The place of the Renaissance in historical narratives of modernity was problematic long before recent bouts of dismissal, denial, or indifference. However, the idea is a hardy survivor and the old phoenix is at it again. Has the Renaissance gained a new, postmodern lease on life? Plurality, discontinuity, and contingency are hallmarks of that protean, much-contested label and of current Renaissance studies, not to mention the Renaissance boom in pop culture. Is this a mirror reflecting only our own preconceptions or a window that discloses a Renaissance that was never convincingly modern in the first place? What are the implications, one way or another, for the present and future of Renaissance studies?
The savagery of the native Irish and, in particular, their predilection for severing heads, is repeatedly asserted, not only in the texts of conquest, but in representations of the "Wild Irish" on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage. This essay tests this literary commonplace against the historical record of the early modern conquest of Ireland. Far from being merely the aberrant practice of the barbarous Gaels, beheading — and a form of judicial headhunting — became a cornerstone of the conquerors' policy of martial law. As atrocity was redefined as justice, so, in the hands of writers such as Spenser, Churchyard, and Derricke, was it aestheticized. But even as such writers wove inventive beheadings into their texts, Irish poets were elegizing the severed heads of patrons killed by the English. The poetry of beheading became a site of cultural confrontation and of unexpected assertions of humanity.
Traditionally, Philip II's massive relic collection preserved in the palace-monastery of the Escorial has been interpreted as a testimony to the Spanish king's devotion to the cult of saints, and a proof of his support for the principles of the Tridentine Church. This essay explores some of Philip II's more political and symbolic uses of relics, and studies their role in the construction of a monarchical, spiritual, and national identity in sixteenth-century Spain.
In addition to portraits and diplomatic reports, Renaissance courts relied on fashion dolls to acquaint themselves with foreign dress. Unfortunately, literature on this subject is scarce and often disappointing. Overlooked by doll historians, a letter written by Federico Gonzaga (1500–40) in 1515 reveals that François Ier (1494–1547) requested a fashion doll from Isabella d'Este (1474–1539). After examining this document within the context of what is currently known about Renaissance fashion dolls, this essay explores what François Ier's interest in these objects suggests about his personality and his relationship to the women of his court.