Werewolves

A new issue of the online journal Early Modern Literary Studies has appeared! It contains an article on the role of Shakespeare’s Richard II in the Essex rebellion, representations of the supernatural in the early modern country house poem, and interestingly in the context of my earlier post on Paster’s fluid sense of selfhood (in which men can feel the melancholy of cats) it contains an article on lycanthropy in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi.

Brett D. Hirsch wonders why Webster’s play features a werewolf, when despite many cases on the Continent, no cases against werewolves were known in England in the early modern period. Webster’s lycanthrope has been explained with reference to demonic possession, but Hirsch looks for its connotations in medical, theological and philosophical texts. He demonstrates that the werewolf is a border creature, both human and animal, evocative of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Both man and wolf, the werewolf in early modern culture blurs the lines between man and beast, and thus evokes anxieties over the boundaries between good and evil, civility and wildness, reason and madness, and masculinity and femininity.

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One thought on “Werewolves

  1. A reasonably academic attempt to study witchcraft in various guises and in different cultural locations was written by an Italian academic named Ginzburg. I lost this book during a move and your blog reminds me of the influence that “marginal” and “border” phenomena have on our general culture. Ginzburg was particularly good on the nearly universal appearance of the Cinderella myth, in various guises, in widely disparate geographic and cultural [and temporal] locations. He traces it back to a hunting myth dating to at least the Ice Age—-Cinderella’s slipper representing a “lost bone” in the ritual recreation of the hunters’ favorite prey animals.

    The concept of “difference” intrigues students of history as much as philosophy students, I would think.

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