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M.A. Katritzky, Healing, Performance and Ceremony in the Writings of Three Early Modern Physicians: Hippolytus Guarinonius and the Brothers Felix and Thomas Platter (Ashgate, 2012)

M.A. Katritzky, Healing, Performance and Ceremony in the Writings of Three Early Modern Physicians: Hippolytus Guarinonius and the Brothers Felix and Thomas Platter (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012). ISBN 978-0-7546-6707-0, 451 pp. £70.00.

Reviewed by Stuart Farley


[1] In keeping with the aim of the series, The History of Medicine in Context, M.A. Katritzky’s study of the print and manuscript writings of Felix (1536-1614) and Thomas Platter (1574-1628) and Hippolytus Guarinonius (1571-1654) contextualises the early modern practice of medicine within the history of theatre, thus establishing unwonted connections between spectacles of healing, performance and ceremony. Although a number of themes are covered in this lengthy volume, the scope of which is at times centrifugal, Katritzky consistently has in sight the figure of the physician who extends his diagnostic gaze to the various manifestations of theatricality in the early modern period, which include Carnival, fairground performances, court festivals, the commedia dell’arte in northern Europe, Shakespeare and the London stage, marketplace quackery, and the exhibition of ‘performing monsters’. The intersection between the discrete disciplines of medicine and theatre is an illuminating one, not least of all because the physician is seemingly at home in the contrasting spheres of the marketplace and the court: both in the theatre, rubbing shoulders with groundlings, as well as in a private audience with Queen Elizabeth, as was the case with Thomas Platter during his travels to England in 1599. This intermediary status allows for insightful recordings of what went on during festivities, quack routines, and other such performances as the physicians were unencumbered with the task of producing flattering chronicles of the nobility’s wedding celebrations, for example (see chs. 6 and 7), while their status as men of both letters and medicine serves to illuminate ‘some of the intense negotiations between science and showmanship’ (211; see esp. chs. 9-11). The appearance of ‘monsters’ both as a fairground spectacle and in the scientific literature, such as Guarinonius’s The Abominations of the Desolation of the Human Race (1610) and Felix Platter’s Obseruationum (1614), is a prime example of the latter.

[2] For Katritzky, then, the many observations made by these three physicians serve as valuable documentary evidence for the purposes of theatre-history, and so her principle task in Healing, Performance and Ceremony is to make that evidence more widely available (hitherto, critical studies of these works have been predominantly in German). Katritzky, however, avoids mining these sources solely for titbits and missing links, although this is done along the way, as in Ch. 12 where the quack troupe leader operating under the stage-name of ‘Zan Bragetta’ is identified as Giovanni Paulo Alfieri by reference to Thomas Platter’s journals; rather, Katritzky uses the material to reveal the complexities of Guarinonius and the Platter brothers, doing so by gauging their attitudes toward theatre and festivity, which the reader soon surmises is, in the author’s view, a lynchpin in our understanding of the early modern experience. In this respect, Katritzky’s choice of physicians is astute, not only because of the richness of their writings, but more precisely because they represent between them two contrasting approaches to festive and theatrical culture. While the more open-minded Felix and Thomas Platter go so far as participating in the Carnival celebrations and describe its ‘healing power to unite disparate communities and social strata’, Guarinonius offers an opposing diagnosis which stresses the ‘health-, even life-threatening, aspects of ‘carnal, bestial Carnival” (73). The former revel in its vibrancy, whereas the latter catalogues its ills so as to warn his readers against the bodily and spiritual perils of overindulgence and licentiousness. The originality of Katritzky’s approach here lies in its attentiveness to the physicians’ medicalization of performance culture: on the one hand, the festivities are said to be symptomatic and causes of spiritual maladies; on the other hand, theatre could serve as an antidotum melancholiae by virtue of the therapeutic effect of viewing plays, which is dubbed by Guarinonius as ‘the most powerful and effective means of raising the human spirits’ (235). For Guarinonius, theatre-going and the ensuing laughter is prescribed as a purgative against the kinds of folly exemplified by the comedic routines of Zanni and Pantalone. Theatre can be medicinal so long as the spectator refrains from participation and registers the moral lesson, as Guarinonius does by incorporating a number of commedia dell’arte lazzi (improvised sketches) into his moralistic and medical treatise.

