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Melancholy, Medicine and Religion in Early Modern England


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 (ISBN-13: 9780511669224)

The Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621, is one of the greatest works of early modern English prose writing, yet it has received little substantial literary criticism in recent years. This study situates Robert Burton's complex work within three related contexts: religious, medical and literary/rhetorical. Analysing Burton's claim that his text should have curative effects on his melancholic readership, it examines the authorial construction of the reading process in the context of other early modern writing, both canonical and non-canonical, providing a new approach towards the emerging field of the history of reading. Lund responds to Burton's assertion that melancholy is an affliction of body and soul which requires both a spiritual and a corporal cure, exploring the theological complexion of Burton's writing in relation to English religious discourse of the early seventeenth century, and the status of his work as a medical text.

• The first full-length work of literary criticism on the Anatomy, providing a scholarly approach to the work • A single-author study with a broad scope, covering religious and medical issues in the early modern period and comparing the Anatomy to a wide range of other early modern texts • A valuable companion to the recent scholarly edition of the Anatomy


Introduction: Zisca's drum: reading and cure; 1. Imagining readings; 2. The cure of despair: reading the end of The Anatomy of Melancholy; 3. Printed therapeutics: The Anatomy of Melancholy and early modern medical writing; 4. The whole physician; 5. Speaking out of experience; 6. The structure of melancholy: from cause to cure; Conclusion.


'There is much illuminating discussion here. Building on previous scholarship which has situated Burton's account of despair in the context of Jacobean and Caroline religious politics, Lund makes a good case for the influence of the Danish Lutheran Niels Hemmingsen, and draws interesting comparisons with less well-known contemporary English figures such as Robert Bolton and Robert Yarrow … [the book] develops and persuasively reorientates a significant strand of Burton criticism, and presents a nuanced vision of the relationship between early modern writers and their imagined readers.' English Historical Review

'… clear and forthrightly argued …' Modern Philology

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