It is important to note that human progress is a process conducted through a new framework of thought, innovation and collective effort. The Renaissance was a major turning point in human social evolution, where new forms of art, literature, and philosophy emerged. Thus, the printing press birthed and catalyzed the Renaissance, which led to humanism manifested in the establishment of its core values through Shakespeare’s work and new ways to exercise power through Machiavelli.
It should be noted that the period of the Renaissance was rooted in a tide of change in the stagnant Middle Ages, which was accompanied by an explosion of thought, knowledge, and creativity. It is stated:
The Renaissance was a fervent period of European cultural, artistic, political, and economic “rebirth” following the Middle Ages … described as taking place from the 14th century to the 17th century, and the Renaissance promoted the rediscovery of classical philosophy, literature, and art. (History.com Editors par. 1)
In other words, Europe began to birth new artists, thinkers, scientists, statesmen, and authors during this period. It was also notably unique in terms of global expeditions and explorations, which led to the discovery of new cultures and lands. Thus, it is safe to state that the Renaissance was a chronological bridge between modern-day civilization and the Middle Ages. Humanism, as a cultural movement, was the highlight of the Renaissance. It “promoted the idea that man was the center of his own universe, and people should embrace human achievements in education, classical arts, literature and science” (History.com Editors par. 5). People were no longer willing to remain ignorant and stagnant, suffering from constant warfare and famine. The Black Death also left its mark on humanity, providing even more basis for the explosion of the Renaissance. The role of religion in society was questioned by humanists since some attributed the Middle Ages and its stagnant nature to an excessive power held by the Catholic Church.
The Printing Press
Although it is evident that the Renaissance was a result of a multitude of factors, one cannot deny the massive impact of the printing press. It is stated that “in 1450, the invention of the Gutenberg printing press allowed for improved communication throughout Europe and for ideas to spread more quickly” (History.com Editors par. 6). In other words, an ever-increasing demand for books and knowledge among people was finally satisfied with a more effective and efficient supply through the printing press. Books and other forms of literature became cheaper and more accessible, which enabled better communication, the spread of ideas, and the establishment of new values and cultural elements. Humanism became as popular as it was during the Renaissance directly due to the printing press, where “little-known texts from early humanist authors such as those by Francesco Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio” became available (History.com Editors par. 7). Therefore, the printing press was the core facilitator, driver, and catalyzer of the Renaissance explosion of literature and art.
It should be noted that the impact of the printing press was multifaceted. It led to an increase in the sheer number and volume of books, authors, literacy, readers, libraries, and the accuracy of information, movements, discussions, debates, and ideas. However, “the Catholic Church was particularly concerned that some printed books might lead people to doubt their local clergy or even turn away from the Church” (Cartwright par. 15). Consecutively, the church sought to censor the public and information by checking and monitoring the texts being printed. Some pieces of literature, which were deemed antagonistic to the church, were burned and destroyed, with their corresponding authors being persecuted.
One of the most influential and notable individuals of the Renaissance age was Shakespeare. It is stated that “he was one of the first playwrights to bring the Renaissance’s core values to the theater” (Jamieson par. 6). The genius brought novel and creative writing style to the format of the pre-Renaissance era, which was mostly two-dimensional, ‘black and white,’ as well as simplistic. He pioneered the creation of highly complex and realistic characters, who were psychologically intricate, such as the ones in Hamlet. Shakespeare also explored the social hierarchy bridging the gap between the monarchs and ordinary people by connecting them through equivalent struggles and relatable challenges. Thus, he was the direct and epitome product of the Renaissance.
However, one should be aware that the creative explosion of the Renaissance brought new ideas to politics, power, and warfare as well. In this sense, Machiavelli represents a ‘darker’ side of the Renaissance, whose teachings and lessons are still being practiced today by modern leaders. The works of the diplomat “sought to define a philosophy of warfare, drawing lessons from both Renaissance Europe and ancient civilization” (King par. 19). In addition, he advocated for “psychological measures over brute force, recommends avoiding unnecessary battles, and discusses at length the requirements for a successful ambush” (King par. 19). Although it would not be fair to depict Machiavelli as a promoter of immorality and power-hungry methods of obtaining and maintaining power, it is evident that some of his teachings had a questionable moral basis.
In conclusion, the printing press was the main driver of the Renaissance, which resulted in humanism being manifested in the establishment of its core values through Shakespeare’s work and new ways to exercise power through Machiavelli. For the most part, the given period was a highly positive change because it was a crucial step toward modern-day civilization. The Renaissance was the re-emergence of intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, and freedom of creativity, as well as through the long period of stagnation during the Middle Ages. In general, it is important to note that due to the deepest internal connection between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, any attempt at their strict separation and opposition is hardly possible. All critical changes tend to originate from a certain basis and have a specific foundation.
However, the fact of the matter is that the ontological framework of the Renaissance entirely is likely turned out to be a consequence of the development of the basic provisions of medieval ontology. Thus, it did not come out of a complex of independently generated notions and concepts. When it comes to the relationship between the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, one should think about a certain ideological opposition, which implied not so much the rejection of the previous value orientations, but their softening, ‘correction,’ and addition. Precisely because of this, along with church culture, secular culture could freely and fruitfully develop, seeing the meaning of its existence in the active affirmation of the rationally understood value of human action regarding the world and humanity.
Cartwright, Mark. “The Printing Revolution in Renaissance Europe.” World History Publishing, Web.
History.com Editors. “Renaissance.” History, Web.
Jamieson, Lee. “The Influence of the Renaissance in Shakespeare’s Work.” Thought Co., Web.
King, Ian. “Niccolò Machiavelli: The Father of Renaissance Warfare.” Military History Matters, Web.