The Italian Renaissance had placed human beings once more in the center of life's stage and infused thought and art with humanistic values. In time
the stimulating ideas current in Italy spread to other areas and combined with indigenous developments to produce a French Renaissance, an English Renaissance, and so on.
The term Renaissance, literally means "rebirth" and is the period in European civilization immediately following the Middle Ages, conventionally held to have been characterized by a surge of interest in classical learning and values. The Renaissance also witnessed the discovery and exploration of new continents, the substitution of the Copernican for the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, the decline of the feudal system and the growth of commerce, and the invention or application of such potentially powerful innovations as paper, printing, the mariner's compass, and gunpowder. To the scholars and thinkers of the day, however, it was primarily a time of the revival of classical learning and wisdom after a long period of cultural decline and stagnation.
The opening is lighthearted as Folly catalogs the boons which she bestows on humans: It is she who allows the human race to procreate, since nobody can be solemn about sex; further, she provides solace for husbands deceived by their wives, since they are usually so foolish that they do not even recognize their wives’ adulteries. The tone changes in chapter 31, however, as she lists her other beneficiaries: grotesque old men and women who try to deceive others into believing them still young. From this section on, the tone shifts back and forth between banter and serious--often biting--satire.
About three-fourths of the way through the work, Erasmus turns his satire on theologians and monks whose religious views serve to divide rather than unite Christians. This section of THE PRAISE OF FOLLY was especially controversial when it was published. Finally, the work dwells on the virtues of Christianity, which, according to Folly, look like madness to the world: Even Christ, she says, was a divine fool to sacrifice himself for humanity. As the work draws to a close, Folly remarks that she has been carried away in her speech and ends with the hope that the audience, followers of Folly, will applaud, live, and drink.
This satire had special meaning for a Renaissance audience, especially in its criticisms of specific religious sects and practices, but it appeals to modern readers in its satire of universal human foibles and its scathing indictment of war.