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Monsters and their Meanings in Early Modern CultureMighty Magic$
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Wes Williams

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199577026

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199577026.001.0001

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Introduction: ‘Mighty Magic’

Introduction: ‘Mighty Magic’

(p.1) Introduction: ‘Mighty Magic’
Monsters and their Meanings in Early Modern Culture

Wes Williams

Oxford University Press

Shakespeare's Othello, an exemplary early modern fable, makes of monsters figures both for internalization and abjection. Moving in from the geographical and generic margins, monsters occupy a central role in the drama, or romance, of European self-understanding. Sloughing off the edges of maps, they migrate into the courtroom, (medical) theatre, religious polemic, women's imagination, and the marriage bed. Yet monsters are also characterized as strictly unrepresentable, banished offstage, obscene. Through discussion of the disciplinary precedents represented by Aristotle, Augustine, Ovid, and Heliodorus (‘science’, theology, allegory, narrative, etc.), the Introduction outlines the analytical and conceptual foundations of this study. It shows how monsters come to be read both as signs of inhuman otherness and as figures for family, kinship, and community. At the crucible of this process of change lie the Essais of Montaigne and the ‘monstrueuses guerres’ of the mid- to late sixteenth century; it is around this centre that subsequent chapters turn.

Keywords:   Othello, Aristotle, Augustine, Heliodorus's Aethiopica, Andromeda, Montaigne, the imagination, romance, allegory, history, methodology

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