[3] It is in the figure of the quack physician, however, that Katritzky’s medical and theatrical interests most felicitously converge. The quack, also known as a quacksalver, mountebank, charlatan, and sometimes empiric, was an itinerant peddler of remedies and cures who utilised the theatrics of marketplace performance as a means of advertising his wares – or indeed hers, as Katritzky has previously shown in Women, Medicine and Theatre, 1500-1750: Literary Mountebanks and Performing Quacks (Ashgate, 2007). While it is certainly the case that for many observers the quack’s role as entertainer overshadowed his or her medical capacity, and vice versa for others, Healing, Performance and Ceremony boldly argues that ‘itinerant theatrical and medical economies did not merely overlap, but were so interdependent that one cannot usefully be considered without the other’ (143); quacks signal ‘the profound interdependency of the itinerant theatrical and medical marketplaces’ (279). As Katritzky demonstrates, in what amounts to one of the most important contributions made by the book, the commedia dell’arte troupes resorted to quackery during outdoor performances as they were unable to charge an entrance fee upon such occasions. This means that there is a direct lineage between the commedia zany and the quack performer. Retailing medicine thus became a vital economic and performative strategy for itinerant troupes and shows the fruitful way in which medicine and theatre commingled in the early modern period to produce a novel kind of ‘healing performance’. The quack physician is a synthesis of the fairground performer and the medicine man, and even though he is frequently castigated for debasing the medical profession, the evidence culled by Katritzky in this book suggests that we ought to take them more seriously as individuals and troupes who ‘used performance itself as their most effective medicine, by harnessing the therapeutic power of music and laughter, to stage healing as performance’ (279).

[4] The book convincingly argues that the intertwinement of medicine, performance, and festivity is a fertile field of study that has the potential to act as a bridge between the burgeoning literature on theatre studies and the history of medicine. Katritzky demonstrates that original findings are to be made by focusing on the crossover between the two disciplines. Certainly, Healing, Performance and Ceremony will introduce many readers to the three physicians for the first time but it will do so in a way that makes a compelling case for their relevance to a wide readership.

University of St. Andrews, May 2013

Eleanor Hubbard, City Women: Money, Sex and the Social Order in Early Modern London (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Eleanor Hubbard, City Women: Money, Sex and the Social Order in Early Modern London (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). ISBN 978-0-19-960934-5, 320pp. HBK. £68.00.

Reviewed by Tim Reinke-Williams


[1] Nearly two decades after Laura Gowing used the rich depositional evidence of the church courts to discuss how attitudes to sexual behaviour shaped the lives of London women in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, City Women returns to these records to investigate the ‘struggles, aspirations and preoccupations’ of women in the capital between 1570 and 1640. For Eleanor Hubbard economic rather than sexual issues determined the treatment of women in the capital during these decades, and since the gender imbalance in London favoured women prior to the civil wars, she argues that the primary motive for women to come to the City was the presence of a large number of single men who provided a pool of potential husbands.

[2] Chapter One examines the arrival of female migrants and their quests to acquire employment. Most arrived in the city during their teens or twenties, primarily from the Home Counties, the Midlands, and the north-west of England, and once women acquired a post in service most tended to stick with it, leaving and crossing parish boundaries to look for potential husbands as much as for new employers. Chapter Two shifts attention to courtship, beginning with a lively discussion based on conduct literature and ballads as to what a woman looked for in a good husband. Hubbard shows that London women married earlier than the national average, and tended to make good marriages, despite the difficulties in acquiring a portion. The chapter concludes with a series of case studies detailing women’s agency in the process of courtship, as well as how issues such as financial inequality alongside interference by family and friends prevented marriages from taking place.

[3] Chapter Three discusses the difficulties and abuses faced by women with regard to pregnancy outside wedlock. Downplaying the significance of the sexual double standard and emphasising the importance of economic issues, Hubbard argues that many pregnant maidservants went unpunished if they were able to find fathers for their children in the form of men who were willing to take on the financial responsibilities of keeping the child. Such men did not have to be the biological fathers of the children – wealthy men paid to have a child fathered on another man, whilst pauper fathers with few or no ties fled their responsibilities. If a father could not be found a woman might attempt to abort the child by consuming ‘physic’ or a purgation’, or abandon or murder the newborn.

