What I have so far had to say about Elizabethan poetry has emphasized its material value, its value as cultural or political currency. This is not to say that poetry was not ‘art’ or not recognized as such, for indeed there was a conscious effort in the latter half of the sixteenth century to establish and justify an ‘art of English poetry’. Tudor poetry, indeed, had its foundations in educational tradition, for it was one of the products of the philosophical movement that is now known as humanism. Humanist studies had their roots in the Middle Ages, in a programme of education based on the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music) that had essentially formed the education system in ancient Rome. This system, with its heavy emphasis on the proper use of language, was the foundation of the Renaissance ‘rebirth’ of interest in the Latin and Greek classics and the moral and intellectual ideas to be found in them. A major initiator of this interest was Petrarch, who sought to unearth and disseminate Greek and Latin texts, and to implant their ideals through his own Latin writings and his imitations of classical literature. Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the humanist endeavour continued to rediscover classical texts and, increasingly, to propagate their ideas. The humanist project effectively reached England at the end of the fifteenth century through the teachings of Desiderius Erasmus and Sir Thomas More.
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