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.  
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.
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. 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.
 Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 6.58.48 PM
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.
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.
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.

Dominance Against All Evidence

By Gus G.

For some, the Renaissance is a time of incredible intellectual leaps and bounds; and in many regards it was. Yet there were also aspects of that time that we can consider primitive. Numerous examples exist in which early modern people formulated scientific and social ideas despite what contrary evidence lay in front of their faces. This is the case with contemporary approaches to science, prior to the popular emergence of methodical scientific experimentation. Methodical experimentation was still a largely new idea (Binkley). The slow embrace of the scientific method, I argue, allowed dominant white, anglican, male groups to strategically ignore evidence of racial and gendered equality in order to position themselves as a higher form of humanity.


One of the strongest incidences of this phenomenon exists in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  All evidence within the text points to the fact that Ariel should be much more dominate than Prospero. Ariel was on the Island well before Prospero, and Ariel has magical powers that seem much more powerful than Prospero’s insofar as Prospero relies upon them for his dominance. Ariel causes much of the pandemonium in the play, afterall. Prospero’s (and the audience’s) clear disregard for those in submissive positions shows much about Renaissance mentalities. Even if all evidence points to Ariel being of at least equal or more power, the white male is the established dominant figure.


Similarly, the relationship between Prospero and Caliban shows a warped view of humanity. Caliban, like Ariel, predated Prospero on the island. He was capable of speech, forethought, and reading even before his Western education at the hands of Miranda. With all of these traits stacked up to affirm his humanness and  equality to Prospero, how could he still be considered lesser than Prospero? This is another example of how a Renaissance mindset was not to consider the evidence first, but to reinforce previous beliefs about humanity that were based in self-invested tradition. Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 6.52.21 PM

How else do we see this ignorance towards evidence relating to humanness in the Renaissance? People’s perception of animals also exemplifies the ignoring of hard evidence in order to establish dominance. In an article by Katherine Acheson, published in Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, a Renaissance illustration of Aesop’s Fables reveals a lot about how humans relate to animals. The image is an illustration by Francis Barlow of the story “The Hunted Beaver” (one of the fables) from 1687 (Acheson 36). We see in the image that the beaver has only a few specific characteristics of a beaver. It resembles a generic water rodent such as an otter or ferret, or even a dog. This ambiguous anatomy shows how animals were deprived of that which made them valuable and gives humans a pass to dominate them. Renaissance illustrators ignored the evidence of a beaver’s specific and unique anatomy. As long as these unique qualities were ignored animals could be exploited.

A final example could be mankind’s reliance on animals to survive. Erica Fudge takes a look at how it is that humans could rely so much on animal products, such as wool without acknowledging the animal as having value. How can humans separate themselves from animals when they rely so heavily on them? To get even deeper into the matter, what does it mean for a human when they have to rely on an animal’s skin because human skin is not enough (Fudge np).


Gus is a sophomore studying English Education  at Ball State University, and he hopes teach after graduation. His favorite piece of Renaissance literature is Shakespeare’s The Tempest. When he’s not immersed in British Literature, he enjoys playing basketball and running.


​IMAGE in Acheson, Katherine. “THE PICTURE OF NATURE: Seventeenth-Century English Aesop’s Fables.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 9.2 (2009): 25-50. JSTOR. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <>.

​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. 23 Feb. 2014. <;.

Fudge, Erica. “Renaissance animal things.” New Formations 76.  2012: 86+. Literature Resource Center.  Web.  27 Feb. 2014.

Bodily Intersections: Artistic & Scientific Renderings of (Non)Humans

By Gus G., Rebecca H., Jared L., Joe Z.


