Literature and the Limits of Consciousness in the Renaissance


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Comparative Literature


This dissertation explores the problem of consciousness in the Renaissance by considering those moments in literary works when consciousness is somehow breached, and characters fall into a trance or a swoon. It considers swoons in works by Ariosto, Spenser, Sidney, and Shakespeare in the context of medical and philosophical works of the period, and argues that the prevalence of the swoon not only reflects the Renaissance conception of what we today call consciousness, but also heralds a major shift in the understanding of how body and mind are connected, a shift to be most fully articulated in the philosophy of Descartes.