Professor Madeline Bassnett
Fall Half Course
Today, food choices and practices express ethical, cultural, and spiritual identities, reveal political attitudes, and inspire emotions of both pleasure and anxiety. But how did food function in early modern England?
Food was of interest to religious and political writers: the Elizabethan state-issued Homilies warned readers of the relationship between gluttony and sin, while civil-war Republicans and Puritans accused each other of the food crimes of excess, cannibalism, and self-denial. Writers of poetry and prose also drew on food metaphors and practices. Ben Jonson’s masque, Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue, critiqued Jacobean over-consumption, while Elizabeth Clinton, Countess of Lincoln, encouraged mothers to breastfeed their children in The Countess of Lincoln’s Nursery. Civil war women such as Anna Trapnel and Sarah Wight wrote or contributed to pamphlets linking food refusal to prophecy, and poets such as Aemilia Lanyer and George Herbert drew on Christian associations of food with spiritual communion. John Milton’s Paradise Lost imagined the food of angels and provided details about Eve’s skill in food preparation, while Andrew Marvell’s “The Garden” presented the aggressively sensual side of pre-lapsarian food. The relatively new field of food studies in the Renaissance is ripe—to paraphrase Francis Bacon—for tasting and swallowing, chewing and digesting.