Throughout the semester, we researched the intersecting development of realism in science and art during the English Renaissance. Specifically, we focused attention to how anatomical dissections caused a shift toward more realistic portrayals of human and animal anatomy in artistic texts. The Renaissance saw the rise of anatomical theaters, which indicated an increased interest in methodological science. Prior to this time, anatomy was theoretical in nature, insofar as professors studying the body had more confidence in their books than in the physical evidence before them. Even if a physical dissected body differed from the text, professors privileged images found in their books over the  dissected evidence.  Thus, the first public dissections were conducted in this manner: a professor of anatomy sat high above, reading from an aged text, while below an assistant performed the physical dissection, all of which was conducted in front of an audience.

The influential scientist Francis Bacon pioneered the scientific method that influenced later research in the period–and this method shaped continued inquiry today. Following in Bacon’s footsteps, William Harvey, using the same scientific method, discovered that blood circulates through the body. Prior to this moment, no scientists embraced the idea that blood left the heart and then circulated back . These discoveries challenged commonly held beliefs about the connection between animals and humans.  Similarities between animals and humans led scholars to doubt the superiority of humans.

During the English Renaissance, curiosity about anatomy led to a greater interest in more realistic portrayals of anatomy in methodological science and paintings. Previously, illustrators were significantly less concerned with an accurate representation of animal anatomy. The representations were more allegorical and less about realistically portraying the actual animal. For example, illustrations of Aesop’s fables might depict a beaver as being indistinguishable from a medium sized dog. The Renaissance saw a rise in accurate artistic representations of both human and animal anatomy.

Folkore, Religion & Revenge: The Transformation of Ghosts in Shakespeare

By Hannah V.

Many of the ghosts portrayed in literature and drama before the Renaissance alluded to the underworld or a certain “hell” of some sort. This folklore linked to Medieval England planted similar ideas into Elizabethan audience members, suggesting that the deceased who allegedly roamed Earth at night were damned, haunting citizens until they could rest in peace. Perceptions changed, however,when  the Catholic Church Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 5.16.50 PM  created the concept of Purgatory to explain this strange “haunting” phenomenon parishioners claimed to see (Moorman 197). While many of the works before Shakespeare’s time referenced a Senecan theme when representing ghosts, Shakespeare gave spirits a more Protestant outlook (196). Most were placed as catalysts for tactical revenge plots, figures bent on correcting the wrongdoings that caused their demises. Thus Shakespeare gave his phantoms more important roles in his theatrical works. The ghosts plaguing Brutus, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Richard III had speaking roles and personality (192). What’s more, the apparitions were claiming revenge for the Greater Good rather than simply personal vengeance; they aimed to uphold social hierarchies, to overthrow the villains that had killed them and to give power to those who were in the right. These themes reinforced other subplots in the plays that the murderers of these spirits were later confronted with; for example, Brutus experiences failure after the ghost of Caesar predicts it. Macbeth and Richard III are both murderers, where both experience a guilty conscience from the appearance of their victims (Stoll, 202).
Prior to Shakespeare’s time, ghosts were portrayed as orbs of light or unrecognizable shapes; they had no human characteristics whatsoever. Shakespeare also changed this conception radically. The ghosts on the Elizabethan stage were human in form, appearing as they did after death just as they would when they were still living. If poisoned, their bodies would be plagued with lesions, if stabbed, the wounds still bloody.  For example, “C. H. Herford states: “More nearly than any other figure…moves with supernatural exemptions from the bonds of space and time, seems ‘not like the inhabitants of earth and yet is on’t’” (Smith, 1004). The human-like qualities these nonhuman figures possessed throughout the plays questioned what happened to a person after death. Some believed a person’s spirit could roam the Earth as long as their body was still available—many criminals’ bodies and such other victims’ bodies were cremated to rid the chance that the spirit could come back (Stoll).
The ghosts in Shakespeare raise many questions about humanness after death. The King of Denmark is portrayed still wearing his armor, as if he were riding into battle. Hamlet’s father shows affection towards Gertrude, even though she was partially responsible for his demise (Moorman, 200). Their ability to speak, persuade, to feel, as well as having an initiative to seek out the ones that murdered them, gave them qualities of humanness and humanity that other literary ghosts before the early modern era did not have. This innovative way of portraying life after death, that one could still remain human even if the body perished, pushed the envelope of acceptable culture in Renaissance England. What began as folklore, then a religious explanation, finally became a major part of Shakespeare’s success. We can see the trail Shakespeare’s ghost began, a trend that is still occurring in literature and drama today, with ghosts and spirits claiming characteristics of humanness with their speech and actions towards other human beings.
Hannah is currently a student at Ball State University studying Creative Writing with a minor in Professional Writing and Emerging Medias. She is hoping to attend graduate school after her graduation next May.She is also an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan, and enjoys being outside and reading.
Image: Griffin, Caitlin. “The Ghost of Hamlet.” Digital image. Folger Shakespeare Library. N.p., 28 Oct. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <;.
Moorman, F.W. “Shakespeare’s ghost.” Modern Language Review. 1.3 (1906): 192-201. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.
Smith, Fred Manning. “The Relation of Macbeth to Richard III.” PMLA. 60.4 (1945): 1003-20. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.
Stoll, Elmer Edgar. “The Objectivity in the Ghosts of Shakespeare.” PMLA. 22.2 (1907): 201-233. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.


