Sex, Lies and Rhetorical Responsibility: ‘Trumping it’ in the Renaissance


Painting of five blind men leading on another, and stumbling

The Blind Leading the Blind (1568), by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (File:Brueghel Blinde.PNG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The first issue of the online magazine Renaissance Hub is out now. Sex, Lies and Rhetorical Responsibility: ‘Trumping it’ in the Renaissance explores how our contemporary concerns about post-truth politics and trial by (social) media are not wholly new ones, but have precedents in history and culture centuries ago.

Twitter mobs and online public shaming; the curious rise of ‘The Donald’ in US politics; an historic Brexit result; widespread mistrust of ‘experts’. Current events have raised important political questions. How do we represent ourselves, and why? Where does real power lie? And is it ever really possible to get to the truth amidst all the spin? While these concerns have been given new life in the age of online, social and broadcast media with more or less regard for the ‘truth,’ questions about human knowledge and ethical responsibility have a much longer history. This first issue of Renaissance Hub – which is edited by Durham postgraduate researchers in Modern Languages and English Studies – brings early modern culture to life by highlighting meaningful connections between then and now.

This issue features several articles that bring a literary angle to the problem.

In light of the US President-elect’s unashamedness in “grabbing women by the pussy,” Daisy Butcher shows the links between sex, suffering and siring in Renaissance tragedy and 21st century ‘rape culture’. Her point of connection is William Shakespeare’s play Titus Andronicus (c.1588-1593), which takes the silencing of female suffering, upon which Trump’s victory depended, to its horrific extreme.

While the internet gives twenty-first-century citizens greater access to information than ever before, the information age has not seen us living in a system of communal truths but rather in an anarchistic state where each of us can accept or reject whichever found facts we see fit. This shift is often compared to the invention of the Gutenberg press, but as Bennjamin Penny-Mason explains, this simple analogy “obscures the different transformations that have occurred in relation to the concepts of ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ between the two periods.”

In discriminating fact from fiction, Renaissance readers could draw on influential classical works such as How To Tell a Flatterer from a Friend by Plutarch (c.46-120 CE). The dangers of deceptive argument are rendered vividly in Edmund Spenser’s allegorical epic, The Faerie Queene. Using texts like this, Archie Cornish teaches readers how to rediscover the art of Parrhesia, or political plain speaking.

The full issue over at Renaissance Hub covers many other topics including art, history and religion. Head over for more. If you want to find out more about the background to the Renaissance Hub, check out our earlier interview with the editors.

The call for submissions of brief articles for the next issue of Renaissance Hub is out now. Eating well and making merry: a guide to letting loose Renaissance-style invites writers to make connections between our modern festive period of conspicuous consumption and the conventions, cuisine and culture of the early modern period.

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