Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Animate Texts: Hieroglyphic Reading Practices in Early Modern England, 1564-1658
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Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century hieroglyphs have rarely been studied as a distinct category, yet they offer a new venue to deepen and complicate our understanding of how contemporary readers, writers, and theatrical audiences conceived of their own engagement with multimodal texts. My dissertation argues that early modern authors and audiences conceived of reading such symbols not as passive consumption of a static text but rather as an active, embodied experience of transformation as well as interpretation. Situating my argument within the early modern intellectual contexts of emblem theory and spiritual alchemy, I suggest that hieroglyphic reading can be understood as a dynamic process thought to transmute both individual and collective identities, refining the reader as well as forging new bonds among groups of elite reader-participants. My investigation tracks this notion of transformative reading across discursive domains and somatic zones, beginning with a unitary, self-contained symbol in Elizabethan polymath John Dee's alchemical writing, and ending with Sir Thomas Browne's quincunx, an expansive hieroglyph that fully contains, describes, and embodies humanity's capacity to perceive and interpret the world. In John Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica, the private letters of New England colonist John Winthrop, Jr., the court masques of Ben Jonson, and Sir Thomas Browne's Garden of Cyrus, I consider how hieroglyphic texts work upon their readers in contexts both public and private, both published and manuscript, both dramatic and non-dramatic. Although new criticism on reading practices has begun to map the material, cognitive, and affective dimensions of book use, my project revises our understanding of reading in the period as an active, reciprocal endeavor with profound epistemological and ontological resonances.