Introduction: The Pen and the Sword

  • Jennifer Feather
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


A knight wears a maiden’s head around his neck and carries her lifeless body on the horse before him. A Saracen’s severed head is displayed on a pike. An anatomist flays and dismembers a corpse before a gathered crowd. A Roman hero eviscerates himself to avoid capture. These are just a few of the images of violence that circulate in the texts of the early modern period, but as this study claims, they are also instances of the polyvalent practice of combat that plays a significant role in early modern productions of self. Though acts of bodily damage like these seem in some cases gratuitously violent and in other cases heroically beneficial, repositioning these acts as instances of combat situates them within early modern discourses of body and selfhood. Spurred in part by shifting medical practices such as the rise of anatomical science and legal changes such as dueling prohibitions, early modern writers struggle with the tension between two conflicting ideas of combat—a premodern model that sees combat as mutually constitutive of both combatants and a modern model emerging in the sixteenth century that sees combat as an agonistic struggle in which the victor gains agency at the expense of objectifying the vanquished.


Sixteenth Century Classical Source Early Modern Period Damage Body Autonomous Selfhood 
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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© Jennifer Feather 2011

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  • Jennifer Feather

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