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Humanism in “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet”

Introduction

English Renaissance marks a period in the history of artistic and cultural transformation between the late fifteenth and early seventeenth century. It is linked to the European Renaissance that is considered to begin in Italy at the end of the fourteenth century. The transformation that English society and culture were different from the one that occurred in Europe in several ways. First, the specific focus was placed on literature and music rather than visual arts, which were more significant in other countries. Second, the English period started later than the Italian and others and continued to 1620.

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Renaissance in English Literature

The tradition of literature in England was rooted in the increased use of the vernacular, which expanded in social settings and led to the printing press becoming a common tool used in the middle of the sixteenth century. The works of European poets such as Petrarch had a significant influence on the poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Philip Sidney (Dickson, p. 10). The Elizabethan literature was characterized by a unique literary culture in both poetry and drama and included the works of such poets as Edmund Spencer, whose The Faerie Queene had a persistent impact on English tradition. However, later, his poetry was overshadowed by Wyatt, Spencer, and Shakespeare. Wyatt was the one who introduced the genre of sonnets into English literature while Surrey was a pioneer of writing poetry in blank verse.

During the period of the English Renaissance, the drama was heavily inspired by the classical tradition of Greeks and Romans. It became secularized, with plays written by William Shakespeare becoming commentaries on the human condition and reflections of the period’s emphasis on humanism. For instance, Hamlet included some important considerations of the relationship between a father and son, of guilt, of women’s attitudes to men, madness, and other issues that were prevalent in English society. Apart from drama, the literature of the English Renaissance also marks Thomas More’s Utopia, which discussed the idea of a perfect society and provided criticisms of England of that time. Therefore, during the period of the Renaissance, poets, and writers were transparent of their criticisms of both church and state to discuss the prospects of the society.

Shakespeare’s Contribution into Humanism

William Shakespeare had a significant impact on the literature of the Renaissance in multiple ways. The author was an important figure because he depicted human nature in the literature despite the rejection of such discussions in society. The interactions between people that Shakespeare described were more complex and nuanced if compared to most literature produced in the past. The focus on humanism as the main aspect of literature elevated the importance of Shakespeare’s works and offered a new look at both poetry and drama with the help of the writer’s contributions. In the era preoccupied with religion, the author’s poetry and plays were highly secular in both subject matter and outlook, which points to his influence by classical ideas of the Renaissance regarding the important contribution of reason and human individualism.

Plays written by Shakespeare are unique in their complexity, the interweaving of narratives, and multi-dimensional stories recreated with the help of both comedy and drama. In many cases, the two genres were intertwined to capture the attention of the audience and underline the fact that in life drama and comedy go hand-in-hand. For example, the comedic character of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet eliminated any pretenses of idealism and showed that even the most complicated situations in life could be managed with humor and light-heartedness. Therefore, Shakespeare’s approach to literature brought a new perspective of psychological realism through the creation of multiple believable, living, and different characters that showed the diversity of humanity. Because of this, the author’s works are still analyzed, reviewed, and loved today because society can share the aspirations and challenges that Shakespearian characters faced centuries ago.

Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet represent the period of the English Renaissance as both of them have multiple qualities inherent to realistic and humanistic ideologies. Romeo and Juliet can be characterized by such aspects of Renaissance literature as balance and symmetry as the play is self-conscious from the literary perspective and structurally obvious in its symmetrical balance. Every idea that Shakespeare presents in the play has a complementary reflection: love against hate, day against the night, patience against impetuosity, and many others. The main characters in the play are also balanced: Juliet and Rosaline, Romeo and Mercutio, Benvolio and Tybalt, the Nurse, and Friar Laurence. Apart from the striking balance, the heroine that Shakespeare created is one of the most captivating in English literature. Even today, playing Juliet is seen as a pinnacle of an actress’s career.

From the historical context of the Renaissance, Romeo and Juliet perfectly reflect the social traditions of that time. For instance, women from wealthy families were expected to marry young, obey their husbands, and bear children (heirs preferably). Being a young woman from a wealthy family, Juliet had to marry another young man of privileged heritage. The arranged marriage was a regular occurrence for families such as the Capulets because of the need to ensure that their reputation, name, status, and property would be preserved (Ferraro, p. 4). Juliet disobeys her family’s choice of her spouse in the act of love and despite the Montagues also being a noble family. Such an artistic decision is inherent to the Renaissance tradition of humanism as the author underlined the fact that in life nothing comes easily and without conflict.

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In Macbeth, the traces of humanism inherent to the Renaissance are also present. In the play, the ideology is expressed with the help of such characters as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth himself. The two serve as examples of individuals who are in control of their own lives and destinies despite the consequences that their decisions bring. Both characters agree to pledge themselves with the evil forces to achieve what they want. They understood that they were going against the good and honorable but the desire to make Macbeth king prevailed over any sense of righteousness. The theme of witches was used by the author to display the idea of humanism uniquely: they did not control Macbeth but were tempting him to make particular decisions.

In Macbeth, the topic of individualism is depicted in the same way in which it can be explained today. To achieve a personal goal, one resorts to using unlawful or vicious resources to pursue the goals. Both of the characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are good representatives of Renaissance individualism in the way that they go toward their aims without thinking of the adverse impact they have on others, the environment, and society in general.

Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth are important representatives of the Renaissance literary period because they touch upon the themes that have not been discussed previously. Shakespeare embraced the changes in social perspective and attitudes and implemented a range of literary shifts that characterized the artistic side of the Renaissance (Hadfield, p. 35). For example, the simplistic and two-dimensional style inherent to the pre-Renaissance era and developed human characters with deep psychological complexity. The upheaval in the accepted social structure of that time allowed the writer to explore the humanity of every type of character irrespective of the social position he or she would occupy. Even monarchs were given human emotions and were considered capable of making mistakes. Therefore, many of the characters from Shakespeare’s plays are relatable to readers and viewers, which contributes to the literary value of the works. The writer was not afraid of pointing out the flaws of society and underlined the fact that life is never perfect.

Concluding Thoughts

In the era of the Renaissance, the perceptions of English society shifted toward considerations of humanism, which was reflected in the literature if that time. William Shakespeare used the shift in public opinion and provided a new look at society with the help of poetry and dramatic plays. The uniqueness of his works is traced in the unjudgmental and clear depiction of human flaws, virtues, life choices, and relationships. The focus on humanity in the author’s works contributed to the newfound freedom for writers to express their views about the world around them, giving the start to further developments in English literature.

Works Cited

  1. Dickson, Andrew. The Globe Guide to Shakespeare: The Plays, the Productions, the Life. Profile Books, 2016.
  2. Ferraro, Joanne. Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice. Oxford University Press, 2001.
  3. Hadfield, Andrew. Shakespeare and Renaissance Politics. Bloomsbury, 2014.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 13). Humanism in “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet”. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/humanism-in-macbeth-and-romeo-and-juliet/

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 13). Humanism in “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet”. https://studycorgi.com/humanism-in-macbeth-and-romeo-and-juliet/

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"Humanism in “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet”." StudyCorgi, 13 Jan. 2022, studycorgi.com/humanism-in-macbeth-and-romeo-and-juliet/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Humanism in “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet”." January 13, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/humanism-in-macbeth-and-romeo-and-juliet/.


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StudyCorgi. "Humanism in “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet”." January 13, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/humanism-in-macbeth-and-romeo-and-juliet/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Humanism in “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet”." January 13, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/humanism-in-macbeth-and-romeo-and-juliet/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Humanism in “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet”'. 13 January.

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