Stephen Orgel, Wit’s Treasury: Renaissance England and the Classics


  • Loretta Innocenti Ca' Foscari University of Venice



Stephen Orgel’s book examines how during the Renaissance the English culture tried to mould a new literary and artistic language into becoming “classical”, in the sense of civilized, elegant, and refined. The model for artistic advancement was found in ancient Latin and Greek texts, which were revived and translated into vernacular. So were some continental authors as well, especially Petrarch, whose sonnets were imitated and transformed. By adapting, and revising, the classics, English poets and dramatists were able to leave behind their native medieval tradition, through renewing rhythms and prosody, introducing new genres, and discovering unprecedented themes. Besides the influence of ancient authors on literature and the arts, classical thought also modified manners and morals, resulting in an unstable but constant relationship between Christian doctrine and Humanistic secular principles.
The original common thread in the text is provided by Orgel’s considerable expertise in the history of the book, which enriches his analysis of new Renaissance printing methods, illustrations, as well as of the importance of different publications, not only for literature but even more so for the relationship between theatrical productions and printed drama.

Keywords: Renaissance England; classics; literature; history of the book; theatre