Spleen in Shakespeare’s comedies
in The Renaissance of emotion
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Although associated with the satyr, spleen was capable of more positive associations, and provided a reference-point in several Shakespearean comedies that is not wholly negative. Far from being consistently used as the evil to be exorcised, fits of the spleen – not to be confused with the sufferings of those constitutionally melancholic – supplied their own forms of perception and illumination through the lens of sudden joy as well as anger. Gradually, in the world of the theologian and of the physicians, this irrational frenzy was to be distrusted and treated. When Robert Burton encountered the spleen in his Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), he found remedies of cure whilst demonstrating an uncertainty about just where the body-part might be located or how its effects were detrimental. By the Restoration, its potential as gateway to perception had all but disappeared – all the more reason to dwell on the more celebratory references in Shakespeare’s work.

The Renaissance of emotion

Understanding affect in Shakespeare and his contemporaries

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