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Shakespeare's World: The Tragedies: A Historical Exploration of Literature
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xviii Introduction: The Renaissance in England Wars of the Roses and the rise of the Tudor dynasty, when Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485) and became Henry VII—grandfather of Elizabeth. Many scholars mark the end of the early modern era, and the beginning of the modern era, with the age of revolutions—beginning with the American Revolution (ca. 1775–1783) and culminating with the French Revolution (beginning in 1789). This volume will most frequently employ yet another term: the Renaissance, or specifi cally to differentiate it from the Continental Renais- sance (referring to continental Europe, and beginning about a century ear- lier), the English Renaissance. Scholars debate how accurate and helpful is this name, with some arguing that the English Renaissance bore little in common with the Continental one and others asserting that they shared a great deal. What is meant by the term “Renaissance,” and what characterized this explosive, exciting period in English history? From the French, “renais- sance” literally means “rebirth,” so one might ask both what was being born and why the “re” part of the term. Regarding the “re”: During the 16th and early 17th centuries, people in England grew more aware of and became greatly infl uenced by the art, architecture, literature, and other cultural elements of ancient Greece and Rome. Many works that had not previously been available were translated from Greek and Latin into English and were far more easily disseminated due to the widespread use of the printing press since Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in around 1450. Classical texts in Latin, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Plutar- ch’s Parallel Lives , became the centerpieces of English grammar school education, as students learned not just the languages (more Latin than Greek) but also the rhetoric, philosophy, history, religion, literature, and more. In his eulogy praising the grammar school educated Shakespeare— to introduce the 1623 First Folio (collected works of Shakespeare)— William’s friend, rival, and fellow playwright Ben Jonson inserted the backhanded compliment that Shakespeare was great despite having “small Latin and less Greek.” As citizens of Renaissance England looked back to the great discov- eries and cultural contributions of the Greek and Roman civilizations of millennia before, they were also exploding forward. The Renaissance was defi ned by exploration, creativity, and change in many areas of life. King Henry VIII enacted the English Reformation (1534), which began a roller- coaster ride of religious changes, reversals, persecutions, and wars. The age also featured exploratory and trade missions that would—among other discoveries—bring the English to the New World, founding, for example,