A few weeks ago I joined Evey, her husband, and some of the other young faculty from her university for some beers. It was a pleasant night out until near the end of the evening, when I happened to use the word "Renaissance" in describing something that I teach or work on. "Renaissance?" Said a certain junior faculty member. "But you're talking about the seventeenth century--that's not the Renaissance."
Since the guy isn't a native English speaker (nor is he a historian or literary scholar), and his educational background would likely have focused on continental Europe, I wasn't surprised by his remark. Instead, I went into the little spiel that I do for my students about how the Renaissance happened in different times in different places.
"But really--Shakespeare? He's not a Renaissance writer! That's so late."
Good-humoredly, I expanded my earlier explanation.
"But, the sixteenth and seventeenth century isn't the Renaissance. That's the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation. That's the baroque."
Less good-humoredly, I trotted out some other ways of thinking about the English Renaissance as a coherent whole and defining its parameters (developed in response to a particularly jerky question I'd once been asked in a job interview). I also floated the term "early modern," which interested him not at all.
Instead, he just kept shaking his head and saying, disbelievingly, "The Renaissance!"
Then it got worse: one of Evey's colleagues, a creative writer, decided to bust in with his theories about a "Renaissance sensibility," and how we could see this in writers from all different time periods--like Emily Dickinson and T. S. Eliot. Every so often, Guy One would interject, "But, the sixteenth century! That's not the Renaissance!"
We went around and around like this for at least an hour, and it was one of the more tedious hours of my life.
But you know--it was still an enjoyable evening on balance, so I quickly forgot about the way it concluded.
Until I got an email from Guy One suggesting that we discuss the Renaissance and the baroque some more, maybe over drinks.
Riiiight. Because our previous conversation was so much fun.