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The unattractive body in early modern culture
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This book investigates representations of the unattractive human body in early modern English culture, examining in particular the role played by depictions of the unsightly body in the construction of specific models of identity. It provides a set of texts that can deepen their understanding of the culture and society of the twelfth-century German kingdom. The sources translated bring to life the activities of five noblemen and noblewomen. The book focuses on the ugly characters found in English literature and drama, and also refers to wider European texts and discourses, including Italian and other European visual art. It explores whether ugliness is an objective property or a subjective perception. Ugly men are often represented as Silenus figures, their unappealing exteriors belying their inner nobility. Carrier of diseases and transgressor of sexual, social and physical norms, the ugly woman horrifies and nauseates, provoking a violent response. The manner in which these women are 'defeatured' aligns their acquired ugliness with the erasure of identity rather than its consolidation. The usefulness of the ugly woman as a means of consolidating specific forms of masculine identity is particularly visible in some texts written in praise of unattractive mistresses. Works 'celebrating' ugly women ultimately draw attention to the male creative genius that is capable of transforming even unsightly female matter into compelling art. Eluding simple categorisations and dismantling the most fundamental of social and subjective binaries, ugly figures burst repeatedly on to the scene in early modern texts, often in the most unexpected of places.

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Ugly subjects in early modern England
Naomi Baker

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book investigates representations of the unattractive human body in early modern English culture, examining in particular the role played by depictions of the unsightly body in the construction of specific models of identity. It focuses on the ugly characters found in English literature and drama, but also refers to wider European texts and discourses, including Italian and other European visual art. The book demonstrates that unattractive men are often depicted as Silenus figures, those whose lack of external appeal belies the nobility and wisdom of the self within. It highlights that the amorphous, contagious, transgressive ugly body poses an ever-present threat to models of subjectivity premised on clearly defined boundaries of the self and the rational self-regulation of the body.

in Plain ugly
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Naomi Baker

This chapter explores that the seventeenth century witnesses significant changes in the theorisation of ugliness. In the medieval era, ugliness, like beauty, was held to be an objective property. The vital role of the perceiving subject in the recognition of beauty or deformity was noted, particularly by Thomas Aquinas, but beauty and ugliness were nevertheless understood to be intrinsic qualities of objects. From classical antiquity into the early modern period, ugliness was identified as a form of perversion, a deviation from a stated norm. Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park observe that the monstrous could generate pleasure alongside horror in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, and the same applies to the related category of the ugly. With the dawn of the era of mechanical philosophy, definitions of ugliness, as well as the responses it generated, were to alter radically.

in Plain ugly
Deciphering ugly faces
Naomi Baker

This chapter answers a question: Does an ugly face reveal a corrupt soul? The belief that ugliness reaches beyond the physical order, representing a spiritual and moral malaise made tangible in the unattractive object, nevertheless proves remarkably persistent. Ugliness has a long tradition of being identified as a deviation from a natural, divinely created order and thus being linked with sin. Contradictory interpretations of ugly bodies are particularly evident in contemporary discussions of the mark of Cain. The association of ugly bodies with evil in early modern English culture is rooted in Christian doctrines of the Fall. Following the Fall, nature is marked by 'uggly deformitie'. Thrown into new perspectives by natural philosophy and by dualistic models of the self, ugly faces, disturbingly, are emptied of legible meaning. Bussy D'Ambois captures the anxiety generated by such developments.

in Plain ugly
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Gendering the ugly subject
Naomi Baker

Ugly men are often represented as Silenus figures, their unappealing exteriors belying their inner nobility. William Hay's Deformity: An Essay illustrates the crucial role of gender in the generation of a modern subjectivity able to reformulate the significance of ugliness. The legibility of the female body depends on the viewer's ability to see through its apparent charms to the ugliness that lies beneath. Protestant suspicion of physical beauty, particularly female beauty, is apparent in the numerous instances in early modern English texts where the apparent charms of a woman are exposed as a dangerous disguise for her true deformity. William Shakespeare's Richard III, the most notorious of all ugly characters in early modern literature, initially seems to contradict the model of the male Silenus. Richard's insistence that his deformity leaves him no alternative but to be vicious is the first of many wilful misinterpretations of his body in the play.

in Plain ugly
Abject bodies and Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy
Naomi Baker

Julia Kristeva's theorisation of the abject sheds light on the function of representations of ugly characters in the maintenance of early modern subjectivity. Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy highlights the role played by abusive descriptions of ugly women in the construction of early modern subjectivity. The ugly woman in early modern English literature largely perpetuates established literary and rhetorical models of female ugliness. Early modern English poems depicting ugly hags are often framed as a male speaker's response to a sexual or verbal assault by a repulsive woman. Symbolically aligned with lepers, menstruating women similarly evoke a horrific state of non-differentiation which marks them as 'non-holy'. While excessive thinness potentially suggests consumption or the ravages of poverty and age, obesity is also linked with disease in early modern writing.

in Plain ugly
Praising ugliness
Naomi Baker

This chapter presents the role played by depictions of the unattractive female body in the consolidation of particular models of male subjectivity. Female ugliness in Robert Burton's Anatomy depends on the male creative imagination for its realisation: without the male subject's active efforts to visualise the female body as repellent, it is in danger of seducing rather than repulsing. While Burton puts his faith in art to beautify the female form, beauty was more commonly identified in this era with divinely designed natural forms, any alteration of which was liable to result in horrible deformity. Another group of texts where male authors attempt to contain the threat of an amorphous, feminised ugliness through discourses of beauty is smallpox poetry. Exhibited in the skin, the marks of smallpox become the occasion for a wider exploration of the superficiality of physical ugliness.

in Plain ugly
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Defeatured women
Naomi Baker

Cautioning against a celebratory reading of self-mutilation as self-determination, this chapter suggests that representations of the desire to escape beauty are largely generated within a framework of culpable female physicality rather than in relation to the construction of alternative female identities. The ugliness of mutilated women is repeatedly presented in terms of a nullifying amorphousness. The manner in which the women are 'defeatured' aligns their acquired ugliness with the erasure of identity rather than its consolidation. Presenting a nauseating display of the necrotic flesh to be found beneath female skin, the texts establish an opposition between feminine corporeality and emergent models of early modern identity. The startling death scene of Parthenia in the Arcadia illustrates the extent to which the beauty of the female body is a male construct; one, moreover, that is projected on to a hideously disfigured female form.

in Plain ugly