Embodied mind & sixteenth-century poetry : Wyatt, Vaughan Lock, & Shakespeare
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Abstract: Instead of assuming that sixteenth-century poetry is a form of transcendence, and instead of defining poetry as an expression of inner life or character, this dissertation argues that there are ways to interpret poetry as a tool that helped sixteenth-century subjects understand and process embodied experience. How do we know that sixteenth-century poetry was a function of the material world and the body? The evidence is in the word selections, themes, and tropes created by poets themselves. By closely examining their writings, we can trace the negotiations between sixteenth-century poetic traditions, senses, and the material world. I explore these negotiations through three sixteenth-century poets whose works may be considered paradigmatic of the larger cultural movements that shaped their world: Sir Thomas Wyatt, the diplomat and courtier-poet in the reign of Henry VIII; Anne Vaughan Lock, a Marian exile who translated Calvin and published devotional poetry at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I; and William Shakespeare, whose sonnet sequence published in 1609 responded to Elizabethan cultural arts at a time of energy and change. The three poets engaged in this project are distinct in class, gender, and history, and thus, each chapter is a case study that surveys embodiment in a unique context. But the reason the three poets are viewed together (and the tie that binds them) is that they all wrote serial poems, or verse sequences. When compared across the project, important connections emerge about the cognitive power of serial poems. I argue that verse sequences are dexterous as well as able to perform cognitive "heavy lifting." Whether it was Vaughan Lock and Wyatt who dilated scriptural exemplars and carved space for emerging evangelical ideas, or Shakespeare, who much more clearly wrote inventive verse, sixteenth-century writers used the sequence to test new possibilities and integrate prior knowledge. In this diachronic reading of poetic embodiments, we can begin to see verse sequences as a technology that merges compelling perceptual observation with high abstraction, and that allows for opposing ideas to take place across the text, resolving rigid binaries and synthesizing opposites. Although my project attempts to view the poets together, each chapter provides evidence of significant differences across sixteenth-century poets. Although Wyatt and Vaughan Lock both utilized serial poems to test evangelical beliefs regarding conscience and penitence, they signal opposing impulses when it comes to gendered power. Moreover, Shakespeare's sonnets are more ostensibly amatory than religious in their overall intent. Shakespeare's metaliterary discourses, moreover, mobilized the serial format as an even more reflexive form. The project may be a skeletal map of the space between the evangelical procedures of conscience (which were themselves very reflexive) and Shakespearean procedures of mind. By comparing these differences, we may cast light on the ways in which psalm paraphrase (as a mode and a sequential format) influenced English amatory verse sequences. The dissertation works to address unstudied connections between diverse poets from the period of Henry VIII through the early reign of James I. But the dissertation also forges new routes in Renaissance studies, by proposing directions and methods for studying literary embodiment. I believe that sixteenth-century embodiment is best viewed through the lens of religious history and print technology. Moreover, I argue that the study of sixteenth-century embodiment should also incorporate contemporary historical ideas about the mind. By engaging both New Historicism and the discourse of embodied cognition from neuroscience, finally, the project creates a comparative view of cognition, translating between empirical methods and historicist techniques in English studies.