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Literature Glossary

Don’t be an oxymoron. Know your literary terms.

Over 200 literary terms, Shmooped to perfection.

Renaissance

Definition:

Renaissance art! Renaissance literature! Renaissance man!

Putting the word Renaissance in front of something gives it a fancy feel, don't you think? Let's try it on for size: Renaissance Shmoop. (Ah, yes.)

Usually we define this movement as stretching from the 14th to the 17th centuries. But budding scholars, beware. The Renaissance isn't a time period—it's a cultural movement that went down during the Early Modern Period.

Here are some other things that went down in the Early Modern Period:

So yeah, it was a pretty big deal.

Renaissance actually means rebirth in French. But what exactly was being reborn? Classical culture, that's what. When it comes to literature, humanists were poking around ancient Greek and Roman texts and bringing them back to life through their own works. That means movements like Neo-Platonism—yep, new Platos—were big. Anything to imitate (and even surpass—gasp!) the greats of yesteryear.

If you're going to remember one thing about the Renaissance, it's this: Renaissance authors loved them some Greek and Roman texts. Number two would be that these authors were more than ever focused on us—good old humans and our earthly existence. We'll let everything else battle it out for third.

In England, things started a bit later (end of the 1400s), but they had their chance, too. (And hey, cut them some slack—the Chunnel wasn't around back then for information travel.) And in the end, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and John Donne turned out to be a pretty big deal.