The Key of Green: Passion and Perception in Renaissance Culture

University of Chicago Press
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From Shakespeare’s “green-eyed monster” to the “green thought in a green shade” in Andrew Marvell’s “The Garden,” the color green was curiously prominent and resonant in English culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Among other things, green was the most common color of household goods, the recommended wall color against which to view paintings, the hue that was supposed to appear in alchemical processes at the moment base metal turned to gold, and the color most frequently associated with human passions of all sorts. A unique cultural history, The Key of Green considers the significance of the color in the literature, visual arts, and popular culture of early modern England.
Contending that color is a matter of both sensation and emotion, Bruce R. Smith examines Renaissance material culture—including tapestries, clothing, and stonework, among others—as well as music, theater, philosophy, and nature through the lens of sense perception and aesthetic pleasure. At the same time, Smith offers a highly sophisticated meditation on the nature of consciousness, perception, and emotion that will resonate with students and scholars of the early modern period and beyond. Like the key to a map, The Key of Green provides a guide for looking, listening, reading, and thinking that restores the aesthetic considerations to criticism that have been missing for too long.
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About the author

Bruce R. Smith is the College Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California and the author of, most recently, Shakespeare and Masculinity and The Acoustic World of Early Modern England, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Feb 15, 2010
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780226763811
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Renaissance
Literary Criticism / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Literary Criticism / General
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This content is DRM protected.
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Poison's Dark Works in Renaissance England considers the ways sixteenth- and seventeenth-century fears of poisoning prompt new models for understanding the world even as the fictive qualities of poisoning frustrate attempts at certainty. Whether English writers invoke literal poisons, as they do in so many revenge dramas, homicide cases, and medical documents, or whether poisoning appears more metaphorically, as it does in a host of theological, legal, philosophical, popular, and literary works, this particular, “invisible” weapon easily comes to embody the darkest elements of a more general English appetite for imagining the hidden correlations between the seen and the unseen.
This book is an inherently interdisciplinary project. This book works from the premise that accounts of poisons and their operations in Renaissance texts are neither incidental nor purely sensational; rather, they do moral, political, and religious work which can best be assessed when we consider poisoning as part of the texture of Renaissance culture. Placing little known or less-studied texts (medical reports, legal accounts, or anonymous pamphlets) alongside those most familiar to scholars and the larger public (such as poetry by Edmund Spenser and plays by William Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton) allows us to appreciate the almost gravitational pull exerted by the notion of poison in the Renaissance. Considering a variety of texts, written for disparate audiences, and with diverse purposes, makes apparent the ways this crime functions as both a local problem to be solved and as an apt metaphor for the complications of epistemology.
Cervantes in Seventeenth-century England garners well over a thousand English references to Cervantes and his works, thus providing the fullest and most intriguing early English picture ever made of the writings of Spain's greatest writer. Besides references to the nineteen books of Cervantes's prose available to seventeenth-century English readers (including four little-known abridgments), this new volume includes entries by such notable writers as Ben Jonson, John Fletcher, William Wycherley, Aphra Behn, Thomas Hobbes, John Dryden, and John Locke, as well as many lesser-known and anonymous writers. A reader will find, among others, a counterfeiter, a midwife, an astrologer, a princess, a diarist, and a Harvard graduate. Altogether this broad range of writers, famed and forgotten alike, brings to light not only sectarian and political tensions of the day, but also glimpses of the arts-of weaving, singing, acting, engraving, and painting. Even dancing, for there was a dance called the "Sancho Panzo". The volume opens with a wide-ranging Introduction that among other things traces the English reception of both Cervantes's Don Quixote and his Novelas ejemplares, including the part they played in English drama. In the main body of the work, individual items are arranged chronologically by year and, within that framework, alphabetically by author, thus providing little-known seventeenth-century evidence regarding the nature and breadth of British interest in Cervantes in various decades. Thorough annotation helps readers to place individual entries in their historical, social, political, and in some instances religious contexts. The volume includes twenty-nine germane seventeenth-century pictures, an index of references to chapters in Don Quixote, and a full bibliography and index.
Modern readers and writers find it natural to contrast the agency of realistic fictional characters to the constrained range of action typical of literary personifications. Yet no commentator before the eighteenth century suggests that prosopopoeia signals a form of reduced agency. Andrew Escobedo argues that premodern writers, including Spenser, Marlowe, and Milton, understood personification as a literary expression of will, an essentially energetic figure that depicted passion or concept transforming into action. As the will emerged as an isolatable faculty in the Christian Middle Ages, it was seen not only as the instrument of human agency but also as perversely independent of other human capacities, for example, intellect and moral character. Renaissance accounts of the will conceived of volition both as the means to self-creation and the faculty by which we lose control of ourselves. After offering a brief history of the will that isolates the distinctive features of the faculty in medieval and Renaissance thought, Escobedo makes his case through an examination of several personified figures in Renaissance literature: Conscience in the Tudor interludes, Despair in Doctor Faustus and book I of The Faerie Queen, Love in books III and IV of The Faerie Queen, and Sin in Paradise Lost. These examples demonstrate that literary personification did not amount to a dim reflection of “realistic” fictional character, but rather that it provided a literary means to explore the numerous conundrums posed by the premodern notion of the human will. This book will be of great interest to faculty and graduate students interested in medieval studies and Renaissance literature.
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