The London Renaissance Seminar: Religion on the Early Modern Stage

Please join us for an informal discussion of religion on the early modern stage.

Dr. Alison Shell and Dr. Emma Smith will lead discussion starting with

Shakespeare’s Unreformed Fictions (OUP, 2013)
By Dr. Gillian Woods

Friday 29th November 2013 6 -7.30pm
Birkbeck, 43 Gordon Square

Birkbeck College, University of London. Contact

CALL FOR PAPERS: Melancholia/æ

The religious experience of the ‘disease of the soul’ and its definitions in the early modern period: censorship, dissent and self-representation


In its various historic-artistic, medical, literary, philosophical and psychological manifestations, melancholy has been the subject of a vast literature. Moreover, ‘melancholy’ – the word itself – is a polysemic term historically associated with a large variety of groups of distinct meanings.

In particular, it underwent a sort of semantic expansion between the 16th and 17th century. It became the name of what the physiologic-medical tradition, going back to antiquity, considered a humoral pathology of the black bile, of an experience of ‘moral’ suffering and also of a mental or emotional disorder, a discomfort sometimes described by sufferers as ‘abandonment’, ‘dark night’, ‘dryness’, ‘sorrow’ etc. and often lived out in imitatio Christi. In the light of all this, the notion of melancholy became an established means for carefully analyzing a large range of cases and their various symptoms and discerning the origin (whether divine, demonic or natural) of spiritual suffering; at the same time, it became a polemical category for transgression and individual or collective patterns of behaviour that were regarded as abnormal. Within the spheres of medicine, theology and law, the idea emerged that melancholy may be the expression of dissent, of the subject’s incapacity or unwillingness to conform to social rules and customs, and went as far as to polemically present melancholy as a collective phenomenon of given social groups, to denote a ‘national’ malaise (English malady) or, by reference to seventeenth-century political and religious instability, to designate the ‘disease of the century’.

The proposed seminar aims at exploring the different meanings of the term ‘melancholy’ in early modern religion, both Protestant and Catholic.  One of its main purposes will be to enquire into, clarify, and emphasise both elements of continuity and what was specific to each of the diverse discourses on melancholy within the historical, socio-cultural, political, geographical and linguistic contexts that framed its production.

It will be, therefore, a question of analysing the ways these discourses came to be structured, who made use of them and how, how they intersected one another – for instance, what points of contact existed among the medical, philosophical, literary, artistic and religious discourses – how they changed through time and what forms of social practice and types of texts were involved. Given this point of view, an interdisciplinary and transcultural approach will be privileged, one which goes beyond the traditional confessional perspective to emphasize intersections and comparisons even among different areas of historical study from cultural to gender history, from the history of medicine to that of emotions.

Proposals may be presented (although not exclusively) on the following themes either in the form of individual case studies or in a more theoretical and methodological mode.

1) Analysis of the language(s) of melancholy with particular attention to the medical and spiritual treatments proposed for its understanding, examination and/or cure. We would like to reflect on individual and group perceptions of spiritual suffering, on discursive definitions of its causes (natural and supernatural alike) and on the lines of reasoning that contributed to the stigmatisation/censorship of the experience or, conversely, to its spiritual appraisal. Proposed topics: melancholy and devotion, melancholy as a spiritual trial, tristitia spiritualis, religious interpretations and elaborations of the theme of suicide, body/soul and ‘anatomies of the soul’, etc.

2) The derogatory use of the term ‘melancholy’ by the various confessional orthodoxies to stigmatize the unbridgeable gap that separated not only individuals but also entire groups from the imposed imperatives of social and religious models as well as deplete the term’s potential subversive power. We intend to define and study the procedures that excluded dissidents from the community and thereby fixed the borders of rightness but which, by so doing, often, paradoxically, provoked the opposite effect of legitimising groups or individual ‘sectarians’ or ‘eccentrics’, who ended up identifying precisely the stigma as the distinctive feature of their own identity. Proposed topics: melancholy as the ‘disease of the century’, melancholy and atheism, the ‘monasteries’ sickness’, the critique of scrupulous and zealous religiosity, etc.

3) The connection between melancholy, demonic possession and ‘inordinate devotions’ provided the leitmotiv for much contemporary, disputed spirituality and mysticism within the Catholic ground. On the other hand, debate in both Catholicism and various Protestant contexts on melancholy combined with the wider debate concerning religious fanaticism or ‘enthusiasm’, which terms were used to label chiliastic groups, radical sects, the early Quakers and the Camisards, all of whom became the object of detailed theological, social and medical analyses in an attempt to distinguish between true and false inspiration, the natural and supernatural dimensions and melancholy and possession. Proposed topics: melancholy as a sign of fanaticism, enthusiasm or millenarianism; melancholy and demonic possession; melancholy and ‘pretended sanctity’; etc.

The seminar will be held in Venice, 28-29 November 2013 (date to be confirmed); its proceedings will be published either in a monographic issue of an academic periodical or as a dedicated volume.

Proposals will be considered for 20-minute papers and/or written contributions (up to a maximum length of 40,000 characters).

