What are the Renaissance elements in A Tale of a Tub?

Renaissance elements in A Tale of a Tub include that it highlights the Renaissance appreciation for classical texts. Swift lampoons the modern person who writes about trivial matters and has to lean on invention because they know nothing about the great authors of the past. A Tale of a Tub also spotlights how the Renaissance relates to the decline of the Catholic church. The brothers’ abuse of their father’s coats could be an allegory for various church abuses and corruption.

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As you might already be aware, the Renaissance was a period in which ancient and classical texts became quite popular again. The Renaissance resulted in something like a rediscovery of Greek and Roman literature. For people like Swift, such literature wasn’t merely literature—it was the foundations of culture. The classics...

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As you might already be aware, the Renaissance was a period in which ancient and classical texts became quite popular again. The Renaissance resulted in something like a rediscovery of Greek and Roman literature. For people like Swift, such literature wasn’t merely literature—it was the foundations of culture. The classics supplied a person with a clear, incomparable way to think and live.

Swift takes up the Renaissance cause of the classics by parodying those who don’t feel like the writings from Ancient Greece or Rome are relevant. Throughout A Tale of a Tub, Swift mocks the vacuity and frivolousness of modern authors. He lampoons their seeming willingness to write about anything.

“I am now trying an experiment very frequent among modern authors,” writes Swift, “which is to write upon nothing; when the subject is utterly exhausted to let the pen still move on.”

In this quote, the modern writer is contrasted sharply with the Renaissance writer. A writer of the Renaissance should ideally write about subjects of lasting importance. A contemporary writer, possessing no relation to Renaissance values, is simply moving their pen.

Swift also highlights the Renaissance person’s indebtedness to classic culture by drawing attention to the contemporary person’s lack of classical knowledge.

Swift writes how the “learned” in his “illustrious age” have no need for memory. Memory is for the past. The learned “deal entirely with invention.” Sometimes, invention can be a good thing. If someone invents something, it can mean they created something important or transformative. Here, Swift uses invention as an insult. Invention is a way for the “learned” to compensate for their lack of classical scholarship.

Another Renaissance element you could discuss is religion. The Renaissance is generally positioned between the fourteenth century and the sixteenth century. It coincided with the declining power of the Catholic church. You could argue that Swift addresses the Catholic church’s decline and corruption with the three brothers. You could make a connection between the abuse of the inherited coats and the abuses of the church.

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