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Crowded Subjects: The Crisis of Two Souls in Early Modern England

  • Author(s): Lee, James J.
  • Advisor(s): Kahn, Victoria
  • et al.

This dissertation challenges the over-familiar Christian dualism of the corrupt body and the redeemed soul, and completely rethinks the significance of the term "soul" in Renaissance culture. I argue that sixteenth and seventeenth century poets and philosophers uneasily defined the human as possessing two contradictory souls, and that the anxiety provoked by the contradiction of the Aristotelian and Christian souls led to a basic redefinition of the early modern subject. The dissertation begins with an intellectual history describing how 16th century theologians came to realize that the presence of two souls in man, Aristotelian and Christian, represented a major crisis for Christian doctrine. Reading the work of Pietro Pomponazzi, Philipp Melanchthon, and John Woolton, I argue that the paradox of two souls became a problem of political obedience and a rationalization of the Christian subject's passive relation to law. The dissertation then tracks the critical response of prominent English poets, such as William Shakespeare, John Donne, and John Davies, who argued that the paradox of two souls could not be understood as a fictional justification of law and political obedience, and that 16th century theologians were telling the wrong fiction to explain the two souls. All of these English poets turned to the resources of poetic language and dramatic plot as the most potent means to understand and resolve the two souls paradox as a basis for a novel Christian poetics of freedom, and not an abject servility to law. In all of these English poets, I identify a sustained work of contesting and redefining the parameters of the word "soul" as the basis of the Christian subject, and a reconfiguration of the two souls paradox into a problem rendered comprehensible by literary narrative and the craft of poetry.

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