Sodomy Then & Now: “Unnatural” Sexual Practices

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 6.40.49 PMBy Kali E.

What was sodomy in Early Modern England, and how does it relate to homosexuality today? In order to understand the laws and social policies regarding sodomy in in the past, we must first understand the difference between definitions of sodomy then and sodomy now. Sodomy today, as critic Bruce Smith describes it, is “a precise bio-legal term that denotes one particular sexual act” (3). However, in Early Modern England, the term sodomy meant much more than just same-sex sexual acts. According to critic Katherine Crawford, it included “masturbation, several forms of same-sex sexual behavior, bestiality, non-procreative sex (oral or anal most commonly) between a man and a woman, or any form of sex in which conception was impossible” (4). It was more broadly used as a religious offence, a category covering a wide range of transgressive acts including any activity that challenged the “nature” of the church-state authority. Sodomy came under secular state control through the Buggery Act of 1533. This act sentenced anyone found guilty of sodomy—particularly men—to death. The laws against sodomy and other forms of sexual deviance during this time emphasized that those who acted outside the “prescribed” social standards were less human and more animal-like than those who obeyed. For example, in his book, Smith details a journal entry from a man, Henry Hawkes, who traveled to Mexico in the sixteenth century. The journal entry relates some of the sexual practices of the Mexican natives, with Hawkes reporting that the natives “‘are soone drunke, and given to much beastlines, and void of all goodness. In their drunkenness, they use and commit sodomie'” (3). Hawkes believed that what he saw the nativeswas a crime, referring to it as “beastlines” and equating sodomy with the actions of animals.
 
According to Smith, “For us, sexual activity is a psychological and sociological phenomenon. […] the Renaissance was a period of transition, a time when sex as a moral preoccupation was changing into sex as a subject for self-reflection and intellectual analysis” (10). We have to understand that sexuality for them was much different than it is for us. No one in that time would refer to himself as a “homosexual,” “gay,” or “straight.” Those identities of sexuality simply did not exist. Critic Alan Bray notes that “To talk of an individual in this period as being or not being ‘a homosexual’ is an anachronism and ruinously misleading. The temptation to debauchery, from which homosexuality was not clearly distinguished, was accepted under the common lot, be it ever so abhorred” (16-17).
 
Essentially, people during the Early Modern era were fearful of what they didn’t understand. They thought any kind of sexual act outside of the social “norm” to be unnatural and bestial; any kind of sex that wasn’t specifically for procreation, did not fall within that social “norm.” Critic William Naphy states that “in practice even procreative sex could be considered unnatural if it was any position other than the missionary (face-to-face, man on top, woman on her back)” (103-104).
 
Bruce Smith also brings up the argument that “we need to investigate not just what was prohibited but what was actively homoeroticized” (13). He argues that there is a “disparity” between the punishments of law and the apparent “tolerance” displayed in the visual arts and literature. The picture displayed is an engraving from 1506 by Marcantonio Raimondi. Smith comments on the piece in his book. “What are we to make of a culture that could consume popular prints of Apollo Embracing Hayacinth and yet could order hanging for men who acted on the very feelings that inspired that embrace?” (13-14).
 
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Kali is a Senior Creative Writing major at Ball State University. Her specific interest is creative nonfiction writing. She also served two years as the Secretary of Spectrum, Ball State’s LGBTQSA.
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Image: Raimondi, Marcantonio. Apollo and Hyacinth. 1506. Engraving. Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. Legion of Honor. Web. 29 April 2014. <http://art.famsf.org/marcantonio-raimondi/apollo-and-hyacinth-19633036327&gt;.
 
Bray, Alan. Homosexuality in Renaissance England. London: Gay Men’s Press, 1982. Print.
Crawford, Katherine. The Sexual Culture of the French Renaissance. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.
Naphy, William. Sex Crimes: from Renaissance to Enlightenment. Tempus Publishing, 2004. Print.
Smith, Bruce. Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991. Print.

