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Early Modern Literature and Food in Britain  

Joan Fitzpatrick

Early modern literature about food is found in a range of genres that have traditionally appealed to literary critics, such as drama and poetry, as well as writings that can be less neatly categorized as literary but that tend to have a literary dimension, such as religious sermons, cookery books, and dietary literature, also known as regimens. Food in early modern literature often signals a complex relationship between the body, a sense of self, and the sociopolitical structures that regulated food’s production and consumption in the period. Writers mentioning food may thereby convey details of narrative, characterization, and motivation but also signal broader social concerns such as the role of women, religious obligations, treatment of the poor, and the status of foreigners. Ordinary staple foods such as bread feature heavily, but so too do exotic foods newly imported into England such as apricots and other fruits that were hard to grow. There is also a fascination with perverse consumption, such as cannibalism (sometimes metaphorical and sometimes literal), which functions as an indication of various modes of alterity. The consumption of food in early modern literature is often grounded in the period in which it was written. A common recurrence is the way in which patterns of consumption signal social and moral responsibility, so that eating and drinking to excess, or taking too much pleasure in them, is considered sinful. Also evident is the shift from medieval communal dining and a sense of feudal obligation and hospitality to strangers to a growing early modern sense of privacy and individualism. Food functions as a complex marker of national, religious, and cultural identity whereby certain foods signify Catholicism or Englishness and other foods, or their preparation, will signify strangeness. Yet food can also be a shorthand way to address issues such as hunger, desire, and disgust.

Article

Early Modern Literature and the Occult  

Rachel White

The occult has been a source of fascination for writers and scholars over the centuries. It is often associated with magic, the macabre, spectacle, the diabolical, and the unknown, but it also encompasses aspects of science and new understandings of the world. The occult shadows the boundaries of legitimate and illegitimate knowledge, belief, and practice. The word “occult” comes from the Latin occultus meaning secret or hidden, though it became associated with esoteric knowledge and magic during the early modern period. Those who sought out new knowledge needed to frame their work within legitimate boundaries, and curiosity needed to be curtailed to avoid excessive intellectual inquiry. Printing enhanced the circulation of occult ideas, and contemporary writers such as Agrippa became representative of the early modern occult tradition as well as the more ancient sources such as the hermetic texts. Indeed, the critical history of the occult also bears out its varied role in the early modern period in terms of its extremes and indeterminate nature. Fascination with the secret and hidden provides perfect material for writers and scholars. Writers of the early modern period exploited the gap between legitimate knowledge and the perceived nefarious, illegitimate practices of individuals. The trope of the overreaching figure, encapsulated in Doctor Faustus, provided spectacle as well as a moral lesson, while the hidden qualities of words and signs added an extra dimension to any performance: would those hidden qualities be accidently unleashed by the actors? The theater played upon the occult as spectacle but was also prepared to parody it as figures such as John Dee are recognizably caricatured and referred to in plays of the period. Magi and powerful figures with knowledge of the occult also occupy prominent positions in prose and poetry. Like its theatrical counterpart, writers of printed works were also wary of the power of signs and written words to be harnessed by their readers. The debates around the occult are wide-ranging and encompassing of different beliefs and practices, from what 21st-century readers might recognize as scientific to the magical, beliefs and practices that were contemporaneously coded as legitimate and illegitimate.

Article

Literature and Disability in the English Renaissance  

Alice Equestri

Disability—whether physical, mental, or sensory—is widely represented in Early Modern literature, and as such it has been attracting attention from 21st-century literary scholars, who apply the theoretical and critical tools of disability studies to Renaissance narratives and literary characters. Literary disability in its various forms can be analyzed in the light of various models of disability, including medical, social, moral, or cultural. This helps in understanding early modern representations and experiences of disability in culture and history and making sense of reactions to disability in the period: including stigma, mockery, proud identification with the disabled identity, or also a desire for it. Physical disabilities in the Renaissance encompass anything from deformity to bodily mutilation to dwarfism or monstrosity, and they are especially prone to be emphasized, explained, or scrutinized in search of their meaning. Sensory disabilities, including blindness, deafness, and mutism, prompt interpretations that connect physical impairment with the character’s inability or surprising ability to understand reality—whether in a pragmatic or spiritual sense. Intellectual and mental disabilities have many ramifications in early modern literature, some of which, such as fools and madmen, are staple types of drama. Intellectual and mental disabilities are often described in medical terms, but literary texts tend to differentiate between them, whether in technical or narrative terms. Foolishness normally turns into comedy, whereas madness is often connected with tragic characters undergoing mental breakdowns. Renaissance disability studies are also concerned with less obvious types of disability: disabilities that were disabilities in the past but not in the 21st century, concealed disabilities, and disabilities that are not actually disabilities but do foster a conversation that excludes the character who does not embody what society regarded as the ideal physical shape. Finally, instances of counterfeited disability and disability attached to concepts rather than people help understand how Renaissance culture often viewed the nonstandard body not only as something to beware of or reject but also as an image of empowerment.

