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The Reflection of Life During the Renaissance in Literature

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Life in the Renaissance has been greatly reflected through the literature of its time. Many authors from this time reflected life in the Renaissance through their works. Several authors who strongly demonstrated this reflection include William Shakespeare, Thomas Elyot, Christopher Marlowe, Walter Raleigh, and Christine de Pizan. They accomplished this by producing various literary works, such as Hamlet, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” Le Livre de la cite dames, and many others.

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A major aspect of life and culture in the Renaissance that is prevalently shown throughout the literature of the time are the roles of women.

Women had a large variety of roles during the Renaissance. Women played several different roles within their family. Their role typically depended on their age. The roles they played included daughter, wife, mother, and widow. According to Margaret King, “Preachers, philosophers, humanists, and even ordinary letter writers defined women by these roles in their writing”.

Males on the other hand, were defined by their social position such as knight, merchant, priest, weaver, and many others. With each woman role within the family came a specific job or duty. The role of the daughter was to hold honor, virginity, and to link lineages. The role of the mother was to conceive, and raise children. The role of the wife was to hand over a dowry, create textile crafts, supervise servants, and take care of the sick. The role of the widow was to return to her father’s household, marry again, or enter a religious convent.

Although women were to only hold these roles, Thomas More, the author of, “From Utopia,” educated his daughters so they received a “greater access to spiritual life, autonomy and equality in a companionate marriage, and the ability to learn wisdom,” (Rabil). This was also said to have taught the girls virtue. This directly relates to the role of a daughter, which was to hold honor and virginity. In the time of the Renaissance, to both society and religion, it was unacceptable for a daughter to lose her virginity before marriage. In doing so, it would bring strong dishonor to the daughter and her entire family.

According to the Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, “The concept of virginity had roots in the Christian New Testament, Greek philosophy, and in patristic literature. ” Although these are not Renaissance works of literature, they are the building blocks and foreground for the literature of the time. Girls who lost their virginity, however, were sometimes disowned from their families, and forced into prostitution. According to Kent, “girls are to hold honor and virginity to make them eligible to serve as brides and link two lineages. This was so important that it was required for the bride’s father to assure the future spouse that she was indeed a virgin. The view of virginity during the Renaissance is shown in Hamlet when Hamlet asks Ophelia “are you honest…. are you fair” (Shakespeare III. I, 113-115). What Hamlet is simply questioning is whether Ophelia is a virgin. Ophelia is rather insulted and ashamed by this question, since not being a virgin during the Renaissance was something that was strongly looked down upon. When a daughter properly held her honor and virginity, the next thing to consider was the dowry that she held.

The dowry was an important component to consider when a suitor was selected for marriage during the Renaissance. A dowry is a gift from the bride’s father’s wealth to the groom and his family that is received only through matrimony. The size of the dowry represents the wealth and class standing of the family. The concept of the dowry is so prevalent throughout the Renaissance that even the poorest of peasants had some form a dowry exchanged in marriage. Dowries ranged from large pieces of land from the wealthy, to a chair or stool from the extremely poor.

With the case of Eleanor of Aquitane, the dowry she presented to Henry II was a large piece of French land. By analyzing the poems, “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love,” and “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” the Nymph’s dowry can be assumed. In “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love,” a Shepherd asks to “come live with me and be my love” (Marlowe). A Shepherd is not a high-class occupation, which would mean the dowry he seeks with marriage would most likely not be much. Through the “Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” the Nymph rejects the Shepherd’s request to come live with him.

By knowing the usage of dowries, it can be assumed that the Nymph might have rejected the Shepherd not because she did not like his offer, but because her dowry does not match his class standing. It is unable to be concluded whether the Nymph was of high or low class standing, because all that is known is that a Nymph is a beautiful and gracious maiden. Dowries were very important in the Renaissance when considering marriage. Literature during the Renaissance has also been influenced by marriage. During the Renaissance, marriage was almost always arranged.

