the revised version in 1552, and promulgated forty-two (later reduced to) Thirty-nine Articles. In Queen Mary's reign he was condemned for heresy and degraded. Then he renounced his Protestant beliefs and recognized papal supremacy and the truth of Catholic doctrine. In 1556 he was burnt at the stake at Oxford. Cranmer's The Book of Common Prayer is considered to be the most influential liturgical reform of the sixteenth century. It was designed as a vernacular replacement for the multiple and often Latin rites used in great variety in pre-Reformation England and Wales (the name Common Prayer implied public and private worship). It was a significant element in Tudor's policy of uniformity of national life. The first edition was deliberately open to eucharistic theology, e.g. in its retention of Mass vestments and prayers for the dead. A revised version became explicitly more Protestant e.g. the words "Mass" and "altar" are no longer used, the Communion rite is reorganized. While representing "the middle way" in the Church of England, Cranmer' s Book is surprisingly modern in its tact; though it recognizes the "manifold sinnes and wickednesse" of mankind, it abstains from morbid, "baroque" self-abasement and threatening sinners with the horrors of hell.

John FOXE (1516 – 1587), an Oxford scholar who resigned to his fellowship in 1545, being unwilling to accept new statutes in religious matters. He retired to the Continent and was employed as a proof-reader in Basle where he published his drama Christus Triumphans. On his return to England he published his Actes and Monuments popularly known as the Book of Martyrs. He became a canon of Salisbury and wrote various popular sermons and books on the canon law. His most famous book (the full title takes up seven full lines) attempts to provide the new Church with something resembling old legends of the saints surpassing them with instances of modern pious resolution. In the first edition he even added a Protestant Calendar in celebration of new Protestant "saints". Foxe claims his method to be strictly historical, he presents testimonies, official documents as well as oral sources. Of course, he is far from impartiability – his remarks and comments are vigorously anti-Catholic. The open propaganda of Foxe's book was stressed by crude wood-cut illustration (showing e.g. naked Tyndale being strangled).

Hugh LATIMER (1492? – 1555), educated in Cambridge, took holy orders and became a famous preacher. He was accused of heresy in 1532 and made a complete submission. In 1535 he was appointed Bishop of Worcester but resigned the bishopric and was imprisoned in 1539. On Mary's accession in 1553 he was sent to Oxford to defend his views before the University, was condemned as a heretic and burnt with Ridley and Cranmer on 16th October 1555 Among his vast writings The Sermon of the Plough, containing a very sharp criticism of corrupted clergy and the first of The Seven Sermons Preached Before the King with vivid description of rural life of his boyhood are still notable for a simple style with almost realistic imagery.

The influence of Catholic-oriented prose was relatively small. Their intellectual centre was at Douai in France where between 1582 – 1609 they even publish English translation of Catholic Bible (DOUAI BIBLE). Among the most significant authors of English Catholicism were Robert SOUTHWELL (1561? – 1595) whose long narrative St Peters Complaint deals with the closing events of Jesus' life as rendered by repentant Peter. Mary Magdalen's Funeral Tears was written for the consolation of persecuted Catholics. Edmund CAMPION, (1540 – 1581, canonized in 1970) went to Douai in 1571 after graduating at Oxford. He joined the Jesuits and spent some time in their various colleges on the Continent. During his secret preaching in London he was arrested, examined under torture and executed. Only a few letters and a remarkable, if fragmentary, literary description of Ireland survived his death.


The Elizabethan reading public remained very small; most of the population were illiterate and the number of those who read any books at all was limited because of the price of book being still very high. (A penny during the reign of Elizabeth could buy a single printed sheet of popular ballad or two half-pints of beer or a place in the pit of numerous London playhouses.)

