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Stress and Strains in the Renaissance Society Term Paper

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Updated: Apr 11th, 2020


This paper considers the stresses and strains in the renaissance society after the plaque. In this essay, the stressors are outlined, a major stressor is identified from among the many and how the renaissance society responded to the stressor is discussed in detail.

Renaissance age refers to a period in history which was characterized by a movement towards intellectual reawakening among European scholars and academicians. It began in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe by the 16th century. Its spread affected many spheres of life because it highlighted or pointed to the misgivings in classical civilization.

The plague was an epidemic catastrophe that swept across Europe from 1347 to around 1351. The catastrophe affected and shaped all aspects of human life, i.e., socially, economically, and politically. Depopulation and decrease of labor was a characteristic which accelerated changes that had already started to take root in urban and rural economies across Europe. In general, the idea of exchange of wages for skilled labor became entrenched, services were hastened, and social balance became less rigorous.

The Renaissance, which had all marks of a psychological movement, affected the perception of the arts, religion, and education. The plaque menace had resulted in most elites and educated clergy dying thus denting church vibrancy and general social participation. In fewer than four years, the disease had caused a series of death spanning from Asia, Italy, France, and many other parts of the world.

Stresses and Strains

There are many challenges associated with the plague which influenced the renaissance civilization. Those challenges or effects touched every aspect of life in Europe spanning from church, trade, music, art, agriculture, and every other part of society. One of the strains as a result of the plaque ravage was food insecurity.

As a result of the plaque, many people had not been able to produce food. Lack of food or poor performance of the agricultural sector had adverse effects on the general economy of most European States. The poor performance of the agricultural sector could largely be attributed to many deaths and incapacitation effected by the plague. The few laborers that could be found charged high wages for their services, which further dampened productivity in the agricultural sector.

The labor resource was generally strained and was a big strain on the industrialists and other business people (the elites and aristocrats). Given the laborers charged highly or demanded high wages, the prices of goods and services generally became high. As the cost of living went up, the workers in industries, other trade professions; skilled workers demand even higher pay so that they can be in a position to cope up with the rising cost of living. Workers had huge bargaining power since there was no competition.

The church in a bid to survive also gave in to tricks and became a strain in itself on the society. In the hope of creating clean methods of getting the extra income, they began to levy by force fees on funeral services. They could afford to do this because funeral services and arrangements were on high demand. The elites, i.e., Lords and nobility, were not spared from the economic suffering because their farmlands were.

Another strain on the general society was a rebellion by some peasant and poor communities. The rebellion by peasants caused a lot of jitters and strain in Renaissance society. In response to the economic pressure caused by laborers rebellion, the nobility put the kings and rulers, especially in France and Italy, under immense pressure to forcefully control trade through price fixing with the aim of stabilizing the economy.

Stabilizing the economy was critical for the nobility as it would mean an end to abnormal and unprecedented social mobility. Yielding to pressure, the kings or leaders, in general, used their status and immense power to make this possible. The poor or peasants and those who did rebel this market control maneuvers by those in power were massacred or silenced or suppressed through imprisonment.

The Upper class approached rebel peasants in a cunning way; they artificially created new taxes so that they swindle from the poor and peasants their hard earned money (David 1954, 81).

By so doing, they continued suppressing the peasants and making them even poorer and with no support at all, until they were unwilling and unable to rebel anymore. Some places like Paris and Florence, people who started rebellion were able to amass wealth for the first time. However, their fortunes were short-lived as they were compelled to give these profits to the wealthy.

The post-plague society was put under further strain by the war between the French and English. The war only made the situation much worse as it was costly in terms of personnel, machinery used, finance, and administration. Both nations suffered from losing huge sums of money in war expenses; money which would have been used more profitably, e.g., in buying food for the population which was dying from severe starvation.

The war weakened the economy further making it hard for states or nation to come out of the economic depression. This scenario increasingly made it more difficult for the lower and middle classes to sustain themselves. Those who were privileged, for example, the ruling elite, just watched without doing anything to help with the situation.

Another stressor or strain that people had to deal with is the tremendous stress surfacing due to the barren emotional disquiet caused by years of watching helplessly as a ravaging plague takes away people especially friends and family members. Such an experience was traumatizing; it created to shock, depression, and panic that spread across many towns, cities, and rural areas. For instance, the Black Plague was estimated to have destroyed one-quarter of European Population.

The black plaque is widely believed to have been one of the most pronounced epidemics in history. It is estimated that in England alone, between 1348 and 1351, one million people died. This was approximately one-third of its population destroyed by the virus.

This kind of happenings traumatized the whole society. As a result, some people got lured into becoming religious fanatics, believing that God will show them grace and save them. In their religious stupor, the traumatized mass moved around lashing each other with canes or sticks trusting that their acts appeased God.

Resulting from the psychological trauma and deteriorating economies, there was also a blame game, i.e., different groups blamed each other for the cause of the plague. For instance, it is reported that the Hebrew were suspected and blamed for having poisoned the wells from which the rest of the community drew water. Such suspicion led to several Jews being massacred. Other groups shifted blame to the church for being materialistic, more interested in politics as opposed to spiritual matters.

Over the years, the church had accumulated immense wealth. Some people began to think differently that God was punishing them because of the sins being committed in the church. According to this group, the church was supposed to be a holy institution taking care of the needs of everyone regardless of his status in life, and what he/she offered to it.

Another trend that had developed and later plaque the post-plague renaissance society was dread for other people. Some people, out of imaginary fears, continued to distance and separate themselves from mainstream society as a measure of avoiding the possibility of catching the plague.

