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Throughout Shakespeare’s plays, he references the mind over 400 times including talking about having a quick mind, an unclean mind, and even being out of your mind. Understanding how your brain worked, and what you as an individual could do to control it, and respond to it, was a hot topic for Shakespeare’s lifetime. The rise in books meant that works by authors exploring this topic of the mind, melancholy, and reason were widely available, even directly influencing the works of playwrights like William Shakespeare. Here today to help us understand what the 16th century minds understood about neurology, dreams, and the imagnation is our guest, and author of the book, The Elizabethan Mind, Helen Hackett.

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Helen Hackett is Professor of English Literature at University College London, with particular expertise in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century literature. Her most recent book,TheElizabethan Mind, is a study of how Shakespeare and his contemporariesthought about the mind in relation to the body, the soul, and the self, and how their turbulentdebates on this subject shaped their radical literary innovations. Helen joins us today to discuss the research she explores in her book. You can find links to her work and more about Helen, in the show notes for today’s episode.

Her many other publicationscover fields including Shakespeare studies, literaryimages of Elizabeth I, and writings by andabout early modern women. InWomen and Romance Fiction in the English Renaissance(Cambridge UP, 2000) she explored the presence of women in early modern romance asimagined readers, as characters, and, eventually, as writers

I’ll be asking Helen Hackett about:

  • In her book, Helen writes that by the year 1600, the number of books published in England had doubled from what it had been just 40 years prior, in the 1560s. This increase in books expanded access to knowledge, and one particular kind of book being published were medical books. Helen, what are some examples of medical books published during Shakespeare’s lifetime and are the surviving examples akin to textbooks or were they manuals, or something else?
  • As so many of these books were about the mind and understanding how it worked,  or how to manage the mind, are we to understand that the Elizabethan period was undergoing a kind of mental health crisis? Why was there such a desire to read about the mind in Shakespeare’s lifetime?  
  • Does this cultural debate over the mind and thinking show up in Shakespeare’s plays?
  • …and more!

Books and Resources Helen Hackett recommends:

The Elizabethan Mind by Helen Hackett

Inwardness and Theater in the English Renaissance Katharine Eisaman Maus

Shakespeare Rhetoric and Cognition Raphael Lyne

Interesting Resources You Might Also Enjoy:

Knowledge and Practice in English Medicine 1550-1680 by Andrew Wear

A Philosophical Discourse, Entitled, The Anatomy Of The Mind (1576) by Thomas Rogers

Here’s what’s available for this episode:

  • Quotes from Shakespeare’s plays about home
  • Related episodes about Tudor construction
  • Virtual Tour of Stratford Upon Avon
  • Links to a diagram of the house showing where John Shakespeare’s business room is located
  • Accounts dated 1576 of a man who thought his rear end was made of glass and another who thought his nose was as long as an elephant’s trunk
  • Link to episode about Inigo Jones
  • 20th century illustration of Shakespeare’s birthroom
  • 19th century engraving of Shakespeare’s birthplace before renovations
  • Notes from Andre Delaurentius about Melancholy (Contemporary to Hamlet), dated 1599
  • List of 10 additional primary sources (dated 1500s and 1600s), related to melancholy and medicine
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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening! I’m Cassidy Cash and I hope you learn something new about the bard.

I’ll see you next time!