Fairies in the Renaissance: Excuses for Human Failure

By Melissa S.

Anxieties in Renaissance times allow us to pinpoint how humans create creatures resembling themselves but with ‘non-human’ Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 6.39.41 PMattributes in order to feel superior and to ‘Other’ unfavorable behaviors. Fairly lore can contribute to this conversation. A “Fairy” is defined as “one of a class of supernatural beings having human form, to whom are traditionally attributed magical powers and who are thought to interfere in human affairs (with either good or evil intent)” (OED). This description, which involved both humanoid and non-human attributes, raises the question of what differentiates those categories. Does having a human-like shape define a human? Or does a creature with magic automatically get categorized with non-humans?
Fairies are often further linked to issues of human form, human deformity, and non-physical human spirits in fairyland. The game of blaming any creature but humans is how changeling lore came to be. For example, the changeling, a creature that “could steal human babies and substitute one of their own race” was also a figure that would “never thrive, remaining small, wizened, mentally abnormal, and ill tempered” (Simpson). This changeling creature provided an outlet for parents who had “abnormal” children, in both physical and mental senses, and it provided a non-human agent on which to place the blame. In a time where mothers could be accused of looking too much at an animal if her child came out with animalistic features, the idea of the changeling gave women a way to shake such blame. As Slights – in his article about the changeling in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – calls the changeling a “violator of the shifting but ever-present boundary between human and other worlds” we can even see a shift in blame to a completely different world (Slights 269). To them, fairies are so other that they don’t even live in the same world as we do – making them that much more susceptible to blame.
The other anxiety grouped with the fairylore is that of the human spirit and how it could be lost to the other world. As Wilby reports, for example:
Transition into the fairy world was believed to occur either “in body’ (during which, to mortal eyes, the physical body either completely disappeared or was replaced with a fairy or fairy “stock”) or “in spirit.” In the latter case, it was only the spiritual part of the human (which in Christian terms would be called the soul) which went into fairyland, leaving the material body behind, an event which generally occurred when the human was dreaming, sick, or in some kind of trance.     (Wilby 291) 
The clash of Christian beliefs and fairylore created even more tension, and humans wondered what would become of the soul that defined, according to some, their humanity. The long-stereotyped idea of making contracts for your soul came from similar origins and many accounts of fairies will include a trip to fairyland where the human either struggled to make it back or succumbed to the magic – their souls trapped forever there.
Overall, fairies were the creation of guilty humans who needed a non-human creature to place blame upon. They – along with witches, spirits, werewolves, androgynous creatures, and other magical creatures – were put on the stage to humiliate and laugh at so that humans could pretend that the actions they portrayed were strictly characteristic of their non-humanness (Wilby 293).
Melissa is a 2014 graduate of Ball State University with a BA in Creative writing. She intends on opening her own childcare business in the near future and hopes to continue to write and publish.
“fairy, n. and adj.”. OED Online. December 2013. Oxford University Press. 4 March 2014 <>.
Simpson, Jacqueline and Steve Roud. “changelings.” A Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford University Press, 2003.Oxford Reference. 2003. Date Accessed 22 April 2014.
Slights, William W. E. “The Changeling in A Dream.” Studies in English Literature 28.2 (1988): 259-272.
Swann, Marjorie. “The Politics of Fairylore in Early Modern English Literature.” Renaissance Quarterly. 53.2 (2000): 449-473.
Wilby, Emma. “The Witch’s Familiar and the Fairy in Early Modern England and Scotland.” Folklore111.3 (2000): 283-305.