It seems that the explosion of vernacular established a new interest in fiction as well as changing approaches to reading (and writing). During the sixteenth and seventeenth century the transformation of English fiction definitely began, however the process was relatively slow. Moreover, it was frequently (mostly due to political and religious reasons) diverted or stopped completely for a time. The reason probably was that the majority of the literate public preferred to read the books that a contemporary reader would call serious. Ballads, chivalry romances, pastorals, and short stories were (often very strongly) felt immoral or at best a waste of time. "The proper use" of printing (as we have already seen) rested in more useful purposes and the most popular writings of the Elizabethan period were serious or improving works such as Bibles, prayer-books, sets of printed sermons, religious tracts, and, especially during the period of Revolution, political pamphlets. Also the texts, generally known as "scientific prose" bringing in the topics of the New Learning, various geographical, historical, medical books and "essays", were (measured by the standards of the times) in broad circulation.

These are probably the main reasons for making an assessment of interrelations between formally sophisticated genres originating in medieval prose and new genres slowly formed in the course of the century not an easy task. Nevertheless, it seems necessary to stress here that the idea of a new powerful "bourgeois" class with a taste different from that of aristocracy and clergy dominating "overnight" the literary scene is of no help here. The genres based on solid domestic tradition of medieval romance were still popular even if not exclusively. On the other hand, the works of such different authors as Lyly, Sidney, Munday, Greene, Nashe, and Deloney were definitely concerned with moral education and nearly always tried to combine instruction with delight, to teach better manners as well as provide entertainment. Rather crude and raw early picaresque novels of Awdeley and Harman were "at the state of birth" and the vast possibilities of novel as an independent and specific genre were not yet discovered (with rather a stunning exception of Sir Thomas More's Utopia) and were considered "paraliterature" of the times. In this connection, it would be suitable to mention that, paradoxically, a great amount of writings, which the modern reader would not take for fiction at all, would then have been classed by most educated people of the times as (something equal to our) "light reading."

The span of quality fiction therefore is relatively narrow; the two most admired and influential works of Elizabethan fiction, Lyly's Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Sidney's revised so called New Arcadia (between 1581 and 1584), were definitely pointing to traditional "matter of Rome", i.e. Greco-Roman classical inspiration of chivalry romances sophisticated and perfected for the taste of the gentlemen and ladies of the Court. They probably represented the last overrefined product of chivalry romance of the old style and by their stiff mannerism they definitely contributed to the birth of the new (as would appear a few decades later) marvellously flexible and original genre – novel.

The plot of John LYLY's (1554? – 1606, the son of popular Latin humanist William Lyly, educated in Oxford, became a member of Parliament between 1598 – 1601 and supported the "episcopalist" cause in his satirical pamphlet Pappe with an Hatchet where he applied his peculiar ornate, florid, precious style embellished with elaborate figures of speech that later became known as "euphuism" after his most popular book; his plays Alexander, Campaspe and Diogenes, Midas, Mother Bombie were mostly intended for boy actors; from 1590 on his reputation rather dimmed by the growth of Sidney's "arcadianism" – a style also ornate but less rigid. The plot of his work in two parts: Euphues:The Anatomy of Wit, is rather thin and unimportant, being a sort of a frame for numerous rhetorical figures, alliterations, antitheses, allusions, witty similes, etc. Euphues is a noble young Greek (his name means "well endowed" in translation) who ignores good advice and travels from Athens (connotative to the University) to Naples (connotative to the city, specifically London), where he makes a friend of Philautus, deprives him of the love of Lucilla and is in turn betrayed by a young man named Curio. Then Euphues and Philautus reconcile and the former returns to Greece after a long lecture in moral philosophy. The second part, Euphues and His England, has more story. Euphues and Philautus meet again and Philautus is engaged in love affairs in spite of the advice of the now wise Euphues. The book is full of witty observations of English ladies and concludes with long passages in praise of England, London, the court, and, of course, the Queen. Finally Euphues is called back to Greece. From there he addresses a letter to the ladies of Italy. Abandoned Lucilla perorates on "secrecy or constancy" in love and the book ends with a final letter from Euphues to Philautus containing a general philosophical advice.

