Myth and Emotion in Early Modern Europe – Call For Papers

Myth and Emotion in Early Modern Europe
Upper East Room, University House, Professors Walk, The University of Melbourne
10 March, 2016

Symposium Website

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Greek and Roman classics became increasingly central to the European literary imagination, being referenced, translated, adopted and reshaped by a huge range of authors. In turn, current criticism of early modern literature is ever more concerned with the period’s reception and appropriation of the classical past. Greek and Roman myths held a two­fold appeal for authors: they were ‘known’ stories, culturally iconic and comfortingly familiar to the educated reader, but readerly knowledge could also be manipulated, and the myths reshaped in emotionally provocative and iconoclastic ways. This one day symposium at the University of Melbourne will be an investigation into early modern use of classical myths, asking how myth was used both ‘privately’, to excite emotional effect, and ‘publically’, to respond to political, religious, or social events. This symposium will focus on how and why myth was used specifically to excite and manipulate emotional responses in early modern readers and audiences: responses that might run counter to the original, classical focus of such stories.

Papers may consider, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  • Which classical myths were most popular, among authors seeking emotional effect?
  • How were myths rewritten to alter or increase the emotional impact? Could comic myths become tragic, or was it more likely for tragic myths to become comic?
  • How did authors working with the burgeoning genre of tragicomedy, a form that by its very nature demands a bifurcated emotional response from the auditor, adapt classical myth?
  • Why did authors choose to rewrite known stories in this way? How does an iconic reshaping of a classical story’s emotional impact (such as Shakespeare’s rewriting of Pyramus and Thisbe into a comic interlude) affect our perception of the original myth, or hypotext?
  • How has our emotional response to myth and its rewriting altered, from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first? Do we laugh at Pyramus and Thisbe, or Venus and Adonis, in the same way that Shakespeare’s readers and audiences might have done? Is the rape of Lavinia in Titus Andronicus less disturbing, if we are less familiar with Ovid’s underlying tale of Procne and Philomela? Do modern adapters of myth, such as Ted Hughes and Carol Anne Duffy, handle its emotive potential in the same way as their early modern forebears?
  • What might the ‘emotionalising’ of a particular myth (for example by giving the reader access to a character’s previously unspoken thoughts or feelings) have to tell us about the cultural or literary context in which it was written? (for example, what might it suggest about attitudes to women; to the foreign; to the relationship between reader and audience).

Abstracts of no more than 200 words, and a short biography, should be emailed to both Gordon Raeburn ( and Katherine Heavey ( by 12 February, 2016.