Students are often rather put off by the term ‘Renaissance’, yet surprised to find themselves becoming fans of Elizabeth I and enjoying Renaissance literature in spite of the language… Stick with it guys. I don’t know who told you that you wouldn’t have to make an effort to get a degree but it wasn’t me. 🙂 What we can do is try to make the effort worthwhile!
So what does the term ‘Renaissance’ mean?
It’s much simpler than it sounds. Renaissance means ‘rebirth’ – of what? Culture, civilised values. The term refers broadly to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when humanist thinkers were positing the idea of a rebirth of values they felt had been lacking in the Middle Ages, often popularly referred to even now as ‘the Dark Ages’.
The values Renaissance thinkers sought to recapture were those of Classical Greece and Rome (virtue, nobility, justice etc). Rome was a great imperial power and Elizabethans liked to see it as an image of England. This is one of the reasons Shakespeare uses Rome as a medium for discussing politics and justice in Renaissance England – think of the Roman plays, Titus Andronicus, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus and Julius Caesar.
For more information please see the full text of my lecture, The Renaissance: An Introduction.