Files in this item



application/pdfDeBarros_Eric.pdf (8MB)
(no description provided)PDF


Title:The labors of Hercules: embodied learning and male domestication in early modern culture and literature
Author(s):De Barros, Eric
Director of Research:Newcomb, Lori H.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Newcomb, Lori H.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Neely, Carol T.; Stevens, Andrea
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Performative Masculinity
Children's Embodiment
Renaissance Education
Early Modern Education
Body Studies
Desiderius Erasmus
Sir Thomas Elyot
Roger Ascham
Richard Mulcaster
Civilizing Process
Male Domestication
Abstract:Frustrated with the anti-intellectualism and academic conservatism of the early sixteenth century, Erasmus, in his lengthy commentary on “The Labors of Hercules” adage, attempts to justify his thankless and debilitating scholarly work by analogizing it to the labors of the mythic Greco-Roman strongman. My dissertation focuses on the way he and other early modern educational theorists translate learning and cognitive processes into the materialistic, embodied masculinist terms that their male aristocratic readers would understand and therefore value. Unlike the curricular-ideological analyses of traditional early modern education scholarship that ignore embodiment altogether or the analyses of more recent scholarship informed by Marxist and postmodern theories of embodiment, I provide a more sustained, historically contextualized analysis of those treatises in terms of the classically-inherited medical discourses that actually shaped them. In that regard, my dissertation brings the critical orientation of early modern body studies (generated in large part by Gail Kern Paster’s seminal study The Body Embarrassed) to bear on early modern educational treatises, specifically as those treatises address the bodies of (male) children, in an as yet unexplored way. As my title suggests, masculinity in the Renaissance was not thought a biological given but rather a part of an anxious performative process. Therefore, I spend considerable time exploring the way in which theories of women’s psychophysiological inferiority define and threaten male subjectivity. Specifically, I argue that educational treatises are so focused on— really obsessed with— the vulnerably constituted bodies of male children and the health benefits of a proper diet and exercise, because they are haunted by the authoritative role of women during early child development. These treatises, I also argue, ironically re-construct and employ aristocratic women, specifically Elizabeth I, as negative-sedentary somatic ideals against which the female knowledge and authority of mothers, nurses, and midwives are implicitly critiqued and displaced and the psychophysiological superiority of aristocratic men confirmed. While physical exercise as a form of performative masculinity is key to that displacement, it also importantly represents a crucial method by which to domesticate or civilize aristocratic men to fit, as Norbert Elias describes, the nonviolent exigencies of early modern court society. Indeed, I argue that physical exercise is part of a disciplinary process intended to internalize nonviolent dispositions. Much of the period’s literary production confronts the behavioral and affective implications of this process, and I conclude this study by exploring those implications in two literary texts: François Rabelais’s Gargantua and Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
Issue Date:2011-08-25
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Eric De Barros
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-08-25
Date Deposited:2011-08

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

Item Statistics