On the Importance of Being an Individual in Renaissance Italy: Men, Their Professions, and Their Beards

By Douglas Biow | Go to book overview

Epilogue

”WHO’S THERE?” THE GUARD CRIES OUT AT THE BEGINNING OF HAMLET, unsure of what he is going to discover in the dark and the mist and the cold. And the answer that comes back if we ask that question of the Italian Renaissance—as if we were engaged in an elaborate academic “knock-knock” game—is that it all depends on how people, both men and women, are seen to have dealt with the multifarious constraints in which they were compelled to live their everyday lives. We can therefore talk, for instance, about how people in the Italian Renaissance felt collectively rooted to parishes, confraternities, charitable organizations, and local religious institutions. We can demonstrate how they negotiated extended family relationships and, as families, were both loosely and tightly connected to one another through the law, patriarchy, marriage, baptisms, dowries, funerals, honor, property, business ventures, and enduring bonds of lineage. We can reconstruct intricate patronage relationships, social networks, and neighborhood ties that bound people together. We can explore how people conveyed ambiguous messages in private and public settings to collectively preserve honor and save face among friends and neighbors, as well as how gossip served to forge communities and facilitate their smooth, everyday workings. We can think about how gender and habits of channeling sexual desires conditioned communal behavior in manifold ways. We can situate people in local cultures with their own binding mythologies. We can articulate how people experienced a group identity by belonging to guilds, workshops, academies, and specific professions. We can talk about how people configured through exemplarity a collectivity through their presumed identification or rivalry with others. We can identify how certain groups of people collectively, ceremoniously, “nationally,” and sometimes playfully occupied certain civic spaces.1 We can document how secular, religious, and “deviant” heretical rituals and belief systems bound people together and determined worldviews. We can explain how people were absorbed into and shaped by different economies of production and exchange, as well as how gift-giving practices and eating habits

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