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Sidney and the anatomy of presence

Thursday 5 May 2016, 5.00PM

Speaker(s): Katharine Craik (Oxford Brookes)

Philip Sidney borrowed the vocabulary of anatomisation to remark of poetry that ‘all his kinds are not only in their united forms but in their severed dissections fully commendable’, analysing the features of verse in his Defence of Poesie as though he were considering a man’s ‘parts, kinds, or species’. In this paper, I argue that anatomical vocabulary proved useful to early modern literary theorists not because it facilitated any cool, detached parsing of literary features, but rather because it provided a rich spatial vocabulary, encompassing height and depth, to describe how it feels to immerse oneself in a poem. Printed anatomies were experimenting at this time with how best to realise three-dimensional structures on flat pieces of paper in order to capture life-like human presence. At such moments, when the printed book most closely approximates the occasion of the anatomy itself, the anatomical subject comes surprisingly and vividly alive. Early modern poets were devoting themselves with increasing commitment in the 1590s and early 1600s to theorising through hypotyposis this same illusion: that poetry can step out of the confines of print and paper, and into the world.

Katharine Craik is Reader in Early Modern Literature at Oxford Brookes University. She is the author of Reading Sensations in Early Modern England (Palgrave, 2007) and editor of Shakespearean Sensations (Cambridge, 2013). She has recently written an opera about the history of sleep with the support of the Wellcome Trust, and is a series editor of Beyond Criticism, a new series of books with Bloomsbury which seeks to explore the interface between critical and creative writing.

Location: Seminar Room BS/008, Berrick Saul Building, University of York Campus West