Rachel Falconer and Denis Renevey (eds.). Medieval and Early Modern Literature, Science and Medicine. SPELL 28, 2013

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(available online one year after publication)

"This inter-disciplinary volume investigates the contiguities and connections that existed between poetic and scientific ways of knowing in the medieval and early modern periods. The aesthetic aspects of medical texts are analysed, alongside the medical expertise articulated in literary texts. Substantial common ground is discovered in the devotional, medical, and literary discourses pertaining to health and disease in these two periods. Medieval and early modern theatres are shown to have staged matter pertaining to contemporary science, provoking and challenging scientific claims to authority, as well as political ones. Finally, the volume demonstrates how certain branches of learning, for example, marine navigation and time-measurement, were represented as forms of both art and science."

Table of Contents

Introduction, 11

Indira Ghose (Fribourg)
The Paradoxes of Early Modern Laughter: Laurent Joubert’s Traité du Ris, 19

Tamsin Badcoe (Bristol)
Mariners, Maps, and Metaphors: Lucas Waghenaer and the Poetics of Navigation, 33

Stefania D’Agata D’Ottavi (Siena)
Between Astronomy and Astrology: Chaucer’s “Treatise n the Astrolabe” and the Measurement of Time in Late-Medieval England, 49

Susan Závoti (Budapest)
Blame it on the Elves: Perception of Illness in Anglo-Saxon England, 67

Tony Hunt (Oxford)
The Languages of Medical Writing in Medieval England, 79

Mary C. Flannery (Lausanne)
Emotion and the Ideal Reader in Middle English Gynaecological Texts, 103

Virginia Langum (Umeå)
Medicine, Passion and Sin in Gower, 117

Laetitia Sansonetti (Paris)
Syphilis or Melancholy? Desire as Disease in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590), 131

Lisanna Calvi (Verona)
“Is’t Lunacy to call a spade, a spade?”: James Carkesse and the Forgotten Language of Madness, 143

Naoë Kukita Yoshikawa (Shizuoka)
Post-mortem Care of the Soul: Mechtild of Hackeborn’s the Booke of Gostlye Grace, 157

Christiania Whitehead (Warwick)
Spiritual Healing: Healing Miracles Associated With the Twelfth- Century Northern Cult of St Cuthbert, 171

Tamás Karáth (Budapest)
Staging Childbirth: Medical and Popular Discourses of Delivery and Midwifery in the Medieval English Mystery Plays, 187

Julia D. Staykova (Sofia)
“We sit in the chaire of pestilence”: The Discourse of Disease in the Anti-Theatrical Pamphlets, 1570s-1630s, 207

Jennifer Richards (Newcastle)
Diagnosing the Body Politic: Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part Two, 223

Notes on Contributors, 245

Index of Names, 251

The Paradoxes of Early Modern Laughter: Laurent Joubert’s Traité du Ris
Indira Ghose

Laughter was of absorbing interest to Renaissance medical scholars. The treatise on laughter published by the French physician Laurent Joubert in 1579 crystallizes a number of early modern debates about the nature of laughter. For Joubert, laughter finds its origin in the heart and is induced by a paradoxical mixture of emotions: joy and sorrow. What triggers laughter is the ugly. Joubert draws on the classical notion that laughter is an expression of derision – a notion that also shaped the thought of early modern writers, who considered laughter above all as a social corrective. As regards new developments in medicine, Joubert’s treatise is not particularly innovative. What is remarkable about his text is the Neoplatonic spirit it is imbued with. At the same time, his work is influenced by the early modern shift towards a culture of civility, which set a premium on corporeal control. This apparent paradox emerges as illusory: both a Neoplatonic celebration of the quest for knowledge and the movement towards greater self-control were rooted in an evolving notion of the individual as self-determined and inspired by the aesthetic imperative to cultivate the self.