Most of the time, “women married men that they did not even know” (King). With women having no control over their marriage, most were obviously unhappy. During the Renaissance, it was completely acceptable for husbands to abuse, imprison, starve and debase their wives. Even though these events were very common during the Renaissance, authors like preachers, humanists, and other moral instructors wrote and spoke against these things. It was also acceptable for a man who was unhappy with his marriage to leave his wife and family and start a new one.

On the contrary, even if a woman was unhappy, she must remain married until her husband dies. This is justified in Hamlet, when Gertrude is referred to as “her husband’s brother’s wife” (Shakespeare III. IV, 20). Gertrude is called this because she remarried shortly after her husband’s death and does not think much of it. Although marriage was very unfair during the Renaissance, Thomas More educated his daughters so they received a “greater access to spiritual life, autonomy and equality in a companionate marriage, and the ability to learn wisdom,” (Rabil). Education during the Renaissance greatly affected the literature.

Typically, women were only educated by their mothers on how to do typical women skills of that time. Those who were educated properly usually became writers or leaders. Christine de Pizan, a successful female author, wrote Cite des dames, which proposed that, “if girls were educated like boys, they could learn just as well or even better,”(Rabil). Christine de Pizan also wrote that, “the only difference between men and women is that men are physically stronger. ” With Pizan’s great contributions to Renaissance literature, she is “the first feminist thinker and the initiator”(Wilson).

With education also came great leaders. For example, Queen Elizabeth I of England was considered an extremely great leader. Queen Elizabeth I was well known for, “the religious tranquility between Catholics and Protestants, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and the flourishing of literature,”(“Queen Elizabeth I”). Queen Elizabeth I was in fact properly educated which helped her accomplish these things. Queen Elizabeth I performed the, “Speech Before Her Troops” in a very eloquent and successful manner, which also contributed to the proof of her intelligence.

Queen Elizabeth I swayed and excited the crowd during the speech by saying things like, “we shall shortly have a famous victory over our enemies” (Queen Elizabeth I). There are female rulers found in Renaissance literature that resemble Queen Elizabeth, such as the one in Thomas Elyot’s Defense of Good Women; the story of a successful female ruler who defends the education of women. The education of women definitely affected the literature of the Renaissance. As we have just seen, the roles of women are prevalently shown throughout Renaissance literature.

The roles of women that were reflected inside literature range from their family roles, responsibilities, holding honor and virginity, roles in dowry and marriage, and their roles in education and leadership. As seen by their literary work mentioned earlier, several authors strongly demonstrate the reflection of women’s roles during the Renaissance. Some of these authors include Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” Walter Raleigh, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” Christine de Pizan, Le Livre de la cite dames, Thomas Elyot, Defense of Good Women, and William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

During the Renaissance, life and culture are definitely reflected throughout literature, and the roles of women are a dominantly shown aspect of it. Works Citied Kent, Dale. “Women in Renaissance Florence. ” Virtue and Beauty. 2001. National Gallery of Art. 14 Nov. 2007 . King, Margaret L. , and Sarah Covington. “Women. ” Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. Ed. Paul F. Grendler. 6 vols. New York, New York: The Renaissance Society of America, 1999. Marlowe, Christopher. “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. ” Bartleby. 2005. 19 Nov. 2007 . Queen Elizabeth I. Speech Before Her Troops. ” 1587. “Queen Elizabeth I. ” Renaissance Fair. 2007. 14 Nov. 2007 . Rabil, Albert. “Education of Women. ” Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. Ed. Paul F. Grendler. 2nd ed. 6 vols. New York, New York: The Renaissance Society of America, 1999. Raleigh, Walter. “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd. ” Bartleby. 2005. 19 Nov. 2007 . Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Pocket Books, 1992. Wilson, Katharina M. “Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation. ” Sunshine for Women. 6 Feb. 1999. University of Georgia. 14 Nov. 2007 .

Cite this The Reflection of Life During the Renaissance in Literature

The Reflection of Life During the Renaissance in Literature. (2018, Jan 29). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-reflection-of-life-during-the-renaissance-in-literature/

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