In his book Lyly used certain tendencies (some very old) already existing in prose and brought them back to fashion. The forced balances and antitheses, extended similes and rather clumsy use of proverbs cannot be found elsewhere in this concentration. It seems that the style was rather unbearable even for Lyly's contemporaries; Shakespeare made a parody of it in a famous passage in Henry IV (Part l) – paradoxically, this parody does not sound much different from "true and serious" Shakespeare a few dozens pages later (Part 2).

Sir Philip SIDNEY's Arcadia (so called Old Arcadia completed in 1581 and radically restyled into more complex but uncompleted New Arcadia (between 1583 – 1584) is probably the work where medieval romance reached its peak as well as the bottom, where the genre had to stop due to total exhaustion. (Sidney, 1554 – 1586, educated at Oxford with many famous figures of the times. He travelled extensively, witnessed the masacre of St. Bartholomew's day in Paris, in Venice he was portrayed by Veronese. He underwent a successful mission to Vienna in 1577, however he did not achieve any official post except a knighthood in 1582. The last year of his life was spent in The Netherlands where he supported the rebels against Spain. He received a musket shot in his thigh and died of infection at Zutphen in 1586.)

The ancient, medieval, and modern inspiration sources of Sidney Arcadia reveal the complexity of its origin. The framework of the work owed a lot to Sannazaro's Arcadia (1504), a series of Italian eclogues in verse interconnected by a narrative in prose. Even if the spirit of Sidney's work is modern his idealized ancient landscapes in the Greek world are deeply rooted in medieval pastorals (of course inspired by Hellenic models viz. Heliodorus's Aethiopica, the fourth century story of miscellaneous adventures of separated lovers) as well as in West-European tradition of chivalry romance (Spanish or Portuguese romance Amadis of Gaul). The Old and New Arcadia consist of complex narrative built around conflictiong attitudes and moral codes and their proper expression. King Basilius's idea to withdraw himself and his family into an Arcadian retreat is to represent a vain attempt to escape the fulfilment of an old curse. The idyll is interrupted by a series of intrigues indulged in by the two princes Musidorus and Pyrocles, who intrude themselves into Basilius' pastoral refuge. Then the complicated series of intrigues follows and Basilius appears to die of a drink believed by his wife, Gynecia, to be a love-potion. The Old Arcadia culminates in a trial of murder presided over by the Macedonian ruler, Euarchus, who sentences Gynecia to be buried alive and Pyrocles and Musidorus executed. The disguise of both the young men prevents Euarchus from recognizing them as his own son and a nephew. The happy ending is brought about by Basilius' awakening and from what turns out to have been only a sleeping potion. To this evident mixture of classical, Italian, and Spanish elements, Sidney added his own moral views and his highly polished style. He is deeply serious to show the reader how virtue can be achieved and how vice is ugly and unavoidably fatal.

Moreover, Sidney's Arcadia is his literary theory at work. Sidney, paradoxically again, provides a general theory of romance just when the genre had lost its energy and proceeded towards sometimes brilliant but otherwise empty stylistic exercise. Sidney thought of all the creative writing, the Arcadia included, as poetry. Poetry was not a mere technique but a sublime instrument to transform Sidney's Neoplatonic views of perfection. The philosopher can give "precept", the historian can give "recorded example", but only the poet can give a perfect "picture ... of whatever the philosopher saith should be done." For this purpose romance is the best instrument, more a great vocation than a literary genre. For the genres as the novel, where the assumption is that real people in a real setting behave in the way they normally do Sidney has no understanding – "to be tied to any such subjection the natural rule of things" is to be rejected, the author has the more sublime duty of "making things either better than Nature bringeth forth, or quite anew, formes such as never were in Nature."

The novel that, at first implicitly accepting naturalistic point of view with characters, emotions, and setting stemming from ordinary and everyday experience (even if in a very crude and frequently parodic form), was already born elsewhere. It started with turning upside down all the idealization of characters, actions, and setting so dear to Sir Philip Sidney.

