WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND THE 16TH CENTURY
Classical literature refers to all literature material from the ancient Greece as well as the Silver and Golden Ages of Rome. It comprises all literary work in any language in a period known for writers’ commitment and endurance in producing quality work. French literature written from mid 17th century is also viewed to be classical literature, so is English literature written between 1660 -1714. Classical literature stands the test of time in the sense that they represent the period of their writing. Its outstanding feature is that it connects with writings from other renowned authors.
Late 15th century and early 16th century was characterized by the European Renaissance (New Birth), a transformation movement that helped shape the European history. This movement began in Italy and got its guidelines and direction after the critical examination and analysis of Greek literature which brought to light the opportunities of life to those who had been living in dissatisfaction as a result of the narrowness of medieval thinking (Stearns, 2003). This renewed the Greek literature study which had been neglected. Those advocating for renaissance were known as ‘humanists’ since to them anything that was not human was not appealing. Their emphasis on creative enthusiasm and creation of new forms of literature and art culminated into great painters such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Lionardo da Vinci. This movement then spread to France and Britain (Duchesne, 2011). Students from England began to go study in Italian universities and with no time Greek study was incorporated in England universities.
Reformation which resulted from the Renaissance also had an influence on the sixteenth century literature. Martin Luther protests against the flippant practices which were a disgrace to religion in 1517 sparked the conflicts and confrontations between Catholicism and Protestantism (Stearns, 2003). The Catholics believed that the church was supreme whereas the Protestants believed that individuals had the independence to make their own decisions. This bitter rivalry between the church and individuals led to mass writings from both parties, and these writings can be viewed as classical literature to some extent.
Sir Thomas More, who was one of the officials in Henry VIII reign, wrote ‘Utopia’ which is a Greek word meaning ‘No –place’. The book talked of the relationship between individuals and the state and it is divided into two parts. The first part talked of evils such as lawlessness, corruptions in the government and church, miseries of the farmers and unjust death penalties -that was facing England that time (Duchesne, 2011). The second part talked of a remote island, which was characterized by co-operation between the individuals and the state. The state is democratic and has the wishes of the citizens at heart. This is the kind of state Thomas more wished existed in England. In writing this book, Thomas More connected the historical happenings that were taking place in England with his creativity to come up with ‘Utopia’.
After the religious confrontation England became quiet and gave literature a chance to thrive. This period is known as the Elizabethan era since England was under Queen Elizabeth. This period is characterized by works of literature cutting across the board from verses to prose with themes ranging from platonic idealism to repulsive realism. Romance dominated most literary works with male authors focusing on an all –pervasive literary spirit.
Prose fiction developed with major borrowings from Italy. Short stories collection known as ‘novella’ came up (Duchesne, 2011). They were translated from the Italians. One of the collections was ‘Palace of Pleasure’ by Painter and it focused on morals and mannerisms the society expected from individuals. Towards the end of the 16th century, realistic stories sprung up that depicted the lives of the poorer classes of people. These realistic fictions were known as picaresque, derived from a Spanish word ‘Picaro’ which means ‘Rogue’. This is because they started in Spain with the story Lazarillo de Tormes’ written by Diego de Mendoza. The title referred to the knavish serving boys who were the heroes in the book.
Renaissance and the reformation movements of the 16th century played vital roles in the development of classical literature since they presented critical issues that prompted the writers and authors of the time to fully exploit the creativity and linguistic knowledge to address the issues.
Duchesne, R. (2011). The Uniqueness of Western Civilization. Studies in Critical Social
Sciences, Vol. 28, Leiden and Boston: Brill
Stearns, P.N. (2003). Western Civilization in World History, Routledge, New York