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Elizabethan Poets

The Elizabethan poets (Sixteenth Century  CE and shortly after) appeared in England during a period roughly contemporaneous with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603).  By the English renaissance of the Sixteenth Century, English had moved close to its modern form. A new flowering of poetry took place, able to deal with all the usual suspects: the happy life, the kingdom of the mind, youth and age, imprisonment, affection, desire, love, beauty, marriage, death, and time. Short extracts from Wyatt, Surrey, Dyer, Sidney, Marlowe, Raleigh, Shakespeare, Campion, Wooton, and Hoskins are presented.



Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592 CE) was born in the family chateau near Bordeaux, France, and was given special training by his father, who would not let him hear any other tongue than Latin—the language of learning—until he was six. In 1568 he published a French translation of  Natural Theology or the Book of Creatures by Raimond Sebond, a Spanish theologian who taught at Toulouse. Three years later he retired to his chateau and took up the life of essayist, providing a portrait of himself and his era. expressed his judgment on the different ways of living he had experienced and put forward his views on truth, education,  friendship, poetry, individuality, glory, the senses, conversation, old age and death, among other things.


Chong Ch'ol

The Korean poet Chong Ch’ol (1536-1593 CE)  mastered two classical forms of Korean poetry—the kasa and the sijo. The sijo extracts given here reflect Chong Ch’ol's  career. Some relate to his experience as an administrator in the government, as he was alternately expelled and returned to office; others deal with his experiences as an ex-administrator, exiled to the countryside. His concern for doing what was right, and his ability to get entangled in partisan politics, caused his career to alternate in this fashion.



Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra ( 1547-1616 CE) was born in Alcala de Henares, Spain.  By the age of 22, he had contributed to a volume on Philipp II’ s third wife. He was wounded in war and later taken as a slave by Barbary Corsairs.  Cervantes’ family was able to buy his release in 1580. About ten years later he started writing the history of Don Quixote, a comic novel so successful that three pirated editions were immediately issued. In the extracts selected, the focus shifts from the comical delusions of the knight errant—originally the Knight of the Rueful Countenance, now the Knight of the Lions—to the earthy humanism of Sancho Panza. And with this shift we find the knight himself discoursing about virtue like a philosopher.  



 Francis Bacon (1561-1626 CE) was born in London, England. In  1579 his father died, and Bacon, having only a small income, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1582. By 1619 he had risen to the position of Lord Chancellor with the title Baron Verulam. Bacon's ambition was to produce a new beginning for the investigation of  nature, entitled in Latin, Magna Instauratio. This was to be in six parts, but only the first two, The Advancement of Learning and the Novum Organum were completed. The former surveyed the whole field of knowledge to identify deficits and hindrances to advancement, and to emphasize the dignity of knowledge and its true value. 



William Shakespeare (1564-1616 CE) was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and emerged into prominence as a playwright when he wrote the three Henry IV plays in 1591 and 1592, followed by Richard III in 1593, and Richard II in 1594 or 1595. Thereafter there was an outpouring of plays that finally ceased with the Tempest in 1612.   In his early experience of writing about the struggles for the English crown, and of the civil wars and rebellions that ensued, Shakespeare developed his thoughts on the nature of kingly rule, the mayhem that followed usurpation of power, the suffering brought by wars, and the ambiguity of the concept of honor. 



Galileo (1564-1642 CE) was born in Pisa. He was professor of mathematics at Padua between 1592 and 1610, when he used the newly invented telescope to observe mountains on the moon and the rotation of the moons of Jupiter. He went to Rome to promote the Copernican view of the solar system to high officials in the Church, making  enemies by arguing for a philosophy based on observation rather than on the writings of "authorities" like Aristotle. He was subsequently tried by the Inquisition, forced to recant his views under threat of torture, and sentenced to imprisonment. In 1636 he produced his major scientific work in which he explained that the effect of gravity on freely falling bodies results in a constant vertical acceleration; and that an unaccelerated horizontal motion can be superposed on this. These discoveries formed the basis of the theory formulated by Newton.