New book – Literature and Intellectual Disability in Early Modern England: Folly, Law and Medicine, 1500-1640 by Alice Equestri, published by Routledge

Fools and clowns were widely popular characters employed in early modern drama, prose texts and poems mainly as laughter makers, or also as ludicrous metaphorical embodiments of human failures. Literature and Intellectual Disability in Early Modern England: Folly, Law and Medicine, 1500-1640 pays full attention to the intellectual difference of fools, rather than just their performativity: what does their total, partial, or even pretended ‘irrationality’ entail in terms of non-standard psychology or behaviour, and others’ perception of them? Is it possible to offer a close contextualised examination of the meaning of folly in literature as a disability? And how did real people having intellectual disabilities in the Renaissance period influence the representation and subjectivity of literary fools?

Alice Equestri answers these and other questions by investigating the wide range of significant connections between the characters and Renaissance legal and medical knowledge as presented in legal records, dictionaries, handbooks, and texts of medicine, natural philosophy, and physiognomy. Furthermore, by bringing early modern folly in closer dialogue with the burgeoning fields of disability studies and disability theory, this study considers multiple sides of the argument in the historical disability experience: intellectual disability as a variation in the person and as a difference which both society and the individual construct or respond to. Early modern literary fools’ characterisation then emerges as stemming from either a realistic or also from a symbolical or rhetorical representation of intellectual disability.

Introduction: Fools, from Popular Culture to Disability Studies

Section 1: Law

2. The Legal Discourse of ‘Idiocy’ on the Stage and Page

3. ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’: the Fool and Property

4. ‘An you knew my properties somebody would ha’ me’: the Fool as a Ward

Section 2: Medicine and Physiognomy

5. Nature, Wits and Skulls: the Fool’s Head

6. Intellectual, Sensory and Physical Disability: the Fool’s Body and Face

7. Rationalising Fools’ Disability: Causes and Risk Factors

8. Epilogue: Intellectual Disability, Embodiment and Humour in Early Modern Literature

Alice Equestri is a researcher and lecturer in early modern English literature at the University of Padua. Between 2017 and 2019, she was a Marie Sklodowska-Curie researcher at the University of Sussex. She is the author of ‘Armine… Thou Art a Foole and Knave’: The Fools of Shakespeare’s Romances (2016) and has published on folly in early modern culture, on Shakespeare’s last plays, and on Renaissance translation.

Podcast – The Sick to Death Podcast – A history of medicine in ten objects

The Sick to Death Podcast – A history of medicine in ten objects on display at the brand-new medical museum in the heart of the historic city of Chester. To find out more, visit www.sicktodeath.org.

  • Industrial Revolution

    In the seventh episode of our brand-new podcast series, historian and host Rebecca Rideal is joined by Sick to Death’s very own Dean Paton, as well as experts Dr Deborah Brunton, Julie Mathias, Stephen McGann, Dr David Turner and Dr Jaipreet Virdi. We’ll explore the ways in which the Industrial Revolution transformed public health, brought disability rights to the fore, and wreaked havoc on urban health. Today’s object is a model of smoke damaged lungs.Written and produced by Rebecca Rideal.Edited and produced by Peter Curry. The podcast is brought to you by Sick to Death, an exciting new medical museum in the heart of historic Chester.heme music: “Time” by The Broxton Hundred.

  • The Vaccine

    In the sixth episode of our brand-new podcast series, historian and host Rebecca Rideal is joined by Sick to Death’s very own Dean Paton, as well as experts Elise Mitchell, Owen Gower, Professor Kate Williams and Dr Lindsey Fitzharris. Focusing on smallpox, we tell the fascinating story of vaccinations. Today’s ‘object’ is St Michael’s Church, Chester.Written and produced by Rebecca Rideal.Edited and produced by Peter Curry.Theme music: “Time” by The Broxton HundredThe podcast is brought to you by Sick to Death, an exciting new medical museum in the heart of historic Chester.

  • The Global Exchange of Medicine and Disease

    In the fifth episode of our brand-new podcast series, historian and host Rebecca Rideal is joined by Sick to Death’s very own Dean Paton, as well as experts Elise Mitchell, Dr James Brown, Dr Kim Walker, Professor Manuel Barcia Paz and Dr Rohan Deb Roy to investigate how medicine and disease traveled around the globe. Focusing on the transatlantic slave trade and the story of malaria and quinine, we’ll shine a light on medicine during early modern globalization. Today’s objects are tea and coffee.Written and produced by Rebecca Rideal.Edited and produced by Peter Curry.Theme music: “Time” by The Broxton HundredThe podcast is brought to you by Sick to Death, an exciting new medical museum in the heart of historic Chester.*Warning: this episode contains content some listeners might find disturbing*

  • Early Modern Medicine

    In the fourth episode of our brand-new podcast series, historian and host Rebecca Rideal is joined by Sick to Death’s very own Dean Paton, as well as experts Julie Mathias, Dr Lara Thorpe, Dr Wanda Wyporska, Luke Pepera and Dr Anton Howes to investigate medicine during the early modern period. Forget the Tudors, the big story during this time is the movement of medical thinking away from Galen. Today’s object is a life-size replica of Andreas Vesalius’s Hanging Man.Written and produced by Rebecca Rideal.Edited and produced by Matt Pearson.Theme music: “Time” by The Broxton HundredThe podcast is brought to you by Sick to Death, an exciting new medical museum in the heart of historic Chester.

  • The Black Death

    In the third episode of our brand-new podcast series, historian and host Rebecca Rideal is joined by Sick to Death’s very own Dean Paton, as well as experts Dr Janina Ramirez, Professor Michael Wood, Dr Eleanor Janega, Dr Emma Wells and Shafi Musaddique to investigate the history of the Black Death – from medicine and religion to trade and culture.  Today’s object is a pomander, used to ward of miasma…Written and produced by Rebecca Rideal.Edited and produced by Peter Curry.Theme music: “Time” by The Broxton HundredThe podcast is brought to you by Sick to Death, an exciting new medical museum in the heart of historic Chester.

  • Medieval Medicine

    In the second episode of our brand-new podcast series, historian and host Rebecca Rideal is joined by Sick to Death’s very own Dean Paton, as well as experts Dr Janina Ramirez, Professor Michael Wood, Dr Eleanor Janega and Shafi Musaddique to explore the history of medicine during the medieval period. Today’s object is the skeleton of a medieval nun. Written and produced by Rebecca Rideal.Edited and produced by Peter Curry.Theme music: “Time” by The Broxton Hundred.

  • The Ancient World

    In the first episode of our brand-new podcast series, historian and host Rebecca Rideal is joined by Sick to Death’s very own Dean Paton, as well as experts Dr Matt Pope, Dr Jay Crisostomo, Dr Sushma Jansari and Dr Naoise Mac Sweeney to explore the history of medicine during the prehistoric and the ancient world. Today’s object is a replica Roman medical kit, complete with votive eyes, knives and specula. Enjoy!Written and produced by Rebecca Rideal.Edited and produced by Peter Curry.Theme music: “Time” by The Broxton Hundred.

Link for the podcast here

Transcript of the episode here.

New book – Exceptional Bodies in Early Modern Culture: Concepts of Monstrosity Before the Advent of the Normal, ed. by Maja Bondestam, pub. by Amsterdam University Press

Exceptional Bodies in Early Modern Culture, Concepts of Monstrosity Before the Advent of the Normal

Maja Bondestam (ed.), published by Amsterdam University Press, new series Monsters and Marvels. Alterity in the Medieval and Early Modern Worlds

 

Drawing on a rich array of textual and visual primary sources, including medicine, satires, play scripts, dictionaries, natural philosophy, and texts on collecting wonders, this book provides a fresh perspective on monstrosity in early modern European culture. The essays explore how exceptional bodies challenged social, religious, sexual and natural structures and hierarchies in the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and contributed to its knowledge, moral and emotional repertoire. Prodigious births, maternal imagination, hermaphrodites, collections of extraordinary things, powerful women, disabilities, controversial exercise, shapeshifting phenomena and hybrids are examined in a period before all varieties and differences became normalized to a homogenous standard. The historicizing of exceptional bodies is central in the volume since it expands our understanding of early modern culture and deepens our knowledge of its specific ways of conceptualizing singularities, rare examples, paradoxes, rules and conventions in nature and society.

 

Table of contents

Introduction – Maja Bondestam

1. The Moresca Dance in Counter-Reformation Rome: Court Medicine and the Moderation of Exceptional Bodies – Maria Kavvadia

2. Monsters and the Matemal Imagination: The ‘First Vision’ from Johann Remmelin’s 1619 Catoptrum microcosmicum Triptych – Rosemary Moore

3. The Optics of Bodily Deviance: Juan Ruiz de Alarcon’s Path to Public Office – Pablo Garcia Pillar

4. ‘The Most Deformed Woman in France’: Marguerite de Valois’s Monstrous Sexuality in the Divorce satyrique – Cecile Resfels

5. Curious, Useful and Important: Bayle’s ‘Hermaphrodites’ as Figures of Theological Inquiry – Parker Cotton

6. An Education: Johannes Schefferus and the Prodigious Son of a Fisherman – Maja Bondestam


7. Ambiguous and Transitional Bodies: Stillbirth in Stockholm, 1691-1724 – Tove Paulsson Holmberg


Afterword – Kathleen Long