The English Renaissance covers the period between 1509, the year Henry VIII ascended the throne, to 1660, the year which marked the beginning of the Restoration. It was a typical English movement and began later than its European equivalents. It was featured by a strong Protestant base influenced by the Reformation under the reign of Henry VIII. The English literature was less linked to the visual arts than Italian literature.
The “New Learning”, as Humanism was also called, was diffused in grammar schools all over the country and in the two universities, Oxford and Cambridge. It was based on the power of human reason that could interpret man and nature.
During the Renaissance love songs and sonnets flourished: therefore this period was called “The golden age”. The sonnet was introduced into England by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard and was refined in Italy by Dante and Petrarch, whose Canzoniere had become the model for all European renaissance poets. The poetry of Petrarch was unique also because of the distinctive devices, like oxymoron.
The idealization of the woman has been one of the main topic of Western literature all along. In the French metrical romances the woman was a lady who was worshipped by the author. Love for this ideal woman was linked with the ideals of loyalty, sacrifice and renunciation. Actually the lady often lived with her lord in an isolated castle and married him for economic or political reasons. The lady usually tempted the few men she came into contact with. The Italian dolce stil novo introduced a new theme connected with love: spiritual elevation. The woman became an angel, an intermediary creature between the earth and heaven. This poetic started with Guido Guinizzelli and reached the highest point in the poetry of Guido Cavalcanti and Dante Alighieri. During the Renaissance the poet used to confront the ideal love, which led to perfection, and the real love, which was irrational and led to folly. The figure of Petrarch stood between the dying medieval period and the Renaissance. William Shakespeare tried to separate the different aspects of love inverting the conventional presentation of the woman.