Renaissance Novels period subgenres characteristics authors

Renaissance novel

The Renaissance novels comprise a varied style of prose literary production developed on the European continent between the 15th and 17th centuries, immediately after the Middle Ages . The Renaissance was characterized by increased interest in classical scholarship and values.

Consequently, the themes and styles of the Renaissance novel were laden with classical Greco-Latin variety and antiquity. Previously, until the mid-fourteenth century, novels consisted of short prose, which had a didactic purpose. Around 1440 the first sentimental and chivalric novels emerged.

Later, some novels published almost at the end of the 15th century began to timidly analyze the passions of the characters. However, they preserved the allegorical framework of medieval literature .

Later, in the 16th century, the first long prose narrative appeared: Amadís de Gaula . This has a central theme, revolves around a hero with ancient chivalric values ​​and expresses Renaissance ideals such as justice.

Amadís de Gaula  and other works published at the time such as La celestina,  maintained characteristics of the literature of the Middle Ages. However, they are the forerunners of the characteristic style of the Renaissance novel.

Subgenres of the Renaissance novel

Pastoral novel

The pastoral novel is framed within the subgenres of the Renaissance novel. It is characterized by its highly idealizing content, a slow and slow narration, and its theme: love.

In this sense, it presents a chaste love, giving priority to the analysis of feelings over the account of the facts.

In addition, it offers an idealized vision of nature, showing a society of shepherds free from the complexities and corruption of city life.

Chivalry novel

The novel of chivalry — or the books of chivalry, as it is also known — began in the Middle Ages. However, it reached its peak and spread during the Renaissance.

In this type of Renaissance novel, the feats and fabulous deeds of knights errant are narrated. These stories could be real or fictitious, and they satisfied a society whose highest ideals were heroism and love.

Sentimental novel

This other subgenre of the Renaissance novel has its origins and maximum development in the 15th century. The sentimental novel was inspired by chivalric motifs, but changed the point of view towards feelings, not feats.

However, the love theme was maintained, but love became epistolary and courteous. The codes used deify the beloved woman and demean the fiery lover.

As for the outcome, it is always unhappy and tragic. Plots often included suicides and exiles at the end of the story.

Byzantine novel

The Byzantine novel was related to the distinctive elements of classical antiquity and to the Hellenic novel. In fact, many were written in ancient Greek and later translated into modern languages.

A recurring theme in these novels was that of separated lovers who travel long distances to finally meet again.

Moorish novel

The Moorish novel was a subgenre of the very popular Renaissance novel in Spain at the end of the 16th century. It tells the life, customs and politics of Muslim culture with a romantic and idealized tone.

Picaresque novel

This was a prose literary subgenre that had its heyday in 16th and 17th century Spain. It was characterized by narrating the adventures and misadventures of very humble characters, who survived thanks to their great cunning.

Also, these novels had a critical and moralizing sense, and tended to focus only on the negative aspect of society. Its characters are guided by their desire to satisfy their basic needs.

Characteristics of the Renaissance novel

Anthropocentric vision

The appearance of the Renaissance novel occurs in full development of the discovery of America (1492). This and other scientific advances led man to revalue science and reason over faith.

Then, they began to believe in the influence of man in daily events rather than in the action of God. As a result, the view of the universe changed to an anthropocentric view.

Thus, human reason came to have preponderance over divine reason. In this context, the Renaissance novel echoed this conception centered on man and his actions, moving away from religious themes.


The imaginative prose of the Renaissance is characterized by duality: sentimental idealism and critical sense. The idealistic current highlights high values ​​such as love, courtesy and honor; the critical thread is more realistic.

Thus, from idealism arise the sentimental novel and chivalric books. In turn, the latter originate the Moorish, pastoral and Byzantine novels. The picaresque novel has a critical tendency, painting a materialistic and sordid world.

Perfect representation of nature

The Renaissance novel presents nature as the representation of perfection and as a source of pleasure.

This is described as an idealized and domesticated nature to the needs of the human being. In this environment, the love stories of shepherds are mainly told.

Love as the central theme

In the Renaissance novel, love plays a starring role. The themes mainly address stories of protagonists prey to a melancholic love. Lovers suffer and cry for the impossibility of being with the loved one.

Defined typology of the beloved woman

The beloved woman is the center of many of the stories told. It has a defined typology: light eyes, blond hair, white complexion. Likewise, it is the source of a purity that is very difficult to find in another woman.

Authors and outstanding works 

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was a Spanish-born poet, novelist, and playwright. He wrote what is considered by many to be the best literary work in the world: the Renaissance novel El ingenioso hidalgo  Don Quixote de la Mancha .

This work was published in two parts, a first part in 1605 and the second in 1615. Its content makes a parody of chivalric books and invites readers to reflect on justice, faith and love.

François Rabelais (1494-1553)

François Rabelais, also known by the pseudonym Alcofribas Nasier, was a French writer and priest. His contemporaries considered him an eminent physician and humanist.

However, he went down to posterity for being the author of the comic work Gargantúa y Pantagruel (16th century). The four novels that make up this work stand out for their rich use of Renaissance French and for their comedy.

In addition, Rabelais developed a wide production in the cultured Italian language, where popular legends, farces and romances were addressed. All of these were aimed primarily at an educated courtly public.

Thomas More (1478-1535)

Moro was an English lawyer and politician who had a brilliant political career under Henry VII. During the mandate of Enrique VII, it reached the position of Great Chancellor in the British Parliament.

His masterpiece was the novel Utopia , in which an ideal society is described. Later, the term utopia was used to designate the unviable replacement of what already exists.

The full name of the novel is On the Ideal State of a Republic on the New Island of Utopia . This literary piece was published in 1516.

Other authors

  • Georg Wickram (1505-1562).
  • Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (1503-1575), possible author of El Lazarillo de Tormes .
  • Jorge de Montemayor (1520-1561).
  • Juan de Segura (1525-1575).

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