Beards, both real and fake, acquire a special status in Giordano Bruno's Candelaio as symbolically charged objects that reveal not only much about the characters and their functions within the play, but also much about social norms and expectations regarding the performance of male sociability in sixteenth-century Italy. To this end, understanding the social and cultural context within which Italian men grew and cared for their beards during the period will help explain the meaning of a unique feature of Bruno's play, while examining Bruno's play will in its turn help dramatize more concretely a number of pervasive social and cultural anxieties about masculine self-presentation in Bruno's time. This essay brings together literary and cultural history within the broader context of gender and body studies of Renaissance Italy, in particular, and, more generally, of the European Renaissance.

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