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Occult Knowledge, Science, and Gender on the Shakespearean Stage


  • Date Published: October 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107559370

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About the Authors
  • Belief in spirits, demons and the occult was commonplace in the early modern period, as was the view that these forces could be used to manipulate nature and produce new knowledge. In this groundbreaking study, Mary Floyd-Wilson explores these beliefs in relation to women and scientific knowledge, arguing that the early modern English understood their emotions and behavior to be influenced by hidden sympathies and antipathies in the natural world. 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, she demonstrates how these plays stage questions about whether women have privileged access to nature's secrets and whether their bodies possess hidden occult qualities. Discussing the relationship between scientific discourse and the occult, she goes on to argue 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

    '… [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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    Product details

    • 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

  • 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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