There were many different religions that appeared during the Renaissance period. Christianity, Puritanism, and Protestantism will be discussed in this paper. The roles that these religions played on the cultures and theatres of this period will also be discussed.
Christianity replaced Roman Catholicism quite quickly, and played the most influential role on how society regarded, or came to regard the theatre. Christianity founded a frame for theatre based on the ideals of the church. This frame demanded theatre scholars to provide justification. Christianity soon provided a prejudicial attitude toward the theatre.
“Church officials prescribed certain standards of experience, thoughts, and attitudes in order to help people behave in such a way that they would attain a better life after death as well as be a righteous contribution to society. These standards can be categorized as morality, reality, and utility or usefulness. For instance, a person must seek only a true experience of reality. Any embellishing or exaggerating was considered to be wrong. That experience must also be practical or useful. A person must also behave morally. That is, a person must act under the strictures of Christian doctrine with the hope of maintaining righteous thought and the reward after death” (Bruch, 2004).
According to the morality criteria of the Christian church, the theatre was immoral. It did not show a moral action that would lead to religious righteousness. According to the reality criteria of the Christian church, the theatre influenced people to lie and sin, thus promoting the work of Satan. According to the utility criteria of the Christian church, the theatre had no purpose.
Protestantism and Puritanism, which developed during this period, also proved to be prejudiced to the theatre, as well as art and literature. “Therefore, men of letters not only had to attack what they considered to be unworthy, obsolete, medieval foes of dramas, but they also had to defend drama against their own political and ecclesiastical allies” (Bruch, 2004). These ‘men of letters’ had to prove that drama was not a corrupting evil force. They tried to prove the religious benefits of theatre.
Aristotle’s writings showed that drama had more reality than believed, and influenced such critics as Cinthio and Scaliger. Under the church’s morality criteria, critics of the Renaissance argued that the theatre was moral, even though there were no actual moral aims. Under the church’s reality criteria, critics argued that the theatre showed a probable reality through human imitations. Critics defended the utility of the theatre, as well. It was argued that the theatre taught morals with delightful expression, thereby making it easier to impression certain morals on society.
In regards to religion affecting culture: the Renaissance period proved to be a change in the intellect of society. Humanism was the dominant movement. Humanism focused on the study of classical culture.
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an influential political philosopher and humanist. He was arrested and exiled in 1513, when the Medici returned to power. While in exile, Machiavelli wrote a few treatises, and a popular play, Mandragola, or The Mandrake.
The Mandrake, which was allegedly based on a true event, was about corruption in Italy’s society. Machiavelli’s predominate theme was that of fraud and deceit. Each character had fraudulent or deceitful intentions toward another.
While in exile, he sent a letter to a friend, Francesco Vettori, which described how he passed the time, and stated:
“When evening comes, I return home [from work and the local tavern] and retreat to my study. On the threshold I strip naked, taking off my muddy, sweaty workday clothes, and put on the robes of court and palace, and in this graver dress I enter the courts of the ancients and am welcomed by them, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born. And there I make bold to speak to them and ask the motives of their actions, and they, in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of hours I forget the world, remember no vexation, fear poverty no more, tremble no more at death; I pass indeed into their world” (Hale, J. translator, 1961).
While the is small amounts of information about how religion affected culture and theatre during the Italian Renaissance, stable inferences can be made based upon the information that is available. Religion, regardless of which type, can directly and indirectly affect any aspect of a society or culture, based partly on the structure of the religions, that is, the morals and beliefs that each religion encompasses. The main influences on culture and theatre during this period, however, appear to be somewhat limited to intellectual changes and growth. Religions will always affect the way a society addresses any aspect of life, in general.
Bruch, D. “The Prejudice Against Theatre.” The Journal of Religion and Theatre. Volume 3, Number 1 (2004) Accessed February 28, 2007 at http://www.rtjournal.org/vol_2/no_1/3_1_pdf/bruch.pdf
Burckhardt, J. “The Civilization of the Renaissance” Accessed February 28, 2007 at http://www.exploitz.com/book/History/Italian_Renaissance/182-Religion–Spirit-of-the-Renaissance.php
Hale, J. (trans.) “The Literacy Works of Machiavelli” (p. 139) Oxford (1961).
MSN Encarta Online Encyclopedia. “Renaissance” (2007) Accessed February 28, 2007 at http://encarta.msn.com
Pullan, B. “History of Early Renaissance Italy” (1973) London: Lane