When the man bleeds, is the genius good? The dark side of genius in Thomas Middleton's The Phoenix (1604) and Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (1604/1616)

    Activity: Talk or presentation for an academic audienceOral presentation for an academic audience


    This paper will explore the associate relationship between portrayals of melancholic genius and bloodletting on the early modern stage. A type of masculine melancholy, genius offered an optimistic justification for an excess of black bile in the body, becoming synonymous with scholarly excellence and unparalleled greatness. Previous scholars have focused attention on the dramatic portrayals of other types of melancholy, such as lovesickness or the revenger. However, the staging and semiotics of genius have been underexplored. This paper will address this gap by considering the sinister consequences of brilliance attributed to genius. I will focus on Thomas Middleton’s The Phoenix and Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus – plays saturated with images of masculine brilliance – as case studies into the volatile imperatives of masculine subjectivity. In each play, scenes of bloodletting act as a dramatic spectacle to access or alleviate a genial state. While genius could provide cultural capital through humoral disorder, careful navigation was required to prevent shameful or fatal consequences. I argue that these scenes present a counter-tradition that make visible the frail constructions of masculine exceptionalism. This paper will contribute to a more precise understanding of masculine melancholy, the very presence of which signals fissures in masculine subjectivity.
    Period5 Feb 2022
    Event titleEarly Modern Men: Patriarchs, patriots and pricks in Europe, 1500-1800
    Event typeConference