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Title: Robert Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy' and Menippean satire, humanist and English
Author: Holland, Philip Hoyt
ISNI:       0000 0001 3580 4330
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 1979
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What kind of book is the Anatomy of Melancholy? Scholars and critics, even those who read the Anatomy "as literature", do not agree upon this fundamental question. In his Anatomy of Criticism (1957), Northrop Frye designated the book a Menippean satire, but his lead has not been profitably followed. An investigation into the history and poetics of Menippean satire in antiquity and the Renaissance supplies a literary context in which Burton's Anatomy may be situated. Various satires by Lucian, Seneca, and Horace, together with the apocryphal Hippocratic epistles, provided Burton with the models of character and plot in terms of which he framed his seriocomic fiction. In addition, the Renaissance recovery and imitation of Lucian and other classical Menippean authors, by Erasmus and More, among others, entailed the development of themes (for example, folly and utopia) and rhetorical techniques (parody and the rhetorical paradox) which were of further importance to Burton. The Renaissance medical book and the Ramist technical treatise, with which the Anatomy is often placed, furnished Burton with discursive forms which he appropriated to his own purposes. Those purposes are the subject of his "satyricall preface", which offers a metafictional commentary on the treatise it precedes. The preface sets forth a series of oppositions at the same time as it collapses the conventional distinctions between them; the antic and the physician, the self and its masks, melancholy and laughter, reader and writer, quotation and originality, sobriety and fantasticality, cause and cure, come together at the limits of human sanity. The treatise proper dramatizes the interplay of these and other looking-glass pairs throughout its exhaustive survey of human life and knowledge. At least one English author has grasped the seriocomic nature of Burton's book: Laurence Sterne, himself a student and writer of Menippean satire, whose borrowings from the Anatomy in Tristram Shandy demonstrate an appreciation of Burtonis literary strategies.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available