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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.Read more
- 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
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, ChoiceSee more reviews
"… [it] sheds new light on the development of science from early modern to modern … The sheer breadth of knowledge in this book will make it an appealing read for students of Shakespearian performance, gender studies, the history of science, and the history of the book."
Benjamin C. Miele, The Shakespeare Newsletter
"[Floyd-Wilson's] clarity and simplicity of style and wealth of documentation increase her reader's pleasure. This book reminds us that the original, though now rare, meaning of occult is "secret or hidden". [The book] focuses on an area between God's Providence and the Devil's interference, where an animate, mysterious natural world challenged early modern men and women to discover its occult secrets."
Barbara H. Traister, Renaissance Quarterly
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- Date Published: October 2015
- format: Paperback
- isbn: 9781107559370
- length: 250 pages
- dimensions: 230 x 152 x 18 mm
- weight: 0.38kg
- 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
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