“Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners.”—William Shakespeare
As modern medicine has permitted a greater understanding of how our bodies function, our perception of them has changed as well. Individuals in the early modern era, like Shakespeare, thought the body was composed of the “four humours,” and that achieving a balance between the senses and passions was tied to one’s well-being. This session will probe what it was like to live in an early modern body and ask whether we could—and still can—rely on our senses as a source of feedback. Have our senses evolved with the world or are they a primal function that cannot change? Furthermore, if Shakespeare were writing today, would the new views of the human body alter his work? His poetry is so bound in visceral, sensual experience that it begs the question of how a better understanding of ourselves alters not just our personhood but our intellectual output as well.
Bruce R. Smith is Dean’s Professor of English and Professor of Theatre. Professor Smith studies the polymathic topic of literature and culture of early modern England, including Shakespeare, gender, sexuality, acoustic ecology and historical phenomenology. Among his six published books, The Acoustic World of Early Modern England won the 2000 Roland H. Bainton Prize for Literature, attracting the attention of theater professionals, communications specialists, and musicologists. His current work explores what it was like to live in the kind of body imagined by early modern medicine and to perceive the world through that body.