[abstracts are ordered chronologically following the programme]

Parallel Sessions 1

1 | Emma Depledge (University of Geneva)

‘A Nest of Nunnes Egges, Strangely Hatched’: Pregnancy, Miscarriage, and Female Transgression in Anti-Catholic Propaganda of the late 1670s and early 1680s

This paper explores the presentation of pregnancy and miscarriage found in anti-Catholic works produced in response to the 1678 Popish Plot and an offshoot of the Popish Plot known as the Meal Tub plot.  By examining contemporary prints, pamphlets and plays, I wish to illustrate how pregnancy was used to undermine the virtue of Catholic martyr figures and portray the counter-Reformation as advancing in spaces that were both above suspicion and beyond the reaches of the naked eye. These documents often show priests impregnating Protestant women, while Catholic women are seen to be concealing and even faking pregnancy. One such account suggests that a female Catholic conspirator stuffed a bloody bladder inside of her vagina in order to appear pregnant and receive more lenient treatment on the pillory. In the majority of these narratives, the women’s plots go on to be exposed through miscarriage or monstrous births.

Accounts of notorious female figures, such as the (so-called) Popish Midwife, Elizabeth Cellier, and the legendary female prelate, Pope Joan, exploded into print in the wake of the Popish Plot and the Meal Tub Plot. Titus Oates’s 1678 claim to know of a Jesuit plot to kill the reigning monarch, Charles II, and replace him with the Catholic heir apparent, James, Duke of York, were followed by allegations that Catholics were conspiring to reverse Oates’s claims and instead implicate Presbyterians. Evidence of the latter conspiracy was allegedly found in a meal tub, or flour pot, in Cellier’s kitchen, thereby encouraging writers to make links between Catholic plotting and private female spaces, particularly spaces associated with Cellier’s profession of midwifery. I wish to argue that accounts of Cellier, Joan, and other female figures not only demonize female conception, concealment and delivery of Catholic plots, but also seem to celebrate miscarriage and monstrous births as ways of defending the nation from the Catholic threat. Anti-Catholic writers of the late 1670s and early 1680s can thus be seen to deploy problematic narrative patterns which vilify the unknowable female Catholic body, while simultaneously troping it as leaky and destined to expose its contents.

2 | Lucy Perry (University of Geneva)

‘ffendes-in-bedde, as our bokes sayn’ (Robert Mannyng’s Chronicle): Demonic Discourse, Demonic Intercourse, and the Birth of Merlin

In this paper I will take the demonic figure of the incubus to explore how traditions relating to the medieval church and folklore, law and custom, meet in the narrative space of both chronicle and romance. The belief in the existence of demonic beings which inhabit the air has its foundations in myth, but its persistence is encouraged by evidence that lies in books, as C. S. Lewis remarked, in antique philosophical enquiry and in the writings of the Church Fathers, rather than in observation.1 In trying to provide a rational explanation for the very human inability to suppress or contain bodily instincts, the Church Fathers endorsed the idea that men and women during their sleep were vulnerable to the carnal incontinence of demons. Nocturnal pollution was, as Dyan Elliot states, “the most compelling example of the postlapsarian body’s revolt against reason.”2 In the later medieval period these beliefs were bolstered by religious narratives of the seduction of men and women by demons. The dissemination of such reports made the field fertile for enquiries into witch-craft.

The figure of Merlin, a progeny of an incubus, is a character created in a secular fiction purporting to be historical truth, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. This account of the distant British past is deemed feasible and therefore accepted as accurate because of, not despite, those very superstitions and mentalities that it draws upon for its fiction. In the imagined world in which history and romance is played out and at chaotic narrative junctures which cannot be resolved according to a linear logic, events must be explained and justified through supernatural agency. Merlin is incorporated into this role, even at the point of his conception.

1. C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), pp. 2-3.

2. Dyan Elliot, Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), p. 35.

3 | Erzsi Kukorelly (University of Geneva)

Breeding Like Rabbits: Monstrous Generation and the Proliferation of Popular Print in Early Eighteenth-Century England

In the autumn of 1726, Mary Toft, a servant from near Godalming in Surrey, gave birth to seventeen baby rabbits as well as a few anatomical oddments of pig and cat. The polemic around this hoax grew acrimonious, and pamphlets flew in all directions. In recent years, the event has received much attention from cultural and medical historians – one critic states that it “has become something of a staple in recent critical conversations of gender, anomaly, and monstrosity” (Richard Nash, 2006 review of F. Nussbaum’s The Limits of the Human: Fictions of Anomaly, Race, and Gender in Eighteenth-Century Fiction).

What interests me, though, is the way in which the Toft story, as a media event, encodes its (problematic) dissemination in its (problematic) contents, on the levels of quality, quantity and repetition. Together with regular coverage in daily and weekly press, about twenty pamphlets and short books were produced in a couple of months, discursively ranging from the medical and judicial to their parodic reversal. Hogarth engraved a faux nativity entitled “Cunicularii, or the Wise-Men of Godalmin,” Pope wrote a mock-ballad, and one pamphlet was attributed to “Lemuel Gulliver.” The Scriblerians and their acolytes were certainly fascinated by this event, and participated in – whilst mocking – the outpouring of print around it. Gay, Swift, and above all Pope, often use figures of monstrous generation in order to describe the pullulations of Grub Street, as well as various scatological tropes (excrement, vomit, urine). Pat Rogers describes the Street as full of “disease, filth, strange mutant progeny,” with “[o]verproduction … its inmost nature” (The Augustan Vision, 73). By reading the Mary Toft media phenomenon as one in which contents are matched by form, this paper hopes to show how the early eighteenth century used the idea of monstrous bodily overflow as a recurrent trope for monstrous print outpouring.

4 | Katrin Rupp (University of Neuchâtel)

(Un)healthy Appetite: Medicinal Cannibalism in Richard Coeur de Lion

The late thirteenth-century Middle English Richard Coeur de Lion includes an account of the popular crusader king’s severe illness during the siege of Acre and his cure thereof when he is given the flesh of a young Saracen to eat instead of the pork he craves. The text relishes a detailed description of how the Saracen is killed, flayed and dissected before he is added to a salutary soup and seasoned with spices. Blending the cook’s culinary skills with medieval medical and penal practices, the recipe’s treatment of the Saracen’s body speaks to a desire to discipline the enemy and eventually erase his identity through consumption. The text’s reiterated focus on Richard’s cannibalistic fantasies further underlines and extends the essential message of the recipe. Thus, Richard’s incorporation of the Muslim foe not only results in the restoration of his personal health, but figures his desire for an ingestive recovery of the politico-religious body, the Holy Land, which has been infected with what crusader policy considers a dangerous disease. Cannibalism, employed in medieval ethnographic discourse to construct the other as monstrous, becomes a beneficial act from a Christian perspective as it is practised for the sake of healing the ailing royal and politico-religious body.

5 | Joanne Winning (Birkbeck, University of London)

The Meaning of Skin and Surgical Subjectivity

This paper asks 3 questions in the light of the clinical practice of surgery: what is the meaning of skin? How does it function as a boundary?  And what does it mean to make a cut in that boundary? The paper begins with an examination of the representations of skin in the seminal works of Renaissance anatomy and dissection practice. In Thomas Bartholin’s Anatomia Reformata (1651), the frontispiece symbolically records the discarded skin of the human corpse, the interior of which will provide source material for the new discipline of anatomical science.

Skin, in this instance, functions as the equivalent of paper on which the author-physician’s name and the title of his scientific work might be recorded.  Skin is the screen in which he stamps his knowledge and authority.  The skin of Bartholin’s frontispiece is slung performatively over hooks since it cannot support itself and framed like an art piece.  (The attachment of the head and face to the skin suggests a correlation with subjectivity which will be explored in depth in the paper).  Such a representation of skin is only to reproduce a common trope in anatomical drawings which begins in the 15C, for instance in the drawings of Giulio Bonasone and Juan Valverde de Amusco’s Historia de la composicion del cuerpo humano (1556), in which the écorché figure willingly eviscerates itselfs or folds back its own skin to reveal its internal infrastructure.  This paper will then read these Renaissance representations alongside recent first-person narratives produced by contemporary surgeons.  What may seem a disconcerting leap across centuries in fact suggests the compelling extent to which similar formulations of skin as negligible boundary or aestheticised screen are recorded in the growing 21C genre of surgical memoirs, such as Gabriel Weston’s Direct Red: A Surgeon’s Story (2009) and Atul Gawande’s Complications: A surgeon’s notes on an imperfect science (2003).  This paper will conclude by placing these two sets of historical materials alongside the pronouncements about skin and its role in subjectivity formation advanced by the psychoanalysts Esther Bick and Didier Anzieu, particularly their respective formulations of the primary containment function of skin and the centrality of the skin-ego.  As Bick (1986) suggests, skin has a primary containment function and its existence implies a fundamental notion of internal space.  Where skin is breached, the human subject is threatened with ‘unintegration’ and the anxiety of ‘life spilling-out.’  If the role of the surgeon is both to cut and then fix this breach, and the daily work of surgery involves constant presence at this critical boundary point of skin, how might we conceptualise a surgeon’s subjectivity, as it is constructed by the act of surgery?  And to what extent do we see the early articulation of the troubling complexities and contradictions of skin ‘work’ in the imaginings and representations of the Renaissance anatomists?