Public Law & Perceptions of Bestiality

By Emily C.

Prior to the Buggery Act of 1533, the church and its courts handled cases of bestiality, or sexual relations between humans and animals. As Susan Amussen notes regarding English law, “Ordinary law enforcement was local, not national; most punishments were imposed by the quarter sessions and assizes” (11). Therefore, punishments for any criminal activity varied according to location, severity of the crime, and other situational factors. In terms of bestiality, English attitudes were ambiguous at best. Erica Fudge suggests that unwed young men were often the perpetrators of this crime, although there recorded cases against women do exist (22). The church expected young men to wait until marriage to have sexual intercourse. In reaction to the strong body policing, men turned to the only other available option within their rural communities: farm animals.

The Buggery Act of 1533 changed the relatively laid back public perception of bestiality. It made bestiality “a felony without benefit of clergy, and anyone convicted of the offence would ‘suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their goods, chattels, debtors, lands, tenements, and hereditaments’’’ (Fudge 20). The law revealed the many anxieties regarding bestiality and the potential half-animal, half-human offspring such relations could produce. Such anxieties were largely religious in nature. But religious officials were not so much concerned with the safety and well-being of the animals (as they did not think that animals had souls at all) as they were with policing human bodies. Many in early modern England considered bestiality a “species pollution” (Thomas 150). In a colonial world, lines between animal and human became sufficiently blurred. As Fudge notes, “The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a time when many of the previously held assumptions about humanity were coming under threat. Colonists were bringing back stories of monstrous races which appeared to confirm medieval ideas, and which upset many of the establish perceptions about the final work of the Creation” (22). For the first time, English people had access to the unknown, and they brought back stories of the odd places, often misconstrued and inaccurate narratives. That fed into anxieties about bestiality and the product of animal-human relations, many of Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 6.32.44 PMwhich were the stars of the stories in question. Would a human still be human if he mated with an animal? These anxieties accelerated the criminalization and strong public stance of bestiality, though it was not actually that common. As Courtney Thomas remarked, there was “… [a] discrepancy between the low number of people actually prosecuted for the crime and the comparatively high number of printed materials decrying bestiality as an oft-committed violence” (151). There were several cases of bestiality documented, but not as many as the religious extremist pamphlets would lead one to assume.
As a result of these churning times, the English regarded bestiality as the ultimate sin; unable to comprehend how humans could blur the human-animal divide. Throughout my research, I have returned to this question: did this shift in public perception and opinion happen because bestiality, being a hideous sin, created such a strong negative reaction (along with other sexual crimes like sodomy and masturbation)? Or because religious influences, motivated by extreme anxiety about the growing world, forced the issue? If religion had not been present in policing sexuality (i.e. not allowing church members to engage in masturbation, sodomy, and bestiality), some of the people persecuted for bestiality perhaps would not have done so. After all, it was an extreme form of deviance that happened in situations where there was no sexual reprieve for young unwed men. The church, by policing bodies and sexuality, encouraged what they aimed to destroy.
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Emily  is an English literature student at Ball State University. She hopes to go onto graduate school to pursue being a librarian.

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Image: “Half Dog, Half Human.” n.d. “Monstrous Acts: Bestiality in Early Modern England.” Jstor.org, Aug. 2000. Web. 26 Apr. 2014.

 

Amussen, Susan. “Punishment, Discipline, and Power: The Social Meanings of Violence in Early Modern England.” Journal of British Studies 34 (1995): 1-34.

 

Fudge, Erica. “Monstrous Acts: Bestiality in Early Modern England.” History Today 50.8 (2000): 20-25.

 

Thomas, Courtney. “‘Not Having God Before His Eyes’: Bestiality in Early Modern England.” Seventeenth Century 26.1 (2011): 149-73.

 


Law & Deviance: Defining Human Value(s)

By Emily C., Kali E., Sam I., Lisa K., and Erik P.

