Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Reconciling matter and spirit: The Galenic brain in early modern literature
by Daigle, Erica Nicole, Ph.D., The University of Iowa, 2009, 236; 3368948
Abstract (Summary)

This project asserts that in works by Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, John Donne and Aemilia Lanyer, early modern knowledge of Galenic brain physiology is an essential part of Renaissance formulations of identity. As the accepted residence of the soul, the Galenic brain is a place where important questions about subjectivity can be addressed, and my project reads references to the brain in early modern literature as confluences of anatomical knowledge and Christian theories of spiritual identity. These readings uncover a more nuanced picture of the early modern subject as a complex union of flesh and spirit.

I begin with an in depth overview of the legacy of Renaissance Galenism. I then read Galenic brain theories that are influential in the early modern texts in my study. This discussion progresses through my reading of the reconciliation of Galenic medicine with Christian doctrine that occurs over several centuries. Chapter two is a focused analysis of how Edmund Spenser constructs the character of Prince Arthur as a compromise between current medical and Christian ideas. I argue that in a critically popular passage in Book II of Spenser's Faerie Queene, contemporary theories of the brain ventricles contribute to an anatomical definition of Christian temperance that contributes to the complexity of Prince Arthur's behavior. In chapter three, I read Richard's famous prison speech in act 5, scene 5 of Shakespeare's Richard II as a theory of his cognition, or the process by which his behavior becomes manifest, and I argue that this reveals the interdependent relationship between early modern personality and the physical body it inhabits. In my chapter on John Donne's poem “The Crosse,” I argue that Donne deliberately departs from accepted anatomies of the cranial sutures in order to assert spiritual causation that maintains and disciplines the passions. Finally, in my concluding chapter on Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judeaeorum, I argue that Lanyer constructs a female brain that requires the masculine dominance of God's grace in a highly sexualized relationship, and that her model mirrors patriarchal physiological models of women.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Snider, Alvin
Commitee: Branch, Lori, Diehl, Huston, Gilbert, Miriam, Tachau, Katherine
School: The University of Iowa
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Iowa
Source: DAI-A 70/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern literature, Science history, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Brain, Early modern, Galen, Physiology, Renaissance
Publication Number: 3368948
ISBN: 978-1-109-30340-7
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