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.
concealed. He expresses an admiration for Nature’s inclination to mix “secret Amities and Enmities in all Things, for which there is no probable Reason to be given, unless for her own Entertainment.”89 Just as Nature delights in jokes, as Paula Findlen has shown, Nature ﬁnd her own secrets amusing.90 While Nature draws people into her mysteries, she also refuses to disclose occulted knowledge. In this scenario, Olivia has “been mistook” by Nature’s predilection for concealment. In contrast,
passions indicates that certain emotions can only be explained by appealing to a language of inexplicable aversions and attractions based in occult qualities. Nicolas Coeffeteau in A table of humane passions (1621) explains how some feelings of hatred between men spring from these mysterious contraries in nature: naturall Hatred takes her beginning from a certaine antipathy, and contrariety of nature which is found in creatures, the which as it were abhorre one another, and cannot frequent or
Ferdinand refuses to see Antonio, wishing instead that he could change eyes with the deadly basilisk (87–88). This wish is soon followed by his vow never to look on his sister again (137). While he may intend this pledge as a moral judgment, his dazzled eyes at her death indicate that merely looking at the Duchess feels hazardous to him.28 When she pleads to live freely on the basis of her youth and beauty, his retort suggests that her powers are hidden and dangerous: “So you have some virgins /
Ferdinand to spy on the Duchess, Bosola refers to himself as an “intelligencer”– a term that has both political and natural philosophical connotations (1.2.182). In The Advancement of Learning, Bacon associates the court spy with experimental effects: just as the political “secretaries and spials of princes” bring in secret information so must the experimenter allow the “spials and intelligencers of nature to bring in their bills.”44 The barriers between theoretical knowledge and mechanical
affections” (82). 19. Thomas Lupton, A thousand notable things (London, 1579), 102. On the physiology of sight and contagion in lovesickness, see Donald Beecher, “Windows on Contagion” in Claire L. Carlin (ed.), Imagining Contagion in Early Modern Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 32–46. 20. Ioan P. Couliano, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, trans. Margaret Cook (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 29–30. 21. The problemes of Aristotle (London, 1595) sig. l7v. 22. George