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“Full of Rapture”. Maternal Vocality and Melancholy in Webster’s Duchess of Malfi

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Chapter Summary

In early modern medicine the pregnant woman becomes a particularly fraught example of bodily fusion partly because she seems to exemplify the vulnerability of one soul to another's emotional perturbations. This chapter argues that in The Duchess of Malfi Webster's portrayal of the genesis of male melancholy within a story of transgressive pregnancy and childbirth provides the conditions for an exploration of the passions that complicates recent work on the humoralism of early modern psychology. Exploring the role of maternal voice as a powerful 'spiritual' catalyst for emotional perturbation, author suggests that the maternal-foetal relationship acts as a model for a more broadly conceived view of what author calls the material relationality of the passionate subject. This train of thought in the medical literature allows author to explore more fully the significance of what he sees in the play as a submerged connection between maternal vocality and male melancholy.

Keywords:Duchess of Malfi; emotional perturbation; male melancholy; maternal vocality; pregnant; rapture; Webster



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