What are the characteristics of Renaissance poetry

The literary era of Renaissance (1470-1600)
(Reformation period and humanism) - a selection of works

Historical events such as the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks, the resulting flight of Greek scholars to Italy, the discovery of America, the Reformation of Martin Luther, the collapse of the estates and the peasant war also marked the literary development. The term "renaissance" - it also applies to painting - is not easily applicable to all writings from a literary point of view. The literature of the 16th century still has strong traits from the late Middle Ages and, as far as it was written in German, mainly served educational purposes. But the poems, which were shaped by humanism, also pursued ethical, didactic and representative goals and were mainly performed in the newly created school theaters, also to get the students used to the Latin language. Satires, games of fools, arguments, hoaxes and novellas were more intended for popular entertainment. The pieces were designed to create tension in the listener. This succeeded because the stories were no longer known as they were in the Middle Ages. As the performances became more and more complex, new stage forms were invented, such as the Terenz stage and the bathroom cell stage. In addition, a literature of pamphlets, catalogs of demands, theses, the publication of revolutionary writings such as the letters of the Italian Cola di Rienzi (1313-1354) developed. The literature was mainly about ecclesiastical and political reforms. The Protestant hymn created by Luther was new.

The term Renaissance for this period was first used by the French art historian Jules Michelet (1798-1874). Already Dante (1265-1321) strived for a world empire of peace and purity of spirit, of the good in man. Petrarch (1304-1374) also expressed this longing in his chants. Later, however, the "reformatio" and the "rinascita" split into an ecclesiastical and a secular movement. In Roman antiquity, man seemed to be the most developed in his "humanitas". In addition to the national self-reflection in Italy, with which the orientation towards antiquity went hand in hand, the resistance against French and German occupiers in the country grew. The term "barbarians" for the uneducated invaders was back in vogue. The originally unworldly need for rebirth gave way to the world-affirming joy of rebirth. The Renaissance, which emerged from an ancient cultural heritage, had clearly aristocratic features in Italy. The nobility built, painted, and brought artists and scientists to the princely residences.

In Germany there was no historical, political or class background. The awakening national feeling was soon pushed back again by the political events. Humanism was restricted to the learned circles. The literature of the 16th century divided into late medieval folk, humanistic-scholarly and church-political-combative writings. We are looking in vain for the characteristic freedom and serenity of Italian Renaissance literature in Germany.

Torn from the supremacy of the church, the scholars at the universities wrote scientific studies mainly in Latin, which were based on ancient guidelines. In 1516 Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536) brought the Greek New Testament with a Latin translation and notes. Paracelsus and Copernicus published their scientific findings.

Erasmus' Christian humanism, which was based on the belief that the good in people could be promoted through education, did not find as much support in Germany as Luther's religion of faith and revelation. The trust in the divine act of grace and the redeeming death of Christ justifies the human being in his being and leads to optimism and world affirmation despite the fall of man. Luther used elements of colloquial language in his writings in order to remain understandable even with the simpler people.

The humanistic drama remained poor in actions and acting and instead placed the declamatory in the foreground. That is why the authors of these dramas also received their appreciation from the audience for the first time, while the medieval poet was still completely behind the material.



Life dates



born around 1458, died 1521

The Ship of Fools (1484)

Fish species,

born around 1546, died 1590

affenteurous and monstrous history of the life, rhythms and deeds of ... Mr. Grandgusier, Gargantua and Pantagruel ... (1575), The happy ship from Zurich (1576), Legend and description of the four-horned hut (1580)

Ulrich of

born 1488, died 1523

Conversation booklet (1521)

John of Tepl

born around 1350,
died around 1414

The farmer from Bohemia (shortly after 1400)


born 1483, died 1546

Luther's translation of the New Testament - printed (1522)


born 1489 (?), died 1525

The prince sermon (1524)


born around 1475, died 1537

From the great Lutheran fool (1522)


born 1455, died 1522

Henno (1497)


born 1494, died 1576

Dialogues (1524), Lucretia (1527), Most important dramatic works (1540/60), 34 volumes of his works (1567)


born at the beginning of the 16th century,
died before 1562

The lost Son (1540), Gabriotto and Reinhart (1551), The young boy's mirror (1554), Trolley booklet (1555)

The following works should also be mentioned, the authors of which have remained unknown: Fortunatus (1509), Thyl Ulenspiegel (1510/11), Historia by D. Johann Fausten (1587), The shield citizens (1598) (all popular books), Karsthans (1521) and New Karsthans (1521) (as a forerunner of the peasant war literature), Book of love (1587, a love story collection).

A division into literary epochs sometimes seems restrictive for some works and authors and can therefore only be made imprecisely. We also make no claim to completeness with regard to the named poets, authors and their works. Our concern can only be a rough outline of the standards customary in literary studies.

Source: H-A. and E. Frenzel,
Dates of German poetry, Vol. I and II, Cologne 1979

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