Before Depression
1660 - 1800

Religion and the body in seventeenth-century women's melancholy

Dr Katharine Hodgkin (University of East London)

Melancholy in the early seventeenth century, medically speaking, is explained in relation to the theory of the humours: melancholy is the result of excess or corruption of black bile in the body, which leads to fear, grief and delusion, as well as sometimes being associated with intellect and creativity. In this system women and men are not the same. Women are seldom seen as examples of melancholy genius; their melancholy is more likely to be understood as the consequence of sexual disorder, and the disruptive and unstable nature of women's bodies. However, medicine is not the only way early modern melancholy is understood. It also has an important connection with spiritual suffering, and early modern writers often debate the difference between melancholy, as a medical condition, and the spiritual state of affliction for sin. This paper uses several case studies to explore women's melancholy in relation to these debates. How do women interpret their own conditions of sadness, and how do they and others make use of medical and religious languages to describe their experiences?

Download this lecture as MP3

This site is updated regularly 11/09/11 ndDate -->
Web-control: G.Ingram