Infected vision in the works of Thomas Middleton

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Mooney, Coirle Anna
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University College Cork
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This thesis investigates the extent and range of the ocular vocabulary and themes employed by the playwright Thomas Middleton in context with early modern scientific, medical, and moral-philosophical writing on vision. More specifically, this thesis concerns Middleton’s revelation of the substance or essence of outward forms through mimesis. This paradoxical stance implies Middleton’s use of an illusory (theatrical) art form to explore hidden truths. This can be related to the early modern belief in the imagination (or fantasy) as chief mediator between the corporeal and spiritual worlds as well as to a reformed belief in the power of signs to indicate divine truth. This thesis identifies striking parallels between Middleton’s policy of social diagnosis and cure and an increased preoccupation with knowledge of interior man which culminates in Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy of 1621. All of these texts seek a cure for diseased internal sense faculties (such as fantasy and will) which cause the raging passions to destroy the individual. The purpose of this thesis is to demonstrate how Middleton takes a similar ‘mental-medicinal’ approach which investigates the idols created by the imagination before ‘purging’ the same and restoring order (Corneanu and Vermeir 184). The idea of infection incurred through the eyes which are fixed on vice (or error) has moral, religious, and political implications and discovery of corruption involves stripping away the illusions of false appearances to reveal the truth within whereby disease and disorder can be cured and restored. Finally, Middleton’s use of theatrical fantasy to detect the idols of the diseased imagination can be read as a Paracelsian, rather than Galenic, form of medicine whereby like is ‘joined with their like’ (Bostocke C7r) to restore health.
Early modern drama and ocular culture , Thomas Middleton
Mooney, C. A. 2013. Infected vision in the works of Thomas Middleton. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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