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Recreation During the Renaissance Era - Part Two


Activities of the Renaissance

Many games and forms of entertainment that are appreciated today had their birth in the Renaissance. Some already existed and were developed further having their rules solidified. Many of their activities were unique to that time period and are simply pieces of history today. The regular feasts and carnivals, as well as some of their hunting falls within these types of entertainment.

Feasts and Carnivals

Festival days were a large part of any person from the Renaissance. Whole cities and towns would come together for a day of relaxation, eating, dancing, and fun. These brief reprieves from daily toil were welcome for most peasants and craftsman. Some of these gatherings were entertainment, but in a negative aspect. People would gather to watch a criminal being punished. A thief getting his hand chopped off, a dishonest person being flogged, or a heretic being burned alive always drew a big crowd. For the most part though, these gatherings were festive. Not much was spared in making these festivals very spectacular. The festivals were both secular and religious in nature. For the secular festivals especially, elaborate masquerades, displays, and processions went along with the festivals. The Venetian carnivals were very well known, and usually lasted for several days. Lorenzo de’ Medici, a real Renaissance prince, wrote a song that depicted the attitude of a carnival. The first stanza says:

Fair is youth and void of sorrow;

But it hourly flies away.

Youths and maids enjoy today;

Nought ye know about tomorrow.

The people truly enjoyed the festival days and they often had a party-like atmosphere. Even though the people did not often get a chance to celebrate, they made the most of every opportunity.


Hunting was done for two main purposes during the Renaissance. Nobility did it largely for sport. It was all a big fanfare. Hunts were generally grand events led by huge packs of dogs. Big horns were sounded often throughout the hunts, and they were far from work. Hunting fit in well with the theme of spectacular entertainment for the Renaissance nobility. King Francis

commenting on hunting once said that hunting is “the true pleasure of great lords.” Common people also enjoyed hunting, but in a different way. Because of the level of weaponry that was available at the time, it was more difficult to hunt for food. However, it was still often done. Benvenuto Cellini, in his autobiography provides an excellent description of what this kind of hunting was like. Cellini describes in great detail the process he used in preparing his gun, as well as describing the kinds of bullets and gunpowder he used. He would them go down to abandoned or ancient buildings and shoot pigeons. He took great pride in his marksmanship. This provided him with food throughout one of the plagues that ravaged Italy. This type of hunting was more common among those who were not nobility.


Sports and Games

Games and sports of all kinds abounded during the Renaissance. Many of them are not well documented today, but no doubt many of the games played today had their origins here. In some cases, rules were just solidified. Card games were especially popular during this time. Familiar games that are still played today include bowling, boxing, and tennis.

Tennis is just one example of a sport that was formulated during this time period. Although the beginnings of tennis can be traced back to ancient times, it took great strides during the Renaissance. The country of France was highly influential on the present day rules. They called it “the game of the palm”. The reason is that tennis used to be played without rackets. Players would hit the ball with their hands instead. Usually it would be played indoors in a room with high walls, and a low net stretched across the center of the floor. The players were allowed to play the ball of the side of the walls. In this sense it was much like the game of racquetball. It was played with a leather ball often covered in horsehair. The rules began to evolve in the fifteenth century until it eventually became what it is today.

Music and Arts

Finally, the people of the Renaissance were well entertained by music and other arts. Kings, popes, and other noblemen spent large sums of money commissioning great artists to make statues, paintings, and other works of art. Partly they did this because they desired to contribute to the society. Some did this just for their own pleasure. Most noblemen were well taught in the arts and appreciated good sculptures and paintings.

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Music was also an important part of their culture. It was during the Renaissance that sacred music played a large role in churches. The humanist philosophy that was present during this period was prevalent in the arts. Many composers and artists sought to go back to ancient sources for theirs works. Music also played a large role in the secular world. Songs for dances and hunting developed at a rapid pace. Some poems were also set to music. Musical instruments became increasingly popular, including the flute, harp, trumpet, trombone, and oboe. Often these instruments accompanied dances and events at the popular festivals, carnivals, and other public events.


Although much of the life of a typical person living during the Renaissance revolved around work, they still enjoyed other activities as well. Their lives differ from the average American today, in that it is possible for Americans to enjoy leisure almost as often as they would like. There are far fewer obstacles to enjoyment today than there were 500 years ago in Europe. The lives of nobles and peasants contrasted sharply in the area of recreation. Although they were much different, the peasants would have loved to be able to participate in activities as freely as nobility could. Although recreational activities enjoyed by a culture are constantly in a state of change, the fact that all people need a rest from daily routine remains the same. Games, sports, music, and art vary according to times and societies may change, but the motive for participating is always constant. As God rested on the seventh day, so too people need opportunities for rest and relaxation. As the writer Leon Battista Alberti once phrased it, “The only people that do not exercise are those who do not wish to live happy, gladsome, and sane.”


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Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Jan 12. 1997.

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