Elizabethan Era Literature: Characteristics, Themes, and Authors


Elizabethan Period is generally regarded as the greatest in the history of English Literature. Historically, we note in this age, the tremendous impetus received from the Renaissance from the Reformation & from the exploration of the new world.

It was marked by a strong national spirit, by patriotism, by religious tolerance, by social content, by intellectual progress & by unbounded enthusiasm.

Such an age of thought, feeling & vigorous action, finds its best expression in the drama; & the wonderful development of the drama, culminating.

Though the age produced some of the excellent prose works, it is essentially an age of poetry; & the poetry is remarkable for its variety, its freshness, its youth & romantic feeling.

Revival of Interest in Greek Literature

The ardent revival in the study of Greek literature brought a dazzling light into many dark places of interest. The new classical influences were a great benefit. They tempered & polished the earlier rudeness of English Literature.

Abundance of Output

The Elizabethan age was rich in literary productions of all kinds. Singing is impossible when one’s hearts undeclared & at any moment one may be laid prostrate.

Not till the accession of Queen Elizabeth, did a better state of things began to be. In the Elizabethan age, pamphlets & treatises were freely written.

Sometimes writers indulged in scurrilous abuses which were of personal character. But on the whole, the output of the literature was very wide, & after the lean years of the preceding epoch, the prodigal issue of the Elizabethan age is almost embarrassing.

The New Romanticism

The romantic quest is, for the remote, the wonderful & the beautiful. All these desires were abundantly fed during the Elizabethan age, which is the first & the greatest romantic epoch (period).

According to Albert, “there was a daring & resolute spirit of adventure in literary as well as the other regions, & most important of these was an un-mistakable buoyancy & freshness in the strong wind of the spirit. It was the ardent youth of English Literature & the achievement was worthy of it.”

Translations in Elizabethan Age

The Elizabethan age witnessed translation into English of several important foreign books. Many translations were as popular as the original works. Sir Thomas North translated Plutarch’s Lives & John Florio translated Montaigne’s Essais.

No less popular were the translations of poetry. E.g. Metamorphoses by Arthur Golding, Aristotle’s Orlando Furioso by Sir John Harrington, Tasso’s Terusalom Liberata by Richard Carew.

Spirit of Independence

In spite of borrowings from abroad, the authors of this age showed a spirit of independence & creativeness. Shakespeare borrowed freely, but by the alembic of his creative imaginations, he transformed the dross into gold.

Spenser introduced the ‘Spenserian Stanza’, & from his works, we got the impression of inventiveness & intrepidity. On the whole, the outlook of the writers during the age was broad & independent.

Development of Drama

During the Elizabethan Age, the drama made a swift & wonderful leap into maturity. The drama reached the splendid perfection in the hands of Shakespeare & Ben Jonson, though in the concluding part of the age, particularly in Jacobean Age, there was a decline of drama standards.

Popularity of Poetry

Poetry enjoyed its hey-day during the Elizabethan age. The whole of the age lived in a state of poetic fervour. Songs, lyrics & sonnets were produced in plenty, & England became the nest of the singing birds. In versification, there was a marked improvement. Melody & pictorialism were introduced in poetry by Spenser.

Prose & Novel

For the first time, prose rose to the position of first-rate importance. “Even the development of poetical drama between 1579 A.D. -1629 A.D., is hardly more extraordinary than the sudden expansion of English prose & its adaptation to every kind of literary requirement.”

The deadweight of the Latin & English prose acquired a tradition & universal application. English Novel made its first proper appearance during this age.