Homo Clausus at the Theatre

  • David Hillman


Among the many far-reaching changes European culture underwent in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, one of the most fundamental was the shift in the way in which the human body was understood: one predominant notion of human embodiment, in which the body was thought of as open in a positive manner, was gradually being displaced by a radically different one, which involved a significantly more closed ideal of the body — more bounded, more deeply separated from its surroundings and from other people. In conceptualising this shift it may be difficult for us fully to imagine the first view, since our post-Enlightenment assumptions are so dominated by the second: we tend to take for granted the notion that the human body constitutes a more or less sealed unit (orifices notwithstanding). After Harvey and Descartes and Locke, we tend to treat the body, in the words of the philosopher John Sutton, as ‘a solid container, only rarely breached, in principle autonomous from culture and environment, tampered with only by diseases and experts.’1 I want to point out, first, some places where this shift from the first to the second construction of embodiment can be seen; I then want to suggest that this collision, and the emergence of what Norbert Elias has termed homo clausus, were essential to the rise of early modern drama.


Seventeenth Century Body Politic Greek Tragedy Representational Level Anatomy Theatre 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Hillman

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