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The Body & the Pen: Finding Synthesis between Art & Medicine

By Walter E., Tiffany M., Colin N., and Paige Z.
During the early modern period in England, science and art came together to compare the bodies of animals and humans. Discoveries from vivisections and dissections, which later shaped scientific drawings and textual descriptions, revealed that human and animal anatomies were more similar than previously believed. These early artistic displays of scientific examinations were important to the present and future, as those recordings set up a foundation on which later scientists could refer when documenting accurate representations of their work. Scientists of the time, including Edward Tyson, a founder of comparative anatomy, set the stage for further scientific and artistic blending for later scientists.

Until this point, medical practice was rooted in the Humoral Theory, a model utilized by Galen. The belief was that the human body was comprised of four parts (or humors): Blood, Phlegm, and Black and Yellow bile. Humors allowed medical surgeons like William Harvey and Edward Tyson to explain how the lungs and circulatory system operated, among other bodily functions. Yet continued use of vivisection and dissection began raising questions about the accuracy of previous theories; and scientists began to pinpoint the similarities and differences among human and animal biology, human and animal anatomy, and the degree to which humans could use body fluids and humors differentiate themselves and claim natural superiority. Though, while these methods of research seem antiquated in the 21st century, they were essential to the advancement of modern medicine and social advancements due to the aforementioned answers unveiled by these examinations. While science and art are often thought to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, with science as absolute thoughts and art showing free-thinking creativity, we have found a means of synthesizing of the two. In our research we have concluded that art and science cannot be treated as separate entities but instead that one lends to the other in that each helped progress the other to become more accurate in both rendering and execution.

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.

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.
Fredrickson, George. “The Historical Origins and Development of Racism.” PBS. PBS, 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 24 Apr. 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.

Cultural Fantasies & (Un)Acceptable Realities in Literature

By  Emily G., Adrianna M., Evan P., Melissa S., and Hannah V.

The research shaping our series of posts examines the social issues addressed in English Renaissance literature and drama. We have found that what was considered largely unacceptable in the “reality” of Early Modern England was welcomed onstage or in a work of literature, and that the job of art was not only to replicate a semblance of reality, but also to comment on what that social reality lacked. Since strict principles of hierarchy and subordination structured the culture of the time, playwrights and writers had the opportunity  either to challenge or to uphold the public’s expectations. They did this through the inclusion of half-human creatures and magical beings such as fairies, ghosts and spirits, androgynous humans, and werewolves.
All of the half-human creatures that we studied arose from social anxieties about the body; and they reflected a popular desire to separate “the human” from “the animal” and “the non-human.” Humans elevated some creatures above themselves, including as magical beings and fairies; meanwhile they shunned others as lesser, placing in this category spirits, androgynous humans, and werewolves. What tied these categories together is that many of the figures in both challenged anthropocentric views of humanity. What’s more, writers attempted to mitigate some anxieties by positioning non-human figures as plot devices: ghosts were commonly created for the purpose of revenge, androgyny was often depicted in a comedic light, and werewolves were considered human minds doomed to life in the body of an animal as punishment. These issues guided our research and led to questions of how non-human creatures alleviated or heightened the preexisting anxieties and how they were employed by or against humanity. A deeper understanding of these questions shaped our view that literature and drama used these half-human creatures to define humanity. ​

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