AD's English Literature : PRE-ELIZABETHAN PERIOD: Noted for the Extensive Manuring for the Fruitful Soil of the Elizabethan Literature

PRE-ELIZABETHAN PERIOD: Noted for the Extensive Manuring for the Fruitful Soil of the Elizabethan Literature

(Sir Thomas More, William Tyndale, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Nicholas Udall, Thomas Sackville, Thomas Norton)

Extending from 1500 to 1558, this period is noted for the extensive manuring for the fruitful soil of the Elizabethan Literature.  The fifteenth century produced but one book that is read nowadays, the Morte d’Arthur; up to the birth of Shakespeare in 1564, the sixteenth century produced but one, the Utopia. Sir Thomas More was one of the young men who were fortunate enough to study under the greatest of that remarkable group of scholars who, in the closing years of the fifteenth century, made Oxford famous by their teaching of Latin and Greek. Read More about History of English Literature (Essay)  He too became a great scholar, early gained prominence as a lawyer, and was eventually made Lord Chancellor; finally, because he adhered courageously to high moral principles, he gave up his life at the executioner's block, a very common ending to a life-story in those days. The Utopia, a small volume compared to the bulky Morte d’Arthur, is a great statesman-philosopher's dream of what he thought England should be. It tells of an ideal commonwealth on an imaginary island vaguely located somewhere between the coasts of South America and Africa. The account is supposed to come from a traveler who has been there and who tells in detail how the country is governed and what are the customs of the inhabitants. Some of More's ideas are so impracticable that Utopian has come to mean visionary; yet not a few of his reforms have long. Since been carried out, and others of them begin to look less strange. 

The Utopia, we may believe, would not have been written had the New Learning never reached England. Wyatt and Surrey appear in our table not because they are great poets whose works we read today but because they too came under the spell of Italy. The poems of these two courtiers were not printed till after both were dead; we find them in a little collection of poems (such collections were becoming common) published by a Mr. Tottel. Read More about History of English Literature (Essay) They deserve attention for two reasons. First, they show that the study of Italian poetry and the writing of verses in imitation of Italian models is becoming popular with the court aristocracy. Wyatt has been called the first patrician to make his mark in English poetry. Second, in this little Miscellany of Tottel's we find for the first time specimens of blank verse and of the sonnet, both of Italian origin,— forms which from this time on play an important part in English poetry. 

Tyndale's New Testament was but one of many versions of the Bible in part or in whole that appeared during this period. It is the best of them all, though the most popular was the Great Bible, so called because of its size and sumptuous appearance. Copies of it were placed in every church; and at times, we are told, men neglected the service to read it, so great was   the interest it aroused. But the version of the Bible with which we are familiar, and which made such a lasting impression on English literature, belongs not to this period but to the next. These earlier versions are important, however, in that they prepared the way for a better translation later on. Perhaps the most significant of all the works mentioned in the table are Ralph Roister Doister and Gorboduc, the first regular comedy and the first regular First regular tragedy. Read More about The Revival of Learning (1450-1550)  They are crude affairs, partly- comedy and particularly the latter, yet entitled to consider- tragedy action because they are the forerunners of the comedies and tragedies of Shakespeare's day—the feeble beginning of regular English drama.

It is not right, however, to think that English drama began at this time, for plays of a sort, highly satisfactory to those who witnessed them, were given at least five hundred years earlier. We have noted several times how much English literature owes to the church of the middle Ages. It should not surprise us therefore to learn that the earliest English plays were religious, were composed and acted by priests, and were given in the churches. The church service, it should be remembered, was conducted in Latin, the Bible was a Latin Bible, and few of those who attended service understood any language save their own. How natural, therefore, that in a desire to acquaint their congregations with the Scriptures, the priests should resort to acting out Bible narratives in simple fashion, and that sooner or later all the Bible stories should be presented in dramatic form, at first in Latin and finally in English. Although the Miracle plays, as they are called, were given at first in the churches, as they increased in popularity and larger crowds were attracted to them they were   given in churchyards, and finally on village greens and at street corners.
Read More about The Revival of Learning (1450-1550) By this time, however, the Miracle plays had passed out of the hands of priests and into the hands of the labor guilds or unions. Thus not only the church but the rapidly rising merchant classes have a share in the development of the drama. Each guild made a specialty of one play, and great was the rivalry among guilds. Out of the Miracle play grew what is called the Morality.

 The Morality does not tell a Bible story; yet, as the name suggests, its purpose is to teach a moral lesson. Vice, Gluttony, Mercy, Justice, Death, Mankind are among the characters found, each play being a little allegory picturing the struggle of the soul in the great conflict between right and wrong. A third early variety, the Interlude, takes us not to the great churches, nor to the guilds of the prospering middle classes, but to the homes of the nobles, the feudal aristocracy. The Interlude was hardly more than a dialogue, sometimes accompanied by music, coming between the courses at a banquet. Its purpose was simply to make folks merry. Read More about The Revival of Learning (1450-1550)  Thus early English drama is principally of native origin; it owes not a little, however, to the New Learning. When, Drama and in the fifteenth century, the classics were New being studied with such enthusiasm, what Learning more natural than that schoolmasters should have their boys learn and present, in the schoolroom, Latin comedies, first in the original, and later in English. Latin tragedies were given too. And from presenting Latin plays how natural the step to the writing of plays patterned after Latin models. Gorboduc, the first regular tragedy, though its plot is based upon a British legend, is patterned after a Latin model; so too is Ralph Roister Doister. Although this brief period produced so little that is of permanent value, we can see how it was preparatory in many ways to the brilliant Elizabethan period. Drama is passing through its experimental stages. Blank verse, the vehicle of Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies, and the sonnet, a form in which much of the best Elizabethan poetry is cast, are being acclimatized. The many translations of the Scripture are preparing the way for the noble King James Version. We note, moreover, that scholars from the universities are entering the arena of letters, and that courtiers are winning laurels by writing verses. Literature is now becoming popular at court.

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