The Secret Wound: Love-Melancholy and Early Modern Romance

By Marion A. Wells | Go to book overview

Introduction
Love-Melancholy and Early Modern Romance

But this love of ours is immoderate, inordinate, and not to be
comprehended in any bounds. It is a wandering, extravagant, a
domineering, a boundless, an irrefragable, a destructive passion.

—Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

The pathological extensions of love not only touch upon but overlap
with normal experience, and it is not always easy to accept that one
of our most valued experiences may merge into psychopathology.

—P. E. Mullen and M. Pathé, “The Pathological Extensions of Love”

In his Discourse of the Preservation of Sight, first published in 1597, the physician André Du Laurens provides a portrait of what he calls “amorous melancholie” that is representative of the many medieval and early modern treatments of the topic informing his own:1

[T]he man is quite undone and cast away, the sences are wandring to and
fro, up and downe, reason is confounded, the imagination corrupted, the
talk fond and senceless; the sillie loving worme cannot any more look upon
any thing but his idol: all the functions of the bodie are likewise perverted,
he becommeth pale, leane, swouning, without any stomacke to his meate,
hollow and sunke eyed…. You shall finde him weeping, sobbing, sighing,
and redoubling his sighs, and in continuall restlessness, avoyding company,
loving solitariness, the better to feed and follow his foolish imaginations.2

This passage vividly captures both the psychological and the physical aspects of the disease: the sufferer’s imagination is corrupted and, likewise, “all the functions of the bodie are perverted.”3 Du Laurens and his medical colleagues describe the effects of this “violent and extreame love” in terms of specific psychophysiological processes, usually beginning with the perception of an object that “setteth concupiscence on fire.”4 The overheating of the spirits traveling from heart to brain disturbs the estimative faculty, which is concerned with making judgments about the world. The

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