Mariners, Maps, and Metaphors: Lucas Waghenaer and the Poetics of Navigation
Tamsin Badcoe

Early modern books about navigation are often difficult to navigate. As the paratexts of the English edition of Lucas Waghenaer’s The Mariners Mirrour (1588) suggest, a reader is likely to be confounded by the troubling experiential gap that exists between a printed account and an encounter with the sea itself. In The Mariners Mirrour, both Waghenaer and Anthony Ashley, the English translator, use prefaces and dedicatory letters to conceptually prepare and orientate their audience. They posit the need for an active reader who is self-consciously engaged in the process of making knowledge and who is receptive to the figurative way that space is represented in their work. In addition, a poem attributed to Janus Dousa (Johann van der Does), printed alongside the prose prefaces of The Mariners Mirrour, places figurative expression at the heart of knowledge making practices, illuminating the ways in which early modern arts of navigation often relied on the interaction of techne and poiesis.

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

Stefania D’Agata D’Ottavi

Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe is analysed from the point of view of the language of scientific writing and of the very young age of the addressee. Chaucer is argued to have used a sort of language that strives for the rigour of scientific discourse while still being aimed at a young pupil who does not know Latin and is evidently at the beginning of his school training. Moreover, the fact that the schoolboy is introduced as the writer’s son gives the language a particularly intimate tone; the father takes pains to make his explanations clear, and attempts to arouse the child’s interest in a difficult subject. Another work also probably addressed to a young student, Richard Billingham’s Speculum puerorum is compared to Chaucer’s treatise with respect to tone and choice of subject. I argue that, in spite of the many differences between the two works, Billingham’s logical treatise may have aroused Chaucer’s interest and provided a model for his own work; there are some similarities between the carefully clear propositions which characterise both texts and which appear to be the result of both authors’ concern for a pedagogical approach to scientific subjects, where equally difficult problems have to be explained to young students and their complexities made understandable and interesting to small children.

Blame it on the Elves: Perception of Illness in Anglo-Saxon England

Susan Závoti

From earliest times, people have sought to understand illness, so cultural attitudes to and treatment of illness tell us not only 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 essay is to probe the Anglo-Saxon mind’s attitude to illness, in the transition period between heathenism and Christianity. In particular, I will explore the significance of the supernatural beings called elves, who are invested with an important role in the causes of disease and also bear a potential to be paralleled to devils, as witnessed by the Old English Leechbooks: even though the idea of connecting elves to illness is most plausibly much older in Anglo-Saxon England than that of connecting devils to illness brought by Christianity, ailments wrought by elves are still treated the same way as those wrought by devils. Furthermore, I shall discuss the power attributed to Christianity in the combat against elves regarding healing, as evidenced in Bald’s Leechbook, and Leechbook III.

The Languages of Medical Writing in Medieval England

Tony Hunt

Therapeutic receipts mark the beginning of medical writing in post- Conquest England, eighty-five surviving from the twelfth century, and these are examined for the light they shed, especially through codemixing, on problems of language identification and distinction in the period and, not least, on the phenomena of language contact, contiguity and continuity. The evidence up to 1400 suggests that there was no exclusive language of medical writing and that the traditional picture of linguistic and chronological discontinuities (Latin – French – English) is faulty. The emergence of medical compendia and translations after 1250 reveals the same linguistic hybridism, confounding the assumptions of monoglossia. The persistence of Anglo-Norman is striking, for Henslow’s Medical Works of the Fourteenth Century, published in 1899, airbrushed out Anglo-Norman evidence completely. In fact Anglo- Norman material is still being fed into medical compendia in the fifteenth century. The situation is rendered yet more complex by the fact that some Anglo-Norman material, for example that found in MS Cambridge, Trinity College 0.1.20, is arguably of Continental provenance and this possibility underlines the importance of careful attention to word-geography. It is medicine which par excellence engages us with the languages of medieval England.