Our understanding of law and social policies in Early Modern England became clearer as we examined the legislation that intended to identify and punish sexual or religious deviants. With an eye to legal policy, the following research series focuses on intersections among bestiality, sodomy, lycanthropy, witchcraft, and fairies. Our collective research shows that the presence of these seemingly disparate categories of deviance ties figures in each group together, insofar as each threatened English communities’ social conventions and their perception of what constituted a wholly human body under law.

This collection of research looks at the following deviancies and what questions arise. For example homosexual and bestial acts, both considered sodomy under English law, were punishable by death because they violated religious expectations linked to human sexuality. These acts were “unnatural,” as they could never result in the birth of children; worse, they could result in the production of prodigies, or of human/beast hybrids. Laws on lycanthropy resembled sodomy to some extent; but differed in that the deviance was considered a mental rather than physical illness. Still, like sodomy, it could warrant the death penalty.

Laws on witchcraft and the occult were complicated because some figures identified were charged while others were not. For example, John Dee was a prominent philosopher, but also an Occultist. While others of less educational or social status were punished for similar activities, John Dee was free to do as he pleased. Similarly, people could be accused of associating with fairies. In this time period, fairies were thought to be ‘devil spirits,’ often termed familiars, with the ability to corrupt the human soul. Those accused of interacting with fairies were, by definition, corrupting their souls and threatened the sanctity of their human bodies.

What all of these research topics have in common is that a social minority  posed some sort of threat to what was considered mainstream. Our research aims to clarify why, how, and to what extent did these laws  effect the people they targeted.


Regan & Goneril: The Bestial Daughters of Lear

By Lauryn W.
Shakespeare uses animal comparisons in King Lear to explore how Lear’s daughters, Regan and Goneril, “sink below the level of beasts” in their actions toward their father (Taylor 532-533). Lear breaks the law of primogeniture when he divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, who claim to love him most. As a result, Regan and Goneril are able to function beyond the laws of coverture, performing injustices upon their father.
After Goneril, Lear’s eldest daughter, denies her father of his wishes, Lear compares her to a creature of prey, hoping to receive more compassion from her younger sister: “O, Regan, she hath tied Sharp-toothed unkindness like a vulture, here” as he indicates his heart (Shakespeare 2.4.134). According to Alan Dent, “the Vulture […] hates us living and loves us dead”, thus Lear’s reference to Goneril as a vulture not only serves to implicate her as bestial, but also indicates her ill feelings for Lear (149). Feelings that she allows to show only after she has married and been given her part of the kingdom.
Regan is also implicated as inhuman, though since few direct animal references are made toward her, inferences must be drawn from her actions to denote her bestial nature. In Act 3 Scene 7, as Cornwall attempts to pluck a second eye from Gloucester’s head, one of his servants interferes: “Hold your hand, my lord!” (Shakespeare 3.7.72). For this outburst of defiance against Cornwall, Regan kills the servant, stabbing him from behind with a sword. In this instance, Regan uses the element of surprise in order to commit the murder, just as a cat would in attacking its prey. However, Regan’s motives for attacking are not defensive or used as a survival tactic as an animal’s attack would be. Instead, Regan is motivated purely by her brash anger toward the situation.Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 11.11.47 AM
Prior to his misfortunes at the hand of Cornwall, Gloucester, like Lear, also alludes to Regan and Goneril’s animalism, foreshadowing his fate. In speaking to Regan he says, “I would not see thy cruel nails / Pluck out [Lear's] poor old eyes, nor thy fierce sister / In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs” (3.7.55-57). Regan’s nails are referred to as “cruel”, meaning, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “destitute of kindness or compassion.” As both kindness and compassion are traits of humanness, calling Regan’s nails “cruel” strips her of her humanity. Gloucester’s more blatant reference to Goneril’s “boarish fangs” depicts Lear’s eldest daughter as a vicious animal unwilling to be merciful toward anyone, even her own family. This passage denotes both sisters, as Taylor states, “are the diabolically evil beasts of Shakespeare” (533).
Shakespeare’s King Lear is driven greatly by the idea of bestial man, particularly when the actions of Lear’s two elder daughters, Regan and Goneril, are called into question. Both daughters turn their father away, denying him the rights a former king and father are entitled to. Regan and Goneril’s denial of Lear goes against the laws of primogeniture and coverture, as both women were given halves of their father’s kingdom and took majority control. As each one of Lear’s requests are denied by his fiendish daughters, his patriarchal position depletes, and he too is stripped of his humanness as he descends into madness.
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Lauryn. is currently a senior at Ball State University in Indiana, majoring in Creative Writing and double minoring in Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies.
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Image: Earlom, Richard. King Lear, act I, scene I. 1792. Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection.Folger Shakespeare Library. Web. 26 April 2014.
Bibliography:
“cruel, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 20 April 2014.
Dent, Alan. World of Shakespeare: Animals & Monsters. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1972. Print.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. Grace Ioppolo. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2008. Print.
Taylor, George Coffin. “Shakespeare’s Use of the Idea of the Beast in Man.” Studies in Philology 42.3 (1945): 530-543. JSTOR. Web. 5 Feb 2014.

