The Fifth Humor: Ink, Texts, and the Early Modern Body

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This dissertation tracks the intimate relationship between writing and the body to add new dimensions to humoral criticism and textual studies of Renaissance literature. Most humor theory focuses on the volatile, permeable nature of the body, and its vulnerability to environmental stimuli, neglecting the important role that written texts play in this economy of fluids. I apply the principles of humor theory to the study of handwritten and printed texts. This approach demonstrates that the textual economy of the period—reading, writing, publishing, exchanging letters, performing all of the above on stage—mirrors the economy of fluids that governed the humoral body. ... continued below

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Polster, Kristen Kayem December 2012.

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  • Polster, Kristen Kayem

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Description

This dissertation tracks the intimate relationship between writing and the body to add new dimensions to humoral criticism and textual studies of Renaissance literature. Most humor theory focuses on the volatile, permeable nature of the body, and its vulnerability to environmental stimuli, neglecting the important role that written texts play in this economy of fluids. I apply the principles of humor theory to the study of handwritten and printed texts. This approach demonstrates that the textual economy of the period—reading, writing, publishing, exchanging letters, performing all of the above on stage—mirrors the economy of fluids that governed the humoral body. Early modern readers and writers could imagine textual activities not only as cerebral, abstract concepts, but also as sexual activities, as processes of ingestion and regurgitation. My study of ink combines humoral, historical materialist, and ecocritical modes of study. Materialist critics have examined the quill, paper, and printing press as metaphors for the body; however, the ink within them remains unexamined. This dissertation infuses the figurative body of the press with circulating passions, and brings to bear the natural, biochemical properties that ink lends to the texts it creates. Considering the influence of written and printed materials on the body in early modern poetry and drama requires consideration of the murky liquid from which these texts were composed. For early moderns, writing began with the precise, anatomical slicing of a goose feather, with the crushing of oak galls into wine or rainwater, with the application of heat and ferrous sulfate. These raw materials underwent a violent transformation to fill early modern inkwells. As a result of that mystical concoction, the fluid inside these vessels became humoral. The ink on a page represented one person's passions potentially invading the body of another. Therefore, ink serves as more than a metaphor for any particular humor. Pen and paper work as extensions of the body, and serve at turns as a mechanism of balance or imbalance.

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  • December 2012

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  • Aug. 13, 2013, 2:47 p.m.

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  • Nov. 16, 2016, 1:16 p.m.

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Polster, Kristen Kayem. The Fifth Humor: Ink, Texts, and the Early Modern Body, dissertation, December 2012; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc177241/: accessed September 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .