Eating well and making merry: a guide to letting loose Renaissance-style

Inn with Drunken Peasants, by Adriaen Brouwer (circa 1605/1606–1638) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Inn with Drunken Peasants, by Adriaen Brouwer (circa 1605/1606–1638) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How’s that January detox working out for you? If it’s any consolation, over-indulgence in the festive season is not a new thing, if the latest issue of Renaissance Hub is anything to go by. This new collection of articles on Eating well and making merry: a guide to letting loose Renaissance-style shows how our ancestors enjoyed themselves, ate, drank, and celebrated traditions.

Of particular interest to our literary followers may be Jamie Beckett‘s piece on Noah. Today we remember the biblical Noah as the builder of the ark. However, more popular in the early modern imagination was the story of Noah’s drunkenness. Having survived the apocalypse, one can understand why Noah might have wanted to let his hair down. So it is that, according to the Book of Genesis, after the flood Noah “drank wine, and was drunken; and he was naked, and lay in his tabernacle.” It is this part of the story, rather than animals traipsing in two-by-two, that keeps appearing in art and literature of the time. Jamie takes us on a tour through these variously humourous and moralising stories.

Overindulgence is of course a key and often criticised aspect of Christmas today, too. Beyond the well-known story of Noah, Louise Horton looks at some of the pamphlets and occasional literature that shows what people thought about excessive consumption several centuries ago. One particular highlight is Women Will Have Their Will or Give Christmas His Due (1649). While not ‘high’ literature, this pamphlet stages a debate on the nature of Christmas between Mistress Custome and Mistress New-come. It is spiced with references to food – such as the advice that ‘there is no making hony of a Dogs-turd’ – and features a foul-mouthed oyster-seller, among other characters. 

While indulgence was clearly a symptom (and problem) in the early modern period as in our own time, recognising the dangers of excess also presents an opportunity to think charitably about those who lack such opportunities. The most memorable of modern Christmas stories, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, invites readers to imagine spending Christmas without the luxurious spread of food to which they are accustomed. Rebecca Hasler uses this as a starting point to trace back the history of appeals to think about those less fortunate, particularly the hungry poor.

The full issue over at Renaissance Hub covers various other approaches to the topic, including some enticing early modern recipes to try. Visit the website 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 and reviews for the third issue of Renaissance Hub is out now. Making the beast with two backs: love, sex and relationships in the Renaissance will look at affairs of the heart in the early modern period. Although we may think of this earlier time as a period of Christian chastity, it was anything but: Kings openly paraded their mistresses at court, monasteries were rumoured to be hives of sexual activity, and secret marriage ceremonies existed which were not necessarily approved of by the Church. Plenty of salaciousness to think about. The deadline for submissions is 6th February.


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