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Bodies by art fashioned: anatomy, anatomists, and English Poetry 1570-1680.

Sawday, J.H.; (1988) Bodies by art fashioned: anatomy, anatomists, and English Poetry 1570-1680. Doctoral thesis, University of London. Green open access

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Abstract

The thesis explores the way in which anatomical discussion of the human body in the period c.1570-c.1680 informs a range of 16th and 17th century poetic texts. It begins with an account of the study of anatomy in England in the years between the publication of Vesalius' observations of the body and the appearance of Harvey's ideas on the circulation of the blood in 1628, and argues that the language, the religious significance, the practice, and the patterns of symbolism in the Renaissance anatomy lesson were all factors which were well understood by poets as diverse as Spenser, Sir John Davies, John Davies of Hereford, and, above all, Donne. The style of enquiry which was fostered by anatomists, and in particular the methodological problems associated with the dissection of the human body, are traced in anatomical text-books of the period, in theological writing, and in the work of the "Encyclopaedic" authors of the 16th century: Ambroise Paré, Phillipe de Mornay, and Pierre de la Primaudaye. The poetry of Phineas Fletcher, in particular his epic poem The Purple Island (1633), represents the climax of this conjunction between anatomical and poetic discourse. An extended discussion of this poem shows it to be an attempt at transforming the language and practice of anatomy into a means of expressing religious, political, and methodological confrontation. Fletcher's poem can be understood not as an incongruous fusion of poetry and science, but as an extended rehearsal of a well-established tradition of poetic accounts of the body discernable in the writings of Spenser and Donne, and in the poetic anatomization found in Sylvester's translation of the Divine Weekes of Du Bartas. Fletcher's poem is, however, virtually the last attempt at exploring this tradition. With the single exception of Joseph Beaumont's Psyche (1648), which is discussed in relation to The Purple Island, the history of anatomy and poetry is now one of disjunction. This theme is considered in the second half of the thesis. The replacement of intellectual systems of enquiry based on an understanding of "correspondence" by "mechanistic" accounts of the body is held to be at the root of the fracture between anatomists and poets. The language of figures such as Ross, Van Helmont, Harvey, Willis, Collins, and Charleton, together with the work of the theoreticians of language associated with the early years of The Royal Society, are compared to older styles of anatomic writing to reveal poetic accounts of the human body to be indebted to increasingly anachronistic images and ideas. After Harvey's work has become generally known in England it appears that poets such as Thomas Randolph, Margaret Cavendish, and John Collop resort to a language which is no longer the shared preserve of the scientist and the poet. This break-down of shared assumptions results in the transfer of attention, on the part of the poets, from the body itself to the scientist who explores the body. In the writings of Cowley, Dryden, and Jane Barker, the scientist emerges as a central figure. Imagined as a new Apollo, a heroic discoverer, his strangest transformation is that whereby he is imagined as the microcosmic voyager and narrator of the body. The displacement of the body from poetry is, however, challenged in the writings of Thomas Traherne. The final chapter of the thesis (which functions as a conclusion to the study as a whole) argues that, in Traherne's poetry and prose, an attempt at synthesizing the poetic and the scientific understanding of the body is discernable. Traherne's writings are discussed in the context of both the Royal Society's pronouncements on language and the work of the group with which he has been most closely'associated - the Cambridge Platonists. What is revealed is that Traherne is not (as has often been claimed) an Intellectual "conservative", but rather he asserts the view that fideism and rationalism can be harmonized under a system in which the anatomist and the poet once more share a common task.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Bodies by art fashioned: anatomy, anatomists, and English Poetry 1570-1680.
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
Additional information:Thesis digitised by British Library EThOS. Third party copyright material has been removed.
UCL classification:UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > Biosciences (Division of) > UCL Centre for the History of Medicine

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