The Five Senses in Medieval and Early Modern England


The essays collected in The Five Senses in Medieval and Early Modern England examine the interrelationships between sense perception and secular and Christian cultures in England from the medieval into the early modern periods. They address canonical texts and writers in the fields of poetry, drama, homiletics, martyrology and early scientific writing, and they espouse methods associated with the fields of corpus linguistics, disability studies, translation studies, art history and archaeology, as well as approaches derived from traditional literary studies.

Together, these papers constitute a major contribution to the growing field of sensorial research that will be of interest to historians of perception and cognition as well as to historians with more generalist interests in medieval and early modern England.

Contributors include: Dieter Bitterli, Beatrix Busse, Rory Critten, Javier Díaz-Vera, Tobias Gabel, Jens Martin Gurr, Katherine Hindley, Farah Karim-Cooper, Annette Kern-Stähler, Richard Newhauser, Sean Otto, Virginia Richter, Elizabeth Robertson, and Kathrin Scheuchzer

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Annette Kern-Stähler is Full Professor and Chair of Medieval English Studies at the University of Bern. She is particularly interested in the interrelations between material culture, sense perception and affect and in the uses and transformations of space in late medieval England.

Beatrix Busse, Ph.D. (2004), University of Heidelberg, is Full Professor and Chair of English Linguistics at that university. Her research interests include the history of English and historical linguistics, corpus linguistics, stylistics and language in urban spaces.

Wietse de Boer, Ph.D. (1995), is Professor of History at Miami University (Ohio). His publications are focused on the Italian Counter-Reformation, most recently Space and Conversion in Global Perspective, co-edited with Giuseppe Marcocci, Aliocha Maldavsky and Ilaria Pavan.
"This new collection demonstrates the real coming of age of sensory studies in medieval and early modern English scholarship. Its penetrating close readings of how English men and women wrote and rewrote the senses — in texts ranging from Old English translations of Boethius and Augustine, to Chaucer, Wyclif, and Milton — showcase the kind of deep discussion that is only really achievable when a field has reached a high level of maturity. From perceptual distortion to disability, to divine and human sight, the tactile theatre, the multi-sensorial afterlife, understanding-as-seeing, and the sensory richness of martyrdom — here we are offered a full banquet of sensory delights to whet our scholarly appetites."
Matthew Milner, McGill University

“This is a sensational book of profound relevance to scholars interested in the cultural history of the senses. The contributors excavate the shifting understandings of and engagement with the five senses in the medieval and early modern period. Through exploring the roles played by the senses in literature, liturgy and theatre, they provide us with many scintillating insights into the social construction of such categories as sin and salvation, illusion and reality, and self and world.”
David Howes, Miami University
Notes on the Editors
Notes on the Contributors
List of Illustrations

Introduction: The Five Senses in Medieval and Early Modern Cultures
Annette Kern-Stähler and Kathrin Scheuchzer


Sight and Understanding. Visual Imagery as Metaphor in the Old English Boethius and Soliloquies
Katherine Hindley

Coming to Past Senses. Vision, Touch and Their Metaphors in Anglo-Saxon Language and Culture
Javier Enrique Díaz-Vera


Bleary Eyes. Middle English Constructions of Visual Disabilities
Beatrix Busse and Annette Kern-Stähler

Exterior Inspection and Regular Reason. Robert Hooke’s and Margaret Cavendish’s Epistemologies of the Senses
Virginia Richter

Hierachies of Vision in John Milton’s Paradise Lost
Tobias Gabel


Strange Perceptions. Sensory Experience in the Old English “Marvels of the East”
Dieter Bitterli

The Perils of the Flesh. John Wyclif’s Preaching on the Five Bodily Senses
Sean A. Otto

The Senses and Human Nature in a Political Reading of Paradise Lost
Jens Martin Gurr


Multisensoriality and the Chaucerian Multisensual
Richard G. Newhauser

‘Eate not, taste not, touch not’. The Five Senses in John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments
Kathrin Scheuchzer


Smell in the York Corpus Christi Plays
Rory G. Critten and Annette Kern-Stähler

The Sensory Body in Shakespeare’s Theatres
Farah Karim-Cooper

Afterword: From Gateways to Channels. Reaching towards an Understanding of the Transformative Plasticity of the Senses in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods
Elizabeth Robertson

Index Nominum
All interested in the five senses in medieval and early modern England and in medieval and early modern religiosity, and specialists in the fields of literary and cultural studies, historical linguistics, the history of science, disability studies and sensory studies.