The fleur de lys, symbol adopted by Florence.

What we are accustomed to call the Renaissance began as a rediscovery of older knowledge, and flowered as a series of new discoveries and new attitudes.

In the particular alchemy of the social and political climate of Florence* in the late fourteenth century, humanism was born: scholars and administrators read the Latin of Vergil and Cicero, and explored Greek writers for the first time in centuries. Contact with earlier ways of seeing the world encouraged a new exploration of ideas, of art, and of the physical universe.

Even a modest exploration of the Italian Renaissance would take a siteCD-ROM at least as big as this one on Shakespeare. The roll-call of notable Italian renaissance figures is formidable: The Medicis, Petrarch, Botticelli, Ghiberti, Donatello, Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Savonarola, Machiavelli, Castiglione, Tasso, Ariosto, Alberti . . .

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From Florence the movement of minds widened to include the whole of Italy, spreading through France, and finally reaching England about a century later.

From the literal to the symbolic

A movement as complex as the Renaissance cannot be summed up in a sentence or two; but there was one fundamental change in the way humans looked at the world: from a belief in the literal interconnectedness of all things-- correspondences that dictated when a physician should administer a medicine according to the position of the planets, for example--writers and thinkers questioned the connections, while retaining a sense of their beauty as symbols. Thus Falstaff, skeptic and cynic, parodies the earlier literal belief in the human body as a reflection and representation of the state in a comic attack on John of Lancaster's seriousness.

Footnotes

  1. Names of the Italian Renaissance

    Even a modest exploration of the Italian Renaissance would take a siteCD-ROM at least as big as this one on Shakespeare. The roll-call of notable Italian renaissance figures is formidable: The Medicis, Petrarch, Botticelli, Ghiberti, Donatello, Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Savonarola, Machiavelli, Castiglione, Tasso, Ariosto, Alberti . . .