6 | Sophie Ying-chiao Lin (National Taiwan Normal University)

“every noise appals me”: Macbeth’s Plagued Ear

This paper will examine the destructive effects of sound/voice on Macbeth by taking the standpoint of Macbeth-as-listener, that is, of his receptive ears. I will show how Macbeth as self or subject is permeated and corrupted by voices from outside that lead him to commit evil acts. More precisely, I will analyze Macbeth’s various physical, spiritual, and moral transformations in terms of the interchange between his internal passions and the external sounds. To do this I will be looking closely at early modern physiology and psychology, which were seen as being closely interrelated. Early modern medical theories took the self as being constituted by both the corporeal body and its restive passions, by their interplay which itself becomes a transformative force. This susceptibility of the self to constant transformation, to being easily altered by inner/outer forces, calls our attention to its fragility.

l will therefore be interpreting Macbeth’s degeneration in his pursuit of absolute power as a pathological case, for his overreaching self is characterized by a body that is easily permeated, easily infected by the venomous language of the witches and the demonic urging of his wife, Lady Macbeth. Inasmuch as it is the sense of hearing that has the greatest effect on the brain, the self has to guard its own porous passages (the ears) against the intrusions of a potentially harmful world. In Macbeth, then, Shakespeare shows us the fearful result of those unsettled passions made possible by the protagonist’s desiring ears, once they have surrendered to the world’s tempting voices and words. From a Galenic perspective, Macbeth’s body could be seen as having an excess of cold humors, which is thought to produce a melancholic nature, as we see in Macbeth’s frequent states of “moods” of guilt and fear. Unable to unburden himself of his fear and grief, Macbeth is suffocated by the heavy “black bile” of the melancholy humor.

In Macbeth, health appears to be based on ethical and a medical speculations, to be imagined as a balance or equilibrium between the inner humors and outside contacts. To the degree that negative forces are taken into the body, the inner humors must try to compensate for them, balance them out, overcome or “cure” them. In this sense, generally in the early modern period and specifically in this play, evil is conceptualized as a disease, a disease of excessiveness that thickens the blood inside the body and blocks its healthy flow, and gives rise to a monstrous exaggeration, misinterpretation, distortion (as in hallucinations) of what lies outside of us.

7 | Juliette Vuille (University of Lausanne)

‘“Witte it welle, it was na ravinge that thowe sawe today”: Diagnosis and Contextualization of Medieval Female Mystics’

Two female English mystics of the late medieval period, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe thought themselves to be crazy when they experienced a physical illness that led to their first visionary encounter with the divine. However, after this first bout of madness, both recover and never fear again to be crazy, nor do their contemporaries. It is only in the twentieth-century that literary scholars, making ample use of contemporary medical and psychiatric advances, have attempted to interpret these women’s mystical experience as mental disorders, which they diagnosed with more or less success, drawing symptoms from Julian of Norwich’s A Revelation of Love and the Book of Margery Kempe. In this paper, I wish to demonstrate that applying such modern psychiatric diagnoses to medieval, literary accounts of visions, while providing a new and different way to approach the texts, is a hazardous endeavour. Further, I will argue that such an analytical enterprise should take into consideration the literary, religious and mystical tradition that constituted the basis for these women’s re-interpretation of their visions as they wrote them down. In conclusion, I will show that the mystics’ re-inscription of their visions into a conventional and culturally acceptable framework enabled them to interpret their mystical experience as a divine insanity that paradoxically gave them authority and thus renders moot any attempt at psychiatric diagnosis.

8 | Lisanna Calvi (University of Verona)

“Is’t Lunacy to call a Spade a Spade?” James Carkesse and the Forgotten Language of Madness.

Dr Thomas Allen, physician in Bethlem Hospital during the Restoration, emerged for his enlightened behaviour when he forbade barbaric experiments to be carried out inside the asylum. However, Allen is not remembered for his compassion by James Carkesse, poet and former Navy clerk, who was sent to Bedlam in the late 1670s out of religious mania. In his Lucida Intervalla, a collection of poems written during his residency at Bethlem and published in 1679, Carkesse heavily lampoons Dr Allen, whom he dubs «Sir Madquack». Life into the madhouse is also illustrated in Carkesse’s poetical memoirs, offering a singular glimpse into what Michel Foucault would call the ‘great confinement’. The description of bloodletting, purges and vomits, as well as of visitors to the house proves a precious testimony in the history of medicine and of the treatment of the mentally ill, as well as of individuals’ reaction to it.

Seventeenth-century autobiographical accounts of madness usually placed themselves ex post and variously anatomized their authors’ experiences by referring to religious trials (Fiztherbert 1608), conjugal bereavement (Allen 1683) or juvenile debauchery (Trosse 1714). Unlike these narratives, not only does Carkesse’s ‘poetical autobiography’ belong to a different genre, but also and more importantly speaks from inside insanity. Relating an encounter with madness is like telling «the story of a past lived in a forgotten language» (Hodgkin 1998). In fact, Carkesse did not forget that language and actually expressed himself through it, voicing several and at times colliding projections of his poetical self, which vary from intimations of grandeur to lowering into moral degradation.

Lucida Intervalla offers a fine perspective on the problematic relationship between madness and poetical creation. My paper aims therefore at exploring the cultural implications of madness and of its cure in seventeenth-century England, with special regard to confinement strategies, as they emerge in Carkesse’s work.

Allen, H. A Narrative of God’s Gracious Dealings With that Choice Christian Mrs Hannah Allen, etc. (J. Wallis, 1683).

Carkesse, J. Lucida Intervalla, Containing divers Miscellaneous Poems (London, 1679).

Foucault, M. Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (Gallimard, 1972).

Hodgkin, K. Dionys Fitzherbert and the Anatomy of Madness, in Voicing Women. Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern Writing, ed. by K. Chedgzoy, M. Hansen and S. Trill (Edinburgh UP, 1998).

––––––––. Women, Madness and Sin in Early Modern England. The Autobiographical Writings of Dionys Fiztherbert (Ashgate: 2010).

Trosse, George. The Life of the Reverend Mr Geo. Trosse, ed. by J. Hallet (Jos. Bliss for R. White: 1714).

9 | Cinta Zunino-Garrido (University of Jaen)

Physic and Psyche on the Early Modern English Stage

The purpose of this paper is to analyse the relation between physic and psyche in the anonymous English drama The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune, performed at Court during the 1582-1583 Christmas season and printed for the first time in 1589. The fifteen reprints that the play saw between 1610 and 1670 involve a substantial success during the Elizabeth and Jacobean periods and bear witness to its influence on the development of Early Modern English drama, thus advancing, among others, questions on the human nature that would shortly after be discussed by playwrights like Marlowe or Shakespeare. In this sense, the figure of Bomelio, an ill-fated nobleman who aims to work as both physician and magician, appears to be especially relevant, for example, for the characterization of Faustus and Prospero. As I shall attempt to show, a detailed examination of this twofold role of Bomelio discloses an interest in underscoring all through the play the contrast between the corporeal and the spiritual in man and how the physic and the psyche respectively should be approached from different perspectives and methods. In this regard, The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune raises the debate on the boundaries between natural science, natural magic, and the still embryonic Psychology at a time when these questions proved particularly relevant for Early Modern thinking.

Parallel Sessions 2

10 | Tamás Karáth (Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Budapest)

Staging Childbirth: Medical and Popular Discourses of Parturition and Midwifery in the English Mystery Cycle Plays

I propose to revisit discourses of childbirth and midwifery in the mystery cycles of late medieval England. The staging of the Incarnation inevitably invited reflections on popular ideas of parturition. The re-enactment of Christ’s birth necessarily confronted playwrights with the dramaturgical problems of disclosing women’s privacy to the public and of according common medical notions with the theology of the virgin birth. My approach will focus on a hitherto neglected question underlying the plays. Besides sermons, mystery plays constituted the second most popular genre in the late Middle Ages. They affected public discourses and religious mentalities in very efficient ways. Their strategies of shaping public convictions were essentially two-fold: they embraced common discourses and voiced them to strengthen community cohesion, or advocated one authoritative version of competing discourses. In the rare instances of staging childbirth, I will investigate whether the gynecological and obstetrical discourses aimed to reflect on the shared experience and “unquestionable” lay assumptions of the community, or if the Nativity pageants intended to instruct on the protocols of childbirth. Scholarship on the healthcare of women in the Middle Ages has often raised the question how widely the respective medical texts were disseminated in society. As a further implication, I will suggest that we should also consider whether the relatively broad dissemination of such writings necessarily correlated with the willingness of the lay public to embrace medicalized discourses. A second problem of my analysis will investigate whether the discourse of child birth on stage is related at all to the realm of institutionalized medical care, and whether there is such an early endeavor present in the plays. The Nativity pageants provide an optimal terrain for the study of the underlying “norms” of childbirth in late medieval England. The analysis of the Nativity episodes of the four extant English cycles and the Coventry Shearmen’s Nativity Play will illustrate very different strategies: the York and Wakefield pageants show how conventional shepherds’ plays could contribute to the discourse of labor, while Chester’s, N-Town’s and Coventry’s engagement with midwifery attest to attempts of (de)constructing medical discourses.


