The most significant period of the Renaissance in England falls to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. England's success in commerce brought prosperity to the nation and gave a chance to many persons of talent to develop their abilities. Explorers, men of letters, philosophers, poets and famous actors and dramatists appeared in rapid succession. The great men of the so-called "Elizabethan Era" distinguished themselves by their activities in many fields and displayed an insatiable thirst for knowledge. They were often called "the Elizabethans", but of course the Queen had no hand in assisting them when they began literary work; the poets and dramatists had to push on through great difficulties before they became well known.
Towards the middle of the 16th century common people were already striving for knowledge and the sons of many common citizens managed to get an education. The universities began to breed many learned men who refused to become churchmen and wrote for the stage. These were called the "University Wits", because under the influence of their classical education they wrote after Greek and Latin models. Among the "University Wits" were Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Sackville, John Lyly, George Peele, Roberk Greene, Thomas Kyd and Thqmas Nashe; Christopher Marlowe being the most distinguished of them. The new method of teaching classical literature at the universities was to perform Roman plays in Latin, Later the graduates translated these plays into English and then they wrote plays of their own.
Some wrote plays for the court, others for the public theatres. But the plays were not mere imitations. Ancient literature had taught the playwrights to seek new forms and to bring in new progressive ideas. The new drama represented real characters and real human problems which satisfied the demands of the common people and they expected ever new plays. Under such favourable circumstances there was a sudden rise of the drama. The great plays were written in verse.
The second period of the Renaissance was characterised by the splendour of its poetry.
Lyrical poetry also became wide-spread in England. The country was called a nest of singing birds. Lyrical poetry was very emotional. The poets introduced blank verse and the Italian sonnet. The sonnet is a poem consisting of fourteen lines. The lines are divided into two groups: the first group of eight lines (the octave), and the second group of six lines (the sestet). The foremost poet of the time was Edmund Spenser. He wrote in a new, English, form: the nine-line stanza.