Renaissance literature is characterized by a tendency toward humanist, or nonreligious, topics. The period as a whole marked a dramatic shift away from strict adherence to Church doctrines, and much of the literature of the era, such as Shakespeare's "Hamlet," depicts secular philosophical struggles with topics such as individuality, death and morality.
The philosophical and historical period known as the Renaissance started in Italy during the 14th century and spread throughout Europe, bringing on a rebirth of secular creative endeavors and study after a long period of domination by the Catholic Church. Writers such as Petrarch, Shakespeare and John Milton explored literary themes relating to the Renaissance ideal of individuality — a concept that was actually relatively new at the time. Renaissance works such as Milton's "Paradise Lost" explore the topic of religion in a critical, though not necessarily negative, manner that implies a degree of questioning and a shift away from dogmatic adherence to religious convention.