Middle Ages: 450-1300 Renaissance

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Introduction to Middle Ages, Renaissance Literature

The Canterbury Tales, Dante’s Inferno, The Book of the City of Ladies

Middle Ages: 450-1300 Renaissance: 1300-1650

Italy -1350-1550

(Scholars believe originated in Florence)

England 1500-1650

Define Renaissance: term used to describe the cultural achievements of the 14th-16th centuries

Period between 1050 to 1300 characterized by commercial and financial development, growing political power of self-governing cities and a population explosion.
Period from late 13th to 16th century characterized by artistic energies

Explain the changes in the church. How were the clergy being viewed?

  • Christian Humanist believed in the importance of the active life instead of a contemplative life.

  • Stressed the importance of Christian life as opposed to Christian doctrine.

  • Ridiculed the performance of external mechanical acts of faith such as Pilgrimages to Holy places and Indulgences.

Great Schism:

  • Development of 2 Popes Rome/Avignon. French supported Pope Clement (cousin of French king). England recognized Pope Urban (the pope that was actually elected)

  • Schism gave rise to instability and religious excess

Conciliar movement:

  • Reform of church through periodic assemblies representing all Christians. Favored balanced form of church government.

John Wyclif: English scholar and theologian

  • 1384 – Believed in clerical poverty. Raised pious laypeople above ecclesiastics.

  • Belief in personal merit, not rank, basis of religious authority. Challenged Papal infallibility and indulgences

Jan Hus:

Discuss the social classes of the Middle Ages. Look at the change that developed during the 14th century. How did the lives of the Laity change? (Look at the Guilds and changes in class structure) What was life like in the parish?

  • Nobility had control of all servants and peasants (chief steward ruled over servants and peasants)

  • New rise of towns – people fleeing countryside

  • Artisans become more of a voice with the formation of guilds. Towns allowed for more choices for people.

  • Rise in Merchant class. Frowned upon by Nobility because of social climbing

  • Laity began to exercise increasing control over parish affairs

Discuss the Cultural Movement of the Renaissance; particularly the characteristics of Literature.


  • Emphasized human being’s achievements and interests.

  • Was a return to classical studies, students of ancient languages (Greek, Latin, Hebrew).

  • Directly influenced by works of Greek writers.

  • Studied Latin classics to learn about human nature

Goal of Humanist was to be wise, speak eloquently, know what is good and practice virtue.
Rhetoric – Seeking eloquent communication

  • Used spoken language to teach, give pleasure, persuade.

Vernacular –

  • Begins in the 14th century. Writing in National Language rather than Latin or French (the language of the upper class). Chaucer and Dante are early examples of this new National Pride


  • Stressed personality, uniqueness, genius and full development of one’s capabilities.

  • Belief that a person’s abilities should be stretched until realized

  • The quest for glory was a central component of Renaissance individualism


  • Basic concern with the material world instead of with the eternal world of spirit.

  • Most Popes and high clergymen come from the bourgeois aristocracy

  • Papal interests were fostering these new ideals

What characteristics of the Renaissance do you see in the writing of our authors? What specifically are they criticizing about their time period? Think of examples from the text to support.

Christine De Pizan:

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