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Ch 4: The Renaissance in English Literature

About This Chapter

Watch video lessons on Renaissance literature and learn about the lives and works of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Edmund Spenser. Each lesson is accompanied by a short multiple-choice quiz you can use to check your understanding of these literature topics.

The Renaissance in English Literature

The Renaissance in English literature (also known as Elizabethan literature) propelled poetry and theatrical drama to new heights. These video lessons will give you a feel for the time period and provide details about the lives and works of the period's most famous poets and dramatists.

You'll focus most of your attention on the greatest writer, poet and playwright of the time period, William Shakespeare, the legendary literary figure whose influence is still largely apparent today. You'll get to know the man behind the pen and study specific works, such as Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, The Tempest and his famous sonnets. Studying these plays - tragedies, comedies, histories - will give you a solid grasp on Shakespeare's most famous work. You'll see how Shakespearean themes, plot and characters also contributed to the world of drama and literature.

Moving away from Shakespeare, you'll study some of his contemporaries and rivals. Christopher Marlowe is another Renaissance writer, who actually influenced Shakespeare. Marlowe wrote many tragic plays, such as Doctor Faustus and Edward II. You'll even take a look at the mysterious nature surrounding Marlowe's death at 29, which involved a stabbing in a bar brawl following an arrest over alleged blasphemy. These dramatists really attract a lot of drama themselves, don't they?

You'll then be introduced to Ben Jonson, another Renaissance writer known from his satirical plays and lyric poems. Again, echoing the drama of Renaissance plays, you'll also learn about the apparent rivalry between Jonson and Shakespeare. Finally, we'll examine Edmund Spenser. Spenser is most known for his epic allegorical poem, The Faerie Queene, which is written in a form known as 'Spenserian stanza' and praises the Queen of the era, Queen Elizabeth I.

16 Lessons in Chapter 4: The Renaissance in English Literature
Introduction to Renaissance Literature: Characterizing Authors and Works

1. Introduction to Renaissance Literature: Characterizing Authors and Works

Chances are, you've heard of the term 'Renaissance' before, but do you know what it means? Watch this video to learn about how this artistic movement forever altered England and the way we look at literature.

Introduction to Shakespeare: Life and Works

2. Introduction to Shakespeare: Life and Works

This video provides a crash course introduction to William Shakespeare's life, plays, and poetry. From 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' to 'The Tempest', we'll give you a timeline of his works and quick descriptions of what you need to know to identify them.

Richard III: Fact and Fiction in Shakespeare's History Plays

3. Richard III: Fact and Fiction in Shakespeare's History Plays

We'll tease apart the real and the invented in Shakespeare's Richard III and discuss Shakespeare's particular brand of historical fiction. We'll also go over the plot and characters, as well as some famous quotes from the work.

Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare's Famous Star-Crossed Lovers

4. Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare's Famous Star-Crossed Lovers

Great tragedies resonate throughout time. In this lesson, we'll go over the role of fate in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. We'll explore the story of his star-crossed lovers and explain some of his most famous quotes.

Julius Caesar: Shakespeare's Play vs. History

5. Julius Caesar: Shakespeare's Play vs. History

In this lesson, we'll examine Shakespeare's take on the life of Julius Caesar, which spawned such famous quotes as 'Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!' and 'Et tu, Brute!' We'll also take a look at Brutus and Cassius, the conspirators who plotted Caesar's demise, as well as Mark Antony and Octavius, who remained loyal.

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Summary, Quotes and Characters

6. A Midsummer Night's Dream: Summary, Quotes and Characters

In this lesson, you'll learn about how love goes awry when magic interferes with the crazy exploits of a group of young Athenians, some fairies and some amateur actors in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Twelfth Night: Themes, Quotes and Cross-Dressing Characters

7. Twelfth Night: Themes, Quotes and Cross-Dressing Characters

In this lesson, we'll outline the interplay between love and deception in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. We'll go over plot, characters, and figure out what Shakespeare's cross-dressing heroine Viola means in the context of love.

Hamlet: Beyond the Famous Soliloquy

8. Hamlet: Beyond the Famous Soliloquy

To be or not to be? In this lesson, that really is the question. Watch this video to learn all about Hamlet, one of Shakespeare's great tragedies. We'll explore its plot, characters and the meaning of that famous phrase.

Othello: Racism and Shakespeare

9. Othello: Racism and Shakespeare

In this video, we'll give an overview of the plot of Shakespeare's 'Othello.' We'll discuss the motivations of his wicked ensign, Iago, and address the racial issues brought to light by Shakespeare's writing.

Shakespeare's King Lear: My Three Daughters

10. Shakespeare's King Lear: My Three Daughters

In this video, we'll discuss the importance of blindness, both literal and metaphorical, in Shakespeare's King Lear. We'll give an overview of the plot, characters, and explore the familial relationships central to the famous tragedy.

Macbeth: Themes and Quotes from the Scottish Play

11. Macbeth: Themes and Quotes from the Scottish Play

In this lesson, we'll follow how ambition shapes the events of Shakespeare's Scottish play, 'Macbeth'. We'll explore the plot, characters and supernatural elements that are characteristic of this play.

The Tempest: Colonialism and Magic in Shakespeare

12. The Tempest: Colonialism and Magic in Shakespeare

In Shakespeare's 'The Tempest,' a group of Italian nobility is shipwrecked on the island of Prospero, an exiled magician. In this lesson you'll learn how Prospero seeks to regain his right to the title Duke of Milan.

Shakespeare's Sonnets: Reading and Interpreting the Major Poems

13. Shakespeare's Sonnets: Reading and Interpreting the Major Poems

In this video we'll learn about Shakespeare's sonnets, which contain some of his most famous poetry. Shakespeare addresses both a Fair Youth, speculated to be a young earl and patron, and a Dark Lady, whom he describes in frank and unromantic terms. We'll discuss the meter and rhyme scheme of the typical Shakespearean sonnet, as well as the structure of the overall work.

Introduction to Christopher Marlowe: Biography and Plays

14. Introduction to Christopher Marlowe: Biography and Plays

English playwright Christopher Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare with a short but potent body of work to his name. Learn all about his plays - and his fascinating character - from our video lesson!

Introduction to Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Queene and Sonnets

15. Introduction to Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Queene and Sonnets

Edmund Spenser is one of the key figures in the English Renaissance, and he made his name mostly by writing about dragons and knights. Pretty cool, right? Watch this video to learn about this important author and his biggest work, The Faerie Queene.

Introduction to Ben Jonson: Poems, Plays and Shakespeare

16. Introduction to Ben Jonson: Poems, Plays and Shakespeare

To a great deal of people, for a great deal of time, English playwright and poet Ben Jonson was known merely as a rival (and inferior) to William Shakespeare. But there's more to the story than that! Watch our video lesson to get the skinny on Jonson's life and work.

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