"Strange Times": English Renaissance Literature and the Erotics of the Clock
Armstrong, Deann Valrae
The literature of the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries express a pervasive feeling that its authors were living through “strange times.” Largely inspired by the widely recognized religious, political, and scientific revolutions that roiled early modern England, this feeling also acknowledged a technological revolution in time itself. This dissertation considers early modern literature in view of these changes. It argues that amidst developments like the portable pocket watch and the push toward the increasing standardization of time, the dramatists and poets of the period eroticize timekeeping. They use their drama, their verse, and occasionally their prose as well, to lay bare the ways in which time and its keeping provoke a desire that exceeds and disrupts the rational orders such innovations were perceived to advance. Focusing on the similitude between bodies and clocks on which many authors in the period rely, the dissertation illuminates how this erotics both grows out of the fertile soil of classical and medieval traditions and feeds the insights of temporal studies in modern and postmodern psychoanalytic and women’s, gender, and queer theory. It limns the ways in which depicting the clock as an eroticized and erotic body offers historical alternatives to both modern Marxist and Foucauldian understandings of time as a means of discipline and to medicalized or intellectualized depictions of the body as asexual or empty of affect. It also highlights the polymorphousness of sexual desire in the works of the authors it studies: William Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, John Donne, and John Milton.