Perceptive Beavers: How Science Challenged the Myth

By Rebecca H.

The English Renaissance reveals a significant change in approaches to anatomy and artistic realism.  Science changed from a theoretical science to a more methodological process. The ideas of Francis Bacon became the standard for researchers who used his scientific method to challenge common myths (Fudge 92).  In the Baconian way of thinking, “tangible proof becomes central and the methods of experimentation are used to avoid the potential failings of the human mind acting alone” (Fudge 92).  Experiments became accepted as factual evidence more than popular beliefs.  A clear example of this move toward actuary science and representation is the image of  “The Hunted Beaver”.   Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 6.52.21 PM
Prior to the Renaissance, images of animals were not always anatomically correct.  This image demonstrates the changes the Renaissance brought to the artistic depiction of beavers. Beavers were commonly depicted as dogs, but this image shows the shift toward realism in the visible difference between the dogs and beaver (Acheson 36).  This illustration shows the shorter legs and tail that differentiates the beaver from the dogs.  Another indicator of the move toward realism is the presence of water in the picture: the natural habitat of beavers (Acheson 36).  Previous illustrations of Aesop’s fables depicted the animals in androgynous scenes.  The move toward artistic realism was facilitated by anatomical discoveries. 
The story behind the image demonstrates the importance of anatomical knowledge. While Aesop’s fables were written previous to the Renaissance, they were still hunted and the subjects of poetry and paintings.  Beavers were hunted for the medicinal purposes of their testicles and the fable claimed that beavers would bite off their testicles to save their lives (Acheson 33-34).  During the Renaissance, beavers were hunted for their testicles that contained the castoreum used as a painkiller.  In 1688, Claude Perrault’s journal shows the impossibility of a beaver biting off its testicles.  Perrault describes the dissection of a beaver in which it was discovered, “the testicles of the Castor are concealed in the Groins” (Perrault 87).  There were “four great pouches fixed underneath the Os Pubis,” two of which were sacs for holding the castoreum (Perrault 86).  Using the scientific method, scientists realized it was impossible for beavers to bite off their testicles because they were under the skin and, furthermore; castoreum did not come from the testicle, but separate sacs. 
This discovery challenged what Early Modern people believed about beavers.  In the fable, the beaver knows why he is being hunted and knows what to do to survive.  Beavers were given human reasoning, and the lines between human and animal were blurred.   Learning the anatomy of beavers gave humans the power of understanding and the perceived capabilities of beavers were no longer believed.  Francis Bacon believed, “[h]uman knowledge and human power meet in one,” and the new knowledge about beavers returned the ability to act on danger back to humans (Fudge 93).  Thus, anatomical knowledge changed people’s perceptions of beavers and how they were depicted.    
Rebecca is a junior studying English Literature at Ball State University.  Through this performing humanity project, she has learned how interest in animal and human relations spurred science and art movements. 
Image: Barlow, Francis. “The Hunted Beaver.” Illustration. (1666). “THE PICTURE OF NATURE: 
Seventeenth-Century English Aesop’s Fables”.  JSTOR. Web. 1 May 2014.
Acheson, Katherine. “THE PICTURE OF NATURE: Seventeenth-Century English Aesop’s Fables.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 9.2 (2009): 25-50. JSTOR. Web. 1 May. 2014. <>.
Fudge, Erica. “Calling Creatures by their True Names: Bacon, The New Science and the Beast in Man.”  At the Borders of the Human: Beasts, Bodies and Natural Philosophy in the Early Modern Period.  Eds. Erica Fudge, Ruth Gilbert, Susan Wiseman. Basingstoke: Macmillan (1999):  91-109.  
Perrault, Claude. “Memoir’s for a Natural History of Animals: Containing the Anatomical Descriptions of Several Creatures Dissected by the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris”.  Science and Technology, (2011): 83-90. University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.  Web. 1 May 2014.  <>.