BAREFOOT GRANNIES: A Special Project to Promote Reproductive Health

By Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa (Guest Collaborator and ICOD Action Network Founder & Director)

In February 2014, our team started a journey to capture extraordinary stories about girls, women, and communities whose lives had been broken down after being forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation. Our journey took us to some of East Africa’s most remote communities where health and social services are almost entirely broken. It’s been a journey that has helped bring unique stories about these communities out to the world. It’s been a journey that has inspired us to work harder to end Female Genital Mutilation and build safer communities for girls and women.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 2.45.51 PMWe recently launched another unique model called the Barefoot Grannies to create sustainable change in communities where we work through grassroots activism.  The Barefoot Grannies is a federation of 8 grassroots organizations comprised of 219 grannies in Northeastern Uganda’s Karamoja region working to end Female Genital Mutilation and promote women’s reproductive health and girl-child education. The grannies are leading efforts to change their communities’ perspective about women’s rights and ensure equal rights all women no matter where they live.

Education is key to producing a sense of human value for oneself and for others. Through technical support, resource allocation, mentorship, leadership training, and network building, we are building this sense of value and aiding the federation into producing exceptional grassroots leaders capable of moving their communities forward. We have worked with grassroots organizations for the past 5 years and achieved amazing results, we are glad to be working with the Barefoot Grannies to build safer communities for girls and women in Northeastern Uganda.

There is much left to be done. Anyone interested in assisting our project should seek information on The Barefoot Grannies Campaign.


In this special post, Performing Humanity is working in collaboration with the ICOD Action Network to spread awareness about world-wide women’s health issues and to assist in fundraising for victims of female genital mutilation. In line with our mission to explore political, linguistic, and philosophical issues surrounding definitions of humanness, we view human rights and women’s health issues as deeply embedded in social attitudes regarding Otherness.

Thank you to ICOD representative for joining us. Readers can locate further information via CHASING THE CUT – a documentary film about Female Genital Mutilation in East Africa.


“The Rape of Lucrece”: Female Silence in the Face of Male Domination

By Colleen T.
In Renaissance society, men held a position of power over women. However, male anxieties about women gaining an independent voice in society reflected the fear that women would no longer be under male control. To prevent this, men developed ways of dehumanizing and Othering women to ensure that they remained inferior. In Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece, Tarquin accomplishes this as he rapes Lucrece, dehumanizing and silencing her, ultimately showing the ways that men in Renaissance society could control female independence with dominant and animalistic behavior.
Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 11.07.10 AM
Interestingly, as Sara Quay says in her article, “Feminist scholars have been especially interested in ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ because of the extent to which Shakespeare develops Lucrece and explores the impact the rape has on her” (3). Despite Tarquin’s success in dehumanizing and raping Lucrece, she spends almost half of the poem speaking independently. In an attempt to stop Tarquin, she uses rhetoric to persuade him not to ruin his own honor or set a sinful example for future generations: “wilt thou be the school where lust shall learn? / Must he in thee read lectures of such shame? / Wilt thou be glass wherein it shall discern / Authority for sin, warrant for blame” (617-620). Strategically, she attempts to prevent the loss of her own honor by showing concern for his instead.
 