Scientific committee: Alessandro Arcangeli, Federico Barbierato, Adelisa Malena, Chiara Petrolini, Lisa Roscioni, Xenia Von Tippelskirch, Daniela Solfaroli Camillocci, Stefano Villani.

Proposals for papers or written contributions (max. 3000 characters), supplemented by a short cv and bibliography, must be sent by 15 February 2013 to Adelisa Malena ( or Lisa Roscioni (

Languages: Italian, English, French.

If funding will be available, hospitality will be offered to speakers. A reimbursement of travel expenses also may be provided pending the availability of budgetary resources.

Further information:

CALL FOR PAPERS: Medieval & Early Modern Cultures of War and Peace: Women and War

Saturday 23rd November 2013 at Homerton College, University of Cambridge

This one-day conference is part of an ongoing annual academic series focusing upon the many and various medieval and early modern cultural investments in armed combat and conflict resolution. This interdisciplinary conference explores these cultural investments with particular reference to questions of the role of women in terms of both warfare and the construction of peace. It is envisaged that delegates will be addressing this subject from a number of disciplinary perspectives, and presentations on the following subjects relating to the medieval and early modern periods would be particularly welcome: 

  • the representations of martial women across a range of media, especially but not exclusively those Thomas Heywood chose as 'the most worthy women in the world' in 1640 (e.g. the Biblical Deborah and Judith, the Pagan Bunduca and Penthisilea, and the Christian, Elpheda, Margaret (wife of Henry VI) and Elizabeth I)
  • writings by women who discuss their experiences of war;

  • representations of women's experience in medieval conflicts, as non-combatants and combatants, victims and aggressors, subjects and authors. In particular, this panel invites contributions on Joan of Arc and/or her literary legacy; Christine de Pizan and women's writings on the ethics of war; or any other subject concerned with women's experience of medieval warfare and/or its ethical/literary representation;

  • the way women are represented on stage in plays that deal explicitly with their experience of war; this session will relate to a performance of Jane Lumley’s Iphigeneia that will be staged on the evening of the conference.
These and other related subjects will be considered for presentation at this conference. Abstracts of no more than 200 words should be sent to the conference organizers, Professor Geoff Ward ( and Professor Marion Wynne-Davies ( no later than Friday 27th September.

All abstracts should include the proposer’s name, title, mailing address, email address, institutional affiliation, student/employed status. Please note that there will be four panel sessions: of these some will require papers (no longer than 2000 words) to be circulated beforehand by the panel chair in order to facilitate discussion, while others will ask panel members to address key questions circulated by the panel chair.

PhD Studentships in Renaissance/Early Modern Literature at the University of Leicester

The School of English, University of Leicester, welcomes applications, through the AHRC Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Programme, from potential PhD students interested in the literature, culture and thought of the early modern period (1500-1750). Current staff have research and teaching interests in topics including literature and medicine, political thought, reading networks, the classical tradition, textual editing, religious writing, the history of emotion, crime, libertinism, early modern London, libraries and collecting, censorship, and in authors such as Donne, Greville, Burton, Milton, Marvell, Pepys, Rochester and Defoe.

Further information about staff interests can be found at:

Funding for these studentships is conditional on successful application to the AHRC Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Programme. The Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) will be awarding 410 PhD studentships over a five year period to excellent research students in the arts and humanities. The DTP, a collaboration between several Midlands Universities, provides research candidates with the potential for cross-institutional mentoring, expert supervision including cross-institutional supervision where appropriate, subject-specific and generic training, and professional support in preparing for and developing a career. Research skills training in early modern editing, book history, palaeography and Latin will be available to successful applicants. For full details, see their website:

The deadline for AHRC funding applications is 9 January 2014, by which time students must have applied for a place to study and have provided two references to a university within the DTP. For further details about the particulars of the AHRC scheme, please email Professor Philip Shaw

For informal enquiries concerning areas of interest, please email Professor Martin Dzelzainis (

History of Pre-Modern Medicine Seminar

The next seminar in the 2013-14 History of Pre-Modern Medicine academic seminar series, will take place on Tuesday 19th November.

Details: Emilie Savage-Smith (Oxford)

A Literary History of Medicine: The Best Accounts of the Classes of Physicians by Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah (d. 1270)


In the mid-13th century, a practising physician in Syria by the name of Ibn Abi Usaybi`ah set himself the task of recording the history of medicine throughout the known world. His book "The Best Accounts of the Classes of Physicians" covers 1700 years of medical practice, from the mythological beginnings of medicine with Asclepius through Greece, Rome, and India, down to the author's day.

Written as much to entertain as to inform, it is not only the earliest comprehensive history of medicine but the most important and ambitious of the medieval period, incorporating accounts of over 442 physicians – their training, their practice, and their medical compositions – interlaced with amusing poetry and anecdotes illustrating the life and character of the physicians.

Written by a man who was himself a medic and a poet, this highly readable history reflects considerable medical experience and lies at the interface of the serious medical practice of the day with society's interest in biography and gossip. A team has now been assembled, with the support of a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award in Medical Humanities, to edit and translate the entire treatise and make it available both to scholars and the general public.

The seminar will take place in the Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, NW1 2BE ( Doors at 6pm prompt, seminar will start at 6.15.