Difference Between Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Main Difference – Medieval vs Renaissance Literature

Medieval era and renaissance era are two distinct periods in history. There are distinct differences in the language, style and scope of literature during these two periods. The literature in the medieval era was characterized by Christianity and chivalry whereas the literature in the Renaissance was greatly influenced by the progress of art and sciences and the emergence of humanism. This is the main difference between Medieval and Renaissance literature.

Medieval Literature

The Middle Ages or the Medieval era lasted from 5th century to the 15th century. Therefore, the literature that belongs to this period is known as medieval literature. However, it is important to note that English literature is said to begin with the epic poem Beowulf, which was written somewhere between 8th and 11th century. One of the most important features of the early medieval literature is that most of the literary work were written in Old English, such as the case of Beowulf. Most of the early literature of the middle ages were also anonymous.

Religion occupied an important place in the medieval literature; most of the work used Christian themes such as death and resurrection, good and evil, and heaven and Earth. The code of chivalry and courtly love were also famous themes medieval literature. These themes were commonly used in a genre called romances or chivalric romance which generally about the adventures of a knight-errant having many heroic and chivalric qualities. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a perfect example of this genre.

Pearl Poet’s Pearl, Patience, Cleanness, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Langland’s Piers Plowman, John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, and the works of Geoffrey Chaucer including Canterbury Tales are some examples of literature in the medieval era.Difference Between Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Renaissance Literature

The Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement which bridges the gap between the middle ages and modern history. The English renaissance dates from the late 15th to the early 17th century. the introduction of the printing press was a major event in this period which lead to the flourish of literature.

Renaissance Literature was mainly influenced by the ideas of Renaissance art, politics, and religion; in addition, it was also heavily influenced by Greek and Roman literature. Drama and poetry were the most popular forms of renaissance literature.

The renaissance writers explored religious and social themes in their work; the religious themes were often explored with a completely different approach than the medieval writers. John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Christopher Marlowe’s  Doctor Faustus are some examples for this theme.

William Shakespeare is one of the most popular examples of Renaissance writers. His writing was influenced by Greek tragedy, historical and social issues. 

Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Sir Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe, John Donne and George Herbert are some notable figures in Renaissance literature.Main Difference - Medieval vs Renaissance Literature

Difference Between Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Time Period

Medieval Literature is the literature that belongs to the middle ages. (5th – 15th century)

Renaissance Literature is the literature from 15th to the early 17th century.


Medieval Literature was written in Old English and Middle English.

Renaissance Literature was written in early modern English.


Medieval Literature was centered on concepts such as religion, chivalry, and courtly love.

Renaissance Literature involved religion, historical and social issues.


Medieval Literature was centered on religious themes.

Renaissance Literature explored religion in a different approach.Difference Between Medieval and Renaissance Literature- infographic

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“Leighton-God Speed!” by Edmund Leighton – Sotheby’s Sale catalogue, (Public Domain)

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