The term Renaissance — French for "rebirth" -- traditionally designates the centuries following the Middle Ages in Europe. The beginning of the Renaissance is sometimes debated, and often depends on which country is being discussed: many consider the Italian Renaissance to have begun long before the English.

According to traditional accounts, the Renaissance was the "rebirth" of classical literature — or, more specifically, Greek literature, since much of the literature of Rome was widely known during the Middle Ages. (The accuracy of these accounts is often called into question.) In England, the Renaissance is often considered to run from 1500-ish to 1650-ish. Popular termini are 1485 (the beginning of the Tudor period) and either 1642 (the beginning of the Civil Wars) or 1660 (the Restoration). The traditional canon of important literary figures includes Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, Ben Jonson, and Milton — even though Milton's most famous work, Paradise Lost, didn't appear until 1667.

From the Guide to Literary Terms by Jack Lynch.
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