Renaissance Poetry in English Literature: Characteristics & Major Themes

Renaissance Poetry did not completely break from medieval history and values. Following are the main poets who framed the spirit of Renaissance Poetry.

Table of Contents

Sir Philip Sidney

Sir Philip Sidney is considered as the perfect gentleman of the Renaissance Age. He represents the virtues of medieval age: Knight shows loyalty, Lover shows passion and Scholar shows knowledge.

Important Works

  • The Lady of May (1578-1579):- It is a masque written and performed for Queen Elizabeth.
  • Astrophel and Stella (1580s):- Composed in early 1580s and published in 1598. The most important work of Sidney. It is an unfulfilled love story of two lovers. It is the first famous English Sonnet. 
  • The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1590-1593):- It is a romance based on the Hellenistic model of Heliodorus. Shakespeare borrowed from it for the Gloucester subplot of King Lear. Charles-I quoted lines from it before his execution. Samuel Richardson named the heroine of his first novel after Sidney’s Pamela.
  • An Apology for Poetry (before 1583):- It is also known as A Defence of Poesy or A Defence of Poetry. The work was written in defence of poetry which was subjected to severe criticism.
  • The Sidney Psalms (1599):- The English Translations of the Psalms by Sidney’s sister Mary. 

Francesco Petrarca

Also known as Petrarch in English. He wrote sonnets for the ideal woman, Laura. The idealism is an important feature of Renaissance Poetry.

Important Works

The Shepherd’s Calendar (1579)

  • It was his first major work.
  • It is an eclogue- a short pastoral poem that is in the form of a dialogue or soliloquy.

The Faerie Queen (1590) 

  • It is the longest poem in the English Language.
  • After Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, it is the most important work in the history of English Literature.
  • It is an allegorical work containing praise of Queen Elizabeth.
  • He intended to write 12 books, but we have only six books.
  • The main themes of the poem are as follows: Truth, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy.
  • In his letter, A Letter of the Authors, he states that the entire epic poem is “cloudily enwrapped in allegorical devices.”
  • The main aim of this work was to “fashion a gentleman or noble person in a virtuous and gentle discipline.”