Occult Knowledge, Science, and Gender on the Shakespearean Stage
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In this ground-breaking study, Mary Floyd-Wilson argues that the early modern English believed their affections and behavior were influenced by hidden sympathies and antipathies that coursed through the natural world. These forces not only produced emotional relationships but they were also levers by which ordinary people supposed they could manipulate nature and produce new knowledge. Indeed, it was the invisibility of nature's secrets-or occult qualities-that led to a privileging of experimentation, helping to displace a reliance on ancient theories. Floyd-Wilson demonstrates how Renaissance drama participates in natural philosophy's production of epistemological boundaries by staging stories that assess the knowledge-making authority of women healers and experimenters. Focusing on Twelfth Night, Arden of Faversham, A Warning for Fair Women, All's Well That Ends Well, The Changeling, and The Duchess of Malfi, Floyd-Wilson suggests that as experiential evidence gained scientific ground, women's presumed intimacy with nature's secrets was either diminished or demonized.
however, God may or may not intervene in the revelation of the hidden. Like Heywood, he indicates that the stirring effects of theatrical performances can act as a catalyst for such discoveries. The 72 Sympathetic contagion climax of the play is Anne’s presentation of herself as an open book: “were my breast transparent / That what is ﬁgured there, might be perceiv’d” (2653–54). Where Arden of Faversham explores the dangers of contagion posed not only by the theater but also by the passions
Repeatedly cited as the source for other books of secrets, including Thomas Lupton A thousand notable things (1579) and Johann Jacob Wecker’s Eighteen books of the secrets of art and nature (1660), Mizauld’s name may have been familiar to some of The Changeling’s audience.9 Alsemero also indicates that he acquired Mizauld’s receipt from a Chaldean, a claim that may allude to books of secrets’ common acknowledgment of oral sources, including cunning folk and herb women (4.2.112). Beatrice’s
poysoned with some venomous weed among grasse where they pasture, goe by and by to the Artichoke, and therewith cure themselues.49 104 Tragic antipathies in The Changeling The complex question of whether a poison’s antidote functions as a sympathetic or antipathetic process frames Hugh Plat’s description of the bezoar or bezar stone in the 1653 edition of The jewel house of art and nature, a popular book of secrets. Noting that the bezar is “of excellent virtue against poison,” Plat explains
and Sullivan, Environment and Embodiment, 171–86. 74. Jane Jackson, “A very shorte and compendious Methode of Phisicke and Chirurgery (1642),” MS 373, fo. 75r–75v, Wellcome Library. 75. Fabián Alejandro Campagne, “Witchcraft and the Sense-of-the-Impossible in Early Modern Spain: Some Reﬂections Based on the Literature of Superstition (ca. 1500–1800),” Harvard Theological Review 96 (2003): 51. 76. From the preface to De secretis mulierum, quoted by Katharine Park, Secrets of Women: Gender,
currency from 1571 to 1605. 54. Traister argues that Helena is greensick and pursues Bertram for healing purposes; see “‘Doctor She,’” 334. On the expected curative effects of bedtricks, see Anthony Cassell, “Pilgrim Wombs, Physicke and Bed-Tricks: Intellectual Brilliance, Attenuation and Elision in Decameron III:9,” MLN 121 (2006): 53–101; Marliss C. Desens, The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama: Explorations in Gender, Sexuality, and Power (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994), 86;