This book attempts to interrogate the literary, artistic and cultural output of early modern England. Following Constance Classen's view that understandings of the senses, and sensory experience itself, are culturally and historically contingent; it explores the culturally specific role of the senses in textual and aesthetic encounters in England. The book follows Joachim-Ernst Berendt's call for 'a democracy of the senses' in preference to the various sensory hierarchies that have often shaped theory and criticism. It argues that the playhouse itself challenged its audiences' reliance on the evidence of their own eyes, teaching early modern playgoers how to see and how to interpret the validity of the visual. The book offers an essay on each of the five senses, beginning and ending with two senses, taste and smell, that are often overlooked in studies of early modern culture. It investigates Robert Herrick's accounts in Hesperides of how the senses function during sexual pleasure and contact. The book also explores sensory experiences, interrogating textual accounts of the senses at night in writings from the English Renaissance. It offers a picture of early modern thought in which sensory encounters are unstable, suggesting ways in which the senses are influenced by the contexts in which they are experienced: at night, in states of sexual excitement, or even when melancholic. The book looks at the works of art themselves and considers the significance of the senses for early modern subjects attending a play, regarding a painting, and reading a printed volume.
This chapter is a response to Farah Karim-Cooper's provocative analysis of touch and, to a lesser extent taste, in the early modern playhouse, by focusing on the specifics of the way in which taste was literally and metaphorically 'staged'. It explores the divided reputation that tasting sense had in early modern England, drawing on visual, medical and moral traditions. The chapter covers material tasting by examining the ways in which the physical action of tasting was presented on stage and presents a short analysis of Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger's The Virgin Martyr. It looks at figurative and semi-figurative uses of taste in early modern plays, concluding with an account of William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. The chapter brings the material and immaterial tasting together in an analysis of Thomas Middleton's taste-infused tragedy Women Beware Women.
This chapter examines the barber's shop as a sound-marked, cultural site of acoustic performance and practice and investigates how ears were treated, entertained and abused in barbery settings. It focuses on the connections between the site specificity and the 'earwitness' of the theatre and the shop. Bruce Smith, Emily Cockayne, Wes Folkerth, David Garrioch and Bruce Johnson have drawn on soundscape theorists and the language of acoustemology to reconstruct the sound maps of the early modern past with reference to literary works. The chapter draws on the theory and historicity of these studies defining its own dramaturgical, and socially and medically situated acoustic field to uncover how barbery informed cultural conceptions of the early modern listening world. Early modern writers often characterize the excrement of the ear by its bitter taste. The chapter discusses its beneficial properties, which are portrayed by writers as secondary to the wax's execratory quality.
The pleasure of reading comedies in early modern England
In the introduction to Shakespearean Sensations, Katharine A. Craik and Tanya Pollard foreground the degree to which early modern antitheatricalists' anxieties about the theatre are couched in descriptions of sensory affect. As Craik and Pollard correctly identify, the concern for the antitheatricalists is that the erotic subject matter of comedies will have an aphrodisiac effect upon audiences. In this chapter, the author focuses on printed comedies in Early Modern England. She argues a variety of dramatic paratexts appear to both create and respond to a market desire for printed comedies as repositories of the type of erotic pleasure that antitheatricalists feared audiences would experience in the theatre. That such a motivation for playreading existed is confirmed by the early seventeenth-century manuscript commonplace book of William Drummond of Hawthornden. The paratextual sexualization of printed comedies is most evident in the prefatory materials of plays whose titles name their female protagonists.
How do we become spatially intimate with Beowulf? Where do we feel closest to this poem? This essay locates the essential space of Beowulf not in Beowulf’s indistinct Scandinavian homeland, nor under the bright lights of the ‘historical’ Heorot at Lejre in Denmark, but in the fens of East Anglia. Drawing on the author’s own experiences of living in or near the fens, this essay discusses how the poem’s first descriptions of Grendel conjure up a fenland that still rings true to East Anglians in the twenty-first century and how the fenland environment is essential to the poem’s ‘psychology of terror’. Turning to the perspective of indigeneity within the poem, the essay then argues that intimacy of this sort fosters, and is fostered by, a sense of Grendel and his mother as tragic protagonists rather than demonic antagonists, forced into acts of resistance by Hrothgar’s imperialist aggression. Comparing this process to the historical draining of the fens from the sixteenth century onwards, the essay considers the poem’s complex explorations of the nature of ‘home’ and the violence of ecocide.
