Able Verse: Disability and the Lyric in Early Modern English Literature Restricted; Files Only

Jones-Pierce, Lenora Bellee (Spring 2018)

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Able Verse suggests the English lyric is shaped by disability—not only conceptions of disability as they come to metaphor in social and poetic discourse, but also the physical facts of disability itself. The genre we recognize as lyric finds its roots in the early modern, as do the ways we speak about, write, encounter, and criticize it. Bodily metaphors pervade language used to discuss complex structures, including poetics. Disability studies, therefore, offers a historical and especially useful approach to early modern lyric. Within the pervasive bodily metaphors of poetic discourse—and within literary depictions of disabled characters—disability and lyric elide. Rather than policing metaphor or advocating for the removal of disability metaphors from poetic discourse, I argue metaphors of disability have indelibly marked poetic practice and lyric itself. Indeed, I argue that English lyric has taken on the qualities of disability itself, and encounters with lyric are akin to encounters with disability. Thus, Able Verse contends that a full analysis of poetic form and lyric in the early modern period is impossible without attention to the body- and ability-conscious rhetoric of poetics and the material conditions of the body itself—the human body as well as the body of the poem.

Able Verse inflects a new formalist or historical formalist approach with tools and perspectives from disability studies and builds its arguments upon the vibrant early modern discourses of framing, measurement, quantification, medicine, anatomy, optics, and poetics. These discourses—and their ties to contemporary disability poetics—are addressed in the Introduction.  Chapter One argues that the historical Timur’s disability manifests in the blank verse of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine despite its able-bodied protagonist. Chapter Two engages with Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, a touchstone text for disability studies, and argues that the play’s much-maligned lyric is the linguistic equivalent of staring. Chapter Three connects the sacrificial and bodily lyric of “Epithalamion Made at Lincolnes Inne” to John Donne’s larger poetic corpus, arguing that the “defects” of Donne’s verse are indicative of his poetics as a whole. Finally, the most obvious absence in this dissertation is addressed in the coda, “Where’s Milton?”    

Table of Contents


       The Lyric Body, The Poetics of Disability




“Graced Deformities”: Disability and the Lyric in Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great




       Lyric and Looking in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus




“She which had no maime”: Disability and the Poetics of the Body in John Donne’s Occasional and Devotional Lyric




       Where’s Milton?


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