[4] Chapter Four covers the duties of household mistresses. One of the key arguments is that wives were encouraged, through sermons and cheap print, to ensure that their spouses behaved appropriately by conforming to patriarchal ideals of the sober and hard-working husband and in separation cases wives contrasted their hard work in maintaining the household and providing for their children with the profligacy of their husbands. Chapter Five explores women’s interactions with their neighbours in local communities. Many women spent time talking with their neighbours whilst seated at the doorsteps of their dwellings, and whilst this sort of sociability was perfectly acceptable, a balance had to be struck between good neighbourliness and gadding abroad. Women cemented good neighbourly relations by drinking together and assisting each other in childbirth, as well as intervening to protect battered wives from violent husbands. They intervened against their own sex too, exposing adultery and competing with other women over dress, household cleanliness and the behaviour of children.

[5] Chapter Six provides a wide-ranging survey of women’s work, including useful tables on how women identified themselves by occupation when deposing before the courts. Women worked in streets, marketplaces, shops and public houses of the capital, and Hubbard stresses that, despite the attempts of civic authorities to restrict the activities of female traders in the later sixteenth century, selling goods was an acceptable form of female employment. The chapter also includes novel material on charwomen, as well as discussion of marginal ‘body’ work such as nursing and prostitution. The final chapter explores the fates of widows, many of whom remarried, often to younger men. Widows had greater freedom in courtship than maids and some had high hopes of their new husbands, but not all second marriages were successful and the alternative of remaining single was no guarantee of happiness. Widows with significant financial resources might make good lives for themselves, but others remained reliant on wages until decrepitude prevented them from working, at which point they became reliant on the kindness of neighbours.

[7] This is a beautifully written and wide-ranging monograph with useful new quantitative and qualitative material on various aspects of women’s lives. Yet in some ways it feels almost too broad, with multiple topics being touched on rather than a handful being explored in depth. Rather than discussing well-worn topics such as defamation and prostitution, Hubbard might have written more about dress, cleaning, public houses and female apprenticeships (both women’s clothes and women’s work deserve their own monographs). Moreover, considering her emphasis on the importance of courtship and marriage, there is relatively little on motherhood, an experience and role few married women could avoid in an age before the widespread availability of reliable contraception. The most forceful and well-supported arguments Hubbard makes are those relating to women’s motives for coming to London, and the gender balance of the capital, but by relying so heavily on the consistory courts her findings leave room for other voices on these subjects. Overall the major weakness of City Women is also its supreme strength; it leaves the reader wanting to know more about the lives of early modern women.

University of Northampton, May 2013

Malabika Sarkar, Cosmos and Character in Paradise Lost (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

Malabika Sarkar, Cosmos and Character in Paradise Lost (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). (ISBN 978-1-137-00699-8), 236 pp. HBK. £55.00.

Reviewed by Christopher Stone


[1]  Since the 1960’s the astronomical elements of Paradise Lost have been a recurring theme in the work of Milton scholars. Perhaps the most notable contributor to these discussions, Marjorie Nicholson, laid the foundations for the vast majority of the debates that have occurred and in many of them a state of academic impasse has been reached. We are left with some questions that have been answered and others that are frequently re-answered through diametrically opposed arguments with contributions to the respective debates often amounting to little more than the most minor re-configurations of established positions. In essence, the field has not stagnated but is in a state that requires significant invigoration. Malabika Sarkar’s work does, to some extent, offer this re-vitalisation.

[2]  Sarkar’s work reads the cosmos of Paradise Lost in the context of those lesser known intellectual nuances and intrigues that occurred within the restoration period but have not sustained academic interest into the modern day. Sarkar acknowledges the significance of both the new astronomy and traditional understandings but tempers this by noting the significant role of a number of seemingly less eminent academic pursuits – amongst these cabalistic and hermetic thought, the Mosaic tradition, alchemy, the roles of British scientists in the establishing of the new astronomy, millennial concerns, and vitalist thought. Sarkar offers chapters on ‘Invocations: Milton as Moses’ in which she reads Paradise Lost in the context of cabalistic thought and the mosaic tradition, “Unoriginal Night’ and Milton’s Chaos’ where she provides a new understanding of the dual nature of Chaos, “This Pendent World’: The Cosmos of Paradise Lost’ and “The Visible Diurnal Sphere’: Space and Time’ which contain excellent descriptions of the landscape of Milton’s cosmos, ‘Satan and Astronomical Signs’, ‘Milton’s Angels and Celestial Motion’, ‘The Galileo Question’, and ‘Adam, Eve, and the “Virtuous Touch” of Alchemy’. Amongst these it is her readings of the character of Satan and the role of Galileo in the poem that are most intriguing. Sarkar offers a pithy and economical reading of Satan in the context of the ‘millenarian fervour’ (p.111) that arose in the wake of the observations of the 1572 and 1604 supernovae. Indeed, her reading of Satan as ‘millennial hero’ (p.116) and false prophet based on his comparison to the comets and stars noted in the constellation of Ophiuchus in the ‘Satan and Astronomical Signs’ chapter is amongst the most compelling in the entire work.