11 | John McGee (University of Geneva)

Lovesickness in Romeo and Juliet

In criticism of Romeo and Juliet, it is commonly assumed that Romeo overcomes his initial state of lovesi ckness when he meets Juliet. My paper will attempt to challenge this view. I will begin by trying to show that Romeo’s initial suffering is consistent with what Elizabethan medical authorities would describe as an “extreme” state of lovesickness. I will then contend that Romeo is not in fact cured upon meeting Juliet. I will make my case by focusing on the role of Cupid in the play. At the beginning, Romeo repeatedly complains of his subjugation to Cupid. Later, it may seem he has overcome this deity’s influence. However, at Juliet’s window, Romeo himself indicates that it was Cupid who impelled him to enter the Capulet garden and Cupid who prompted him to pursue Juliet in the first place. It will be my contention that in Romeo’s persistent subjugation to this god, we have reason to believe that he remains deeply unwell, despite appearances to the contrary. Finally, I will compare Romeo’s ever-worsening condition to that of the typical Petrarchan lover in a work such as Tottel’s Miscellany.

12 | Paola Baseotto (University of Insubria, Como)

“Religion and Medicine: Plague Writings by Elizabethan and Early Stuart Churchmen”

I propose an illuminating case study of the intersection of religion and medical practice. My paper focuses on the dissemination of medical knowledge in influential works on plague by early modern English churchmen. These texts show their authors’ high degree of familiarity with anatomy and physiology, as well as their desire to make medical notions available to laypeople. They also register their active presence at sick-beds often acting as both “physitians of the soul” and “physitians of the body” (Thomas Wright, The Passions of the Minde, 1601). I think that in view of their close relations to common people in urban as well as rural areas, the phenomenon of the significant number of churchmen practicing medicine and writing about medicine should receive more attention.

The remarkable knowledge of medicine shown by Elizabethan and early Stuart divines and the assimilation of physiological language in their writings are worth close analysis in consideration of the popularity and influence of devotional works, the age’s most frequently published and most widely read literature. The case of plague treatises is particularly interesting: in addition to dealing with the fundamental questions regarding the nature of plague and God’s choice of its victims, as well as discussing the legitimacy and efficacy of remedies such as medicines, quarantine and sanitation of houses, these texts shed some light on the spiritual, psychological and emotional burdens of epidemics of plague.

13 | Julia D. Staykova (independent scholar)

“We sit in the chaire of pestilence”: The Discourse of Disease in the Anti-Theatrical Pamphlets, 1570s-1630s.

This paper examines appropriations of medical rhetoric in the religious discourse of early modern antitheatrical pamphlets. The antitheatrical polemic flared up in the latter decades of the 1500s in response to the rising popularity of the secular theatre. Recent accounts of the pamphlets focus on their iconophobic sentiments and their condemnation of the public stage as a site of corporeal idolatry. As Peter Lake puts it in The Anti-Christ’s Lewd Hat, “popery and the theatre seduced their victims into sin and damnation through inherently fleshly appeals”. The bodily language at the centre of the antitheatrical rhetoric pivots on the analogy between the corruptions of idolatrous religion and the effects of contagion on the body. The present paper draws attention to these medical inflections in the religious arguments of the pamphlets. I argue that the battle over the spiritual health of playgoers was fought on medical grounds, in a way that was circumstantially justified by the realities of disease transmission in the crowded spaces of the theatre. The remonstrations of theatre detractors against what Margaret Healy has called the “tantalising erotic possibilities of sin” were not unfounded. The theatre districts fostered a culture of  consumption and promiscuity. Playgoing became a public hazard during epidemics, as theatre haters were quick to emphasize: “At midsummer, in very hott weather, a Tragedie of Euripides being played, manie brought home a burning ague from the theater, and fell into a strange distemper” (Rainolds, 1599). Curiously, such anecdotes about epidemics in the Greek and Roman world re-appropriate a pre-Christian medicinal discourse which linked the rise of dramatic arts to rites of assuaging the gods at times of disease outbreak. In Augustine’s much quoted diatribes against the theatre (recounted by Northbrooke, 1577), the stage morphs from a locus of disease control to a locus of disease transmission: “the Heathen did appoint and ordeyne Playes and Enterludes to their Gods, for the auoyding of the Pestilence of their bodies, yet your Bishops for the auoyding of the pestilence of your soules, hath prohibited and forbidden playes”. I argue in my paper that the pestilential rhetoric of the pamphlets seeks to regain the attentions of an audience divided between the medicinal powers of the pulpit and the fleshly attractions of the stage.

14 | Tommi Kakko (University of Tampere)

Galenic and Empiricist Medicine in Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year

When news of an outbreak of the plague in Marseilles reached England in 1720, Londoners were once again reminded of the horrors of the Great Plague. The reading public was hungry for information and in 1722 Daniel Defoe, always a prolific writer, published A Journal of the Plague Year no doubt to capitalize on their fears, but also to remind them of the lessons learned from the Great Plague. Defoe’s book presents a layman’s approach to contemporary medical debates concerning the causes of the plague and tries to relate them to a larger shift in epistemology that had occurred between 1665 and the 1720s. A Journal of the Plague Year includes a wealth of empirical observations, but yet maintains a humoural approach to the causes of the plague which Defoe renders as a menacing presence that haunts the city. Examining the plague tracts Defoe used as his sources reveals that empirical medicine was, at least in Defoe’s eyes, based on a questionable epistemology that generated grotesque forms of knowledge. Defoe’s scepticism toward religious enthusiasm, on the other hand, provides one explanation to the protagonist’s immunity, a question that has always puzzled Defoe’s readers.

15 | Annette Kern-Stähler (University of Bern) and Beatrix Busse (University of Heidelberg)

Blindness, Sightedness and the ‘In-Between’: The Diversity of Blindness in Middle English Language and Literature 

In the past 20 years, the concept of blindness has been subject to considerable change. Challenging the concept of blindness as an absolute condition, we explore the diversity of blindness in late Middle English language and literature. Drawing on late medieval optical, philosophical and literary texts, we probe the terminology used for the wide range of experiences situated ‘in-between’ sightedness and blindness and examine literary negotiations of ‘sighted blindness’ or ‘blind sightedness’.

16 | Anne-Valérie Dulac (Paris Est Créteil University)

London and Baghdad: Sir Philip Sidney’s Ornaments Viewed from the History of Optics

Hans Belting’s proposals for an “anthropology of images” and his reappraisal of Renaissance pictures1 may offer new and complementary perspectives on Sir Philip Sidney’s “speaking pictures” and visual ornaments. I would like to focus more particularly on some of the late revisions that Sidney made when rewriting his pastoral romance, The Arcadia.

It seems that the nature and meaning of some textual “ornaments” were indeed central in Sidney’s writing as well as very close to what the “courtier poet” may have seen, learned or understood from Hilliard’s art of limning, in a way similar to what Patricia Fumerton saw in Sidney’s sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella. But while Patricia Fumerton convincingly argued thatviewing the limning […] involves a penetration in inverse order to the limning process” and that “we must pass through the built-up, and thus essentially ‘outer’ ornament to get at the inside plain face”,2 I would suggest that viewing Sidney’s pictures in the “same order” as the limning process may both bear witness to the young Protestant’s conflicting and evolving conceptions of visual perception and allow the reader/viewer to dwell upon the ornamental surface and depth of the limning. Belting’s anthropological tools may therefore help us consider the Arcadian prospects with renewed optical hindsight, thus opening onto the reappraisal of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen)’s optical works, among others.

Instead of placing the optical extramission/intromission debate within a greater “study of controversy” (which has long been favoured by historians of science), the study of Sidney’s visual experience may pave the way for a renewed scientific approach, bringing it closer to a historical geography of optics, much in the way Bruno Latour has described recent evolutions in history of science.

I will thus try and see how anthropology (both in Belting and Latour’s works on history of science) has helped reshaping and rewriting laboratory practices likely to be taken up by literature specialists. 

1 I am referring here to the latest two English translations of Belting’s works: one by Thomas Dunlap, An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, and the other by Deborah Lucas Schneider, Florence and Baghdad. Renaissance Art and Arab Science, Cambridge (Massachusetts) and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011. The title of my paper is a reference to this work.

2 Patricia Fumerton, “Secret Arts: Elizabethan Miniatures and Sonnets” Representations 15 (Summer 1986), p. 68.

Parallel Sessions 3

17 | Susan Zavoti (Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Budapest)

Blame it on the Elves – Perception of Sickness in Anglo-Saxon England

Sickness has always enjoyed a prominent place in societies’ attention. As a path to pain and death, people from ancient times have been seeking to unveil its mysterious workings. Hence, perception and treatment of sickness not only tells about the physical and material circumstances of a certain era, but also about people’s attitudes towards life, the supernatural and religion. My aim in this discussion is to attempt to uncover the mind of the Anglo-Saxon in the intricate period of the transition from heathen to Christian in terms of sickness, and to pinpoint the role of elves who are invested with a significant role in the causes of diseases as witnessed by the Old English leechbooks.

