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.
‘Dove-like looks’ and ‘serpents eyes’: staging
visualclues and early modern aspiration
The traditional sensual hierarchy, in the tradition of Aristotle, gave primacy
to the sense of sight.1 However, there is much evidence to suggest that the
judgements of many late Elizabethans were more ambivalent. In this chapter
I shall ask how far an early modern playgoer could trust the evidence of his
or her own eyes. Sight was, at the same time, the most perfect of senses and
the potential entry route for evil. It was the means by which men and women
aesthetic one. Part of this has to do with the
conventions of early modern art. As François Quiviger has argued, the relationship between these two sensory modes in Italian renaissance art is complex:
flowers, for instance, are common allegories of both visual and olfactory beauty.
Likewise, the sensory horrors of plague, particularly the stench associated with
death, are rarely depicted visually, and are usually signified by a single figure,
holding his nose.31 Beyond signifying a good or bad scent, what do visualclues
signify? When olfaction is depicted extensively, it
journey to the East spurs Guy to victory, both in arms and spiritually,
but it also leads him back home to fulfil his duties to England. Guy’s
conquests in Constantinople and the Holy Land reinforce not only
Western stereotypes of the East, but also the sense of Englishness
against which these stereotyped images appear more alien.
While the double cycle that leads Guy from England to the East
and back again emerges as a way of ordering and recognising coherence in this episodic romance, the Auchinleck version of Guy of
Warwick offers the reader a visualclue as well: it