Purposes of Magic in Early Modern Literature & Drama

By Evan P.

Magic in Early Modern literature in drama typically served two main purposes: as allegorical, and as a way to separate humans from other beings in nature, including animals and plants.  Edmund Spenser’s 1596  The Faerie Queene, an epic in praise of the English monarch, participated in popularizing the use of mythological beings as allegories.  For example, scholar Joel Davis makes the case that Spenser’s poem The Faerie Queene isn’t a tale of magic at all, but that it is meant to be read as a praise of Elizabeth I (734).
Yet his poem blended the purposes of magical creatures, as he additionally used them to calm anxieties concerning animals’ place below humans in the world.  In this sense, allegory and separation also made magic and mythical beasts a means to elevate humans above animals and nature.
During the time period there was constant anxiety concerning animals.  Did these beings have souls, logic, rationality, and a conscience?  Magic was considered something that an animal could never control in the same ways that the humans portrayed in literature and drama could.  The use of magic was a major way to set humans apart and place them on a pedestal of power that animals could never reach: “magic is first of all, and most basically, a response to the estrangement between the inner life of the self and its ‘external’, material embodiment and relations; or, to put it another way, to the fact that human beings, unlike animals and natural objects, do not coincide with themselves” (Mutter 60).  Humans, unlike animals and natural objects, were in control over the elements.  While animals were strikingly similar to humans especially in allegorical situations, thus sparking the anxiety amongst humans, magic provided a false sense of hope to Early Modern audiences that they had higher intellect and more control.Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 5.04.45 PM
Likewise, we see a surge of other forms of magic to help humans control their environments.  Alchemy and astrology, for example, were both means by which humans in literature and drama of the Renaissance were seen using their control to manipulate forces lower than them.  Alchemy was the Elizabethan search for the elixir of life, a way to cheat death, and also a way to turn metal into gold, a way to gain riches.  Astrology was using the solar system to predict the future, another way for humans to gain a sense of control.  We also see humans manipulating their natural environments.  For example, the higher the landscape, such as cliffs and mountains, the more references we see to the heavens and higher beings.  As Lisa Hopkins writes, the natural settings of these works were often seen as “a collapsing of this world and the world beyond” (424).
There is more than meets the eye when it comes to magic in Early Modern literature and drama.  Magic was used allegorically and as a way to elevate humans above animals and the environment, helping calm the fears of humans in Elizabethan England.
Evan is a student at Ball State University.
Image Permission:
“Alchyma” from Konrad Gesner, The Practice of Old and New Phisicke, 1599. Courtesy of National Library of Medicine​.
Davis, Joel. “Fairy in The Faerie Queene: Renaissance Elf-Fashioning and Elizabethan Myth-Making.” Renaissance Quarterly. 58.2 (2005): 734-35. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.
Hopkins, Lisa. “The Places of the Gods On The English Renaissance Stage.” Philological Quarterly 89.4 (2010): 415-433. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.
Mutter, Matthew. ““The Power to Enchant That Comes from Disillusion”: W.H. Auden’s Criticism of Magical Poetics.” Journal of Modern Literature. 34.1 (2010): 58-85. Print.​