Since the earliest records of medicine in the Near-East, gods and their anger had mostly been responsible for afflicting people with sickness. Demons were blamed as well, nevertheless, Mesopotamian texts imply that a number of demons were ‘gods gone bad’.1 A couple of centuries later, Hippocrates lamented over the popular belief, prevailing in his time, that epilepsy or other illnesses were wrought by gods. Roughly a thousand years later, it is elves who cause certain sicknesses according to Anglo-Saxon medical texts. To sum it up, sickness scourging humankind has always had transcendental origin.

However, there is one huge difference between the ancient and the medieval perceptions of sickness, as the Anglo-Saxon texts attest. God never appears as punishing mankind with sickness; on the contrary, his power neutralizes elves’ fiendish works. Hence, elves as sickness-afflicting supernatural entities represent the transition from paganism to Christianity, even to Roman Catholicism, where a benign God helps common people fight the demonic forces manifested by older pagan beings. The Anglo-Saxon leechbooks and Lacnunga nicely show the functioning of the religious mind that attributes all events to a higher being, at the same time reflect the reconciliation between Christianity and paganism.

1 Geller, M.J.: Freud, Magic and Mesopotamia: How the Magic Works in Folklore 108

18 | Milagros Torrado-Cespón (University of Santiago de Compostela)

Some Notes about the Evil Eye Tradition and Witchcraft in England during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Both the evil eye belief and witchcraft have played an important role in the history of England. Although the data available cannot be always attributed to a specific time, we can find some notes about them during the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The root of the belief in the evil eye, those feared for having it or the ways of counteracting it show us an interesting part of the English folklore which we find in ours. This paper deals with protective devices, remedies and the fine line that separates superstition from a real illness.

19 | Clarissa Chenovick (Fordham University, New York)

“Malveis coer” and “malveis char”: Meditation as Surgery in the Livre de Seyntz Medicines

The vividly imaginative Livre de seyntz medicines (Book of holy medicines, 1354) is a personal confessional text composed a lay nobleman, Henry, the first Duke of Lancaster. Developing a series of complex medical metaphors, Henry seeks to facilitate his own spiritual healing—and that of his future readers—through a detailed process of self-diagnosis followed by the imaginative application of spiritual cures. Previous work has examined Henry’s considerable knowledge of contemporary medical practices (Taylor, Yoshikawa), and described the intertwining of medical and spiritual “treatment” in medieval hospitals like St. Mary’s of Newarke, in whose administration Henry played a leading role (Rawcliffe). This paper builds on these studies, arguing that Henry’s penitential text does not simply represent spiritual healing as an abstract metaphorical process, but rather insists that this healing of “imagined” wounds is experienced as having concrete physiological effects on the body-soul.

To this end, I focus on a selection of particularly striking “surgical” metaphors that occur during Henry’s meditation on the passion of Christ. These moments, which include the treatment of the heart as a wound that needs to be lanced, suggest an intensely visceral approach to the process of meditation. Rather than identifying with the suffering Christ, Henry envisions an exchange or transfusion in which the “projected” body constructed in his imagination receives fluids emitted by the body of Christ. Drawing on Mary Carruthers’s work on the fundamentally embodied nature of medieval cognition, I argue that Henry imaginatively creates and transforms this intensely visual “projected” body in order to reform the tissues of his mind and memory, thereby effecting a transformation that is both spiritual and physical.

20 | A. Gwyndaf Garbutt (University of Toronto)

Evidence and the Exotic: Exploring Evidence Use in the Defective Version of The Book of John Mandeville.

This paper examines the Defective Version of The Book of John Mandeville as a point of interaction between scholastic categories of the natural world and vernacular literature in late fourteenth century Britain. I investigate the discussions of Eastern flora and fauna, particularly the marvelous creatures, as a means of exploring the practices associated with the presentation and evaluation of evidence in discussions of nature in a vernacular context. Mandeville was one of the most widely read works of its age and as such offers us an interesting opportunity to explore the presentation of natural information to a non-scholastic reading public.

The Mandeville author constructs a complex vision of the world out of the scholarly authority of encyclopedias, histories and religious works combined with the eyewitness accounts of travelers. While the narrative is structured as one of personal experience the author frequently changes his relationship to the information being presented by moving from the statement ‘I saw’ to the statement ‘I was told.’ The relationship between eyewitness claim and report––between claims to authority and to personal experience––does not follow a pattern determined by differences in the source material. This relationship is shaped instead by the author’s understanding of the structures of the natural world. In selecting and presenting information about the marvelous and mundane natural world the Mandeville author constructs a coherent vision of the East found persuasive by many readers. By tracing the ways claims to authority, experience and reported testimony interact in the Defective Version of The Book of John Mandeville I will begin to unpack some of the practices of evidence use associated with the presentation of natural information to a late fourteenth century audience.

21 | Helen Smith (University of York)

‘A medicine for the scorpion’s sting’: divinity and physic in early modern England

Both religious texts – whether devotional, polemical, or didactic – and the medical guides that circulated in early modern England frequently draw on the trope of God as divine physician and first cause of all diseases. Illness is repeatedly revealed to be rooted in man’s sinful and fallen state, and the cure of the body could only succeed if it was accompanied by the purging or restoration of the soul. In this paper, I wish to explore the twinning of spiritual and corporeal medicines across a range of medical, religious, household, and literary texts (both Protestant and Catholic) in order to argue that disease and divinity can be understood not simply as causally connected but as structurally and somatically tied, revealing what Foucault describes as ‘a perilous otherness within the human body’.

Whilst both literary critics and medical historians have explored the connection between mortal and immortal health, I will argue that existing accounts rely upon a restricted understanding of the operations of metaphor, seeing, on the one hand, religion as a way of explaining what was obscure about the operations of disease and, on the other, a language of medicine as a way of rendering divine mysteries accessible to laypeople who were more familiar with toothache than with theology. By investigating instead the ways in which religion and medicine were understood as cognate sensate experiences, I will argue for a history of sensation that takes account of the imagined (but deeply felt) experience of theological belief as bodily practice.

22 | Marsha L. Dutton (Ohio University)

Love’s Mirrors: Questions of Ocular Science in Guillaume de Lorris’s Roman de la Rose

The obsessive romantic love that drives Amant, the protagonist of the thirteenth-century Roman de la Rose, originates in sense perception: his sight of a rosebush reflected in two crystals in the Pool of Narcissus. Although Amant admits the unreliability of that sight, describing the crystals as perfectly reflecting the garden but deceiving him, he nonetheless trusts what he has seen and pursues the beautiful rose on the rosebush he saw there until he captures her.  So Guillaume de Lorris, author of the first portion of the Roman, defines romantic love as inseparable from physicality, beginning in sight and—at least ideally—culminating in rapture.

Guillaume is explicit in recasting Ovid’s myth of Narcissus as a tale of a man falling in love with something beyond himself. While Guillaume might have directly integrated the findings of scientific studies of the properties of the eye into the popular literature of romance, instead he retains Ovid’s fantasy while adding Amant’s recognition that the crystals both show truth and ensnare the viewer—much in fact like romantic love.

Guillaume’s centering the seminal event of his work in this complex and apparently contradictory description of the mirroring crystals indicates the growing medieval popularity of ocular studies by scholars such as Avicenna and Averroes. This paper will explore Guillaume’s attempt to integrate contemporary scientific understanding of vision into his own portrait of the confusing nature of romantic love.

23 | Claire Bardelmann (University of Metz)

‘Had I no eyes but ears’: Early Modern Theories of Perception and the Rhetoric of the Senses in Venus and Adonis

The ample and close-woven imagery of the senses in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis relies on the Early Modern theories of perception, particularly as regards the synesthesia of eye and ear. Isolated rhetoric formulas associating sight and hearing conceal wide-branching thematic networks which pervade and structure the poem.

The imagery of sight and hearing in Venus and Adonis appeals to the cultural representations of the senses in several interrelated ways. First, it echoes the physiology of the organs as found in Sir Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum or in Helkiah Crooke’s Microcosmographia. Second and more importantly, the cognitive and moral functions of eye and ear underpin such thematic motives of the poem as the open and vulnerable ear – a major concern in sermons on the legitimate training of the religious ear like Robert Wilkinson’s A Jewell for the Eare (1593) or Stephen Egerton’s The Boring of the Eare (1623).

As further analysis of the images of perception in the poem will show, the rhetorical use of sight and hearing also relates to contemporary poetics. Indeed, the rhetoric of repetition and reduplication in Venus and Adonis illustrates Puttenham’s classification of the figures which “touch the mind by sensible approach” into the categories of enargia and enargeia  – categories which, in addition, have the cognitive functions of sight and hearing as a background.

The moral, cognitive and rhetoric implications of the imagery of eye and ear in the poem eventually culminate in the fusion of eye and ear in the mythological Narcissus and Echo, Shakespeare’s main Ovidian subtext. Indeed, the acoustic and rhetorical echo pervades the poem and reduplicates the images of visual and auditive fragmentation which channel the barren logic of amor hereos.

