Shani Bans (UCL) - 2015-16 Students

Optics in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries

Focussing on literature between 1580 and 1640, a period of intense optical advancement, this project considers how the developments in optics influenced the representations of the eye in Shakespearean drama. Drawing on early modern literary, scientific and iconographical treatises, I examine how the developments in optics replaced the predominant visual theory of eyebeam emission with intromissive vision. In doing so, I will demonstrate how the language of subjectivity employed in Shakespearean drama is inextricable from the scientific language of optics. I examine ocular anatomy, eye infections, intromission vision and the ways in which Shakespearean works employ ‘ocular proof’ to emphasise the period’s preoccupation with empiricism, before turning to unreliability of the eye, blindness and the failure of vision to discern knowledge. It is not enough to observe characters’ use of optics, but will further be necessary to investigate how their use of ocular language informs their perspective of the world.

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