Lovemelancholy and the senses
in Mary Wroth’s works
In his Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Robert Burton defines the effects of love
How it tickles the hearts of mortall men,
Horresco referens, —
I am almost afraid to relate, amazed, and ashamed, it hath wrought such stupend
and prodigious effects, such foule offences. Love indeed (I may not deny)
first united Provinces, built citties, and by a perpetuall generation, makes and
preserves mankind, propagates the Church; but if it is rage it is no more Love,
but burning lust, a
This book attempts to interrogate the literary, artistic and cultural output of early modern England. Following Constance Classen's view that understandings of the senses, and sensory experience itself, are culturally and historically contingent; it explores the culturally specific role of the senses in textual and aesthetic encounters in England. The book follows Joachim-Ernst Berendt's call for 'a democracy of the senses' in preference to the various sensory hierarchies that have often shaped theory and criticism. It argues that the playhouse itself challenged its audiences' reliance on the evidence of their own eyes, teaching early modern playgoers how to see and how to interpret the validity of the visual. The book offers an essay on each of the five senses, beginning and ending with two senses, taste and smell, that are often overlooked in studies of early modern culture. It investigates Robert Herrick's accounts in Hesperides of how the senses function during sexual pleasure and contact. The book also explores sensory experiences, interrogating textual accounts of the senses at night in writings from the English Renaissance. It offers a picture of early modern thought in which sensory encounters are unstable, suggesting ways in which the senses are influenced by the contexts in which they are experienced: at night, in states of sexual excitement, or even when melancholic. The book looks at the works of art themselves and considers the significance of the senses for early modern subjects attending a play, regarding a painting, and reading a printed volume.
in works of art, including contexts of night, of sexual
pleasure, and of lovemelancholy. These investigations yield clear suggestions
about early modern sensory configurations, as well as emphasizing the contingency of sensory experience. Once again, attention to the senses provides a
distinctive route through the texts being interrogated, offering mutual illumination of cultural context and work of art.
The final section asks what sensory experiences might have been enacted
when early modern subjects actually engaged with works of art, considering
vulnerable to deception and held hostage to the emotions. Aurélie Griffin shows
in her contribution, for instance, how this is noted by early modern writers who
were concerned about the effects of lovemelancholy upon the eyes. Griffin also
highlights an important point that medievalists tend to pay more attention to
than those of us working with later texts, and that is the notion that there are
five external and three internal senses. As scholars of early modern texts, we
need to be aware of the ways in which sensory theory changed or evolved from
The pleasure of reading comedies in early modern England
English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 2, 7.
26 A discourse of the preseruation of the sight (1599), R3r.
27 Burton, Z2r; West, ‘On this Learned Treatise Love-Melancholy’, in Erotomania, by
Jacques Ferrand (1640), b3r–c1v (b3v).
28 For a discussion of the physical and material conditions of ‘private’ reading in early
modern England, see Sasha Roberts, ‘Shakespeare “creepes into the womens closets
about bedtime”: Women Reading in a Room of Their Own’, in Renaissance Configurations: Voices/Bodies/Spaces, 1580–1690, ed. by Gordon McMullan