Parallel Sessions 4

24 | Estella Antoaneta Ciobanu (Ovidius University, Constanța)

The Truth(s) of the Body in Pieces in Middle English Passion Plays, or How to Make an Anatomical Imaginary before Early Modern Anatomy

The circumstances of tearing Jesus’ lacerated body in the late medieval Passion plays are ostensibly a far cry from those which reveal the anatomical body in early modern anatomy and its illustration. Nor are they significantly closer to those of Marsyas’ flaying in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an episode familiar to educated medieval Christians. Claiming continuities between these cultural ages and their respective products would therefore seem to be strained at best. Nonetheless, I would like to argue that all three instances of ‘anatomisation’ rely on a quest for truth which motivates as much as crowning them. While in Ovid truth is rather taken for granted and obliterated in the process of punitive torture, the dismantling of Marsyas’ body will reinstate the missing question of the truth of the body and of the executioner. On the contrary, early modern anatomy actively pursues the truth of the body (to paraphrase Vesalius’ Dedication of the Fabrica), even as anatomical illustration often still suggests the penological circumstances of un-covering the anatomical body and thus renders the anatomist a modern Apollo. In between them, the Middle English Passion plays thematise the pursuit of truth, a truth not so much of Jesus as of power and its legitimacy. Like in the medieval judicial system, here the truth is revealed through torture, whose graphic description draws upon the Gothic sensibility of late medieval Christocentric piety. The torture of Christ, however, reveals both another truth, i.e. divine love for humankind, according to Christian orthodoxy, and an ‘anatomical body’ virtually akin to that featured in early modern anatomical illustration. My investigation of the Middle English Passion plays will highlight continuities between instances of anatomisation in medieval theatre and in Ovid and early anatomy, manifest as an anatomical collective imaginary undergirded in medieval and post-medieval times by Christian discursive practices.

25 | Hanako Endo (Jissen Women’s University, Hino)

Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet

It is widely considered that most licensed physicians were based on Galenic humoral medicine in early modern England, for its society and the medical education in universities of the time regarded Galen’s medical theory as the most important. However, the limited number of unlicensed physicians secretly adopted the theory of chemical medicine by Paracelsus which was not fully accepted in the general public. This paper will try to demonstrate that the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet is this negative type of a Paracelsian. Proving this hypothesis, it will analyse the drug the apothecary prepares, investigate his lifestyle, and compare the apothecary with the friar in the play.

The first reason for the apothecary being a Paracelsian is the mortal drug he gives to Romeo. Generally, authorised apothecaries of the time dealt mainly with herbs, which Galenists preferred; however, Paracelsian apothecaries prescribed inexplicable chemicals or minerals. It is true that patients relied on any medicine but it was thought that they prescribe dangerous drugs.

Hermitic and destitute lifestyle of the apothecary can also be pointed out for the purpose. Paracelsians were inclined to spend solitary days as their scientific experiment was ostracised for its disreputability in the early modern period. It was even said that reliable apothecaries was not to be found in any town, and their shops were full of false medicines.

It will finally compare the apothecary with the friar in order to reveal the difference of the people’s attitude toward Paracelsians. The apothecary says that he is to be sentenced to death whereas the friar escapes punishment, though both of them are involved in the death of Romeo and Juliet. It can be said that, in the case that drugs cause the accidental death, the Galen-based ecclesiastic is not found guilty of a crime.

26 | Beatrice Montedoro (University of Geneva)

Words as Sickness – the Dramatization of Bewitchment in Middleton’s The Witch (c. 1613-16) and Dekker’s The Witch of Edmonton (1621?)

The argument of this paper is that plays like The Witch and The Witch of Edmonton portrayed witchcraft as a powerful persuasive language, which was believed to affect the body and the mind. For instance, Elizabeth Sawyer in The Witch of Edmonton performs a purely verbal witchcraft, and all accusations of bewitchment are traced back to the witch’s words. She embodies disease and illness, being literally ‘hated like a sickness’ (2.1.99-101). Finally, the playwrights engage the audience in questioning the nature of witchcraft through the enchanting power of language and theatre.

27 | Christiania Whitehead (University of Warwick)

Spiritual Healing: Healing Miracles Associated with the Twelfth-Century Northern Cult of St Cuthbert

This paper will focus upon healing miracles associated with the shrine cult of St Cuthbert, from the earliest years of the cult (inaugurated by Bede’s prose and metrical vitae), through its heyday in the twelfth century, when the Anglo-Norman Benedictine priory was founded and the cathedral church rebuilt at Durham to house Cuthbert’s body.

The paper will focus upon healing miracles associated with two specific cultic centres: Durham cathedral and the Island of Inner Farne, where Cuthbert lived in the seventh century as a hermit. In particular, it will give attention to the Capitula de miraculis et translationibus sancti Cuthberti (a collection of 21 miracles, completed mid 12th century); Reginald of Durham’s Libellus de admirandis virtutibus beati Cuthberti (1160s-70)s and Libellus de vita et miraculis S. Godrici (c.1170), and the anonymous 12 ‘Miracles of Farne’ (12th century, but extant only in the early 16th-century Cuthbertine compilation, BL Harley 4843).

Using these texts as a basis, and drawing comparison with other important twelfth-century English shrine cults where necessary (in particular, the adjacent north-eastern eremitic cult of St Godric at Finchale), this paper will investigate whether a particular kind of healing miracle is aligned with Cuthbert’s peculiarly ascetic and northern spirituality. It will examine the distributions of healings associated with Durham Cathedral and the island of Inner Farne in order to ascertain how each cultic centre was used in relation to healing, and it will explore the gendered character of these healings in relation to Cuthbert’s renowned and singular misogyny.

28 | Virginia Langum (University of Umeå)

Medicine and Sin in Gower

John Gower opens Confessio Amantis with a portrait of a tumultuous and fragmented world. The physical health and appearance of human beings mirror the divisions found in the macrocosm. Not only is the individual body divided from others through the separation of countenance and character, but it is also divided within its very own physiology. Scholastic and late medieval theologians characterize the source of physical and spiritual illness with the disordered humors and the separation of sense and intellect that accompanies the Fall: the ‘vice of alle dedly sinne/ Thurgh which division cam inne’.

Throughout the poem, the poet considers sin in relation to the natural order and physiology. Beyond these basic correlations, Gower draws upon specific medical knowledge and physiological processes, such as the causal relationship of the passion anger to fever and swelling, to describe related vices, such as wrath. This paper discusses the extent of Gower’s medicalized understanding of sin and its impact on human culpability for sin in Confessio Amantis, as well as his extensive treatment of the seven vices in Le Mirour de l’Homme. The paper will draw upon medical and pastoral texts for background in understanding Gower’s physiological descriptions of sin and human behavior, as well as the healing properties of love.

29 | Eleonora Oggiano (University of Verona)

Here’s a med’cine, for the nones: Practicing The Art of Healing in Jacobean England

Early modern English drama offers a ‘theatricalization’ of medical discourses which mirrors the impetus of a whole set of different practices and approaches towards medicine in Renaissance England. By taking into account the issue of medical ethics and the question of the practice of healing, as they unfold in the treatises by John Cotta, Johann Oberndorf, and James Primerose, this paper aims at exploring the competing attitudes present in the medical culture of early sixteenth century with reference to the gap between good and bad medicine and the interfusion of medical rituals both onstage and off. Thus, special attention will be paid to the distinction between «True Physition[s]» (Oberndorf 1602: A1) and «ignorant practisers» (Cotta 1612: 86), that is, the so-called mountebanks, in order to investigate their social and medical role. In addition, with the aim to show how dramatists dealt with the art of healing onstage, my paper will move from the contemporary debate over the changing social roles of healers and their approach to medical activity to their representation in plays and entertainments.

30 | Naoë Kukita Yoshikawa (Shizuoka University)

Post-mortem Care of the Soul: Mechtild of Hackeborn’s the Booke of Gostlye Grace

The Booke of Gostlye Grace is the Middle English translation of Liber Specialis Gratiae, the revelations of Mechtild of Hackeborn, a German mystic and chantress of Benedictine/Cistercian convent of Helfta at the end of the thirteenth century. Although Mechtild’s spirituality was discussed by Caroline Bynum, and the popularity and circulation of her revelations in fifteenth-century England have been examined by Rosalynn Voaden, the text itself has generally escaped widespread scholarly attention.

I would like to argue that the uniqueness of Mechtild’s revelations lies in the interface between medicine and religion. Her book informs us that Mechtild frequently suffered from diseases but was restored to health through eucharistic medicine, medicine which illuminates the importance of spiritual health in the late medieval period.

In this paper, I would like to focus on the health of the soul as it is evidenced in Mechtild’s revelations on the rituals of death and post-mortem prayers, since in Christian belief, death is thought to be a transition to a better state of spiritual health. More to the point, in the late Middle Ages, spiritual care and cure were expected to be administered during one’s life time and after death, and this act of mercy was crucial for one’s spiritual salvation. In this context, I will in particular examine Mechtild’s revelations concerning ‘the helthe of manys sawle’ and those on the prayers for the dying and post-mortem intercessions and commemorations.

