Sederi Yearbook 20

Sederi 20
Sederi 20 — 2010
Berta Cano Echevarría & Ana Sáez-Hidalgo
Francisco José Borge López
ISSN 1135-7789


Zenón Luis Martínez, “Macbeth and the passions’ “proper stuff”.” SEDERI 20 (2010): 71-101.


DOI:                                                      Download PDF



This essay examines early modern conceptions and representations of the passions in relation to issues of self-knowledge in texts ranging from Renaissance psychology to Shakespearean tragedy –with a particular focus on Macbeth. Considered in essence processes of the mind, the passions were believed to manifest themselves through material symptoms such as bodily effects, facial gestures and discourse. Accordingly, the early modern philosophy of man saw in the study of these material manifestations a vehicle to access the soul. By tracing the methodologies for translating the material side of human experience –words, gestures, bodily sensations and signals– into less material truths, early modern philosophy and theatre explored the certainties about inwardness as a necessary dimension of the self, as well as the uncertainties about the ultimate essence of such interiority. In this, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, for its constant focus on outward appearance and rhetoric, stresses the need to focus on matter as a vehicle to explore interiority. And yet –and in keeping with the principles of earlier Renaissance humanists– the play acknowledges the utter impossibility to know the ultimate essence of the inward self.

Keywords: Renaissance tragedy; Shakespeare studies; Macbeth; humanism; rhetoric; (the) passions of the mind.




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