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Richard II and the imitation of sympathy
Richard Meek

This chapter examines the various instances of sympathetic engagement and emotional correspondence in Shakespeare’s Richard II. It explores the various figured audiences and emotionally engaged onlookers that the play depicts, and the ways in which the play’s characters frequently compare their sorrows to other texts and stories. This emphasis upon emotional comparability and intertextuality is intriguingly related to the ways in which Richard II is itself embedded in a larger process of literary imitation, allusion and borrowing. In particular, the chapter considers the ways in which Shakespeare borrows certain situations – and emotion words – from Samuel Daniel’s Civil Wars (1595). It is argued that play not only manipulates the audience’s sympathies but also plays an important role in refining and modifying terms such as sympathy and sympathise. In doing so, Shakespeare highlights the ways in which pity and compassion are complex imaginative processes, rather than simply automatic or humoral phenomena. At the same time, however, Richard II reminds us that such processes can be exploited in the hands of a skilful rhetorician, politician, or indeed playwright.

in The Renaissance of emotion
Understanding affect in Shakespeare and his contemporaries

This collection of essays offers a major reassessment of the meaning and significance of emotional experience in the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Recent scholarship on early modern emotion has relied on a medical-historical approach, resulting in a picture of emotional experience that stresses the dominance of the material, humoral body. The Renaissance of Emotion seeks to redress this balance by examining the ways in which early modern texts explore emotional experience from perspectives other than humoral medicine.

The chapters in the book seek to demonstrate how open, creative and agency-ridden the experience and interpretation of emotion could be. Taken individually, the chapters offer much-needed investigations into previously overlooked areas of emotional experience and signification; taken together, they offer a thorough re-evaluation of the cultural priorities and phenomenological principles that shaped the understanding of the emotive self in the early modern period. The Renaissance of Emotion will be of particular interest to students and scholars of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, the history of emotion, theatre and cultural history, and the history of ideas.

Abstract only
Richard Meek and Erin Sullivan

Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw an extraordinary proliferation of theoretical ideas about the nature and meaning of emotion, and this introduction offers a survey of the sometimes complementary, sometimes contradictory, intellectual and aesthetic traditions that helped shape this debate. It responds to previous work in the field that has focused primarily on medical humoralism and makes a case for a more pluralistic view of emotion in the period. Renaissance literary texts provide compelling evidence that emotions were not a passive phenomenon, acting upon people’s bodies, but an active, imaginative and philosophical process. Characters in early modern texts often express dissatisfaction with a purely medical understanding of emotion, looking instead to other complex systems of knowledge – including religion and philosophy, rhetorical and language theory, and drama and performance – to articulate and reflect upon their emotional experiences. The introduction thus proposes a rereading of emotional texts from this period with a more pluralistic model of affective experience in mind, paying greater attention to how individuals in this period interrogated, cultivated and performed emotional experience in active and often self-defining ways.

in The Renaissance of emotion