Melancholy, passions and identity in the Renaissance

International Social Science Journal (Chinese Edition)

No.2, 2021


Melancholy, passions and identity in the Renaissance (Abstract)


Angus Gowland


This essay is concerned with the role of the passions in Renaissance theories of melancholy and will propose an understanding of melancholy as a form of identity. It will also draw out some of the implications of this interpretation for some views of the passions, and their position in early modern subjectivity, which have been presented in English literary studies. More particularly, the author takes issue with the way in which the concept of humoral subjectivityhas been elaborated in the writings of Gail Kern Paster and Michael Schoenfeldt, as an expression of a materialism said to prevail in medical and psychological works. Using the theory of melancholy in Renaissance medicine and philosophy as a case-study to illustrate these points, the author starts with an account of the medical theory of this condition. The essay then turns to questions of melancholic subjectivity, addressing the criteria used to distinguish pathological from nonpathological forms of emotion, and relating the identity of the melancholic to more general conceptions of  human selfhood elaborated in natural and moral philosophy.