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. 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...
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