However, as Katharine Eisaman Maus’ article mentions, the poem has an “insistent concern with the relationship between sex and power” (66). The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare describes what happens when Lucrece tries to regain power and stop Tarquin from raping her: “Challenged, he tells her, drawing his sword, that if she refuses him he will kill her and a slave, making it appear he caught them in bed together, whereas if not she can keep his violation a secret” (Dobson n.pag). He threatens her reputation, using violence and domination to silence her. He then takes Lucrece’s chastity, the quality of humanness which serves as her only real social power, allowing him to dehumanize her and assert his superiority as a man.
Despite Lucrece’s opinionated, educated, rhetorical voice throughout the poem, she still allows Tarquin to silence her in many ways. Rather than blaming Tarquin for her rape, Lucrece remains silent, and instead blames many other factors. She blames Night for her rape when she says, “[v]ast sin-concealing chaos […] O hateful, vaporous, and foggy Night, / Since thou art guilty of my cureless crime” (767-772). She blames the Night’s darkness for concealing the beast within man. She also blames Opportunity and Time, saying, “O opportunity, thy guilt is great: / ‘Tis thou that execut’st the traitor’s treason; / Thou sets the wolf where he the lamb may get; / Whoever plots the sin, thou point’st the season” (876-879). She implies in these lines that men are not expected to control themselves if they have the opportunity to rape a woman, as Opportunity makes it simple for the man who “plots the sin.” Worst of all, Lucrece blames herself, not for losing her own honor, but for losing her husband’s; she says to Collatine, “Yet I am guilty of thy honour’s wrack” (841). To rid her husband of this shame, Lucrece finally decides to kill herself, allowing Tarquin’s actions to permanently silence her.
Although Lucrece challenges Tarquin’s power through her rhetoric in the poem, she allows him to silence and dominate her through his animalistic, violent behavior, ultimately making this a poem reflective of male dominance and female silence the face of it.
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Colleen is a recent graduate of Ball State University with a major in literature and a minor in creative writing.
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Bibliography
Image: Faithorne, William. The fates decree, that tis a mighty wrong. 1665. Folger Shakespeare LibraryDigital Image Collection (LUNA). Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/detail/FOLGERCM1~6~6~266617~117887:The-fates-decree,-that-tis-a-mighty>
Dobson, Michael, and Stanley Wells. “Rape of Lucrece, The.” The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference, 2003. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Maus, Katharine Eisaman. “Taking Tropes Seriously: Language and Violence in Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece.” Shakespeare Quarterly 37.1 (1986): 66-82. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.
Quay, Sara E. “’Lucrece the chaste': The Construction of Rape in Shakespeare’s ‘The Rape of Lucrece.’”Modern Language Studies 25.2 (1995): 3-17.
Shakespeare, William. “The Rape of Lucrece.” The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems. Ed. Colin Burrow. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 237-338. Print.