The works of Robert Greene (1560  - 1592) was among the growing number of writings by professional writers that wrote primarily for the printing press.His somewhat mechanical "euphuistic" style is clearly evident in his pastoral romances, of which the best are probably Pandosto or The Triumph of Time (1588), which inspired Shakespeare's plot of The Winter's Tale, and Tully's Love (1589), a romance in which Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous Roman orator, saves young lovers with a spectacular speech to the Senate of Rome.

Another popular writer of the times Thomas Lodge (1558 – 1625) wrote probably the most elegant pastoral romances: Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacy (1596) (providing the plot for Shakespeare's As You Like It), and A Margarite from America (1596) describing the tragic love of princess Margarite for the treacherous son of the Emperor, Arsadachus, who eventually kills her.

The number of translations and imitations on varying literary level from Spanish, Italian, and French is beyond the scope of this text. Two Spanish or Portuguese chivalry romances Amadis of Gaul (probably of Wales) and Palmerin of England, adapted and anglicized by Anthony Munday (1560 – 1633), a hack-writer of poor literary skills, reached a degree of public esteem. On the other hand, they they were frequently mocked for their poor literary taste.


The presentation of "real life" – mostly "low life" – is quite long in English literature (established by Chaucer's Tales as the regular topic of a narrative), the origins of the new epic genre should probably be sought in Spanish tradition of "la novella pícaresca". Using very elementary principles of classical parody ("the high for low, the low for high"), they started to ridicule the manneristic and sophisticated language, style, attitude, and tone of late chivalry romances by turning the world of the romances upside down. Instead of the nobles, brave warriors, etc., they employed the characters exactly from the opposite side of social spectrum – rogues (pícaros in Spanish), thieves, mercenaries, prostitutes. The central theme – the chivalrous quest for some noble purpose was replaced by permanent wandering from town to town, from market to market, from inn to inn with the aim reduced to mere survival. The earliest and marvelously dynamic and vigorous Spanish picaresque novels Lazarillo de Tormes (the son of respected family becomes a crook and fraud in the service of rascally employers), Guzmán de Alfarache (Guzmán starts as a kitchen boy, proceeds as a thief, a gentleman, a beggar, a soldier,a page to a cardinal and to a French ambassador and finally repents for his sinful life) did establish not only the tone, characters, and setting of the new genre (with the emphasis being put on the low and commonplace) but also the narrative technique using the parody of chivalry elements transformed into single and linear plot (frequently incoherent) concentrated around a single central character (usually lacking the development in psychology) and proceeding from one episode to another relatively freely and often without clear causal nexus.

As an native genre the picaresque novel was begun in England by John AWDELEY, an otherwise unknown printer, in his Fraternitie of Vagabonds (1561) and a Justice of the Peace for Kent, Thomas Harman, who wrote a sort of public warning against thieves and rogues called Caveat for Common Cursitors, vulgarly called Vagabonds (1567) – both of these handbooks describing the types and methods of criminals complemented with character sketches and illustrative incidents.

The Unfortunate Traveller, or the Life of Jack Wilton(1594) by Thomas NASHE (born in1567, died 1601, a Cambridge graduate settled in London who took part practically in all the religious and political controversies of his times frequently leading him to troubles with authorities – the most famous is his part in the suppressed (and unfortunately lost for ever) political comedy The Isle of Dogs. He also collaborated with many prominent playwrights of the Elizabethan period e.g. Jonson and Marlowe) is probably the first "fully" picaresque English novel. It is purportedly an autobiographical confession which ends with the repentance of the main character. The tale begins as Spanish novella (comic-satirical story with strong element of realistic topicality) and gradually reaches naturalistic and even drastic intensity. Jack Wilton is seving at the court of Henry VIII during his French campaign. He lives by playing tricks on the gullible mercenaries during the siege of Tournay and gets whipped from the camp. He goes to Muenster in Germany and takes part in the Anabaptists' fight against the Emperor. The earl of Surrey takes him to Italy as his page. During their travels they meet the most famous humanist scholars of the time e.g. Erasmus, Sir Thomas More, Cornelius Agrippa, and Pietro Aretino. They also hear Luther's sermon in Wittenberg. Then Wilton runs away with an Italian courtesan and poses as the false Earl of Surrey. The true Earl finds them at Florence, where he takes part in a tournament but he forgives him. Wilton leaves him again and arrives in Rome just at the outbreak of the plague. He describes the scenes of violence, rapes and murders, tortures and executions. The unfortunate traveller, depressed by what he has seen, repents, marries his courtesan and joins king Henry again. Typically, it is the intensity of the incidents themselves narrated in brilliant prose rather than the characters and the psychological development of the hero that dominate Nashe's book. The coherence and consistent psychology were, of course, not considered as a vital condition of the genre.

