"I think there is an important book to be written on the stultifying effect of Protestantism on English Literature. This thought comes from a two-fisted reading of Chaucer and Spenser. In 1380 English Lit. is earthy and saucy, and in 1580 it is a sucked orange. There is a programmatic Anglican-Puritan deadness not only in Spenser but in Milton too. Shakespeare avoided this, I think, only because his poetry had to play live; he could not cram it full of anti-Popish allegory without losing that half or more of the audience who had been forcibly converted or were still closet Catholics. Later I find in Catholic or raised-Catholic writers (Waugh, Acton, Dryden, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Pope, Joyce) something alive that for Protestants is just not there; something which enters English letters again, I think, only with the literary de-ghettoization of the Jews.
I would call this something "hilaritas." Usually translated as "cheerfulness," this Roman public virtue derives from an ancient Greek word, ilarotes, which means specifically the accepting attitude with which Socrates took the cup and drank the hemlock. It links to the idea of "Amor Fati," or love of fate. Strikingly, given the doctrine of predestination, this virtue is not on the list of Calvinist merits; and its absence, I think, contributes to the "haunted mind" of e. g. Hawthorne.
The problem may be broader, however, although still essentially religious (esthetic self-surveillance on both sides after the Great Schism): I'm not sure Italian or German literature have since surpassed the humanitas of Dante or Boccaccio or Wolfram von Eschenbach. As for French Literature, I defer to Aaron Haspel, John Faithful Hamer and Jean-Louis Rheault... but until the French lost their "Roman" beliefs around the time of Sartre and Camus (say up through Rostand) they seem to me to have kept their hilaritas." Mark Riebling