Racial Othering in Shakespeare’s “Othello”

By Allyson H.
In Othello, Shakespeare uses the titular character to explore the Othering that dark-skinned people would have faced in Elizabethan England. Through the story of Othello, Shakespeare simultaneously reinforces and tears down racial Othering. Othello himself is a man of color in a powerful position: a general in the Venetian army. Othello has control over other soldiers, and his men trust him and treat him with respect. By putting the character of Othello into a position of power, and by making him kind and respected, Shakespeare calls to mind the idea that racial Others may not be as bad as the general population believed. By the end of the play, however, Othello has been reduced back into a stereotype. He has fallen from power and is now considered a monster for having killed his wife. In an act of stereotypically violent rage, Othello is reduced back to the dark-skinned Other that Elizabethan audiences had expected to see all along. In the end, Othello has lost the respect of those around him and has been reduced to his “proper” place at the bottom of society. But, by calling those thoughts into question in the first place, Shakespeare questions the validity of stereotypes. His play brings to attention the idea that racial Others were not as inhuman as they appeared; but in an effort keep his audience in a comfortable place, he returns to the stereotypical view of those Others at the end of the play.
A person of color in a position of power was something almost unheard of in Elizabethan England, due to the way in which the general population treated those viewed as racially Other. Those who came from racial backgrounds other than English were seen as lesser than the English people, based mostly on a religious views. People’s “hostility would be encouraged by the widespread belief in the legend that blacks were descendants of Ham in the Genesis story, punished for sexual excess by their blackness” (Cowhig). Racial Others typically had religions that were unfamiliar, causing the Christian public to believe that those Others were from barbaric societies. By calling them heathens, English imposed an image of wildness and inhumanness that justified the poor the treatment of dark skinned people and linked them back to animals.
The stereotype of a violent dark-skinned Other is played up even by the men who played Othello on the stage. It must be remembered that during Elizabethan times, Othello would have been played by a white man. The audience would have been painfully aware of the fact that the actor was white. The actor would have used many techniques to show the audience that he was meant to be playing a dark-skinned Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 11.02.32 AMperson, one of which being “the covering of the actor’s body with black cloth, its function being to materialize the imagined black bodies of real Africans existing in the world outside” (Smith 4). The men who played the part of Othello frequently spoke of feeling that “Othello’s tremendous passion overtakes and even overwhelms the actor who plays him, and ‘swells’ or ‘surges’ out” (Marks 101).
The men who played the role of Othello fully believed in the stereotype of the angry, passionate, dark-skinned Other to the point where they themselves felt overwhelmed by those feelings while on the stage. This creates an odd juxtaposition of the actors who fully believe the stereotypes against the content of the play that implies that Shakespeare himself felt as though those stereotypes were unbiased and untrue.
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Allyson is a graduating senior at Ball State University. She is majoring in Literature, with a minor in Theatrical Studies.
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Image: Small, William. Othello, Mr. Irving and Miss Bateman performing at the Lyceum, act IV, scene 2. 1876. Folger Shakespeare Library. luna.folger.edu. Web. 28 April 2014.
Cowhig, Ruth. “Blacks in English Renaissance Drama and the Role of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’.” Shakespeare for StudentsCritical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays and Poetry. Detroit: Gale, 1992. Student Resources in Context. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.
Marks, Elise. “”Othello/me”: Racial Drag and the Pleasures of Boundary-Crossing with Othello.” Comparative Drama 35.1 (2001): 101-23. Project Muse. Web.
Smith, Ian. “Othello’s Black Handkerchief.” Shakespeare Quarterly. 64.1 (2013): 1-25. Project MUSE. 26 Feb 2014. Web.

Gendered & Racial Others: Dehumanization in Shakespearean Literature

By Allyson H., Tabitha H., Colleen T., and Lauryn W.
During the Renaissance, high anxieties circulated concerning women and racial Others gaining independence or rising to positions of power. To combat these anxieties, men and dominant racial groups attempted to assert their power by defining what qualities made one person superior to others.
 
Historically, anxieties about women stemmed from the Biblical condemnation of Eve. As a result, upper class white males in Renaissance society attempted to control women’s independence of voice and action through laws like primogeniture and coverture, which placed women under the control of a man—either her father or her husband. Conduct literature was also produced to teach women how to behave in public.
 