[3]  Stylistically, Sarkar’s work has two major strengths. Firstly, her descriptions of the physical layout of Milton’s cosmos significantly supersede any precedents. Sarkar demonstrates a vivid visual imagination and her eloquent explanations establish the physical geography of the universe of Paradise Lost in a manner that benefits the field enormously. In areas where Milton demonstrates certitude Sarkar offers confirmation; in areas where Milton offers ambiguity Sarkar offers thorough explorations of the intellectual possibilities of his descriptions. Secondly, Sarkar’s methodology contributes significantly to the clarity of her arguments. As the book progresses it makes a notable effort to demonstrate the growth of a core thesis with later chapters repeatedly referencing the readings posited at earlier points in the work. The effect created is to suggest a naturalness in Sarkar’s understanding of Milton’s cosmos. Her readings grow organically as the book progresses guiding the reader through what is a complex and much disputed area of study with the utmost precision.

[4]  The work is not without its flaws. The chapter on the character and role of Milton’s angels seems rather too brief to add to Joad Raymond’s excellent work Milton’s Angels (a work Sarkar references), and occasionally the work is guilty of exploring the secondary meanings of passages in a manner which can undermine the significance of Sarkar’s contribution to Milton studies. Sarkar herself acknowledges this fact in the ‘Invocations: Milton as Moses’ where she states that her reading of these passages represents a ‘second benchmark’ of significance behind that of the invocations reflecting Milton’s knowledge of ‘classical and Spenserian epic’ (p.23). However, these are minor issues in what is fundamentally a stimulating, nuanced, eminently readable, and well researched work.

[5]  Given that Sarkar’s chapter on ‘Milton’s Angels and Celestial Motion’ seems rather perfunctory in the wake of Raymond’s work; it is of great credit to Sarkar that she avoids a similar fate in her chapter on ‘The Galileo Question’. ‘The Galileo Question’ is, in fact, a series of well-versed intrigues which could – and in the hands of a lesser skilled academic would – become a mere revision of over-exploited materials and over-repeated arguments. Sarkar acknowledges the recent discord over whether or not Milton actually met Galileo (as he famously claims to have in Areopagitica) and rather than engaging in debate either pro or against such a meeting suggests that Galileo’s inclusion in Paradise Lost is of great significance in either situation. If Milton met Galileo then clearly he made a distinct and direct impact upon the poem; if not then Sarkar suggests that this it is ‘all the more significant that Milton needed to invent such a meeting’ (p.148). Sarkar is also adroit in distinguishing between the reference to meeting Galileo in prose and the repeated uses of images relating to him in Paradise Lost, ultimately concluding that Galileo is selected for inclusion in Milton’s epic as both a ‘martyr in the cause of intellectual freedom’ and an ‘example of a combination of outstanding scientific achievement and the capacity to believe in doubts and uncertainty as positive and enabling’ (p.159).

[6]  Cosmos and Character in Paradise Lost, therefore, offers its readership a wealth of materials that significantly advance the present state of Milton studies. Sarkar has read widely and combines this breadth of knowledge with a focus upon the details of Milton’s work admirably. The work is a must read for serious Miltonists, and would offer invaluable clarity to undergraduate students in a field that can often seem obfuscated by the nuanced readings of arguments with significant critical heritage. This is not to say that Sarkar is any less nuanced in her understanding, nor less appreciative of her academic forbears, but rather that her style demonstrates an admirable lucidity that is often missing from these complex debates.

University of Leeds, May 2013