“Feeling Pleasures”: The Sense of Touch in the English Renaissance


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




The sixteenth and seventeenth-centuries in England were riven with disputes concerning the reliability of knowledge, the nature and value of the body, and the possibility of access to the divine. “Feeling Pleasures” contends that the sense of touch played a crucial and unacknowledged role in these debates. While recognized as the most fundamental and reliable of the senses, touch was also seen as too base and bodily to be of true worth. This project explores the responses to this ambiguity among poets, particularly Spenser, Donne, and Milton, as they acknowledged to the transformation of touch in a variety of spheres: reformation debates surrounding sacred objects; discussions of the social propriety of touching; and the rethinking of the senses occasioned by the rise of experimental science.