Anxieties about “tawny-skinned” people in Shakespearean England also stemmed from the Bible story of Ham, who “committed a sin against his father Noah that condemned his supposedly black descendants to be ‘servants unto servants’” (Frederickson n.pag). As a result, feelings of distrust and hostility toward black people were fairly common, causing them to be Othered in society. Black-skinned people of the time had many stereotypes attributed to them, such as being quick to anger but full of pride and courage. Shakespeare calls these stereotypes into question.

During this course, our group focused on these anxieties in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. The dehumanization of women and the attempt to combat female power occurs in works like The Rape of Lucrece, King Lear, and The Taming of the Shrew. Additionally, Othello focuses on issues of a racial Other in a position of power, and the stereotypes that can be used to prove the Other’s inferiority. Each text denotes the “inferiority” of Othered groups, ultimately expressing larger anxieties of white males who utilized dehumanization of women and racial Others to prevent their loss of power and superiority within Renaissance society.
 
Bibliography
Fredrickson, George. “The Historical Origins and Development of Racism.” PBS. PBS, 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.

The Bodies of Anatomical Theater

By Joe Z.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 7.05.33 PMEarly modern understandings of the human body’s functionality were closely tied to the dissections and vivisections of animals. One of the most fundamental bodily functions, the circulation of blood, was discovered by William Harvey as a direct result of these experiments  (Binkley 160). The need to understand human and animal bodies reaches beyond the simple desire to comprehend anatomical function, involving additionally the search for fundamental differences between how the categories of bodies operate. By knowing the difference between how animals and humans function, humans would justify not only their treatment of animals for entertainment, but both their use and consumption.
As Erica Fudge wrote, animals during this period were seen as “for human use.” The wool of the sheep, for example, was only being held on a sheep’s body through the season until it was needed by a human (Fudge 94,95). This leads to an interesting paradigm wherein animal dissections were used to better understand the functions of the human body, yet the anatomical differences found in the same dissections were used to solidify the differences between human and animal. These differences were then used to justify mistreatment, and they positioned animals as a means of entertainment or as a series of provisions, such as meat for food or pelts for clothing.
It is also of note how popular anatomical theaters became during this time, with public dissections becoming more common as a means of entertainment. This includes human dissections as well as animal. This fact serves to place human and animal corpses on the same level, as both were used to educate and entertain the audiences who would come to watch a dissection. Some anatomical theaters presentied the public dissections more as forms of natural art than a means of scientifically attempting to understand the processes behind life (Findlen  278). The use of human bodies as a means of entertainment much like those of other animals would likely have raised questions of dominance within the audiences watching the dissections take place.
These theaters provided the audiences of the time with the ability to see the internals parts of the body, and hear the theories of the time of how the pieces operated. Living animal subjects would also allow the audiences to see the organs in action, and help them not only understand the processes of their own bodies, the bodies of the living organisms around them. Audiences could see, first hand, the differences and similarities of the internal organs of humans and other animals, likely answering, and raising many questions of the difference between Homo sapiens and Animalia.  
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Joseph is a junior and creative writing major at Ball State University. He finds scientific movements during the early modern period to be particularly interesting.
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Binkley, Pauline E. “William Harvey, M.D. the Discoverer of the Circulation of the Blood.” The Illustrated Magazine of Art 1.3 (1853): 159-61. JSTOR. Web. 30 April. 2014.
Findlen, Paula. “Anatomy Theaters, Botanical Gardens, and Natural History Collections.” The Cambridge History of Science Volume 3: Early Modern Science. Ed. Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 272-280. Print.
Fudge, Erica. Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Print.
Vesalius, Andreas. De huma ni corporis fabrica. 1543. Boston Medical Library in the Fracis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Chsi.harvard.edu. Web. 1 May. 2014.  ​

From Wooden Amphitheaters to Actualized Body: The Progression of Anatomy & the Subsequent Evolution of Illustrating the Human Body

By Jared L.

