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Occult Knowledge, Science, and Gender on the Shakespearean Stage


  • Date Published: August 2013
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107036321


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About the Authors
  • In this ground-breaking study, Mary Floyd-Wilson argues that the early modern English believed their affections and behavior were influenced by hidden sympathies and antipathies that coursed through the natural world. These forces not only produced emotional relationships but they were also levers by which ordinary people supposed they could manipulate nature and produce new knowledge. Indeed, it was the invisibility of nature's secrets—or occult qualities—that led to a privileging of experimentation, helping to displace a reliance on ancient theories. Floyd-Wilson demonstrates how Renaissance drama participates in natural philosophy's production of epistemological boundaries by staging stories that assess the knowledge-making authority of women healers and experimenters. Focusing on Twelfth Night, Arden of Faversham, A Warning for Fair Women, All's Well That Ends Well, The Changeling, and The Duchess of Malfi, Floyd-Wilson suggests that as experiential evidence gained scientific ground, women's presumed intimacy with nature's secrets was either diminished or demonized.

    • Explores the occult, science and gender in six early modern plays, providing a new perspective on the gendered violence of early modern scientific discourse
    • Draws on a wide range of material, including receipt books and popular folkloric and medical writings to offer an intertextual approach
    • Proposes that early modern drama participates in delineating the boundaries of natural philosophy
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "… [a] rich, well-researched volume … This valuable book illuminates underexplored aspects of early modern thought, with important consequences for understanding the period's plays. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty."
    T. Pollard, Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2013
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107036321
    • length: 250 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.51kg
    • contains: 3 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: secret sympathies
    1. Women's secrets and the status of evidence in All's Well That Ends Well
    2. Sympathetic contagion in Arden of Faversham and A Warning for Fair Women
    3. 'As Secret as Maidenhead': magnetic wombs and the nature of attraction in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
    4. Tragic antipathies in The Changeling
    5. 'To Think There's Power in Potions': experiment, sympathy, and the devil in The Duchess of Malfi

  • Author

    Mary Floyd-Wilson, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    Mary Floyd-Wilson is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A recipient of a National Humanities Center Fellowship, she is the author of English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama (2006) and the co-editor of Reading the Early Modern Passions: A Cultural History of Emotions (with Gail Kern Paster and Katherine Rowe, 2004) and Embodiment and Environment in Early Modern England (with Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr., 2007). She has published articles in Shakespeare Quarterly, English Literary Renaissance, Early Modern Literary Studies and Shakespeare Studies, and has co-edited a special issue of Renaissance Drama.

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