Memory and Medicine in Modern England
This talk examines the intimate relationship between memory and medicine in Renaissance England, how mind and body intertwine in writing about memory during this period, as well as the overlapping psychological and physiological ways in which memory was understood historically, from antiquity on. Focusing specifically on Robert Burton’s magisterial Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), this talk considers how and why Burton diagnoses memory as though a doctor treating a patient, describing memory in terms of health and disease – particularly the ailment of melancholy, which results not only from a deficiency or loss of memory but also from an excess of memory. Throughout the Anatomy, she suggests, medicine represents Burton’s most important metaphor for memory, which he diagnoses as both disease and cure: as the cause of melancholy and, as Burton’s humanist masterpiece demonstrates, the best medicine for it.
Dr. Rebeca Helfer studies the role of memory in Renaissance English literature, and has published Spenser’s Ruins and the Art of Recollection (University of Toronto Press, 2012). Rebeca is currently at work on a study of memory in early modern poetics, The Art of Memory and The Art of Writing in Early Modern England.
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