Limits of desire in the literature of sixteenth Century Essay

August 17, 2021 by Essay Writer

The theorized analysis of desire in different works of literature was first witnessed in the sixteenth century. The first literature on desire was broad; however, with time, different types of desires were considered in a distinct way. In prose, poetry, and drama, the literature carried desire themes such as love and knowledge.

In its definition, desire is the force that is geared towards an object. The force behind desire is belief, and in many instances, desire is said to have the same content with belief. Desire has been said not to exist without a feeling. There are known authors of literature in the sixteenth century who wrote about desire themes. The authors include Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare (Hampton, 2000).

The purpose of desire is the object. Some authors have called it the drive behind desire, which makes a person seek satisfaction. The 16th century literature centered on the theme of desire, and the most written desire was ideal love. The distinction between virtues of loves, as opposed to lust, has been extensively analyzed in different literary works. The works of Castiglione captured the theme of virtue and desire with relevance to ideal love.

The author drew a thin line between love and those other types of lust, which he said had a close resemblance with love. He endeavored to show the distinction by posing questions. He further stated that courtly love is dictated by a desire, and it must portray noble and holy traits in its application. Critics of Castiglione were quick to state that his definition of love is unrealistic, and the desire elaboration was said to be limited.

The reasons put forth by critics are to the effect that men and women seek the surface meaning of love that tends to satisfy their desire. The conflict between Castiglione’s and Sidney’s definition of love is very evident. The passion love is said to be a desire based on the goodwill from within and charity. In other words, the most satisfying thing to a man has been said to be the desire to accomplish his desires (Cheney, 2011).

The desire of love is traced from the affection of parents towards their children. The desire has been equated to the need, not only to assist others achieve their desires, but also to create lasting relationships. Shakespeare also uses his plays in addressing the desire of love. He asserts that love is the everlasting bond that cannot be changed by physical forces. In Sonnet 116, the author shows how ideal love does not have any considerations to physical impediments.

The desire, according to Shakespeare, is satisfied upon joining two parties in holy matrimony. Shakespeare makes his point on the power of love by using imagery. He employs metaphors in his works to demonstrate the strength of the bond of love. He states that, between the two individuals in love, there is a guiding star to show them the way when they get lost in life’s journey. He seeks to demonstrate the timeless nature of love and how it can withstand any storm (Hampton, 2000).

In addition, Shakespeare has also explored the theme of desire in his other works. His famous comedy called ‘Twelfth Night’ has numerous relations to the theme of emotional desire. He opens the comedy by referring to the emotional desire to deep emotions of the same sex.

The homosexual desires were evident in England at that time. In the same time, there was grave hostility towards cross cultural and class marriages. The comedy took the different set of desires which included sex, power and money. The said desires, according to the comedy, were looming large in the society. Shakespeare tried to attribute the prevalence of desires on the English hostility towards them (Hampton, 2000).

The literature of Astrophil and Donne’s songs carry an in-depth discussion of desires having a created scenario of poet lover affair. In showing the failure of fictive author to attain love and the frustrations that he goes through is clearly demonstrated. In the search for ideal love, the result may be satisfaction or massive frustration. This, according to the author, leads to confusion (Cheney, 2011).

Thomas More’s Utopia was at the forefront to bring the conflict of conscience and spiritual holiness as a desire. The literary work presented the hardest question in history. The conflict between conscience, power and spiritual holiness was depicted in the literary work. The spiritual message in the ‘Utopia’ was crystal clear, though it was controversial at the time.

Later, Thomas More autobiography was an addition to the quest to define the extreme nature of spiritual desires. In search of spiritual satisfaction at the time, many of the individuals satisfied their desires by going against authority and their execution made them celebrated martyrs. The controversial works by Thomas More are not easy to distinguish between spiritual desire and attachment to the preservation of a clear conscience (Hampton, 2000).