Emotion and the Ideal Reader in Middle English Gynaecological Texts
Mary C. Flannery

Middle English medical treatises often explicitly acknowledge that shame is one possible response to medical examination and treatment. This is a problem that medieval gynaecological treatises, in particular, struggle to address. These texts treat bodily shame as a paramount concern for women, who – socially and personally – might have much to fear from the exposure of their private lives and private parts. One of the foremost methods used by gynaecological treatises to circumnavigate the possibility of shame is to place the burden of responsibility on readers, male and female alike. Consequently, Middle English gynaecological texts tend to 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.” Reading the prologues of these texts for their affective strategies reveals that shame could underlie not only the treatment, but also the acts of writing and reading about women’s ailments in the Middle Ages.

Medicine, Passion and Sin in Gower
Virginia Langum

This essay discusses the presentation of wrath and envy, primarily in the Middle English poem the Confessio Amantis, but with some references to the French Mirror of Man, as a means of exploring the fourteenthcentury English poet John Gower’s understanding of the body, medicine and sin. Wrath and envy present interesting case studies as Gower claims that they are the most unnatural of the seven sins. Yet wrath and envy are richly embodied in both his poetry, as well as contemporary medical and pastoral literature as will be shown. The essay argues for the hitherto unnoticed importance of medicine in understanding Gower’s poetry. I would specifically like to address the question of whether wrath, envy and other passions cause or are metaphors for, sin, in Gower’s representations of these passions. By attending to human physiology, Gower invites the reader to recognize their shared human weakness, particularly in reference to the passions (emotions) and the predisposition to sin: his text thus fosters co-passion or compassion in his reader, as I will argue.

Syphilis or Melancholy? Desire as Disease in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590)
Laetitia Sansonetti

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.

“Is’t Lunacy to call a spade, a spade?”: James Carkesse and the Forgotten Language of Madness
Lisanna Calvi

James Carkesse, poet and former Navy clerk, 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 Hospital and published in 1679, he illustrates life in the madhouse and offers to the modern reader a singular glimpse into what Michel Foucault would call the “great confinement.” In what is possibly the first collection of verses written and published by an inmate of a mental asylum, Carkesse’s poetry not only gives voice to the lucid intervals within a period of madness, it also reflects the intricate and ambiguous nature of his condition as belonging to the world of the mad, constantly crossing the line between reality and pretence, allegedly feigned and supposedly authentic distraction. Thus, Lucida Intervalla offers far more than a glint of the cultural implications of insanity and of its cure in seventeenth-century England and also delves into the problematic relationship between madness and poetical creation.

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

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 the convent of Helfta at the end of the thirteenth century. This essay argues that Mechtild’s revelations demonstrate a unique interface between medicine and religion. In the late Middle Ages, spiritual care and cure were expected to be administered during one’s life time and after death. Focussing on the health of the soul as evidenced in Mechtild’s revelations on the last rite, post-mortem prayers and commemorations, this essay will demonstrate that the concept of the body and blood of Christ as caritas was central to the deliverance of souls from Purgatory and that the act of mercy performed for fellow Christians was steeped in the culture of redemptive reciprocity. At the end, it will reassess the popularity of the Middle English extracts of Mechtild’s prayers in fifteenth-century England, also in the context of the care of the soul.

Spiritual Healing: Healing Miracles Associated With the Twelfth-Century Northern Cult of St Cuthbert
Christiania Whitehead

This essay examines miracles of spiritual healing and illness in the Durham cult of St Cuthbert during the twelfth century, drawing upon a range of miracle collections, vitae and Cuthbertine historiographical writings. It explores the ways in which these miracles work to defend the autonomy of the region against threatening ethnic and institutional incursions, to compete with the south, and to create consensus between the cathedral and the city. Following this, it focuses on two kinds of healing/illness miracle which have a special and specific relation to the North East. First, it studies the folkloric miracles associated with the secondary cult centre on Inner Farne Island, and investigates the relation of Inner Farne to Durham. Second, it details the use of miracles of illness to police sacred architectural space and compel spatial segregation along gender lines. The essay closes with remarks on the complementary role played by the cult of St Godric at Finchale in relation to this gender segregation.

