Renaissance Culture and the Everyday

Renaissance Culture and the Everyday

Renaissance Culture and the Everyday

Renaissance Culture and the Everyday


It was not unusual during the Renaissance for cooks to torture animals before slaughtering them in order to render the meat more tender, for women to use needlepoint to cover up their misconduct and prove their obedience, and for people to cover the walls of their own homes with graffiti.

Items and activities as familiar as mirrors, books, horses, everyday speech, money, laundry baskets, graffiti, embroidery, and food preparation look decidedly less familiar when seen through the eyes of Renaissance men and women. In Renaissance Culture and the Everyday, such scholars as Judith Brown, Frances Dolan, Richard Helgerson, Debora Shuger, Don Wayne, and Stephanie Jed illuminate the sometimes surprising issues at stake in just such common matters of everyday life during the Renaissance in England and on the Continent.

Organized around the categories of materiality, women, and transgression--and constantly crossing these categories--the book promotes and challenges readers' thinking of the everyday. While not ignoring the aristocratic, it foregrounds the common person, the marginal, and the domestic even as it presents the unusual details of their existence. What results is an expansive, variegated, and sometimes even contradictory vision in which the strange becomes not alien but a defining mark of everyday life.


Patricia Fumerton

When preparing a pig for consumption in the Renaissance, it was common practice to stick a knife in its side and watch it hurl itself around in agony until it finally collapsed through sheer exhaustion and loss of blood. Alternatively, an Elizabethan manual suggests, with almost tender consideration, you could “gently bait him with muzzled dogs.” Or yet again — and decidedly less tenderly —if you were feeling especially energetic, you could beat the animal to death with a whip made from knotted ropes. Fish followed suit, as Philipa Pullar notes in her litany of culinary torments: “salmon and carp were hacked into collops while living,” she observes, and “eels were skinned alive, coiled round skewers and fixed through the eye.” the common idea behind these diverse preparatory torments, as with the baiting of bulls and boars before eating them, was to render the flesh more tender and tempting. Whereas moderns whack their meat when it is dead and anonymous (cut into steaks and laid out on a kitchen cutting board), the Renaissance pounded its meat when it was alive and identifiable as a feeling creature.

The torture of animals in the service of gustatory gratification was so much a part of everyday life in the early modern period that it found its way into household cookbooks, which proliferated in England in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Consider, for instance, the popular recipe on how to make a “restorative” broth: “Take a great fatt Capon that is well fleshed,” Phioravante instructs, in John Hester’s 1582 rendering of the recipe, “and pull it while it is aliue, and take forthe onely the guttes and the belly, and when he is dead, stamp it in a Morter grossly… “ Or try Henry Buttes’s pain-inducing recipe for eel, which begins thus: “Choake it with white Wine, stop the mouth with a Nut-meg, and the other holes with Cloues…” Pig was similarly dressed, or more accurately “dressed up” (pig was considered lower-class meat) as in its forced translation into higher fare in Vincent La Chapelle’s . . .

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