The 16th century Elizabethan literature portrays a common element of desires being more liked than others. The poetry, for instance, made great focus on the simplicity and the perfection of leisure of country life. It meant that the society had to view that life is good. Many people at that time disregarded urban life. The role of such literature in shaping such desires was critical. The dominance of the same religion also influenced the perceptions by different people on what they considered spiritually right (Cheney, 2011).

The other form of desire evident in the 16th century was the desire of knowledge. There were literary works that captured this theme. The desire, “to have knowledge”, has been given same rating with the desire to love. The knowledge defined to emerge from experience was a dominant desire based on the need to know what man never knew before. The triggering force behind the quest for knowledge was said to be curiosity.

The desire of knowledge aggravates to curiosity that burns in an individual. The unique way of man to analyze by looking at the cause of the things around him is rooted in curiosity. The acquired knowledge satisfies the man’s desire through gratification. The arguments engineered by many authors in the 16th century was to the effect that desire of knowledge was a continuous thing based on the motion of events on earth.

The quest for knowledge may differ in different individuals, but the driving force is still the same. It attains enriching the intellectual dispositions of an individual. There seems to be an agreement in many authors that the desire for knowledge makes it impossible to have a perpetual tranquility based on the mind (Hampton, 2000).

At the same century, literature on the desire of holiness was evident in many literature works. The influence that dominating religion had, could not pass without being captured by the literary works. The period presented dilemmas to writers who wanted to flatter the monarch while satisfying their desire to give the community something valuable. It was hard for an author to write what their desire dictated them to do at a time when atheists were faced with hostility and their literary works confiscated (Cheney, 2011).

The nature of desire being limited by various factors in the society is a major area of interest. There are arguments that, reason is more powerful than desire when the two are in conflict. The reason is said to be limitless; however, desire is pegged on numerous circumstances.

Desire has been said to be influenced and limited basing on the society at hand. There are numerous limiting factors as discussed in the aforementioned literary works. First, the limitation of state hostility is witnessed in Shakespeare’s works in the sense that those with homosexual desires were largely restricted.

It follows that certain regulations within a certain community may sharpen desires of individuals. Similarly, in the theme of love, Shakespeare also presents a circumstance whereby cross class marriages were strictly prohibited and equally punishable. People were taking keen look on how to advance such desires by either having clandestine relationships or courting individuals of the same class (Hampton, 2000).

Secondly, the desire for knowledge had its checks. The government restricted certain materials from being written or circulating. It essentially meant that many individuals, who had desires to challenge authority or have atheist opinions, were limited.

Christopher Marlowe was a victim of such restrictions when he wrote atheism literature, which led to him being charged with treason and his works confiscated. The desires to follow conscience and disobey authority led to the execution of Thomas More. Though some desires led to death the society was enlightened, and a different outlook was always fostered (Cheney, 2011).

The desires also changed the society in the sense that the government had to loosen some hostilities to accommodate the growing desires of the subjects. Just like any other society, during the 16th century, the society was under the monarchial pressure. The situation was made worse by the presence of one religion. For the authors to satisfy their desire to write, they would flatter the monarch with their literary works.

Shakespeare’s King Leah story is said to have been one of the literature meant to flatter the England monarch. Deeper imagery has also been to hide the meaning of their works to avoid being accused of treason.

The language of writing poetry became imagery. Metaphors were continuously employed to enhance many interpretations hence writers could hide their meanings in metaphors hence making literature hard to understand. The conflict of the desires and the expectations of the public have led to development of a unique language to express different themes in literature (Cheney, 2011).


Desires in the society are classified into many categories. They are those that seek romantic love, desire for knowledge and desire for holiness. Such desires have been captured in the different themes by the authors mentioned. The limitations imposed by a society on certain desires have been discussed. There are benefits of language development as a result of such limitations. The language of literature was enriched through the suppression of those desires.


Cheney, P. (2011). Reading sixteenth-century poetry. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hampton, T. (2000). Literature and nation in the sixteenth century: Inventingrenaissance France. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.

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