Staging Childbirth: Medical and Popular Discourses of Delivery and Midwifery in the Medieval English Mystery Plays1
Tamás Karáth

Gynaecological sources of the late Middle Ages attest to two major changes in the practices of delivery: first, the (re)appearance of the professional midwife, increasingly operating under corporate control, and second, a growing presence of male medical practitioners at natural deliveries. I argue that the Nativity pageants of the English mystery plays can be used to reconstruct the transformations of contemporary professional and lay discourses of childbirth. Staging Christ’s birth in the English cycle plays confronted playwrights with the challenge of disclosing to the public what was considered to be an exclusively female experience. An analysis of the discursive and dramaturgical strategies of the Nativity episodes of the cycle plays and the Coventry fragment reveals that the plays were concerned with the development of a new professional midwifery. At the same time, plays staging conflicts between the female participants of the birth and the male witnesses reflect on male claims of involvement, and thus join discourses of shame and blame. Similarly to the “gendered” prologues of gynaecological texts, the medieval pageants of the Nativity also maintain a dichotomy of the ideal presence of certain people at birth and the non-desired intrusion of others. But unlike those prologues, the stage plays do not impose shame on the public gaze intruding into the revelation of the secrecies of the birth chamber. Playwrights of the most elaborate Nativity pageants are sympathetic towards the idea of empowering women in the birthing process; on stage, at least one mother (the Virgin Mary) remained in full control of her delivery.

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

This essay places the language of disease at the centre of the antitheatrical controversy, which flared up in the late 1500s in response to the rising popularity of the secular theatre. Theatre objectors worried that drama lured crowds away from the pulpit with its visually seductive fleshly spectacles. They accused the theatre of perpetuating the idolatrous culture of Catholicism, and portrayed it as a site of moral and physical contagion. The disease imagery in antitheatrical pamphlets reconfigures the once cooperative historical relationship between drama and religion into one of antagonism. Bringing together cultural associations between Catholicism, idolatry and adultery, the medically-inflected moral rhetoric of antitheatricalists charts a curious mechanism for disease transmission in the theatre. Contagion migrates from the bodies of the players, through the senses of spectators, as they empathetically observe the actions portrayed, into their own bodies and minds. Thus the pamphlets establish a causal link between seduction of the senses, corruption of the soul and contagion of the body. By creating this system of causalities, I suggest, the pamphleteers sought (and failed) to regain the attentions of playgoers.

Diagnosing the Body Politic: Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part Two

Jennifer Richards

The language of disease dominates Henry IV, Part Two. Several characters, including Falstaff and Henry IV, experience illness and sickness also serves as a presiding metaphor to diagnose both the problems endured by the body politic and the means to cure these. With respect to the latter, the play accords a crucial role to the Lord Chief Justice. He emerges as a true political physician whose commendable and effective remedy for the distemper of faction and self-seeking is to uphold the rule of law. And yet this is not the only valid perspective in the play. As I will argue, there are counter-cures and diagnoses. Shakespeare explores medical discourse in complex ways to remind us why and how political diagnoses and cures are so difficult to achieve. One crucial context for this aspect of the play is Shakespeare’s engagement with the way in which earlier Tudor political thinkers – among them Thomas Starkey, Thomas Elyot and William Bullein – explored the different healthy states that could exist, as well as the ills that imperil these and the range of remedies required. Like Elyot and Bullein, Shakespeare explores a wide-ranging set of implications deriving from different politico-medical discourses including an interest in the priority that needs to be accorded to the tongue and the stomach. This paper will trace the consequences of this specific discourse within the play and consider its implications for Shakespeare’s understanding of political sickness and its cure.

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