It is generally held that Renaissance began in Italy in the fourteenth century with the publication of The Divine Comedy by Dante. Dante departed from the earlier writers in so far as he wrote in Italian (rather than Latin), a language which could be understood by the common people.
Though Dante in his book dealt with issues like hell, purgatory and heaven (essentially issues of medieval age) he also emphasized the principles of human love, patriotism, interest in natural phenomena and even desire for a free and united Italian nation. Another notable scholar who roused the interest of the people in classical Latin was Petrarch (1304-74).
He drew the attention of the people to the works of Virgil, Cicero, Livy and other prominent Roman writers. Baccaccio (1313-75) was another notable figure who greatly contributed to the revival of interest in the early Greek writers. He learnt Greek and wrote Decameron, which contains stories which certain fine ladies and fine gentlemen are said to have told each other in the country-house outside Florence. This work of Baccaccio greatly inspired Chaucer to compose his famous Canterbury Tales.
The study of Greek classical works by the Italian scholars aroused general interest in Hellenic literature and philosophy under the impact of independent thought of the old Greek authors, and soon a large number of Italians turned away from blind obedience to authority and developed an original and inquisitive spirit.
The spirit of renaissance received a further fillip after the arrival of large number of Greek scholars to Italy following fall of Constantinople in 1453. In Germany Martin Luther made significant contributions to German literature. His most outstanding contribution was translation of Bible. Amongst the Spanish writers most outstanding contributions were made by Cervantes, who wrote the immortal work Don Quixote, which is regarded as the most wonderful gift of Renaissance to the literature of the world. The other prominent literary figures of Italy were Lope de Vega an Calderon who composed dramas and poems in Spanish.
Similarly, England also produced a number of writers, poets and dramatists of repute. Some of the prominent literary figures of England were Thomas More the author of famous Utopia in which he criticized the society and government of his times and presented a picture of an ideal society. Edmund Spencer wrote Faerie Queen in which he highlighted the virtues of Prince Arthur.
Francis Bacon, the great essay writer of England wrote New Atlantics in which he painted the picture of an ideal state. But probably the best specimen of the spirit of Renaissance was William Shakespeare who produced a number of dramas in which he dealt with every possible emotion of man.
In France Michael De Montaigne through his essay, Francis Rabelais through his poetry ushered in a golden age of literature. In short, during this period writers in different parts of Europe produced so much of venacular literature which had never been produced earlier and thus contributed to the development of national literature in various countries.