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Taste and Knowledge in Early Modern England


Elizabeth L. Swann
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  • Date Published: November 2022
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108720755

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About the Authors
  • Elizabeth Swann investigates the relationship between the physical sense of taste and taste as a figurative term associated with knowledge and judgment in early modern literature and culture. She argues that - unlike aesthetic taste in the eighteenth century - discriminative taste was entwined with embodied experience in this period. Although taste was tarnished by its associations with Adam and Eve's fall from Eden, it also functioned positively, as a source of useful, and potentially redemptive, literary, spiritual, experimental, and intersubjective knowledge. Taste and Knowledge in Early Modern England juxtaposes canonical literary works by authors such as Shakespeare with a broad range of medical, polemical, theological, philosophical, didactic, and dietetic sources. In doing so, the book reveals the central importance of taste to the experience and articulation of key developments in the literate, religious, and social cultures of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

    • Offers the first full and detailed account of the sense of taste in early modern England
    • Draws on texts from a vast spectrum of genres in order to offer a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary account of taste
    • Makes use of, and engages critically with, the influential approach known as 'historical phenomenology,' reframing this as a methodological tool
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Taste and Knowledge in Early Modern England is densely researched and evidenced, its ideas lucidly articulated.' Elizabeth Scott-Baumann, Times Literary Supplement

    'a scholarly, witty, and enlivening monograph … Aptly, it is a terrifically stimulating study.' Eric Langley, The Seventeenth Century

    '… captivating … Swann's historical and literary account of the many valences of taste shows how much more we have to learn. This study tackles some of the more vexing questions about early modern theories of embodiment in the period, particularly in how both literature and science influenced the reader's embodied experience of subjectivity with taste. Swann ultimately offers a convincing historical account of this neglected sense and the knowledge gained through taste.' Katherine Walker, Renaissance Quaterly

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2022
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108720755
    • length: 279 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.409kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. 'To Dream to Eat Books': of bibliophagy, bees, and literary taste
    2. Anatomizing taste: practice, subjectivity, and sense in Mikrokosmographia
    3. From Eve's apple to the 'Bread of Life': piety and palate in devotional literature
    4. The 'Fruits of Natural knowledge': taste and the early Royal Society
    5. 'Honey Secrets': erotic sweetness and epistemology
    Afterword: 'The Way to Know'.

  • Author

    Elizabeth L. Swann, Durham University
    Elizabeth Swann is Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Literary Studies at Durham University. She is co-editor of Sensing the Sacred in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (2018), and has published essays on topics including scepticism, self-knowledge, and the divine senses. She is currently working on a new project titled Error and Ecstasy: The Ends of Knowledge in Renaissance England.


    Elizabeth L. Swann

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