Date of Degree
Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Philosophy of Science
early modern drama, Shakespeare, tragedy, affect theory, ecocriticism, history of science
Ecologies of the Passions recovers a neglected model for understanding early modern relationality, one that turns the seemingly inward experience of emotion outward toward the environment. Drawing on early modern medical texts, I argue that the period’s dramatists imagine bodies as humorally vulnerable to other bodies, both human and nonhuman, within dynamically affective environments. As such, my project illustrates the intimate configurations of human and nonhuman life in early modern tragedies. Building upon recent work in the emerging fields of ecocriticism and affect theory, I argue that the period’s dramatic literature exposes the porous fluidity of the Galenic body—its embeddedness within ecologies composed of material objects, plant life, and other bodies. More specifically, through readings of tragedies by Thomas Kyd, William Shakespeare, John Webster, and John Ford, I show that early modern playwrights dramatize a bodily fragility that is simultaneously dangerous and productive. While scholars have drawn attention to the disciplinary and gendered implications of Galenic theories of embodiment, I argue that the period’s tragedies depict bodies extending beyond their contours and transforming through intimate entanglements with human and nonhuman life. As bodies open unto one another, forming affective channels through which the liquid passions move, they expose themselves to the sometimes tender and sometimes risky touches of the world and its inhabitants.
Each chapter focuses on a different arrangement of bodies and examines how private experience brings individuals into contact with larger social and ecological networks. At the same time, I argue that the period’s medical texts, including Helkiah Crooke’s Mikrokosmographia and Thomas Wright’s The Passions of the Minde, present the body as precariously and productively open to the exterior world. My first chapter orbits around questions of itinerant passions and disembodied sorrow in Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. I suggest that a disembodied understanding of sorrow inspires empathetic bonds, allowing the bereaved to merge with the deceased. In my second chapter, I argue for a conception of ecological sympathy in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus through a focus on the elements, sylvan life, and interpersonal relations. Through examining the play’s interspecies relationships, I consider the possibilities and limitations of feeling for and with nonhuman life. Chapter Three explores the generative effects of mobile organs and parts in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. While the play acknowledges the risks involved in the lovers’ exchange of bodily parts, Webster illustrates the productive fertility of such openness by suggesting that moving organs culminate in the creation of hybrid flesh. My final chapter on Ford’s The Broken Heart focuses on the dangers of ecological invasion. I argue that Ford engages with theories of infection and emotional contagion by dramatizing the affective movement of melancholy and the threat of corporeal permeability.
Biggie, Roya, "Ecologies of the Passions in Early Modern English Tragedies" (2017). CUNY Academic Works.
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