Communication and Construction of Monstrous Embodiment
June 15-16, 2012

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Rhetoric of Monstrosity

Kathryn M. Brammall's article 'Monstrous Metamorphosis: Nature, Morality, and the Rhetoric of Monstrosity in Tudor England' (usually accessible through various institutions / universities) offers an interesting analysis of the rhetoric of monstrosity and reasons behind a surge of interest in monsters and monstrous births emerging in mid-Tudor England. Brammall highlights the importance of early modern attitudes towards monsters themselves, 'precisely because they materialize in so many different contexts'. She particularly focuses on mid-Tudor England, where the social, political and religious challenges were ''partially responsible for the increasing interest in monsters'', resulting in numerous tracts detailing monstrous births. Furthermore, Brammell offers a succinct analysis of those tracts, their veracity and the complex political and religious context of such accounts. Monstrous births were freuqently seen as signs of God, resulting in numerous interpretations and speculation. Brammell highlight the example of Ponet who interpreted monsters by connecting them to problems in contemporary England:

The first monster, a conjoined twin with two heads and two partially joined bodies, was in Ponet's estimation a symbol of the succession of one legitimate ruler, Edward VI, by two distinct governors. It was possible to interpret the division in two ways: as that between Catholic and Protestant or that between English and Spanish, whose respective representatives were Mary and Philip. Either interpretation was acceptable to Ponet, since each served his main purpose: the denunciation of the queen. The confusion caused by both the return to Rome and the Spanish marriage -Ponet suggested, resulted in a divided populace, one in which two parts were thrust together without reason or justice. The division inevitably emasculated the body politic.

Apart from Ponet's interpretation, Brammell also focuses on ballads describing various monsters, where the authors ''interpreted the individual physical deformities in terms that focus the reader's attention on universal sin'', firmly rooted in the reality of Tudor England.
Ultimately, writers of this period relied heavily on the rhetoric of monstrosity and images of monstrous births to confront what they considered to be sinful and corrupt in their society. Transgressing and blurring boundaries between inner and outer, physical and psychical ''deformity'', the period's writings on monsters remain a fascinating and contradictory field of inquiry.

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