Welcome to Renaissance Matters, a blog dedicated to giving insights into the literature, art, politics, religion, and history of Early Modern Britain. Why Renaissance Matters? The terms themselves have significance for what this blog is going to be about. First, “Renaissance” – generally considered the period in British culture from the late 15th century through to the mid-17th century. However, why bookend this moment in British history between these two points? Did it begin when William Caxton opened the first printing shop in 1476? When Henry VIII decided that hormones trumped heresy and broke with the Catholic Church? Did it end with the beheading of Charles I? The printing of Paradise Lost? It is important to any discussion of this period to keep in mind the arbitrariness of historical periods. We must remember that it was not that the average late 15th-century Englishman woke up one morning and said, “Wow, the Renaissance has come to England!” The very idea that Europe even went through such a period wasn’t thought of until the late 19th century by the art historian, Carl Jacob Christoph Burkhardt. Even the term “Renaissance,” meant to signal a rebirth of learning and art in contrast to a period of intellectual decline following the fall of the Roman Empire, is highly contentious among scholars. “Renaissance” implicitly devalues the artistic, literary, and philosophical works of the Medieval age: that in “rediscovering” the classical works of ancient Greece and Rome Europe developed literature and art that was far superior to that of the preceding age. Such a devaluing has rightfully been challenged by modern Medieval scholars. Hence, scholars now talk about the “Early Modern” period. (I plan on devoting a few posts to this debate over terminology.)
Now why “matters”? Well, part of my hope for this blog is to give entry points into the issue, or “matters,” driving current scholarly conversations. For example, how are literary critics reading Paradise Lost? What are the concerns motivating their discussions? Where are biographers in their understanding of John Milton? But beyond giving overviews of new scholarship on the Early Modern, I also will post on more topical questions about the period. Let’s face it – the Renaissance/Early Modern is hot right now. Going back to Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Elizabeth (1998) through to the Showtime series The Tudors and The Borgias and the new Roland Emmerich film Anonymous (2011), which unfortunately revisits the question of the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, the Renaissance has gained in currency over the past 12 years. (See also every novel written by Phillippa Gregory.)
Given the palpable fascination with the English Renaissance, I will explore some interesting cultural phenomena and figures of this period and possibly the connection to our own moment. In other words, why does the Renaissance matter? Here are some topics I have in mind:
1) The rise of female transvestitism in Jacobean London
2) Who was Erasmus and why should you care?
3) The 1615 Gun Powder Plot and post 9/11 America
4) Why do environmentalists blame Francis Bacon for the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill?
5) The authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and why people like The Da Vinci Code
As you might be able to tell, I writing this blog for that elusive character, the general reader. For anyone who has a passing interest in the Renaissance, I want to offer that person glimpses into this really exciting period and a way to further slake his/her curiosity.
To help guide you through this blog, here’s how its set up:
Book Reviews: Here’s where the latest scholarship on EM England will be discussed. Generally, books won’t be reviewed on their own, but group with others to give you more of a sense of the conversation authors are engaging in.
Why the Renaissance Matters: Here will be posts about how the history and art that defined of EM England still have relevance for us today. It wasn’t just Shakespeare who was for all time.
“Give me your hands, if we be friends. . .”: Here’s where you can post comments you have about anything about this blog or about the Renaissance in England. Plus, if you happen to have (and I know you do) a burning question about Early Modern England, please post it. I will seek out the answer for you.
Please check about every week for a new discussion on Early Modern English culture.