Race and Melancholy in Early Modern English Literature Restricted; Files & ToC

Shaw, Justin (Spring 2020)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/h989r4412?locale=en


This dissertation argues that the recurrence of melancholy as both a substance and a cultural phenomenon in English literature of the 16th and 17th centuries implicates literature as active in the emerging discourses of race. I begin with the observation that in early modern England, melancholy was believed to be both a substantive abundance of dense fluid in the body and a phenomenon of fear and sorrow that develops and persists without cause. My chapters explore how a wide cultural interest in melancholy shaped social and cultural constructions of race and difference in the writings of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Donne, and Aphra Behn. I also examine how evolving ideas about race and mental disability in the early modern period influenced longstanding ideas about melancholic embodiment and emotional subjectivity. Through analyses of melancholy in drama, prose, and poetry, I explore a genealogy of racial consciousness through such issues as anger, unhappiness, religious devotion, and odor. While the writers above often embrace dominant models of humoral embodiment, they also deconstruct ideas of race, science, medicine, and disability. Moreover, to recent debates in early modern race, and embodiment my project contributes a new method for analyzing the relations between race and disability in literary texts. This project moreover uses literary texts to contribute to recent historical, theoretical and sociological conversations in early modern critical race studies. It contextualizes the impact of pre-modern theories of embodiment and emotional subjectivity on the realities of race, medicine, and disability in the modern day. 

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