In addition, since demand for intercession and remembrance for the swift delivery from the pains of the purgatory increased in late medieval English society, where judgement loomed large, this paper will not only consider Mechtild’s understandings of spiritual health but also illuminate why the Middle English extracts of her prayers gained popularity in fifteenth-century England.

31 | Lyn Bennett (Dalhousie University, Halifax)

Women Writers and the 17th-Century Rhetoric of Healing

The 17th-century is marked by some well-known and heated debates about medical practice, including John Cotta’s A Short Discoverie (1612), James Hart’s Kainikh (1633), and Robert Witty’s translation of James Primrose’s treatise, Popular Errours (1651), all of which speak out vehemently against apothecaries, quacksalvers, mountebanks and, especially, the despised “petticoat surgeons.” Spearheaded by typecasting physicians like Cotta, Hart, and Primrose, seventeenth-century diatribes about the theory and profession of medicine may have provided much of the impetus and the rhetorical context for women who wrote about illness and healing. Those who participated in what we might call a uniquely 17th-century rhetoric of healing include lesser-known authors such as An Collins and the pseudonymous “Eliza,” as well as their more renowned counterparts Anne Bradstreet and Margaret Cavendish. Examining the relationship of female-authored writing about illness and healing to that produced by alternative healers, my paper will consider the rhetorical possibilities presented to diverse, non-medical women writers by a female-centered tradition of healing, one most often rejected by the physicians but acknowledged throughout the century by the popularity of texts ranging from Gervase Markham’s 1615 The English Housewife to the exhaustive 1670s collections of Hannah Woolley’s receipts. As it turns out, the woman writer’s rhetoric of healing is (perhaps predictably) aligned in many ways with the discourse of alternative practitioners; at the same time, however, women who write about illness and healing can be seen to participate equally (and less predictably) in the exclusionary, professionalizing arguments of the physicians who oppose them. That women writers of varying classes, times, politics, sects, and places drew on even as they resisted the physicians’ hegemonic discourse confirms their shared understanding of an art epistemologically and crucially dependent on language’s persuasive power, in professing as well as in healing.

Parallel Sessions 5

32 | Anke Timmerman (Medical University of Vienna)

When Medicine met Alchemy: Viennese Alchemica and their Readers

This paper introduces the readership of alchemo-medical manuscripts in fifteenth-century Vienna. These manuscripts document how the reception of alchemy in Viennese medical circles influenced the contemporary understanding of materia medica, which would eventually lead to the establishment of modern pharmacy. As this paper will show, both alchemical theory and practice were of particularly high interest to Viennese doctors and their students.

Medicine defined late medieval Vienna to a significant extent. The University boasted a medical faculty soon after its foundation in 1365. Its doctors and students not only witnessed and wrote the early history of academic medicine with all its confusions and successes; they were also among the first to observe anatomical dissections, to vie for positions as royal physicians, and to write and read medical manuscripts in an academic context. Apothecaries had established themselves in Vienna from the early fourteenth century onwards, but soon the medical faculty regulated and controlled their practice. Vienna was also situated in an area of Central Europe known for its ample mineral resources and a thriving tradition of metal craft. Consequently, its society defined itself increasingly on the merits of learning, skill and science.

Medical and natural scientific manuscripts from the fifteenth century show clear evidence of the influence of alchemy on medicine in academic, professional and royal Viennese circles. Medical manuscripts with alchemical elements enjoyed an unusually inclusive readership whose communications, in and off the manuscript m argins, supplement the history of academic medicine in Vienna to an unanticipated extent. My paper will focus on manuscripts originally owned by medical doctors in fifteenth-century Vienna.

33 | Katie L. Walter (University of Bochum)

Digby MS 233: Medicine and the Chivalric Reader

Giles of Rome’s treatise on governance, De Regimine principum, and Vegetius’s military treatise, De re militari (one of Giles’s sources), were both widely influential in England and on the continent in the later medieval period.  Studies of manuscripts of these works with an English origin and provenance suggest they often served a practical purpose, in part as educational textbooks for training young knights.  Both were translated into English under the patronage of Sir Thomas Berkeley: De regimine by John Trevisa (perhaps unfinished before his death in 1402), and De re militari, probably by John Walton in 1408.  In Digby MS 233, made at Berkeley castle between 1408 and 1417, these two texts are paired together, penned by the same hand, possibly for Prince Henry, suggesting that it was designed as a unit devoted to providing information on statecraft, knighthood, and warfare.  The advice on how to bring up boys to be knights, on military strategy, and on the realities of waging war these works provide, however, are informed by and rely upon an understanding of medical knowledge, more particularly of male physiology and pathology.  The kind of medical knowledge drawn on by these treatises is itself furnished by another English translation made by Trevisa at Berkeley’s behest and completed in 1398, that of Bartholomaeus Anglicus’s encyclopaedia, De proprietatibus rerum, with its sections, for example, on the regimen for boys and young men, and on the physiology of fear and courage.  This paper examines the medical information provided across these translations made for Berkeley that pertains to the subject of creating and maintaining a masculine, fighting body.  Taken together, these translations provide a compendium of knowledge on how to form—and on how to interpret—the body of a knight for the late medieval chivalric reader.

34 | Mary C. Flannery (University of London)

Emotion, Exposure, and the Ideal Reader in Middle English Gynaecological Texts

Middle English medical tre atises define the most intimate bodily spaces of both men and women in terms of shame, and acknowledge the possibility that shame might be an emotional response to medical examination and treatment.  A fifteenth-century Middle English translation of Guy de Chauliac’s Grande Chirurgie, for example, repeatedly refers to genitalia in terms of shame, as either the ‘shameful’ or ‘schamfast membres’ (Cyrurgie 65.11; 69.23-4: ‘þe schamefaste member (i. the ȝerde [penis])’), and warns that some ailments may grow worse if a patient is too ashamed of where they are located to expose them to a physician.  Similarly, gynaecological treatises such as that contained in London, British Library MS Sloane 2463 are grounded in the assumption that, for women, ‘to schewen and to tellen’ their illnesses to (male) doctors is a particularly shame-ridden experience.

This paper will consider the ways in which Middle English gynaecological treatises (‘Trotula’ texts) negotiate the problem of addressing female maladies without exposing women to shame.  These texts treat bodily shame as a particular issue for women, who – socially and personally – might have much to fear from the exposure or ‘discuryng’ of their private lives and private parts.  One of the foremost methods used by these texts to circumnavigate the possibility of shame is to place the burden of responsibility on their readers, male and female alike.  I will argue that Middle English gynaecological texts imagine their ideal readers in terms of shame, whether by admonishing male readers not to be ‘vncurteys’ to women or by envisaging a community of female readers who share their medical expertise and do not ‘diskuren her previtees to suche vncurteys men’.  The dynamics of shame in the prologues of these texts suggest that this painful emotion could underlie not only the treatment, but also the acts of writing and reading about women’s ailments in the Middle Ages.

35 | Liz Herbert McAvoy (Swansea University)

Bathing in Blood: The Medicinal Cures of Anchoritic Devotion

The modus operandi of the medieval anchoritic life can be traced through myriad writings dating from the days of the Desert Fathers and Mothers through to the end of the fifteenth century. Much has already been written regarding the driving factors behind the vocation and what that vocation meant to both religious and secular communities alike, examining in particular its gendered ideologies and those epistemological shifts which brought about new expressions of this extraordinary way of life.

What has not received any attention to date, however, is the function of the anchorite as a type of ‘medical practitioner’ for the soul; indeed, the significant use of medicinal hermeneutics to articulate this role in the writings by, for and about anchorites has generally been overlooked. This paper will therefore examine the ‘medicinal’ role played by penance and contemplation within the anchoritic life, both as a regimen sanitatis adopted to maintain the spiritual health of the anchorite, but also as a ‘prescribed’ cure for the spiritual ills of the Christian community more widely.

The paper will take as its primary focus the writing of the late fourteenth-  and early fifteenth-century anchorite,  Julian of Norwich. It will demonstrate the ways in which she adopts the contemplation of Christ’s blood – and her own potential immersion in it –  as medicine for the soul, something linked inextricably to her reading of Christ’s penitential suffering as a form of maternal sacrificial balm.

Firstly, however, the paper will focus on the origins of anchoritic medicinal discourse, looking in particular at the writings of John Cassian as one of the ‘fathers’ of medieval anchoritism. It will also examine the gendered trajectories of such discourse into writings drawn up specifically for anchorites: the regula solitarioum of Grimlaicus of Metz, for example; and, in England –  and initially for women –  Ancrene Wisse and its associated texts. Secondly, it will demonstrate the ways in which such anchoritic medicinal discourse found its way into a number of late-medieval contemplative texts to which Julian may also have had access: for example, the Anglo-Norman Cher Alme; the writings of Henry of Lancaster; and, more assuredly, William Flete’s Remedies of the Soul.

Finally, the paper will argue for Julian’s extended and fully coherent development of the Motherhood of God in her A Revelation of Love as being predicated upon the medicinal discourse common to her sources. It will also suggest that the sustained image of a maternal God constitutes a logical culmination to the shift in hermeneutics from the male medical practitioner of the early medieval anchorhold, to the female-focused and decidedly feminine spirituality which characterised the anchorhold of fourteenth and fifteenth century England.