Crossing Boundaries: Androgynous Women in English Renaissance Society & Theatre

By Adrianna M.
During the English Renaissance, gender was an unstable concept. Gender categories were based on the Greek anatomist Galen’s one-sex model, which claimed that “men and women had the same anatomical structures [but that] women were simply less perfect men” (Howard “Introduction” 1595). According to the model, gender could shift depending on individual actions. In order to prevent gender shifts, English society commonly recommended strict guidelines for the masculine and feminine roles that men and women should respectively play. While both genders were affected, my work focuses specifically on women. Women were seen as property and were not to question the authority of their male “owner” (usually their father or husband). If a woman acted against these social expectations then she was considered androgynous because of how she blended physical and behavioral categories. Thus, the belief in unstable gender meant that there was no distinction between being an androgyne (person who exhibits qualities of both sexes) and a hermaphrodite (person who contains organs of both sexes).  Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.50.35 PM
Classical mythology depicted androgyny as a higher state of being; but in Renaissance society, androgynes were viewed more as monstrosities that threatened the desired “norm.” Female cross-dressers, as a result, were severely punished and accused “of being whores”, because not only did they change their dress but they used it to assert themselves in ways typically reserved for men (Howard “Crossdressing” 424).
In this world full of anxiety and restricting rules, “the theatre provided an arena where changing gender definitions could be displayed, deplored, or enforced and where anxieties about them could be expressed by playwrights” (Rackin 29). During the time all actors were male (since women were not supposed to speak in public), all female roles were performed by men. This created a double anxiety when it came to male actors playing female characters who cross-dressed, as in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth NightAs You Like ItThe Merchant of VeniceTwo Gentlemen of Verona, or Cymbeline. Yet androgyny could exist even when cross-dressing did not occur.  Recognition of a female characters’ androgyny “lies beneath the texture of the drama, in the male characters’ attitudes towards [them], and tends to surface when the woman attempts to assert herself, either in thought or action” (Hansen 11).
In The Merchant of Venice, for example, Portia’s and Jessica’s respective androgynous natures differ. On the one hand, Jessica’s cross-dressing hurts her father and, after she leaves (thus disobeying his authority), he cries “She is damned for it” (Shakespeare 3.1.27). She has asserted her own choice by leaving, thus becoming androgynous, and her dress while leaving reinforces this. On the other hand, Portia initially has no living paternal authority to deny. She asserts her own power in telling Bassanio to marry her, even before she cross-dresses. Not only does she assert her own authority later by cross-dressing and acting as a lawyer, but she also dominates Bassanio when he returns from Venice and she returns to her feminine costume. She tricks him into giving her his ring, but then interrogates him about it. In so doing, she dominates the relationship, symbolically taking on the masculine role regardless of her clothing. Portia’s cross-dressing saves Antonio, thus saving the play from overt tragedy, but Jessica’s transgression hurts her father. The difference we can see then is that Jessica went against her preexisting authority, while Portia had the ability to choose her authority. In Renaissance society both transgressions would be seen as monsterous, but Shakespreare makes it known that one is in fact worse than the other.
Adrianna studies Rhetoric and Writing, Literature, and Marketing at Ball State University.
Image: Larique, David. Sleeping Hermaphroditus. 1619. Greek marble. Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.  Apr. 2007. Web. 1 May 2014.
Hansen, Carol. Woman as Individual in English Renaissance Drama: A Defiance of the Masculine Code. New York: P. Lang, 1993.
Howard, Jean. ‘Introduction to As You Like It.’ Introduction. Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition.Ed.Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean Howard, and Katherine Maus. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997. 1595.
—. “Crossdressing, The Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England.” Shakespeare Quarterly 39.4 (1988): 418-40.
Rackin, Phyllis. “Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage.”  PMLA 102.1 (1987): 29-41.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. Leah S. Marcus. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2006.

