Portuguese literature

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Portuguese literature, the body of writing in the Portuguese language produced by the peoples of Portugal, which includes the Madeira Islands and the Azores.

The literature of Portugal is distinguished by a wealth and variety of lyric poetry, which has characterized it from the beginning of its language, after the Roman occupation; by its wealth of historical writing documenting Portugal’s rulers, conquests, and expansion; by the moral and allegorical Renaissance drama of Gil Vicente; by Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), the 16th-century national epic of Luís de Camões; by the 19th-century realist novels of José Maria de Eça de Queirós; by Fernando Pessoa’s poetry and prose of the 20th century; by a substantial number of women writers; and by a resurgence in poetry and the novel in the 1970s, which culminated in José Saramago’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

Portuguese literature, which until the 19th century lay largely unstudied and unknown outside of Portugal, has a distinct individuality and is an expression of a clearly defined national temperament and language. Yet from its beginning it has been exposed to many different linguistic and national influences. The first book published in Portugal was in Hebrew; the influence on the medieval Portuguese lyric of the Mozarabic kharjah and the muwashshaḥ, written in both Arabic and Hebrew, is still a matter of dispute. Provençal practices dominated troubadours’ performances.

Castilian literature provided models for court poetry and theatre until Francisco de Sá de Miranda brought Renaissance forms from Italy in 1526. The closeness of Portugal’s contacts with Spain, reinforced by dynastic marriages that often gave the court at Lisbon a predominantly Spanish atmosphere, explains why for two centuries and more after 1450 nearly every Portuguese writer of note spoke and wrote both Portuguese and Castilian. Some Portuguese writers’ works, such as those by Vicente, Jorge de Montemayor, and Francisco Manuel de Melo, are numbered among the classics of Spanish letters. French literary and aesthetic standards dominated the 18th century and continued into the 19th, when the Romantic movement brought to Portugal English and, to a lesser degree, German influence that persisted for more than a century. After his death Pessoa was discovered and enthroned as the quintessential figure of European Modernist literature; his writings, in both English and Portuguese, as well as those of Saramago, reaffirmed the internationalism of Portuguese literature in the 20th century.

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