Introduction: ‘Mighty Magic’

Wes Williams

in Monsters and their Meanings in Early Modern Culture

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199577026
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728662 | DOI:
Introduction: ‘Mighty Magic’

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Shakespeare's Othello, an exemplary early modern fable, makes of monsters figures both for internalization and abjection. Moving in from the geographical and generic margins, monsters occupy a central role in the drama, or romance, of European self-understanding. Sloughing off the edges of maps, they migrate into the courtroom, (medical) theatre, religious polemic, women's imagination, and the marriage bed. Yet monsters are also characterized as strictly unrepresentable, banished offstage, obscene. Through discussion of the disciplinary precedents represented by Aristotle, Augustine, Ovid, and Heliodorus (‘science’, theology, allegory, narrative, etc.), the Introduction outlines the analytical and conceptual foundations of this study. It shows how monsters come to be read both as signs of inhuman otherness and as figures for family, kinship, and community. At the crucible of this process of change lie the Essais of Montaigne and the ‘monstrueuses guerres’ of the mid- to late sixteenth century; it is around this centre that subsequent chapters turn.

Keywords: Othello; Aristotle; Augustine; Heliodorus's Aethiopica; Andromeda; Montaigne; the imagination; romance; allegory; history; methodology

Chapter.  13718 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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