Passion, Action, and the Possibility of Self-knowledge
This chapter focuses on grief and sorrow arising from worldly misfortunes and the deeply negative effects many writers believed it could have on a person’s health—a conviction reflected most powerfully in the London Bills of Mortality. While much of the work in the field has read such passion within the context of deeply embodied Galenic humoralism, the chapter argues for a more pluralistic view, highlighting the interplay of holism and dualism in the period. It examines how several Renaissance plays, including Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness, Ford’s The Broken Heart, and Shakespeare’s Richard II, King John, and King Lear, questioned the wisdom of restraining ‘beastly’ passion and even suggested that grief might not always be as deeply connected to involuntary physiology as often thought. Instead, they positioned it as a form of wilful and rational desire in the intellective soul, and a powerful agent of self-knowledge and change.
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