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HomeClassroom ResourcesLesson Plans

Lesson Plan

Renaissance Humanism in Hamlet and The Birth of Venus

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Renaissance Humanism in Hamlet and The Birth of Venus

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Junius Wright

Junius Wright

Charleston, South Carolina

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One: Defining Renaissance Humanism

Session Two: Identifying Renaissance Humanism in The Tragedy of Hamlet

Session Three: Artwork Explication of The Birth of Venus

Session Four: Conduct a class discussion of The Birth of Venus

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will

  • identify and explain how the characteristics and concepts of a literary genre are reflected in a work of art and piece of literature.

  • analyze the overall significance, meaning, and theme of a work of art and literature through an explication of its individual elements.

  • examine the details in a work of art by sketching and labeling its major elements.

  • synthesize knowledge of the ways that a painting uses subject, symbolism, color and light, composition, movement, and perspective to draw conclusions about the overall tone and theme of a work of art.

  • use literary tools (diction, symbolism, characterization, tone, and elements of plot) to analyze and explain how specific elements establish the tone and theme of a work of art and a piece of literature.

  • explain how the elements establish both a work of art and a piece of literature as examples of Renaissance Humanism.

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Session One: Defining Renaissance Humanism

  1. Introduce the characteristics of Renaissance Humanism using the Renaissance Humanism student interactive. Students can explore the interactive individually if computer resources allow, or the interactive can be projected using an LCD projector.

  2. If desired, pause during the presentation to ask students to share examples from their readings that demonstrate the characteristics. These brainstormed ideas can be gathered on the board or on chart paper so that students can return to the list in later sessions.

  3. Additionally, students can read and take notes on the definition and major characteristics of Renaissance Humanism contained in their classroom literature anthology, in a book such as The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, or on the Lecture on Renaissance Humanism Web page. Additional Websites are available in the Resources section.

  4. By the end of this session, students should have identified and be able to explain the following characteristics of Renaissance Humanism:

    • Marked by a revival of interest in Classical literature and thought (ancient Greek and Roman)

    • Was a European phenomenon that was more worldly and secular than the preceding Medieval period

    • Focused on anthropocentric ideas, seeking to dignify and ennoble humans

    • Regarded humans as the crown of creation

    • Sought to civilize humans and help them realize their potential powers and gifts as well as to reduce the discrepancy between human potential and achievement

    • Concentrated on the perfection of a worldly life, rather than on the preparation for an eternal and spiritual life

    • Increasingly regarded humans as creatures perfectible on earth

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Session Two: Identifying Renaissance Humanism in The Tragedy of Hamlet

  1. Review the characteristics of Renaissance Humanism, showing students where to find the resources used in the previous session such as the Renaissance Humanism student interactive or the Lecture on Renaissance Humanism Web page. If you created a list of characteristics and/or examples in the previous session, point students to this resource as well.

  2. Pass out the Renaissance Humanism in Hamlet handout.

  3. Explain that students will complete the chart by identifying an example from Hamlet, connecting the example to a characteristic of Renaissance Humanism, and explaining why the example reflects the characteristic. Explain that students will use the information that they gather to write an essay later in this unit.

  4. Encourage students to return to the resources on Renaissance Humanism as needed.

  5. Circulate among students, answering questions, providing supportive feedback, and noting progress. By the end of this session, students should have a working knowledge of the characteristics of Renaissance Humanism.

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Session Three: Artwork Explication of The Birth of Venus

  1. Answer any questions about the characteristics of Renaissance Humanism that have arisen as students worked. Remind students where to locate the resources they can use as they work on this project.

  2. Share Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus with students, providing basic background information about the painting and Botticelli. The painting was painted in approximately 1485-86 for the villa of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici at Castello and measures 67.3 x 108.5 inches (172.5 x 278.5 cm).

  3. Invite students to identify Venus, or simply explain that she is the Roman goddess of Love and Beauty.

  4. Identify the other figures in the painting, so that students have a shared vocabulary for their discussion:

    • Zephyr, the West Wind, is on the left front

    • Chloris, a nymph, is on the left, beside Zephyr

    • The Nymph of Spring is on the right
  5. Alternatively, you might point students to the explanation of the figures on the WebMuseum site.

  6. Pass out the Art Explication: The Birth of Venus by Botticelli handout.

  7. Explain that students will work in small groups to sketch and label the painting’s major elements, in response to the questions on the handout. Remind students that they will use the information that they gather in class discussion as well as to write an essay later in this unit.

  8. Answer any questions about the activity, and divide students into groups of approximately four each.

  9. Encourage students to return to the resources on Renaissance Humanism as needed.

  10. Circulate among students, answering questions, providing supportive feedback, and noting progress.

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Session Four: Conduct a class discussion of The Birth of Venus

  1. Invite students to reflect on their analysis of Botticelli’s painting, focusing the discussion on the question “How do individual elements in The Birth of Venus reflect the characteristics of Renaissance Humanism?” Encourage students to refer to specific elements in the painting to support their answers.

  2. Use the following list of features in the painting to help students identify the major elements in the painting:

    • Venus’ sacred roses falling from the top left corner

    • Zephyr the west wind blowing wind onto Venus

    • Chloris the nymph, who later became Flora the goddess, is held by Zephyr

    • Waves in stylized V shapes

    • Venus imitating a pose of a famous antique Roman statue

    • The faraway look in Venus’ eyes

    • Orange grove on the right hand side

    • A nymph representing spring moves in from the right and attempts to cover Venus

    • A single blue anemone flower blooms at the feet of the nymph of Spring
  3. If desired, review the analysis of these elements on the World Art Treasures site.

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EXTENSIONS

  • Students can explore another of Botticelli’s paintings and identify characteristics of Renaissance art and humanism. Botticelli’s companion to The Birth of Venus, the painting La Primavera provides an interesting contrast to the analysis students complete in Sessions Three and Four. Share the Berger Foundations’ explanation of the relationship between the two paintings to encourage a more thorough analysis.

  • Take the opportunity to explore Renaissance Humanism with a focus on race, gender, and class—begin by asking students just how human is defined in these works and extend the conversation to thinking about who is missing from the Renaissance's ideal. Can any human be “the crown of creation”?

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

Based on their investigation of Renaissance Humanism in Hamlet and The Birth of Venus, ask students to write an essay that identifies, analyzes, and explains how two elements from The Birth of Venus and two examples from The Tragedy of Hamlet reflect a characteristic of Renaissance Humanism. Share the Explication Essay Checklist and/or the Explication Essay Rubric before students begin so that they can monitor their own progress as they work. Students can write formal papers or complete this activity in their journals. You can use the Explication Essay Checklist as a grading sheet, if desired. For more formal assessment, use the Explication Essay Rubric.

As an alternate assessment, you can ask students to write a letter from Shakespeare to Botticelli (or vice versa) complimenting him on how their two works are similar.

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