Monsters and Their Meanings in Early Modern Culture: Mighty Magic

ISBN : 9780199577026

Wes Williams
360 ページ
160 x 238 mm

To call something 'monstrueux' in the mid-sixteenth century is, more often than not, to wonder at its enormous size: it is to call to mind something like a whale. By the late seventeenth 'monstrueux' is more likely to denote hidden intentions, unspoken desires. Several shifts are at work in this word history, and in what Othello calls the 'mighty magic' of monsters; these shifts can be described in a number of ways. The clearest, and most compelling, is the translation or migration of the monstrous from natural history to moral philosophy, from descriptions of creatures found in the external world to the drama of human motivation, of sexual and political identity. This interdisciplinary study of monsters and their meanings advances by way of a series of close readings supported by the exploration of a wide range of texts and images, from many diverse fields, which all concern themselves with illicit coupling, unarranged marriages, generic hybridity, and the politics of monstrosity. Engaging with recent, influential accounts of monstrosity - from literary critical work (Huet, Greenblatt, Thomson Burnett, Hampton), to histories of science and 'bio-politics' (Wilson, Ceard, Foucault, Daston and Park, Agamben) - it focusses on the ways in which monsters give particular force, colour, and shape to the imagination; the image at its centre is the triangulated picture of Andromeda, Perseus and the monster, approaching. The centre of the book's gravity is French culture, but it also explores Shakespeare, and Italian, German, and Latin culture, as well as the ways in which the monstrous tales and images of Antiquity were revived across the period, and survive into our own times.


List of images
Note on translations and references
Introduction: 'Mighty Magic'
1. Rabelais's monsters: Andromeda, natural history, and romance
2. 'Monstrueuses guerres': Ronsard, mythology, and the writing of war
3. Montaigne's children: metaphor, medicine, and the imagination
4. Corneille's Andromeda: painting, medicine, and the politics of spectacle
5. Pascal's monsters: angels, beasts, and human being
6. Racine's children: the end of the line
Epilogue: Between testimony and hearsay


Wes Williams was born in Rangoon in 1963; he spent his childhood in India, and his teenage years in Croydon. He moved to Oxford as student, studied French and German at St John's, and spent two years studying in Germany (one year in Hamburg, and another in Berlin). He was Fellow in French at New College for 15 years before moving to his present position at St Edmund Hall. Alongside his academic life, he also works as a writer and director for the theatre, and in film.