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The Variable Body in History


Edited By Chris Mounsey and Stan Booth

The essays in this book explore the different ways the body has been experienced and interpreted in history, from the medieval to the modern period. Challenging the negative perceptions that the term ‘disability’ suggests, the essays together present a mosaic of literary representations of bodies and accounts of real lives lived in their particularity and peculiarity. The book does not attempt to be exhaustive, but rather it celebrates the fact that it is not. By presenting a group of individual cases from different periods in history, the collection demonstrates that any overarching way of describing bodies, or unifying description of the experience of the myriad ways of being in a body, is reductive and unhelpful. The variability of each body in its context is our subject.
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Thersites and Deformity



Shifts in the early modern interpretation of Homer’s ‘misshapen’ haranguer Thersites provide an insight into what writers meant when they wrote about deformity. Homer and his earliest English translators avoided positing a causal link between a deformed body and deformities of mental or moral character. Others, however, maintained that a crooked body and a crooked mind were inextricably linked. Pope’s Thersites is a case in point, for despite a tendency among modern critics to read empathy into Pope’s version, in fact his Thersites is the most severely burdened by somatic determinism of them all. Following a brief investigation of forma, ‘deformity’, and the early modern notion of balance in the human constitution, the study concludes with a discussion of William Hay’s principled answer to those who assume that somos determines ethos.

The Deformity of Satyr/Satire

In 1681 Thomas Durfey satirized rival playwright Thomas Shadwell in his play Sir Barnaby Whigg. The Tory satirist’s exemplary Whig, Sir Barnaby is ranting, greedy, sanctimonious, loud, corpulent, corrupt, cowardly, and inconstant. He has also been a plagiarist and a hack satirist, but now that he has run out of Molière plays to rifle and his wit has worn out, he declares he will leave poetry for music. He sings:

I got Fame by filching from Poems and Plays, But my Fidling and Drinking has lost me the Bays; Like a Fury I rail’d, like a Satyr I writ, Thersites my Humour, and...

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