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Paul Blackburn reads Olson’s ‘Maximus, to Gloucester: Letter 15’
Simon Smith

Paul Blackburn has been working with Charles Olson's poems and essays since at least 1950. The whole point of the letter of 8 December 1950 is to involve Olson in a 'circulation of ideas'. Blackburn had most likely come across the 'Projective Verse' essay, and is viewing Olson as a new and important poet to include in the conversation. The 'junket' scheme is one which fails, or is short-lived, and Blackburn's approach to involve Olson in the Caedmon recordings is a fresh attempt to keep the conversation with Olson going. Olson is so fully engaged with the aesthetic consequences of Blackburn's remarks, rather than any personal quarrel, that he writes, 'Maximus, to Gloucester: Letter 15', a poem which appears to be in dialogue with their exchange of letters. The level of discourse in the personal letter starts to lap at and tip over into the poetry of the Maximus sequence.

in Contemporary Olson
Antony and Cleopatra and visual musical experience
Simon Smith

Sources describing visual musical experience range from works of music theory and the paratexts of printed music books, through to dramatic texts and the prefaces of popular psalm settings. This chapter considers early modern accounts of the importance of visual musical experience, before examining accounts of musical response when music is hidden and unavailable for such engagement. These sources offer a clear picture of the reactions expected from contemporary subjects when faced either with visible or with unseen music. The chapter also considers responses to unseen music that were invited from playgoers at early performances of Antony and Cleopatra. Early modern sources are clear about responses to unseen music, and it is through these responses that visual musical experience took on a particular significance for playgoers. Hidden music is used with precise dramaturgical intentions in Act 4, Scene 3 of Antony and Cleopatra in a supernatural context.

in The senses in early modern England, 1558–1660
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Gender and religious change in early modern Europe

Under the combined effects of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations within and pressure from the Ottoman Empire without, early modern Europe became a site in which an unprecedented number of people were confronted by new beliefs, and collective and individual religious identities were broken down and reconfigured. Conversions: gender and religious change in early modern Europe is the first collection to explicitly address the intersections between sexed identity and religious change in the two centuries following the Reformation. The varied and wide-ranging chapters in this collection bring the Renaissance 'turn of the soul' into productive conversation with the three most influential ‘turns’ of recent literary, historical, and art historical study: the ‘turn to religion’, the ‘material turn’, and the ‘gender turn’. Contributors consider masculine as well as feminine identity, and consider the impact of travel, printing, and the built environment alongside questions of genre, race and economics. Of interest to scholars of early modern history, literature, and architectural history, this collection will appeal to anyone interested in the vexed history of religious change, and the transformations of gendered selfhood. Bringing together leading scholars from across the disciplines of literary study, history and art history, Conversions: gender and religious change offers novel insights into the varied experiences of, and responses to, conversion across and beyond Europe. A lively Afterword by Professor Matthew Dimmock (University of Sussex) drives home the contemporary urgency of these themes, and the lasting legacies of the Reformations.

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Simon Ditchfield
Helen Smith

The introduction explores existing scholarship on conversion and on the interrelationships between gender and religious experience in early modern Europe. It argues for the need to consider masculine as well as feminine modes of selfhood as malleable in the light of changing religious affiliations, and considers questions of performativity, language, materiality and orientation. Briefly outlining the contents of the collection as a whole, the introduction also points forward to important possibilities for further research and scholarship.

in Conversions

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.

Open Access (free)
Simon Smith
Jackie Watson
, and
Amy Kenny

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book explores both works of art and wider culture in early modern England. The book is divided into three sections, each focusing on a different question about the senses. The first section explores how individual senses appear in particular artworks, considering each of the five senses in turn. The second section explains how the senses were understood in particular early modern contexts explored in works of art, including contexts of night, of sexual pleasure, and of love melancholy. The final section also explores what sensory experiences might have been enacted when early modern subjects actually engaged with works of art, considering practical encounters with playhouse performance, painting and printed drama.

in The senses in early modern England, 1558–1660