36 | Indira Ghose (University of Fribourg)

The Paradox of Laughter in the Early Modern Period

Laughter was a major concern of Renaissance natural philosophy. Lively debates were carried out as to whether laughter originated in the heart, the spleen, or the brain. A further vexed issue was the relation of laughter to the passions. Early modern thinkers were at pains to pinpoint precisely which emotions were bound up with laughter. Clearly, it was an expression of pleasure. Since Plato, however, laughter had been regarded as inextricably linked to malice and derision. For Descartes, laughter was a sign of joy mingled with hatred, for Hobbes, laughter was the expression of “a sudden glory arising from sudden conception of some eminency in our selves by comparison with the infirmities of others”. Nevertheless, the idea that laughter might merely be an expression of delight and pleasure was increasingly mooted. The physician Frascatoro claimed laughter sprang from joy and admiratio (wonder); scholars such as Erasmus and Sir Thomas More stressed the importance of relaxation through laughter.

This paper focuses on the treatise on laughter written by the French physician Laurent Joubert (1529-82). First published in 1579, the Traité de Ris crystallizes a number of the debates circulating in this period about the nature of laughter. For Joubert, laughter finds its origin in a paradoxical mixture of emotions: joy and sorrow. Joubert’s treatise is not particularly innovative as regards new developments in science – his ideas are rooted in Galenic theory, and he ignores the findings of Vesalius, whose experiments in anatomy had dismantled many of Galen’s claims. What is of  interest about Joubert’s work is the way it reflects crosscurrents of contemporary thought, and particularly how he deftly incorporates Neoplatonic concepts within his Aristotelian framework. It is at the faultlines of his theories that a sense of the shift in the way laughter is regarded becomes perceptible.


37 | Stefania D’Agata D’Ottavi (Università per Stranieri, Siena)

Between Astronomy and Astrology: Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe and the Measurement of Time in Late-Medieval England

Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe has been defined “ the first competent work in English on the subject” (J. D. North), the subject being the measurement of time in late-medieval England. The work, probably written in 1391, appears to be the result of Chaucer’s life-long interest in the determination of the hours of the day as well as of the understanding of the changing of the seasons, and of the scientific and philosophical implications of time measurement in general. Astronomy and astrology were very closely related in Chaucer’s time and the knowledge of planetary motions could acquire symbolic meanings which Chaucer fully exploits in the Canterbury Tales, as well as in other works.

The paper analyses briefly the points of view from which the problem of determining time is explored in Chaucer’s works to ultimately concentrate on his Treatise on the Astrolabe, an unfinished work where the instrument is described and some of its uses are explained with examples of the kind of knowledge that can be obtained from it. The fact that the Treatise is addressed to a ten-year-old child, Chaucer’s son, Lewis, makes the language used  to make such a difficult subject understandable to a young student particularly interesting and poses the question of the ways children were taught ‘natural philosophy’ in the fourteenth century. The Speculum puerorum by Richard Billingham is argued to provide some answers.  Billingham was one of the so-called ‘Oxford calculators’, that is one of the group of mathematicians and physicists, mainly fellows of Merton College, who used ‘calculation’ not only  in mathematical and physical problems, but also to discuss questions of logic (e.g. insolubilia and sophismata), and even ethical and theological issues. The activity of these intellectuals was therefore eminently interdisciplinary and capable of changing the cultural outlook of the time. Chaucer was  friendly with Thomas Bradwardine, one of the most important and interesting scholars of the group. A close analysis  of the Treatise on the Astrolabe suggests that Chaucer was aware of the kind of investigation that was going on at Merton and the organisation of the treatise appears to shed light on the relationship between logic, natural philosophy and education  in the later Middle Ages.

38 | Tamsin Theresa Badcoe (University of East Anglia)

Mariners, Maps, and Metaphors: Lucas Waghenaer and the Poetics of Space

This paper explores the paratextual elements accompanying the English translation of Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer’s The Mariners Mirrour, a treatise for sea pilots which was published in the Netherlands in 1584, and subsequently translated into several languages, including English in 1588. In his prefatory letter, the English translator Anthony Ashley raises the issue of representational finality. He helpfully explains that Waghenaer’s sea charts have been designed for individual completion and have actually been left unfinished and suitable for additions as befitting each individual user. In addition, Ashley’s translation of Waghenaer’s own preface draws attention to the way that the fixed inked lines of the maritime charts actively obscure the moveable, fluid nature of the terrain they represent.

This paper argues that both author and subsequent translator use the prefatory pages of the book to conceptually prepare and orientate the reader for the watery worlds within the main body of the work. They posit the need for an active reader who is self-consciously engaged in the process of ‘making’ knowledge and who can read the spaces of the book metaphorically. To add to the opulence of the work, printed alongside the prose prefaces is a Latin panegyric by the Dutch humanist Janus Dousa. The poem speaks of surfaces, in that the reader will behold the ocean regions as if in a glass, and also of depths, claiming that Waghenaer’s penetrating gaze has fathomed the mysteries of the deep. As a whole, this paper will consider the way in which early modern writing about the science of sea travel employs literary devices in order to navigate representational complexity and to create ‘mental spaces’, not only of expanding world geographies, but also of the necessary intellectual processes that must be undertaken in order to perceive them.

39 | Louise Noble (University of New England, Armidale)

“Let others tell the Paradox”: Andrew Marvell and Early Modern Hydrological Science

Water meadows were an important development in the science of hydrology in seventeenth-century England. This highly sophisticated and efficient systematic flooding and draining of meadows was a major form of agricultural improvement in the English landscape. The rhetoric deployed by the advocates of water meadows creates a curious paradox: a paradox still evident in the rhetoric of water management today. On one level the argument has a strong environmentalist drive that frequently reveals an Edenic yearning. Water meadows will return the land to its unspoiled state by undoing the degradation caused by old customs, poor grazing practices, excessive tilling and mowing, indifferent landlords, and greedy millers. On another level the argument has a strong humanist drive. Human intervention and ingenuity will improve on nature by diverting rivers and streams and making dry land arable, and poor land fertile. For Walter Blith, writing in 1649, this constitutes the “Reducement of the Land to pristine Fertility”: nature will be returned to its original—prelapsarian in fact—condition. Andrew Marvell explores this paradox in his country house poem, Upon Appleton House. Marvell’s deployment of the rhetoric and practice of water meadows form part of a controlling metaphorics of water that flows through the poem, which appears to both celebrate and question human mastery over nature. I am interested in exploring the implications of the environmentalist/humanist paradox in the discourse of agricultural improvement and its figurative iteration in Marvell’s poem for our understanding of early modern nostalgia for a mythological green world of the past, and ecological thinking on the human mismanagement of natural systems.

Parallel Sessions 6

40 | Peter Bovenmyer (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

 Redemptive Operations: Configuring Surgery and Salvation in BL MS Sloane 1977

One of the most intriguing surgical manuscripts produced in the Middle Ages is the impressive 14th century illuminated Chirurgia of Roger Frugard (BL MS Sloane 1977). Consisting of both Christological scenes and illustrated surgical treatments, the images within this manuscript create a bizarre abutment of elevating sacred subject matter and vulgar surgical procedures. To date, the relationship between these sacred and surgical images has received only modest attention or has been dismissed altogether. This project takes seriously the manuscript’s insistence that seemingly disparate images, such as Easter scenes and treatments for genital diseases, inform and interpret one another. Remaining attentive to the compelling formal parallels, this paper focuses on two examples from the treatise and proposes that the surgical-salvific juxtapositions on each folio marshal both medical and theological concepts to promote the skill and authority of the surgeon. It proposes that the treatise is not a series of isolated illustrations but rather an expansive constellation of bodies—pure and polluted, sinful and sanctified–which complicate our understanding of surgery and salvation in the Middle Ages.

41 | Alessandra Petrina (Università degli Studi, Padua)

British Library, MS Additional 60577: A Scientific and Didactic Collection

Re-emerging in 1979, after four centuries of oblivion, MS Additional 60577, also known as the Winchester Anthology, is an interesting collection of didactic and scientific late-medieval literature, including love lyrics, medical recipes, a lapidarium, astrological notes, short pedagogic poems, a verse sermon in Middle English, and Benedict Burgh’s Secreta secretorum, as well as a unique English translation of the first book of Petrarch’s Secretum. The compilation of this volume began around 1478, as testified by a note on the colophon of fol. 107v, but texts were added to it as late as the mid-sixteenth century.

However, the earlier part of the collection constitutes a self-standing group, and is associated fairly clearly with William Wayneflete (c. 1394-1486), Headmaster of Winchester College from 1429 to 1441-42, Provost of Eton during the 1440s, Chancellor of England from 1456 to 1460, Founder of both Magdalen Hall and Magdalen College, Oxford, and Bishop of Winchester from 1447 until his death. The hypothesis advanced by the scholars who first examined this manuscript anthology, Edward Wilson and Iain Fenlon, is that this section of the codex had been put together as part of a didactic program for Winchester College, but so far very little analysis has been undertaken, and a considerable number of texts, extant only in this codex, remains unedited and un-analysed. In the present paper I would like to analyse the scientific texts in the collection, noting their role in a didactic program, and thus shedding some light on the rationale behind school curricula in late medieval England.

