Jonson’s bodily temporalities

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Temporality has been a prominent theme of recent critical work on the early modern, as Jonathan Gil Harris has pointed out. A concern with time occupies a central position in Jonson’s plays, masques and poetry, beginning from the foundations of his adherence to the Aristotelian unity of time, as well as the idea of history in his adaptations of classical sources. This paper explores the ways in which temporality is associated with the construction and representation of different bodies in Jonson’s work: the disruptive temporality of fat bodies like Ursula in Bartholomew Fair (Elena Levy-Navarro); the queer temporality of drinking human blood in Catiline, and the problematic embodiment of theatrical ghosts; characters named after body parts in the masque Time Vindicated to Himself and to his Honours; and the consistent absence of child characters across early modern drama more broadly, which complicates what Lee Edelman describes as ‘reproductive futurism’. Jonson’s temporalities function in a variety of seemingly contradictory ways, but, this paper argues, originate again and again from the embodied experiences of his characters.

Over the last decade, temporality has also emerged as a prominent topic in queer theory (Halberstam, Muñoz, Edelman, Freeman). This paper suggests that approaches drawn from queer theory can provide a vital tool for making sense of the relationship between bodies and temporalities in Jonson’s work. A great deal of provocative work on early modern bodies and temporality has centred around Hamlet’s concern that ‘the time is out of joint’ (Derrida, Žižek, Deleuze, Garber), which I take as a starting point for a wider range of bodies and temporalities in Jonson’s works. The paper explores the potential difficulties of thinking about queer temporality in a period with a much less stable sense of what Freeman calls ‘chrononormativity’, and asks how bodily temporalities from early modern England might begin to contribute to the political agency of the modern queer movement.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016
EventSociety for Renaissance Studies: Biennial Conference - University of Glasgow, Glasgow
Duration: 18 Jul 201620 Jul 2016


ConferenceSociety for Renaissance Studies
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  • Cathie Marsh Institute


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