Relationships change people. Intimate encounters with poems do too. This chapter considers Beowulf’s closest relation – in very literal terms – in literary history, the Old English poem Andreas. Dumitrescu argues that this other long Old English poem, sometimes maligned for what critics have characterized as heavy and clumsy borrowing from Beowulf, is ‘Beowulf’s most loving reader’. Revealing the entangled and reciprocal logics of intertextual intimacies, the chapter explores how Andreas’s borrowings of Beowulf’s style lead us to changed encounters with both poems. Indeed, literary influence does not always travel just in one direction; Beowulf, too, despite being senior in the couple, is transformed through Andreas’s imitation. Its pagans become monstrous. Andreas thus reveals the darker side of Beowulf: the blindness of heroes, the tenuous distinctions between monsters and men, and the deathly potential of history and its artefacts. Modern scholars have recognized these too, but Andreas, Beowulf’s first and most loving reader, saw them first.
This essay searches Beowulf for scenes of childbirth and infant caregiving, moving from the poem’s opening description of the orphaned Scyld Scefing to think about Beowulf’s own early childhood experiences. Drawing on Old English, Anglo-Latin, and Old Norse sources as well as contemporary feminist theorists of affect and the family, the essay explores a backdrop of early medieval abandoned children, which illuminates the intimate ties shared by both Scyld and Beowulf. Although Beowulf may seem unconcerned with childhood or parenting, ‘anecdotes of parent–child bonds populate all corners of the poem’, and ‘[f]ar from being ignored or rendered incidental, the domestic origins and early childhood events of these heroes create an organizing “pulse” for the adult activities of Scyld and Beowulf’. Moreover, the abandonment of Scyld and Beowulf can be repositioned as an act of complex care that manifests attachments beyond the immediate purview of one’s biological family and cultural community.
Beowulf has one big back story – the fall of the dynasty of Danish kings founded by Scyld – almost none of which is told ‘in’ the poem. The legends themselves are present in the poem chiefly as mysterious dark matter, sensed by the shadows they cast and by their gravitational pull. This chapter looks at the submerged narrative of the poem, beginning in its opening lines where we learn of the future destruction by fire of Heorot, Hrothgar’s newly erected hall, and of in-law trouble waiting impatiently in the wings. The chapter then looks at how (and why) the allusions in Beowulf to Scylding dynastic history are set out concentrically, in a loose ring-structure, an enveloping barrow of remembrances. As this study reveals, a shared sense of wit or style offers the spark for an intimate relationship, as the Beowulf poet entices with wryness and obliqueness, using seduction to turn audiences into accomplices and companions in making meaning, not whoopee. The real love affair in the poem is thus between the narrator and his auditor.
This essay unites meditations on the author’s background as a working-class, first-generation scholar with an appeal to get to know Beowulf’s unseen makers: its metalworkers, embroiderers, and craftspeople of all kinds. In dialogue with the place of skilled labour in William Morris’s socialism, the use of the word cræft in various Old English discourses, and more recent critical attention to craft, the essay analyses the concept of ‘craft’ as an illuminating rubric for getting intimate with the poem, even as the poem’s craftworkers – both anonymous and legendary, as in the case of Wayland – frequently prove elusive. Whereas printing and teaching Beowulf alongside images of Sutton Hoo overemphasizes the poem’s aristocratic material culture, this essay centres instead the poem’s skilled labourers in order to explore questions of class and classed knowledge that inhere within the poem’s silences and offer an account of Beowulf from the perspective of the craftworker rather than the hero.
This essay examines how Bryher’s novel Beowulf, a remarkable work of modernism written against the backdrop of the London Blitz, opens up questions of queerness and interpretations of the women of the Old English Beowulf. Rather than serving as eponymous hero, in Bryher’s novel Beowulf is reduced to a statue of an English bulldog. Developing the queer relation between the Old English poem and the modernist novel, Buchanan explores Bryher’s distinctive mode of intimacy and community in order to shape engagement with tradition and the place of women in a world that can be hostile to them. In the first half of the chapter, drawing on Elizabeth Freeman’s analysis of queer temporalities, this essay takes Bryher’s medievalism seriously in order to explore how the past may be used as a source of pleasure in constructing queer identity in a violent present of uncertain future. In the second, a reading of history as palimpsest in the poetry of Bryer’s sometime partner H.D. opens up a new interpretation of the women of the Old English Beowulf.