In Europe, most families that survived from plague suffered from shock, because the plague disease came without notice, and it swept many people at once. The resultant psychological stigma and trauma continued to stress relationships among members of society.

The major Stressor

The major stressor in the post plaque renaissance society was a lack of meaninglessness or mere despair. The economy was poor due to the effects of the plague and war but also due to the general class system that did not give the poor, peasants and women an opportunity to benefit meaningfully from their efforts. Before the plaque, family link and tradition was so intact that in many European countries such as Italy, a lot of efforts were put in place in organizing and arranging them.

Parents had the last say for their children’s future wives/husbands, and this was determined by the class and status of the family where the girl/boy came from. The reason for parent involvement was to influence the future economic condition of the family. God was central in all decisions which were made regarding the marriage of young men and women. Generally, women during this medieval time were viewed as inferior to men. In social interactions, they were regarded more or less as men’s subjects.

The church, which was a poignant institution promulgated doctrines and teachings and enacted them as laws that gave men authority over women. With teachings that stressed respect for masters, the church in a way entrenched social inequality. With endorsement from the church, the elites, aristocrats, and men exploited the poor, peasants and women without remorse.

It was generally accepted as a natural law that women are born to serve men; thus, they should unquestioningly subserviently submit to their husbands. Women were not allowed to voice personal opinions or indicate that they could have personal judgment. Justification for such attitude was found in the book of Genesis where Adam beguiled Eve and not the other way round. Therefore, man’s directives and commands were taken more or less like godly dictates to be followed to the letter.

The post-plague renaissance period was marked by a revolutionalized way of looking at everything. The way people spend their leisure moments changed; this was both the peasants and the wealthy. Death was no longer dreaded, and people became a little more daring. Those who had escaped the plague felt glad to have cheated death. Such realization in itself emboldened them, i.e., if they had managed to escape death, what else was there to fear. Solemnity associated with funeral processions waned, and people started to approach them as mere normal occurrences.

A look into post-renaissance art indicates the extent of post-plague renaissance despair. It is during this period that much artwork, sculptures, architecture, and paintings depict a charmed life. The kings and wealthy merchants commanded and commissioned cathedrals, monuments, and sculptures, designed in a way as to remind the people of how the disease had swept away many people. Others were built to give honor to God for standing by his people in given regions or areas.

Response to Major Stressor

The post plagues renaissance society’s response to the challenge of or meaningfulness crisis was through rebellion. Signs of rebellion can be discerned in the abandonment and vandalism of churches. The rebellion in the art world best exemplifies the kind of rebellion that informed the response to the post plaque crisis. It is reported, for example, that church carvings was altered and made into coffins of totally different shapes that had pictures of copses on their lid.

This was to show a flattering image of the body inside the coffin wearing their best outfit. There were some paintings depicting people socializing with skeletons and were done under command of a powerful person called (danse macabre).

Many artists abandoned traditional ways of painting, which was characterized by Christian religious connotations or meanings. Artistic work from that period allude to the fact that the artists were depressed by death that engulfed them, this made them change the art world by painting pictures of sad and dead people.

Various art forms and styles were regenerated and old ones redone. This was a result of coming up with new painting and drawing to reflect modern civilization. Modern civilization was based on a rebellious attitude towards old structures, ways of thinking, and ways of organizing society.


The post-plague renaissance society was a strained and stressed society. Much stress and strain resulted from poor economic conditions but also the general desperation and hopelessness resulting from plague related trauma. As a result of the plague, the agricultural sector in most European countries was starting. Due to a reduced workforce, labor was expensive leading to many challenges for industrialists. The governments or leadership in the different states had a herculean task of managing society or maintaining law and order.

Governments were focused on how to jumpstart economies and bolster the morale of citizens. Incentives in the form of tax cuts for elites were adopted to encourage investment. However, nobility also pressured kings and rulers to increase taxes for common or peasants. Such like moves and the general experiences increased a general sense of despair among the majority citizens.

As a result of the general desperation among people, the basic response to the post-plague challenges was rebellion. Peasants rebelled against the elites and aristocrats. The decrease in population had led to increase in demand for laborers, thus affording peasant enormous bargaining power. Workers who had been working or elites at exploitative wages could now assuredly take off and travel around in search of better wages. They were sure of finding work opportunity that offered higher wages for their services.

It was not just the peasants and laborers who exhibited rebellious tendencies. As seen through art, even intellectual perceptions and interpretations changed dramatically in the post-plague renaissance age.

Old meanings ascribed to things like church artifacts no longer holds ground. An intellectual rebellion towards traditional tenets was the hallmark of that period. It is during those days that even conceptions about women began to be questioned. Women were now more involved in family affairs, taking on decision making roles, which was unheard off in the classical and medieval ages.


Alberti, L. Batista. The family in the Renaissance. South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 1969.

Borsi, Franco. Alberti Leon Battista: The Complete Works.

Translated by Carpanini Rudolf G. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

Canning, Joseph, L. Hartmut, and J. M. Winter. Power, Violence and Mass Death in Pre-modern and Modern Times. Ashgate publishing, ltd, 2004.

Castiglione, Baldesar and B. Conte George, The book of the Courtier. Middlesex: Penguin Publishers, 1976.

David, Wallace. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954

Hanning, Robert, W. Castiglione: the ideal and the real in Renaissance culture. Yale University Press, 1983.

Trevor, Dean and K. J. P. Lowe. Marriage in Italy, 1300-1650. 4th ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002

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