Article

Prosody  

Meredith Martin

Prosody refers, most broadly, to versification and pronunciation. Historically, prosody referred to the branch of grammar that contained versification as a subsection, but since the late 19th century literary scholars and poets have interchanged versification and prosody, while linguists use prosody to refer to pronunciation. Since the beginning of the 20th century scholars have also referred to prosody as a “poetics,” or a system of meaning-making, and do not directly engage in analysis of meter but rather use the term prosody to signify any aspect of literary style or figurative language that might contribute to the affective register of verse-form. The philological register of prosody may use versification in order to make a claim about how a verse-form reflects a national, historical, or even ethnic character, a practice that began in earnest during the mid-18th century and persists into the 21st century, though with some critical distance. Because the measure of verse is subjective and historically contingent, debates and discussions about prosody are a constant and tend to repeat. There is no one progress narrative of prosody, writ large, but the progress narrative of poetry within prosodic discourse is one of its main tropes. That is, while there are theories of prosody that posit progression, there is little agreement about the evolution or even naming of prosodic systems. Each history of prosody therefore posits a new theory. Thus, the theory of prosody might always be seen as the proliferation of conflicting theories about prosody, in no way limited to one national language; in fact, theories of prosody from other languages applied to English are much older and more robust than theories of prosody that derive from only English—for instance, measuring English by Latin prosody, or French, or German, and so on. Despite the proliferation of conflicting theories, scholars who work on prosody nevertheless agree broadly that, like the subject of grammar under which prosody was historically a subset, prosody is a set of interrelated features in language that, according to how you measure these features, either appear to adhere to a particular system or do not. Also, scholars agree that, like grammar, prosody as an interpretive system often hovers between the prescriptive and the descriptive. In the conflicts over theories of prosody, adherents to one system attempt to convince adherents to another that theirs is superior, and these debates and conflicts continue unabated in linguistic prosodic criticism. Those who practice literary prosodic criticism in the 21st century tend to adopt a system of verse-measure with little interest in its history, or even with what linguistic prosodic critics might call a sharp disregard for its inaccuracy. Linguistic prosodists—who have made significant advances in the field—are sidelined by the momentum of a literary history that has rendered their ongoing work too specialized for general use. There are also those who believe that prosody—or, rather, specific paralinguistic features of prosody—exists, like grammar, in particular bodies, to be awakened or cultivated by a particular kind of reading or hearing ear or a particular kind of feeling body. Trends in cognitive science have influenced one strain of theorizing about prosody as a form of subconscious knowledge in no way dependent on the cultural formations that may have organized sonic features into recognizable systems. Historical prosodists, those who study the history of thinking about prosodic form but also practice prosodic reading, posit that prosody is culturally contingent and, along with phenomenology, might be better considered as a part of cultural criticism rather than a privileged key to poetic meaning. Finally, where prosodic theory happens is a live question. Whether discourse about prosody (or meta-metrical discourse, as in Gascoigne or the various grammars discussed here) is prosodic theory or whether poets writing in a variety of prosodic forms (whether interpreted by critics or not) posit prosodic theories in their practice is at the heart of what many mischaracterize as a divide between historical prosody and other theories of reading. This divide is artificial, but the fact is that disagreements about what and how prosody means have led to a variety of approaches to the study of prosody in poetry, and despite this disagreement prosody is nevertheless taught in most academic settings as if it has an agreed upon past, present, and future.