The introduction considers the status of melancholy as the ‘Elizabethan malady’ par excellence, and then outlines the book’s central contribution to an already very rich and fulsome field. First, it proposes that we go ‘beyond melancholy’, and in doing so give greater attention to forms of sadness that were related to the melancholic condition but that did not necessarily equate with it; second, that we move beyond a current focus on the humoral body and reclaim more spiritual and disembodied aspects of Renaissance feeling; and finally, that we give more consideration to the ways in which literary language and ‘mimetic’ forms can aid in the study of emotions history. Building on this final point, the introduction explores how literary sources and methods can open up new space for the study of what the book calls ‘emotive improvisation’: that is, the more agency-ridden and unscripted side of emotional experience.
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