Lycanthropy as a Mental Illness in Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi”

By Emily G.
In Renaissance England, werewolves represented societal anxieties about the relationship between a human’s body and mind. Although lycanthropy has many definitions, the most prominent comment upon transformations of man into wolf: a “werewolf.” Yet other definitions move away from the body, referring instead to the “delusion that one was capable of such transformations,” commonly known as lycanthropes (Hirsch). While the two definitions seem separate today, the distinction was less over in early modern England, where the terms were used interchangeably even after the idea of the werewolf fell out of use (Hirsch). By the end of the fifteenth century, the wolf was extinct in England, and the fear of wolves disappeared (Douglas 2); (Hirsch); (Douglas 231). Subsequently, so did the fear of werewolves. Theologians and demonologists admitted that actual animal-human transformation was impossible, claiming that even the devil could not transform a human into an animal (Wiseman 58). Thus, lycanthropy was understood most frequently as a mental illness in which the patient believed he or she had transformed into an animal. Physicians believed this phenomenon resulted from too much melancholy or an unnatural imbalance in one of the four humors of the body  (Douglas 231); (Hirsch).
John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi arrived on stage in 1614 to tell the story of Ferdinand, a melancholy lycanthrope (Wiseman 59). Although Ferdinand alludes to wolves frequently throughout the tragedy, as when he calls the Duchess’s children “cubs,”, he is not diagnosed by the Doctor until the final act: “A very pestilent disease, my lord,/ They call lycanthropia” (Webster 4.1.33); (Webster 4.2.5-6). However, if we assume that Ferdinand’s lycanthropy is induced by an excess of melancholy, we can further argue that his affliction actually begins after the Duchess’s murder in act four, when he says, “I bade thee, when I was distracted of my wits,/ Go kill my dearest friend, and thou hast done’t” (4.2.279-280). Although he ordered Bosola to murder his sister, he gets angry after the fact. When he says “I was distracted of my wits,” his language suggests that his madness has already begun. The illness takes a turn for the worst in act five. The Doctor mentions seeing “the duke, ’bout midnight in a lane/ Behind the Saint Mark’s church, with the leg of a man/ Upon his shoulder; and he howl’d fearfully;/ Said he was a wolf; only the difference was, a wolf’s skin was hairy on the outside,/ His on the inside” (Webster 5.2. 14-18).
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Lycanthropy represented many anxieties not only about the body, but the mind as well. If lycanthropy is the result of madness, are lycanthropes still responsible for their actions (Hirsch)? To simply consider the existence of the werewolf was to consider the state of the mind and soul, as well as the possibility of the human brain transcending into an animal one (Wiseman 58).  Many of the images, engravings, or sculptures of lycanthropes feature a horrifying hybrid creature that stands upright like a man but is nevertheless covered in fur from head to foot, with sharp claws and teeth. In the image above, the werewolf even has his jaws clamped down on a young woman. These depictions highlight society’s fear of the illness, and the anxiety that attackers could transform victims into such beasts as well. In fact, werewolves were considered more dangerous than regular wolves because they were a hidden threat (Hirsch). While wolves displayed their violence on the outside, covered in fur, lycanthropes were “hairy on the inside,” like Ferdinand suggests. In a sense, even though lycanthropes do not physically transform, they constantly blur the line between man and beast and the status of being human, causing anxieties about the body, mind, and soul during the English Renaissance.
Emily studies English Literature and Creative Writing as a junior at Ball State University.
Image: Douglas, Adam. “The class image of the bloodthirsty werewolf.” The Beast Within. London: Chapmans Publishing Ltd., 1992. Print.
Douglas, Adam. The Beast Within. London: Chapmans Publishing Ltd., 1992. Print.
Hirsch, Brett D. “An Italian Werewolf in London: Lycanthropy and the Duchess of Malfi.” Early Modern Literature Studies 11.2 (2005): 2-43. Web. 25 February 2014.
Webster, John. The Duchess of Malfi. Ed. John Russel Brown. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964. Print.
Wiseman, S.J. “Hairy on the Inside: Metamorphosis and Civility in English Werewolf Texts.” Renaissance Beasts: of Animals, Humans, and Other Wonderful Creatures . Ed. Erica Fudge. City of Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004. 50-69. Print.


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