Monthly Archives: June 2014

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.​

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