Renaissance Part One

Introduction: ” What a piece of work is a man!”The unit should begin with background information on the Renaissance. As much as possible, the material should be conveyed in aural story form. Tell the story rather than have students read it.

Important points to bring:

  • Why did the Renaissance begin in Italy? Reasons: location on the Mediterranean made trade accessible, wealth possible, and kept the scourge of bubonic plague from too harshly visiting the Italian peninsula.
  • The Rise of the Medici. Cosimo di Medici’s incredible wealth and generosity contributed greatly to forming the Renaissance. He built Europe’s first public library and was also a patron of the arts and learning because he was a man deeply informed by “the new learning,” known to us as
  • Humanism. Humanism changed the perspective of human being in the Renaissance. Without it the Renaissance, quite simply, would not have happened. This impacted art, science, religion, everything.


Suggested artistic activities:

  • Have students study and learn to recite the “What a piece of work is a man?” speech from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This could be done by the teacher, a speech artist, an actor.
  • Have students learn one of Michelangelo’s sonnets. Not only was Michelangelo a great painter, sculptor, & architect, Michelangelo was also a fine poet.
  • “Flesh and Spirit” is a meditation inspired by the Neoplatonic philosophy popular at the court of Lorenzo di Medici, where Michelangelo lived through his teenage years under the tutelage of some of the finest minds of the day.
  • “On the Painting of the Sistine Chapel” is an epistle of complaint written while the artist was engaged in the arduous task of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel–perhaps one of the most heroic artistic undertakings of all time.
  • A color map of Italy in the Renaissance. This could be done in many different ways. Avoid the “coloring book” approach; we are interested in developing student abilities here.
  • Portraits of Lorenzo or Cosimo

Student Map of Renaissance Italy - An example of a seventh grader's work.

“What a piece of work is a man!” –a speech from HamletHere is a video of eighth graders reciting this speech on the school stairway one afternoon. They worked with me on recitation for about three weeks, 5-10 minutes a day. On the day we taped, two students were absent; but their classmates had no trouble picking up the slack. Note their cool style of dress.


Sources for Part One:

Polly Schoyer Brooks, The World Awakes: The Renaissance in Western Europe, New York: Lippincott, 1962.
Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators: A History of the Heroes of the Imagination, Vintage, 1993.

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