Sympathetic Ecologies in Early Modern English Tragedies


ACLS Fellowship Program



Named Award

ACLS Carl and Betty Pforzheimer Fellow named award


"Sympathetic Ecologies" positions interspecies sympathy as a vital framework through which the English conceptualized contact across difference. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the discourse of sympathies and antipathies theorized inexplicable attractions and aversions between people, plants, animals, and minerals. Although scholars have argued that conceptions of sympathy as moral sentiment did not gain traction until the eighteenth century, in examining sympathy’s treatment in medicine, natural philosophy, and drama, this project argues that early moderns in part understood sympathy as an ecological form of compassion. In the period’s drama, references to sympathy suggest powerful interspecies bonds that are, at times, preferable to human relationships, and in other instances, analogous to encounters that cross class and racial divides. This monograph proposes that such moments trouble narratives of English insularity in so far as they accommodate hybrid alliances and radical transformations. "Sympathetic Ecologies" offers new insights into the history of embodiment and science, and has implications for emerging scholarship on early modern race and colonization.