Thomas DELONEY, "a ballading silkweaver of Norwich" achieved his reputation as the chief composer of topical broadside ballads. (Deloney was probably born in 1560, died 1600, place of birth and education unknown. Besides weaving and peddling he made his living by composing and selling topical broadside ballads. The three early ones on the defeat of Spanish Armada in 1588 made him famous but their indiscreet topicality was resented by the authorities and he chose the relative safety of didactic and moralistic prose writing). Jack of Newbury (1597) tells the life story of John Winchomb, the real existing Berkshire weaver from the 16 th century. The Gentle Craft (1597) is famous for the story of Simon Eyre, the shoemaker's apprentice who became Lord Mayor of London. Deloney's plots are simple – roughly chronological accounts of semi-legendary tradesmen who are his heroes allowing ample space for realistic detail and true ringing dialogues. The vigour and directness of Deloney's style makes his fiction immediately accessible thus resembling that of Defoe.

The ambiguity of Sir Thomas MORE's most popular work Utopia, makes it rather difficult to determine its exact position in English renaissance writing. Thomas More (1477? – 1535), son of a judge, served as a youth in the household of Cardinal Morton before he was called to the bar where he was very successful. He became a friend of Colet, Erasmus, Lily, and eventually, the King, Henry VIII who appointed him to several high offices of the Crown. In 1529 he succeeded Cardinal Wolsley as Lord Chancellor but resigned in 1532 and devoted himself to the religious controversies of the time. In 1534 he refused to recognize the king's supremacy over the pope and the king's divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He was arrested, indicted for high treason, found guilty and beheaded in 1535. According to some sources his head was exhibited on London Bridge for a few years. Utopia keeps, at least at the beginning, many formal elements of picaresque novel. During his diplomatic mission, the author was detained in Brugges and the reader may enjoy a fully detailed description of diplomatic negotiations. During the trip to Antwerp, he met his old friend, Peter Giles, talking with a traveller, one Raphael Hythloday, who had just returned from the third voyage of Amerigo Vespucci and had discovered 'Utopia' i.e. Nowehereland on his way home. All three friends then went to the author's garden where they are promised a full account of Hythloday's adventures. Here the similarity with picaresque form probably stops. The following Hythloday's report on his adventures and experience with the ideal communist state of Utopia is more or less a very extended political tract on various aspect of social life (general law, education, marriage, religious toleration, organization of the military, inner politics, the quality and legality of rulers, etc.) seen from optimalized humanist point of view (paradoxically, More advocates religious tolerance in spite of his active part in the persecution of "heretics"). The book was soon translated from Latin into English and used many times since. A great number of subsequent fictions, fantasies, projects of ideal state as well as various "Dystopias" (i.e. Bad countries) have been directly or indirectly fathered by it.

Elizabethan fiction as a typical example of fiction in the changing condition, definitely looks back to medieval romances and to the manner in which those romances were adapted by Elizabethan writers; it also looks forward, rather stiffly and crudely, to the kind of fiction which has little understanding (and frequently a lot of mockery) for conventional, rigid, and idealized patterns of courtship and adventure as romances presented them. This process was taking place in the most complicated religious and political situation of Reformation, Revolution, and Restoration. The paradox of Elizabethan fiction rests in fact that the least important forms (considered from the literary point of view) – scientific, political, and partly religious – became the predominant and determining literary works of the age.

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