Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

To heal and harm: Seventeenth-century literature, medicine and the body
by McCord, Sheri L., Ph.D., Saint Louis University, 2010, 180; 3397602
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation, To Heal and Harm: Seventeenth-Century Literature, Medicine and the Body, asserts that seventeenth-century literature and texts—by William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Robert Fludd among others—argue for an understanding of the early modern body as one that is always in flux.

No single narrative exists for the body, but rather narratives are layered and sometimes compete for ideological control in the seventeenth century. Contemporary scholars characterize the early modern body as either “leaky”—by its humoral fluids—or regimented through diet and exercise. I argue, however, that the body is never always leaking, nor is it always regimented; instead, it alternates between these states to show that the border between the inside and the outside of the body is permeable. The permeability of the early modern body finds a mirror in the pharmakon—a term referring to that which can heal and harm simultaneously—and medicinal remedies illustrate this paradox. It is important to read the word pharmakon as encompassing that which bears its own opposite within itself, and therefore, it is not a mix of two separate elements. A poison may turn out to be a cure and vice versa. For example, if an herbal remedy is not prepared or used properly, it might result in a poisoning the patient. The paradox of healing and harming the body continues in contemporary times as ethical and moral questions arise about how the physical body is used, medicated, and healed.

Furthermore, the intellectual history of the body is one that is dynamic and responds to the exigency of the historical moment. Early modern literature and texts bear the idea of the pharmakon in their inclusion of remedies, such as the weapon-salve, practices like alchemy, and writing about herbals. My argument claims that the interstitial spaces between the overlapping stories of the early modern body illustrate the point that the body is never always one thing or another, but is instead a pharmakon, and simultaneously embodies competing narratives.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Berg, Sara van den
Commitee: Rust, Jennifer R., Sawday, Jonathan
School: Saint Louis University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Missouri
Source: DAI-A 71/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Body, Drama, Medicine, Renaissance, Shakespeare, William, Theory
Publication Number: 3397602
ISBN: 9781109696301
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