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The Relativity of Sorrows: Shakespeare, Sympathy and Early Modern Culture

Date: Thursday 13 April 2017 
Time: 12pm
Venue: Rogers Room, Woolley Building, The University of Sydney NSW 2006 
Contact: Craig Lyons (craig.lyons@sydney.edu.au)

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This paper explores the representation and development of sympathy in the late sixteenth century. It seeks to complicate the commonplace view that sympathy in the Renaissance was primarily a physical and physiological process, and argues that the affective meaning of the word sympathy was available considerably earlier than has been previously recognised. The paper examines the early appearances of the term in a range of cultural texts, including sermons, scientific treatises, and political tracts. I go on to argue that imaginative writers such as John Harington, William Shakespeare, and Samuel Daniel played a key role in associating the words ‘sympathy’ and ‘sympathize’ with ideas of compassion, commiseration, and fellow-feeling. 

Richard Meek is Lecturer in English at The University of Hull, UK. His monograph Narrating the Visual in Shakespeare was published by Ashgate in 2009. He is currently completing a book on sympathy in early modern literature and culture, provisionally entitled The Relativity of Sorrows. He has edited several collections of essays on Shakespeare and early modern literature, including The Renaissance of Emotion: Understanding Affect in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, co-edited with Erin Sullivan (Manchester University Press, 2015).

Image: Lorenzo Lotto - Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia. University Press, 2015). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.