42 | Patricia Ronan (University of Lausanne)

John of Gaddesden’s Rosa Anglica and its Translation into Irish

The medical text Rosa anglica practica medicinae was written by John of Gaddesden (ca. 1380-1361), probably in 1314 (Prioreschi 369), and it is partly informed by earlier work by Avicenna and Galen (Prioreschi, loc. cit. 370). Its impact on science can be assessed by the fact that it was copied frequently and also translated, for example into Irish. That is was also important to the wider society can be seen by the fact that Gaddesden is mentioned in the General Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (General Prologue 434).

The Irish translation is based on parts of Gaddesden’s Latin text and it stems from about 1460 (Wulff, p. xxxiii). This proposed paper will use textual extracts of the Irish translation in order to compare Gaddesden’s and the Early Irish versions. Its discussion will illustrate the results of cultural influences and differences that are manifest in the Irish version, and it will discuss the appearance of language contact phenomena. This will be done by highlighting differences in focus of the two tracts, as well as by a comparison of suggested remedies. Further language and cultural contact phenomena will be discussed on the bases of the comparison of linguistic code-switches in the documents. The aim of the discussion is to illustrate the influence of cultural settings on medical discourse on the basis of the sample texts.


Prioreschi, P. 2003, A History of Medicine. Vol. 5 – Medieval Medicine. Omaha: Horatius Press.

Wulff, W. (ed). 1929 [1923], Rosa Anglica seu Rosa Medicinae Johannes Anglici. An early modern Irish translation of a section of the mediaeval medical text-book of John of Gaddesden. Irish Texts Society, Vol. 25. London: Simpkin and Marshall, Ltd.

43 | David Thorley (Durham University)

‘Milton’s Letter to Philaras: The Patient as Prophet’

In 1654, Milton, now 2-years-blind, wrote to the Athenian scholar Leonard Philaras, who had offered to refer Milton to a French physician called Thevenot. Milton duly set down the particulars of his condition, giving a detailed history of his failing sight, and a discussion that set his blindness in a classical literary context.

In this paper, I propose first to offer a possible diagnosis for Milton’s blindness (having taken expert medical advice on the letter’s case history), and to suggest that the symptoms Milton describes are consistent with a raised interocular pressure, more likely to indicate secondary than primary glaucoma, of which the probable cause was a systemic rheumatic condition (Milton is said to have died in a fit of gout).

Next, I will also analyse the letter as a rhetorical act. It comes out of Milton’s deep anxiety about his now-failed sight. His attempt to give a bald case history of his blindness is complicated by the fact that the patient is at two removes from his doctor: Milton employs an amanuensis to take dictation of a letter which is addressed to Philaras but ultimately intended for Thevenot. The letter’s early passages confine themselves to Milton’s medical particulars, as if in tacit acknowledgement that his that his slim chance of recovering his sight depended on his ability to convey his case accurately. But the latter part of the letter is more characteristically Miltonic: he quotes Apollinus Rhodius’ Argonautica, comparing himself to Phineus, a king with the gift of prophecy but condemned by Zeus to a lingering old age, robbed of his sight.

Attention to this classical allusion, I will argue, can uncover a tension between Milton’s awareness of the need for an accurate case history and his desire to argue the classical significance his blindness.

44 | Roy Sellars (University of St Gallen)

Not Uninvented

Describing scientific progress, the English scientist and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead writes: “Everything of importance has been said before by somebody who did not discover it” (The Aims of Education).  In this paper, I take Whitehead’s statement as an invitation to delve into what has been said before.  In general, this is what I like to do – surely a banal statement for an academic concerned with early modern literature.  This has been said before.  And yet my statement goes against the current academic protocol in which research can be funded and legitimated in so far as it is original and innovative.  I argue that, ironically, this teleological drive for innovation risks destroying its own object.  ‘Innovation’ is a fetish in our results-driven university world, I propose, drawing on my research on Key Performance Indicators in the UK and other managed learning systems.

My focus will be the term ‘invention’, from the Latin invenire, literally ‘to come into’.  Strangely enough, the “chief current sense,” as the OED puts it, is “[t]o find out in the way of original contrivance” – which is the opposite of the term’s much older rhetorical sense.  Inventio is an essential member of rhetoric (at least prior to its dismemberment by Peter Ramus and others), in which a rhetorician searches what has been said or thought before, originality being more or less irrelevant.  It looks as if invention in the modern patentable sense, then, is incompatible with invention in the rhetorical sense.  Jacques Derrida has written eloquently on this topic (in “Psyche: Invention of the Other”), but the texts I aim to discuss in my paper are by Francis Bacon, John Harington, and John Milton – who gives me my title.  My title has been said before, and, following Gordon Teskey, I see Milton as delirious, oscillating between invention and invention.

45 | Edith Snook (University of New Brunswick)

“Read[ing] of the vertue of those hearbs and flowres which I had wrought”: Elizabeth Isham, Needlework, and Medicine

This paper will broach the topic of literature, science, and medicine through the life-writing of Elizabeth Isham (bap. 1608-d.1654).  Scholars interested in Isham’s work have most frequently examined her religious perspectives, although Michelle DiMeo and Rebecca Laroche identify Isham’s autobiography as belonging “to a subset of evidence for women’s medicine, that of gentlewomen’s life-writing that give testimony to their practice.”1 This paper will further their analysis by drawing attention to how Isham’s life-writing places her neeedlework in relation to her knowledge of natural philosophy and the practice of medicine.

Elizabeth Isham was the daughter of Sir John Isham and Judith Lewyn of Lamport, Northamptonshire and the sister of Justinian Isham, a member of the Royal Society.  She composed a diary (Northamptonshire Record Office MS IL 3365), which briefly accounts for the events of the years between 1609 and 1648, and her Book of Remembrances (Firestone Library, Princeton University RTC01 no. 62), a more meditative work written in 1638 and 1639; some of her medical recipes also survive in the margins of letters to her (NRO MS IC 4824, 4826-31). The diary keeps a detailed tally of her needlework projects and of illness in her household, while in the memoir she ponders their significance.  Isham positions needlework both as a medium through which she has access to the study of natural philosophy and as an activity that she undertakes for the sake of her health.  The paper will contextualize this representation of needlework within her account of her medical knowledge, her other health-related activities, such as reading and writing, and her views on her own health and that of her family members; it will also examine how Isham links needlework to early modern ideas about female health, particularly to Galen’s non-naturals, which insisted on the regulation of excercise, rest, and the activities of the mind.

1 “Elizabeth Isham and Medicine,” Constructing Elizabeth Isham, ed. Elizabeth Clarke and Erica Longfellow, http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/ren/projects/isham/medicine/ (accessed 11 November 2011).

46 | Louise Wilson (University of St Andrews)

Salutary tales?: Reading, Health and Early Modern Romance

My paper addresses constructions of the physiological effects of reading relating to early modern romance; as such a divisive yet popular genre, romance is a particularly important site for an analysis of the agency of the reader and the physiology of reading. Discourses on health and the body figure scholarly texts as nourishing or medicinal and describe the act of reading these texts as a health-giving process; by the same token, analogies are drawn between popular modes of reading, malnourishment, and infection, suggesting that, without scholarly discipline, the effects of reading could be involuntary or excessive, harmful rather than beneficial. Romance was an especially contentious genre since commentators thought it particularly capable of eliciting strong sensations of pleasure without corrective moral content and, as literacy and the marketplace of print expanded in the sixteenth-century, concerns grew over the effects untrained readers would experience when reading it. Romance writers engage with this criticism of the genre: they locate the consumption of their texts in the language of bodily consumption and the romances employ the tropes of medicine, digestion, and nourishment as they creatively counter accusations about their suitability for the unschooled reader, and figure the text as food or medicine, imagining the health of the romance reader as dependent on the books he or she consumes and his or her reading practices.

47 | Laetitia Sansonetti (Ecole Polytechnique, France)

Syphilis or melancholy? Desire as Disease in Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590)

My contention in this paper is that syphilis and melancholy are represented as related diseases in The Faerie Queene because both are directly connected to desire.

I will argue that Spenser relies on the Galenic theory of the passions to treat the topos of love-as-disease literally, as a form of humoral imbalance: people who fall in love often mistake their condition for an excess of black bile; the outcome of lust is systematically described in terms of syphilitic bouts. The two diseases are so alike in some of their symptoms that it may be difficult to distinguish between melancholy and the incipient state of syphilis.

Focusing on Duessa’s syphilitic body in Books 1 and 2 and on Britomart’s several love wounds in Book 3 of The Faerie Queene, I will compare the description of the diseased body in Spenser’s poem to the medical examination of the causes and effects of syphilis and melancholy in various treatises, from Fracastoro’s Syphilis to Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.

The triangulation between desire, syphilis, and melancholy that I suggest can prove useful, I think, to understand better the interplay between medical forms of discourse and literary works.