Renaissance Top 5

1) The Duchess of Malfi, John Webster

Excellent play, better, IMO, than Shakespeare. Follows the title character’s brother in his descent toward madness due to his illicit desire for her. Also spends an entire act on lycanthropy (for the era, in England, a mental illness caused by excessive melancholy; as opposed to werewolfism, an actual human-wolf transformation).

2) Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare

Easily my favorite Shakespeare play, for a number of reasons. I really don’t think his comedies are performed or taught enough, particularly in the high school level. Ultimately, a play about nothing, but hilarious the whole way through.

3) The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser

Honestly, only parts of Spenser’s magnum opus. Definitely epic is form and somewhat difficult as a read, but worthwhile nonetheless. Key sections also demonstrate a level of “raunchiness” and explicitness at odds with commonly held beliefs about the period, particularly the tale of Satyrane.

4) The Book of the Courtier, Baldesar Castiglione

The classic work that lays out all the essential elements of the “renaissance man”, and also explains why modern, often self-proclaimed, “renaissance men” are generally nothing of the sort.

5) The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

Classic work on politics, governance, and even a touch of military theory. Whether we think Machiavelli is being honest in his writing or simply trying to assuage his patron is, I think, irrelevant. He demonstrates a mastery of political acumen difficult to match in his time, or situation (with the warring, disorganized city-states of Italy).

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