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The Anatomy of Melancholy

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 12 May 2011

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Robert Burton's masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy.

In 1621 the priest and scholar Robert Burton published a book quite unlike any other. The Anatomy of Melancholy brings together almost two thousand years of scholarship, from Ancient Greek philosophy to seventeenth-century medicine. Melancholy, a condition believed to be caused by an imbalance of the body's four humours, was characterised by despondency, depression and inactivity. Burton himself suffered from it, and resolved to compile an authoritative work of scholarship on the malady, drawing on all relevant sources.

Despite its subject matter the Anatomy is an entertaining work, described by Samuel Johnson as the only book 'that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.' It also offers a fascinating insight into seventeenth-century medical theory, and influenced many generations of playwrights and poets.

With:

Julie Sanders
Professor of English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham

Mary Ann Lund
Lecturer in English at the University of Leicester

Erin Sullivan
Lecturer and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham.

Producer: Thomas Morris.

  • FURTHER READING

    Robert Burton, 'Some Anatomies of Melancholy' (Penguin Great Ideas, 2008)

    Robert Burton, 'The Anatomy of Melancholy', ed. by Holbrook Jackson (New York Review Books, 2001)

    Angus Gowland, 'The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy: Robert Burton in Context' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

    Roy Porter, 'Madness: A Brief History' (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)

    Mary Ann Lund, 'Melancholy, Medicine and Religion in Early Modern England: Reading The Anatomy of Melancholy' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

    Douglas Trevor, 'The Poetics of Melancholy in Early Modern England' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

    John Ford, 'The Lover’s Melancholy', ed. R. F. Hill (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985)

    John Milton, ‘L’Allegro’ and ‘Il Penseroso’, in 'The Complete Poems' (Penguin Classics, 2004)

    Jennifer Radden, ed., 'The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva' (Oxford University Press, 2000)

    Erin Sullivan, ‘Melancholy, medicine and the arts’, The Lancet, vol. 372, Sept. 13, 2008, pp. 884-5

    Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl, 'Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion and Art' (Nelson, 1964)

    Jeremy Schmidt, 'Melancholy and the Care of the Soul: Religion, Moral Philosophy and Madness in Early Modern England' (Ashgate, 2007)

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