Sex and the Renaissance

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A Comparative Analysis of Love, Sex, and Emotion
Upon Renaissance Literature
It would be hard to find a period in human history where sex, women, and beauty were not a highly influential topic. Over countless centuries, women have influenced religious movements, wars, famine and poverty, the arts, and a plethora of other subjects; indeed, the appeal of sex seems to have had a hand in all things we know of today. This is certainly true of the Renaissance era, as well, where sexual relations was a strong enough bond to dictate marriage, and people often married out of political strife, and mated simply to continue their heritage. This attitude was captivated in the literature and art world, as well, with the modern man able to cite countless exemplifications of the imperativeness of the human body and sexual connotation to authors and artists’ works during the entirety of the Renaissance. Whether the topic was addressed with a serious tone, often accompanied by idolism and hyperbolized beauty, or written about with a humorous slant designed to entertain and enthrall the literate of the time, one cannot possibly respect the work of these great writers and scholars without also acknowledging the depth of effect womankind and sex had on their work. It would not be exaggeration to state that sex was an infatuation with the minds of the Renaissance thinkers, not unlike any other period of time. Authors often wrote poems and stories that would entice young women into attraction, the fact that these men were able to write and read apparently not attractive in itself. Of particular note was poet John Donne, an Englishman from the end of the Renaissance period. In the midst of Donne’s life, he became a priest and was appointed to be a Dean of St. Paul’s cathedral; however, upon analysis of some of his poems, one could question the purity of his heart and mind, although revering his wit in the process. A perfect exemplification of this characteristic is his work, “The Flea”. This piece of work utilizes the church and its holy sacraments as well as the female body and virginity as target practice for wry humor and subliminal courtship, with literary devices flowering to help prove his ill-gotten point. If a representative for the horny, witty teenage boy were needed from the Renaissance, Donne hits a home run with his use of the flea as a metaphor for sexual relations, among other things. For instance, Donne claims that a flea biting his girlfriend, and himself, was a signal of their unity in the creature: “This flea is you and I, and this/Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;” demonstrating that the flea was both the reason for their unity and a symbolic representation for marriage. Also, if the woman attempted killing the animal, she would be killing all three of them, and the holy sanctimony of marriage. Unfazed, she crushes the bug under her fingernail and remarks that she felt no pain in doing so; Donne quickly retorts that if she were able to smash the insect so easily, then surely sex wouldn’t be much more of a step to take. As all the boys who read this smirk and all the girls roll their eyes, it is important to note the importance of this poem: it proves that people always think alike, no matter what time period they are from. Donne was cleverly seducing his girlfriend, although to what success no one knows; likewise, men of all ages and time periods attempt such behavior. There is no justification of this behavior, nor is there any principle behind it; it is simply inherent in mankind’s behavior, and a versatile subject to utilize. John Skelton, similarly, treated the subject of sex, and particularly the treatment of women, in a fairly light-hearted way. Presenting the topic of sleeping around rather fluidly and without any sense of passion or emotion, Skelton wrote “Mannerly Margery Milk and Ale”. This poem reads in a very lyrical sense, with repeated lines, easy to follow rhyme scheme, and other such figures of a...
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