The Melancholy Assemblage
Affect and Epistemology in the English Renaissance
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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The topic of melancholy courts a suitable exhaustion at the present moment. Faced with the prospect of a sequence of readings of early modern representations of this all-too-familiar emotional stance, one might well wonder whether anything could have gone unnoticed about this particular quintessence of scholarly dust. If, to take up the Ashbery poem’s sharp...
1. From Dürer’s Angel to Harlow’s Monkey
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Melancholy arises through the composition and recomposition of bodies: substances flowing, heating, and cooling within the somatic interior, limbs and extremities falling into attitudes or taking up postures, skin surfaces growing taut or slack, tiny expressive muscle systems arranging themselves into legible states of display. Over time and across culture, the smooth spectrum of bodily affect is territorialized into a striated...
2. Three Hundred Years Out of Fashion
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Love’s Labour’s Lost has irritated playgoers for centuries. Coming to grips with this slippery, curious play in his Remarks on the Plays of Shakespear (1710), Charles Gildon first pulls, then throws, his punch: “[ . . . ] [S]ince it is one of the worst of Shakespear’s Plays, nay I think I may say the very worst, I cannot but think that it is his first, notwithstanding those Arguments,...
3. Let Me Have Judgment, and the Jew His Will
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Foreclosing knowledge from its first line, The Merchant of Venice may begin
but it does not quite open. We start out startled, at impasse, greeted by
this concession of defeat:
ANTONIO: In sooth, I know not why I am so sad. It wearies me, you say it wearies you; ...
4. That Within Which Passes Show
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In a farcical piece of stage business with a flute, Hamlet issues a famous rebuke to the courtier spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that applies equally to the spectators, readers, and critics who attempt to cash out the meaning of his melancholy: ...
5. Rhapsodies of Rags
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Imagine a book. This book fixates upon a particular cultural phenomenon, one not entirely marginal but far from obvious as a suitable subject for its imposing size. The book drifts from its stated occasion, relentlessly, and uses the explanation of its ostensibly modest topic to digress at great length across the entirety of the surrounding world, pursued to its stoppages...
6. My Self, My Sepulcher
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Concluding our sequence of portraits in black, it must be said that Samson makes an unlikely candidate for melancholy. If we take up Robert Burton’s portable defi nition of this condition as “feare, and sadnesse without any apparant occasion,” then the application of this modish misfortune of early modernity to the Biblical hero from the Book of Judges seems, literally, woefully...
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Melancholy never stops, but this book must. Before it does, I wish to both recapitulate and extend my argument, placing a fi nal pressure upon the question of melancholy as “matter,” in order to think about how and why melancholy still matters, and where it continues to circulate, today. At the risk of droning melancholically on, I hope to do four things: First, I hope...
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Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 4 4/c, 6 b/w
Publication Year: 2013