Humorous Identity and the Allure of Genius
This chapter begins with a survey of the most influential arguments concerning melancholy, genius, class, and gender, and then explores the extent to which such connections are evident in a collection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century medical casebooks. In doing so it shows how in the world of medical practice, melancholic affliction most often coincided with dysfunction not (as often thought) in the mind or imagination, but rather in the dyspeptic guts. Moving from physicians’ casebooks to theatre playbooks, it analyses how late-sixteenth-century ‘humours plays’, in particular Shakespeare’s As You Like It, pursued the connection between melancholy and the viscera to comic ends. It concludes with an examination of Robert Burton’s ‘The Author’s Abstract of Melancholy’ and John Milton’s ‘L’Allegro’ and ‘Il Penseroso’, demonstrating how these poems further emphasized the condition’s fractured and even binary nature while simultaneously improvising a more integrated vision of the vicissitudes of melancholic selfhood.
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