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Pain and Compassion in Early Modern English Literature and Culture

Pain and Compassion in Early Modern English Literature and Culture

Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen
Volume: 31
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1r2gz7
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  • Book Info
    Pain and Compassion in Early Modern English Literature and Culture
    Book Description:

    ‘A deeply original work of scholarship. Through fine close readings of primary and secondary texts, the author offers the fullest account we have of the related phenomena of pain, sympathy, and sensation in early modern culture.’ Michael Schoenfeldt, John R. Knott, Jr., Professor of English, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In late medieval Catholicism, pain was seen as a way of imitating Christ, and as an avenue to salvation. During the early modern period, Protestant theologians came to reject these assumptions, and attempted to redefine and circumscribe the spiritual meaning of suffering. The rethinking of the meaning of pain during the early modern era is the central theme of this book. The author pays particular attention to how literary writers explored the issue of pain, by placing their work in a broad context of devotional, theological, philosophical and medical texts on suffering. In detailed readings of Alabaster, Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, Lanyer, Spenser, Milton and Montaigne, he shows that early modern culture located the meaning of pain in its capacity to elicit compassion in others - yet the nature of this compassion was also fiercely contested. Dr Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen is Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Leiden.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-058-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-30)

    During his late teens and early twenties Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist and naval administrator under Charles II, suffered from bladder stones. By the time he was twenty-five the pain which this caused became so intense that he decided to seek medical treatment. He was eventually cut for the stone on 26 March 1658. Although the operation was both extremely painful and dangerous, his surgeon, Thomas Hollier, was highly experienced and had successfully operated on numerous patients, and Pepys would live for another 45 years. In his diary entry for 26 March 1660 – the first year of his diary – Pepys...

  6. CHAPTER 2 EARLY MODERN RELIGIOUS DISCOURSES OF PAIN
    (pp. 31-88)

    In The Body in Pain, one of the most brilliant and influential late twentieth-century philosophical studies of the nature of pain, Elaine Scarry argues that it is impossible to share in other people’s pain:

    when one speaks about ‘one’s own physical pain’ and about ‘another person’s physical pain’, one might almost appear to be speaking about two wholly distinct orders of events. [...] [F] or the person in pain, so incontestably and unnegotiably present is it that ‘ having pain’ may come to be thought of as the most vibrant example of what it is ‘to have certainty’, while for...

  7. CHAPTER 3 RELIGIOUS PAIN FROM ALABASTER TO DONNE
    (pp. 89-113)

    This chapter examines the meaning of physical suffering in the work of William Alabaster and John Donne. I will look in particular at how their poetry represents the suffering of Christ, and the possible human ways of engaging with that suffering. In their concern with Christ’s Passion, these poets also explore the nature and meaning of human suffering: in their poetry human and divine pain interact. In the work of both writers, moreover, the meaning of pain is linked to issues of poetic form and expression: the question of whether humans can comprehend or share in the pains of Christ...

  8. CHAPTER 4 THE THEOLOGY OF PHYSICAL SUFFERING IN HERBERT
    (pp. 114-146)

    As we saw in the previous chapter, John Donne examines suffering in a relatively limited number of poems. In the poetry of George Herbert, by contrast, questions of suffering form a structural theme. In Herbert, pain has a wide range of meanings, often contradictory. Indeed, in The Temple the spiritual essence of suffering lies partly in the fact that it signifies in profoundly paradoxical ways. This is underlined, for example, by the fact that God inflicts suffering on Herbert’s speakers, but is also uniquely capable of alleviating their pain. The theme of pain serves in part as a way of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 POETRY AND THE PASSION OF CHRIST IN CRASHAW AND LANYER
    (pp. 147-172)

    In the previous chapters we saw that the Passion poetry of William Alabaster voices a longing for unity with the suffering Christ also encountered in numerous contemporary Catholic devotional works: human pain serves as a form of imitatio Christi. The work of Donne, by contrast, is informed by a profound sense of the impossibility of such compassion with Christ. This sense of inadequacy in the face of Christ’s Passion is also a recurrent issue in the poetry of George Herbert. While Donne’s use of poetic form points to the incompatibility of competing Reformed and Catholic models of suffering, however, Herbert...

  10. CHAPTER 6 PAIN, COMPASSION, AND COMMUNITY FROM SPENSER TO MILTON
    (pp. 173-215)

    Suffering is one of the recurrent themes of The Faerie Queene. Many of its characters suffer from various kinds and degrees of pain, and the poem is one of the most elaborate early modern literary explorations of the meaning of pain. In Book I, Una, forsaken by Redcrosse, is described as ‘in close hart shutting vp her paine’.¹ When she is captured by Sansloy later in the same canto, she ‘filleth his dull eares’ ‘with great lamenting paine, / And piteous plaints’ (1.3.44.1–2). In canto 6, when she is led to believe that Redcrosse has died, ‘stony horrour all...

  11. CHAPTER 7 PAIN AND COMPASSION IN THE Essais OF MONTAIGNE
    (pp. 216-242)

    This final chapter investigates the role of pain in the essays of Michel de Montaigne, and particularly in the 1603 translation by John Florio, reprinted in 1613 and 1632, which made Montaigne’s pioneering work available for a broad English readership that included William Cornwallis (whose own essays were modeled stylistically on Montaigne), Francis Bacon, William Shakespeare, Gabriel Harvey and Sir John Davies.¹ In their sustained, almost obsessive concern with physical suffering, Montaigne’s essays form a particularly rich source for an investigation into early modern understandings of pain. Moreover, in the light of the importance of religious pain discourses in the...

  12. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 243-250)

    The aim of this book has been in part to trace the role of compassion in early modern conceptions of physical suffering. I have argued that early moderns located the meaning of pain in its ability to arouse compassion in others, but also that the nature of this compassion was contentious, the circumstances under which it is to be applauded a matter of controversy. Can humans suffer with Christ? Are they capable of understanding his pain in such a way that true compassion with him is possible? Should we feel pity for the pain of other human beings? If so,...

  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 251-266)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 267-272)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-275)