THE RENAISSANCE (Western Europe)
Overview: The term Renaissance comes from the French word meaning “rebirth.” In
the early 1300s CE, Feudalism had ended in Western Europe and its citizens showed a
renewed interest in the ancient cultures of Greece & Rome.
A) The Early Development of Capitalism
Capitalism is an economy based on money rather than on land.
By the end of the 14th century many serfs were paying rent.
People moving into cities started their own businesses or became salaried
The centralization of government under powerful monarchs supported the growth
of cities and the capitalistic system.
As capitalism developed it was possible for individuals, city-states, and nations to
become wealthy and powerful.
B) Origins of the Italian Renaissance
Began about 1350 in Italy
A new view of people developed stressing the individual.
Individualism influenced the development of new forms of literature and art.
The emphasis on the individual led to the idea of the "Renaissance man." This
was a person who had many abilities and used them well.
The Renaissance began in the cities of Italy for several reasons:
1. Their control of the trade between Europe and the East made them prosperous. It
also brought them into contact with the Byzantine Empire and Muslim world.
2. Wealthy Italian merchants and rulers competed to become patrons of artists and
3. Italians lived in what had been the heart of the Roman Empire. They saw around
them evidences of classical culture. They felt they were inheritors of the Roman
4. Florence, an Italian city-state was very wealthy because of the bank established
by the Medici Family
C) Renaissance Thought
Renaissance humanists emphasized the interests, hopes, and problems of
people in the real world.
Most humanists were personally religious. However, many questioned the
traditional teachings of the Church.
A national literature using vernacular (native Tongue) languages
developed during the Renaissance.
The religious views expressed by Renaissance humanists helped bring
about the Protestant Reformation.
Renaissance literature was influenced by humanistic ideas.
Francesco Petrach (1304-1374) was an early humanist who helped to make west
Europeans aware of the speeches of Cicero, the poems of Homer and Virgil, and
Livy's "History of Rome
In "The Divine Comedy," Dante combines the religious teachings of the Middle
Ages and the world of the Renaissance.
The work depicts an imaginary journey through the inferno (hell), purgatory, and
heaven. The poet Virgil serves as a guide. There they meet real people from the
ancient, classical, and medieval periods. Beatrice acts as his guide as he reaches
People who wished to be successful in the political world read Niccolo
Machiavelli's "The Prince."
Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote "The Prince" as a guide for rulers who wanted to
retain their power. This practical work stresses the belief that rulers must do
anything necessary to achieve their goals and maintain their power (the end
justifies the means).
As the Renaissance spread from Italy to the rest of Europe, writers such as
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343?-1400) and William Shakespeare (1564-1616) became
popular in England.
In Renaissance Spain Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) wrote "Don Quixote," a
novel that details the adventures of an elderly knight, Don Quixote, and his
faithful servant/companion, Sancho Panza