Discussion Questions: Narrative Devices in the Renaissance Period

1. The Thousand and One Nights uses a device called frame-story defined as a “preliminary narrative within which one or more of the characters proceeds to tell a series of short narratives” (Abrams and Harpham 332). The main character Sharazad tells the king a series of tales in order to save her own self from execution. The king, a cynic by ecperience, orders the execution of all his wives, all virgins, the morning following wedding day fearing that they will eventually turn out to be unfaithful and in Sharazad’s case, he delays it just to hear the rest of the story. The same narrative device was also used by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales, where a group of pilgrims on a journey to a religious shrine hold a story-telling contest to amuse themselves and The Decameron, where a group of young men and women who are forced to find shelter in a villa after fleeing plagued-ridden Florence tell each other stories to pass the time.
2. The Pillow Book seems to stress the common adage that there is beauty in everything – if only the beholder cares to see it. Thus, even during the harshest of conditions in winter, there is a beauty when the white snow falls in the darkness of the night and when the ground is white with frost. Even when it is simply cold, the author writes that beauty can be seen as attendants hurriedly bring charcoal from one room to the next, lighting and stirring up fires.

3. By using Virgil as his guide through hell in the epic poem The Divine Comedy, Dante has successfully aligned himself with Virgil, then already admired and acknowledged as a great poet. In that epic poem, Dante had successfully equated himself with an older poet whose reputation as such had already been made by casting the poet and himself together, with the latter cast as an experienced soul whose brilliance was in the past and Dante, the main character, still groping his way towards his destiny. Thus, while Virgil leaves and finally disappears in the poem with Dante weeping as his guide leaves, he marches on to continue his journey. Moreover, while the work obviously gives tribute to Virgil, it showcases Dante’s own genius through the poem’s original and distinctive tone and structure.

4. The lesson in the morality play Everyman is that when a man dies he does so alone stripped of all material things, including friends, he acquired in his lifetime. The only things he can take with him to the world beyond are his good deeds. Similar messages can also be found in various passages of the Bible, particularly in Psalms 49:5-15 of the Old Testament.

5. The stories in The Decameron encompass a variety of genres like folk tales, anecdotes, myths, and fables but they all feature colorful characters and lots of worldly wisdom. Superficially, the stories are simple, the characters shallow and two-dimensional and the narration did without a fixed and definite point of view. This simplicity, however, hides a potential underlying complexity, depending on the reader’s perspective who could interpret them as a farce, a sardonic tale, an irony or simply a comedy.

6. Hamlet is considered the first literary man of the Renaissance because he embodies the qualities of the ideal Renaissance man: completely well-rounded and a universal man. The ideal Renaissance man is not only developed intellectually but also physically. Thus, he is a fine warrior and a shrewd statesman, a philosopher and an athlete, an artist, a man of society who is chivalrous towards women. Hamlet embodies all these. He is an expert of swords because he is a soldier; he is often found reading and thus, a scholar; and he is gifted with rhetoric as a consequence of being an aristocrat. Hamlet (1599-1601) is the first literary figure to embody these characteristics having been written in the earlier part of the Renaissance Period which spanned from the 14th to the 17th century.


(anonymous) Everyman.
Abrams, M.H. & Harpham, G.G. (2009). A Glossary of Literary Terms, 9th Edition. Cengage Learning.
Bocaccio, G. (1350-1353). The Decameron.
Dante (1308-1321). The Divine Comedy.
One Thousand and One Nights.
Shakespeare, W. (1599-1601). Hamlet.
Sonagon, S. (2005). The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagun, translated by A. Waley. Kessinger Publishing.

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