Animal Bodies, Renaissance Culture

Animal Bodies, Renaissance Culture

Animal Bodies, Renaissance Culture

Animal Bodies, Renaissance Culture

Synopsis

Animal Bodies, Renaissance Culture examines how the shared embodied existence of early modern human and nonhuman animals challenged the establishment of species distinctions. The material conditions of the early modern world brought humans and animals into complex interspecies relationships that have not been fully accounted for in critical readings of the period's philosophical, scientific, or literary representations of animals. Where such prior readings have focused on the role of reason in debates about human exceptionalism, this book turns instead to a series of cultural sites in which we find animal and human bodies sharing environments, mutually transforming and defining one another's lives.

To uncover the animal body's role in anatomy, eroticism, architecture, labor, and consumption, Karen Raber analyzes canonical works including More's Utopia, Shakespeare's Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, and Sidney's poetry, situating them among readings of human and equine anatomical texts, medical recipes, theories of architecture and urban design, husbandry manuals, and horsemanship treatises. Raber reconsiders interactions between environment, body, and consciousness that we find in early modern human-animal relations. Scholars of the Renaissance period recognized animals' fundamental role in fashioning what we call "culture," she demonstrates, providing historical narratives about embodiment and the cultural constructions of species difference that are often overlooked in ecocritical and posthumanist theory that attempts to address the "question of the animal."

Excerpt

Giovanni Battista Gelli’s Circe of 1549 recounts Ulysses’ efforts to convince a variety of beasts, transformed from men by Circe, that they should return to their human form and leave her island with him. Ulysses begins with the humblest of creatures, the oyster and the mole (also the simplest and humblest of humans, a fisherman and a ploughman respectively), but upon being soundly rejected, decides to move on to other creatures more likely to understand his appeal to reason: “Thou shalt find some [men] of such knowledge and wit,” he remarks to Circe, “that they are almost lyke unto the goddes, and some others of so grosse wytte, and small knowledge, that they seme almost bestes.” Assuming he has met only men who were dull witted in their human forms, or “whiles they were men, never knew themselves, nor never knewe their own nature, but they attended onely to the bodye,” Ulysses keeps trying new tacks with new interlocutors. Moving through his own version of a great chain of being to a snake, a hare, a lion, a horse, a goat, a hind, a dog, a calf, and an elephant, Ulysses proposes different arguments in support of human superiority. But in each debate, the famous orator’s persuasion returns again and again to the idea that reason is the basis of human excellence; so he tells the lion that animals cannot claim true virtues because “amongst beastes there is no fortitude at all, but onle amonge menne,” since fortitude “is a meane, determined with reasonne, betwene boldenes and feare … because you have not the discourse of reason, whereby you might eyther knowe the good or the honest, and by occasion thereof, onely you put your selves in daungers; but you do it eyther for profyte or for pleasure, or to revenge some injurie. and this is not fortitude” (sig. l4r). Again, he tells the horse, “temperance is an elective habit, made with a right discourse of reason; howe can you then have this virtue in you?” (sig. n4r). However, each and every animal rejects Ulysses’ . . .

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