Birth of a New Era Essay

This essay has a total of 1917 words and 8 pages.


Birth of a New Era




Despite the problems of the fourteenth century, it marked the beginnings of extraordinary
changes in numerous facets of fifteenth century society. This astonishing revolution was
coined the Renaissance, which meant “rebirth.” The Renaissance led to such literary
pioneers as Niccolò Machiavelli. His work, The Prince, gave detailed instructions as to
what qualities a perfect leader must possess and how to use these qualities. Machiavelli
presented a thorough account of a perfect prince and how he achieved and maintained power.
Machiavelli’s The Prince is a classic literary example of Renaissance writing in the
ideas it conveys and how it conveys them.

The Renaissance, a time of cultural achievements and economic and political evolution,
developed out of the plague, famine, and death of the fourteenth century. As opposed to
the Middle Ages, the Renaissance introduced such ideas that embodied three
characteristics: individualism, humanism, and secularism. With the arrival of the
Renaissance came the cultural evolution and the introduction of many remarkable
individuals, such as Michelangelo. Due to the emphasis in the Middle Ages to religion,
individualism during the period was nonexistent because of the Christian determent of
self-absorption. Literature emerged in the Renaissance accentuating the individual, which
helped to give birth to talented artists and writers. Individualism put emphasis on
personality and uniqueness and using one’s abilities to their full potential. The
Renaissance was all about a quest for glory. Oddly enough, Middle Age artists typically
painted and sculpted anonymously but the Renaissance saw the emergence of artwork with the
artist’s signature. Pages 232-234 of Discovering the Western Past illustrate examples of
Renaissance artwork and the cultural achievements of the period. Each page contains a
portrait of an individual, something unheard of during the medieval period because of the
medieval period’s tendency to stress the group. Painters began painting realistically in
the attempt to mirror reality and the wealthy hired painters to paint their portrait to
immortalize a part of themselves in a depiction of their glory and accomplishments.

The Middle Ages introduced the importance of education of becoming a civilized person, and
learning was still an important aspect that continued into the Renaissance. The
difference between the two periods was how scholars went about their studies of past
literary culture. The Renaissance style of learning became known as humanism, or “new
learning.” Humanists studied the Latin classics to learn about human nature and
emphasized human beings’ achievements, interests, and capabilities. On the other hand,
medieval scholars studied ancient works to understand God and interpreted them purely in a
Christian sense. Although Renaissance humanists possessed strong Christian values, they
studied the classics far differently than those in the Middle Ages. While medieval
writers used the classics to reveal God and Christian ideas, humanists tended to look at
the way these ideas were expressed rather than the ideas themselves.

An interesting repercussion of the crisis of the fourteenth century was the economic
prosperity that followed. Apparently the famine, plague, and numerous deaths of the
fourteenth century served as an effective population control and managed to increase the
demand for labor. The increase in the demand for labor allowed for increased wages and
people were back to pre-plague levels of income. With this increase in material wealth
came more importance placed upon the material world instead of the eternal world of
spirit. Even though medieval people were ruthless in their pursuit of the almighty
dollar, they still dominantly focused their attention on life after death. Renaissance
people were quite the opposite in their interests by holding strong religious values yet
centering their concentration on the present material world and the acquisition of
material things. The rising economic prosperity caused people to realize thoughts about
penance and purgatory did not allow them to enjoy the material pleasures they could now
afford. The people had not endured the crisis of the fourteenth century only to spend
their time focusing their attentions to the faith. They wanted to take advantage of their
new prosperity and enjoy their leisure time and discover the joys of living a comfortable
life. Unfortunately, the church was no exception to the sin of avarice. The pope and
high church officials were notorious for throwing their money around and the importance
the church placed upon money. The amount of money flowing around was the major cause of
the Reformation because of Martin Luther’s criticism of the idea of indulgences, paying
the church for wrong-doing. He maintained that only faith and a one on one relationship
with God could buy salvation into the eternal kingdom of Heaven.

Political theory plays an important theme during any historical period and the Renaissance
was no exception. In comparison to the Renaissance, medieval political theory stressed
the way government ought to be and high Christian standards were set for a ruler’s
conduct. Good medieval governments were supposed to provide justice, law, and order. The
Renaissance work The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli maintained that people should not only
be concerned about how the government was supposed to be run, but how it actually was run
as well. Machiavelli’s theories embraced the idea that leaders’ actions cannot be
restricted by ethics, but the most effective approach should be implemented regardless of
its morality. The Renaissance marked the beginning of an age where rulers utilized
aggressive methods to sustain and expand their governments. To illustrate the lengths
leaders should go to to preserve their kingdom was when Machiavelli stated “he who becomes
master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed
by it” (Machiavelli 17). Machiavellian thought is now known as the end justifies the
means.

To go along with this Renaissance political theory was the ideas presented by Polydore
Vergil in Anglia Historia. Vergil wrote about Henry and announced what he believed Henry
did correctly during his reign. After describing Henry’s appearance and countenance, he
addressed an aspect of his rule that coincided with Machiavellian ideas. Henry had two
facets of his rule: one being a kind and just leader and the other being a force to be
reckoned with. He treated those “who did not pay him due honor or who were generous only
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