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Wax Figures and Forms in Early Modern Literature

Maxwell, Lynn Meghan (2011)
Dissertation (283 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Goldberg, Jonathan
Committee Members: Cahill, Patricia ; Rambuss, Richard
Research Fields: Literature, English; Philosophy; Art History
Keywords: Shakespeare, William; Done, John; Cavendish, Margaret; wax; sixteenth century; seventeenth century; literature; English; Tintoretto; Spenser, Edmund; philosophy; art history; drama; poetry; aesthetics
Program: Laney Graduate School, English
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Wax Figures and Forms in Early Modern Literature
Lynn Maxwell

"Wax Figures and Forms in Early Modern Literature" investigates the circulation of wax imagery and actual wax forms in Early Modern literary and philosophical texts, as well as early modern cultural spaces such as the stage and the art studio. Just as the wax seal on a letter acts as a piece of writing and narrates a story - so too the shape wax takes both within texts and in the real world signifies in multiple ways. I contend that tracing wax figures and forms in early modern texts and other cultural spaces reveals major shifts in philosophical and literary understandings of epistemology, the nature of desire, and the purpose of mimesis during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

While this project begins with wax, and never leaves its materiality behind, the range of topics it implicates readily suggests that wax raises questions about the demarcation of boundaries. Wax allows us to ask how and to what extent philosophical questions overlap with literary questions. It also allows us to explore the cultural work of philosophy, literature, and art, which leads us to larger questions about the boundaries between self and other, self and machine, self and God. In pursuing these questions this project aims to help break down traditional boundaries of the field and offer possibilities for interdisciplinary scholarship. Wax provides an anchor that keeps my project engaged with specific texts and cultural objects, while simultaneously connecting seemingly disparate places, works, philosophies, and genres. Over the course of the project the texts and cultural practices we will consider include William Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece and Twelfth Night, John Donne's Sappho to Philaenis, Margaret Cavendish's Philosophical Letter, René Descartes' Meditations on the First Philosophy, Philip Sidney's Defense of Poesy, various treatises on art, Tintoretto and Michelangelo's artistic processes, John Webster's Duchess of Malfi, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Ambroise Paré's Oeuvres, and Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene. Through these diverse texts and practices we will trace the paths offered by wax.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Introduction: The Contours of Wax...1
Chapter 1 Women and Wax: Metaphors of Impression, Possibilities of Agency in Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece and Twelfth Night...38
Chapter 2 Wax Matters: Modeling Philosophy and Desire in John Donne, Margaret Cavendish and René Descartes...75
Chapter 3 Mimetic Wax: Truth, Deception and the Art Object...132
Chapter 4 Wax Walking: Supplementing and Supplanting the Human...176
Conclusion: A Figure of Wax...232


application/pdf Dissertation/Thesis 283 pages (1.5 MB) [Access copy of Dissertation/Thesis]
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