Early anatomical theatres were temporary establishments: wooden amphitheaters where crowds could watch the dissections take place. Even when theatres became more established, permanent structures, the process and methods of anatomy were crude in the sense that they did not focus on the accuracy of the anatomy of the human body. The first public dissections were conducted by an assistant, while the professor of anatomy sat high above, reading from an aged text, all of which was performed in front of an audience. Sarton provides an excellent description when he writes, “The average professor had never done any dissection of his own and despised that kind of work [….] if the professor was of the true scholastic type (and he often was), he would have more confidence in his text than in the dissected body” (173-174). This reveals the state of mind of this time period, as anatomical professors were not concerned with progressing the discourse of anatomical discoveries, but rather reiterating established concepts, regardless of the accuracy. However, there still existed true anatomists who preferred to personally perform the dissections, such as Andreas Vesalius, who took a visceral approach to anatomy, and conducted his dissections himself, believing the physical body instead of the preceding texts. He viewed his practice as living art, involving the audience with the process and bringing the reality of the dissection much closer. The anatomist “exploited contemporary theatrical techniques, diminishing the distance between the lecturer and the audience by allowing the audience to handle the organs as he removed them from the body” (Findlen 276). This was a peak in the dawn of modern anatomy. Anatomists moved away from the distanced scholarly professor, who trusted solely the words of the textbook over true living evidence.
In addition to bringing about a newfound critical development of anatomy, Vesalius also helped pioneer a shift in artistic portrayal of anatomical discoveries. He published a book in 1543, titled The Fabric of the Human Body, which contained very detailed prints of his explorations and discoveries. This collaboration between science and art helped further the osmosis of ideas and concepts. It had reached a point when, “men of science had been gradually trained not to be satisfied with words; they wanted to see things, to see them clearly…in their wholeness and surroundings” (Sarton 177). This marks the definite progression in anatomical practice, and subsequently the accuracy in which it was captured and portrayed. It was more visceral and progressive, with discoveries in accordance with detailed images. It is also interesting to note the work of work of Charles Estienne, or Carolus Stephanus, a French artist who published several books in medicine, agriculture, and classics. Most notable to this article were his books containing prints of staged anatomized bodies. Kemp writes, “The figures – whether men acting out heroic dramas in grand settings such as all’antica landscapes, or women anatomized in bedrooms – correspond in tone to the author’s definition of the nobility and grandeur of the human estate in relation to God’s creation” (196). When viewed through this perspective, it’s interesting to see how art was able to transcend the status of the human body, still relating them to “God’s creation,” regardless that the soul was gone, thus making them nothing more than cold machines.
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The provided image is an illustration by Stephaus titled, “De dissectione partium corporis humani,” details a pregnant woman with her torso open in dissection. When analyzed through Kemp’s viewpoint, the image inherits an almost celestial quality, as the woman is preserved in an act of perpetuating human life, and perpetuating God’s creation through the human body. As anatomy became more accurate, and artistic renderings became more realistic, art still possessed the ability to immortalize the body in a state of beautification and transcendence. Man was able to actualize his corporeal self, and preserve these discoveries through art, while still allowing the human body to remain connected to God and divine above other animals.
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Jared Lynch is a senior at Ball State University, where he is majoring in English with a focus in creative writing. He was recently published in the inaugural issue of the Digital Literature Review, where he also served as head of the Design team.
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Bibliography
Image: Estienne, Charles. De dissectione partium corporis humani. 1545. Woodcut. “Gallery: Dream Anatomy.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 30 April 2014.
Findlen, Paula. “Anatomy Theaters, Botanical Gardens, and Natural History Collections.” The Cambridge History of Science Volume 3: Early Modern Science. Ed. Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 272-280. Print.
Kemp, Martin. “Style and non-style in anatomical illustration: From Renaissance Humanism to Henry Gray.”Journal of Anatomy 216 (2010): 192-208. Online.
Sarton, George. Six Wings: Men of Science in the Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957. Print.

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