Kimberly Anne Coles, "Bad Humor: Race and Religious Essentialism in Early Modern England" (U Pennsylvania Press, 2022)


Kimberly Anne Coles is Professor of English at the University of Maryland; her first book, Religion, Reform and Women’s Writing in Early Modern England, was published with Cambridge University Press in 2008. Her work has been supported by the John W. Kluge Center, the Warburg Institute, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Today, we are discussing Bad Humor: Race and Religious Essentialism in Early Modern England, which was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2022.

In Bad Humor, Professor Coles charts how concerns around lineage, religion and nation converged around a pseudoscientific system that confirmed the absolute difference between Protestants and Catholics, guaranteed the noble quality of English blood, and justified English colonial domination.

Professor Coles delineates the process whereby religious error, first resident in the body, becomes marked on the skin. Early modern medical theory bound together psyche and soma in mutual influence. By the end of the sixteenth century, there is a general acceptance that the soul's condition, as a consequence of religious belief or its absence, could be manifest in the humoral disposition of the physical body. The history that this book unfolds describes developments in natural philosophy in the early part of the sixteenth century that force a subsequent reconsideration of the interactions of body and soul and that bring medical theory and theological discourse into close, even inextricable, contact. With particular consideration to how these ideas are reflected in texts by Elizabeth Cary, John Donne, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Mary Wroth, and others, Professor Coles reveals how science and religion meet nascent capitalism and colonial endeavor to create a taxonomy of Christians in Black and White.

John Yargo recently received his PhD in English literature from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, specializing in the environmental humanities and early modern culture. His articles have been published or are forthcoming in the Journal for Early Modern Culture Studies, Early Theatre, Studies in Philology, and Shakespeare Studies.

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John Yargo

John Yargo is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities at Boston College. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His specializations are early modern literature, the environmental humanities, and critical race studies. His dissertation explores early modern representations of environmental catastrophe, including William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, and John Milton's Paradise Lost. He has published in Early Theatre, Studies in Philology, The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, and Shakespeare Studies.

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