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Mortal ThoughtsReligion, Secularity, & Identity in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture$
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Brian Cummings

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199677719

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199677719.001.0001

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Freedom, Suicide, & Self  hood

Freedom, Suicide, & Self  hood

(p.236) 7 Freedom, Suicide, & Self  hood
Mortal Thoughts

Brian Cummings

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers suicide in Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Donne, to make an openly metaphysical and philosophical argument. Suicide is central to the psychological and sociological turn that has overtaken ideas of selfhood in the twentieth century. Indeed, ‘the secularization of suicide’ is a title of one of the most influential recent histories of suicide. Until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this argument goes, suicide was dominated by the Christian taboo. It was then viewed from the Enlightenment onwards in more sympathetic light, through the influence of rationalist humanism. This chapter challenges such ideas by examining the complex meaning of suicide especially in Montaigne, in Donne's paradoxical treatise Biathanatos, and in Hamlet. It traces the sources of early modern thought, both in Stoic philosophy and in Augustinian theology, and their development in neo-Stoic traditions such as Lipsius, in order to show how suicide related to political and theological concepts of freedom, thus working against the secularization model.

Keywords:   freedom, suicide, selfhood, secularization, psychology, theology, neo-Stoicism

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