Humanism and Ecological Identities

The Renaissance – generally described as taking place from the 14th to the 17th century, was an ardent period which sparked a cultural, artistic and political “rebirth.” Some of the greatest thinkers and artists in history thrived during this era. Discovery in literature, art, and science gave way to a cultural movement which prompted the rise of humanism. Humanists encouraged education and lead the revival of moral philosophy and classical antiquity which urged the population to engage in their communities and called for an emphasis of prudence. This change in social patterns allowed artisans to gain a voice in the fabrication of knowledge and thus sparked the growth of science. Renaissance science was intimately involved in nature, as artisans constructed instruments for scientific research and sought knowledge of the natural world. Renowned renaissance writers of the time such as, (you guessed it) Shakespeare, used nature as a driving force in much of their writings and began to dabble with the idea of its contrast to humanity. Could forces as strong as tempests be manipulated? Utilizing collaborative research on humanism, nature, and theatre, an examination will be presented on how the rise of humanism helped shape ecological identities and in turn affected the conditions of and perceptions of performance at the time.

Humanism

Humanism can be regarded as the most major intellectual movement of the Renaissance time period. It began as a literary rather than philosophical movement and was at its core shaped around the education of the trivium “grammar, logic, rhetoric” (citation).Scholars of the movement derived their philosophies from Greek and Latin classics. A new respect for language was apparent, and this gave way to the study of the historical use of language in ancient documents.
Although it is often connected to its association with literature and philosophy, humanism can also be seen as “the most scholarly humans” attempt to masture nature.

Renaissance humanism emphasized reason, scientific inquiry and human fulfillment in the natural world and thus prompted discovery in astronomy, medicine, alchemy, and so on. Scientists began to investigate the world around them through experimentation and observation and I believe that this lead to an increased awareness of the world as a whole. A great example of a major Renaissance scientist is Galileo Galilei. Galilei conducted motion experiments that paved the way for later discoveries dealing with gravity, velocity, free fall, etc(citation). In order to make such discoveries about the world and its processes, there needs to be a firm understanding of one’s personal relationship to the earth. I can imagine all of the questions that Galilei must have been asking himself that lead to such discovery. “Why… Why… and why?” I believe that observation in all aspects is the framework to self discovery. In engaging in scientific observation one is able to answer questions about the world and how it encompasses us as human beings. How does the world sustain us? Who are we in the grand scheme of things? And how does our existence affect nature?

Shakespeare.. “the first ecologist?”

As the man renowned for having coined 1700 words, it is surprising that “ecology” is a word that does not appear in any of his works. Nevertheless, it is apparent that Shakespeare was thinking in ecological ways. At the time of his writings the world was experiencing early capitalism and colonialism that extended ideals of conquering, of nature specifically. It seems that Shakespeare exploited these ideals, and displayed recognition of the limitations nature imposes on humanity. By “limitations” I mean the idea that the earth has complete dominion over humanity and can overpower any attempt to overrule it.

Conclusion

It is apparent that humans serve a complex destiny, and the Renaissance was the beginning of this discovery of self. We cannot separate the obvious connection between humans and nature as they live equally together in a single realm. Just as the artisans ability to create directly influences the scientists ability to discover, nature directly influences humanity and identity. Theatre gave voice to nature as it reiterated the power in the labor of our hands and imaginations. The crisis of the self is a crisis of the whole planet.