Weird History
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Dumb Things We Believe About The Renaissance Thanks To Movies And TV

January 19, 2021 3.7k votes 611 voters 98.8k views12 items

List RulesVote up the most pervasive Renaissance tropes you're done with seeing on TV and movie screens.

The Renaissance was an era of innovation and change, when artists broke barriers and rulers fought for power. It's not surprising that movies and TV shows set in 1400 to 1600 are enormously popular today - but certain Renaissance tropes have given viewers the wrong idea about the era, especially related to beauty and fashion. Plus, Hollywood hygiene standards are way different from what really went on during the Renaissance.

In fact, the Renaissance changed the world in ways that still matter today. The unique blend of science and art in the Renaissance led to breakthroughs in anatomy, optics, and even flight. Next time you tune into The Tudors or The Borgias, keep an eye out for these tropes, and remember that fact and fiction don't always line up.

  • Photo: The Borgias / Showtime

    All Women Wore Their Hair Long And Down

    The Trope: Renaissance women let their hair flow free, growing it extremely long.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? Although women did have long hair in the Renaissance, they typically swept it up and hid it under hairnets or veils. Long, flowing hair often interfered with fashion, like the collars and neck ruffs that became popular in 16th century England. 

    Notable Offenders: The BorgiasThe Tudors, and The Other Boleyn Girl.

  • Photo: Shakespeare in Love / Miramax

    Men Wore Their Doublets Open

    The Trope: Renaissance men liked to show a fair amount of chest hair while walking down the street.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? That white shirt under the doublet is called a chemise, and wasn't meant to be seen at all - it was the Renaissance equivalent of underwear. So when Joseph Fiennes wanders the streets of London with his doublet wide open, he's showing off his underwear for everyone to see.

    Actors sometimes sport a similarly inaccurate style when they appear without a chemise at all. But the chemise served a critical function in the Renaissance. During an era when people washed their clothes less frequently, the chemise kept sweat and grime off people's fancy clothes.

    Notable Offenders: Shakespeare in Love.

  • Photo: The Private Life of Henry VIII / United Artists

    Turkey Legs Were Common Fare

    The Trope: At Renaissance banquets, diners gnawed on enormous turkey legs. 

    Why Is It Inaccurate? There's a big problem with the turkey leg trope: Turkeys are native to the New World and didn't appear in Europe until the mid-16th century, nearly the end of the Renaissance. 

    Before turkeys showed up at banquets, Renaissance diners enjoyed beef, soups, and peacocks. In fact, peacock leg might be more accurate than turkey leg for most of the Renaissance.

    As for turkey legs, they didn't look the same in the 16th century. Back then, turkeys were wild game - much smaller than today's birds. The enormous turkey legs we picture today actually became popular at Renaissance fairs

    Notable Offenders: Blame this one on the Renaissance Faire and the 1933 film The Private Life of Henry VIII, although it's possible he's supposed to be eating chicken.

  • Photo: The Tudors / Showtime

    Jousting Was A Common Occurrence

    The Trope: Renaissance men loved to hop on a horse, grab a lance, and start jousting. 

    Why Is It Inaccurate? Although jousting was popular from the 13th to 16th centuries, it was largely restricted to tournaments, which weren't an everyday thing.

    During tournaments, opponents weren't only trying to knock their opponents over in dramatic Hollywood fashion. They could rack up points for hitting their opponent, breaking spears, or striking helms. Riders also earned points for keeping their helm. 

    Notable Offenders: A Knight's Tale is all about jousting, though to be fair, most would classify it as medieval rather than Renaissance. Jousting also shows up in Elizabeth IThe Three MusketeersThe Tudors, and more.