“Unmoved Emotions in Shakespeare and Milton” challenges the longstanding understanding of the relation between emotion and morality as primarily one of motivation and action. On this view, emotions either serve morality by motivating virtuous actions or do the opposite by driving evil actions. This is a plausible position—and yet the passions, affections, humors, and sentiments that saturate English writing in the seventeenth century often arise amid ambiguous moral demands, and they do not always correspond to good- or wrongdoing. Instead, I argue that instances of what I call unmoved emotions in the works of William Shakespeare and John Milton challenge latent aspects in how moral requirements are construed in the first place. For these authors, emotions that remain unchanged in the face of reasoning, persuasion, or duty reveal a radical break between the subject and the normative expectations that they inhabit. The first two chapters focus on the relation between moral convention, emotional consensus, and sympathy in Shakespeare’s plays. The first chapter, “Emotional Obduracy in The Merchant of Venice,” centers on Shylock’s emotional withholding as a clear example of how emotions that resist persuasion throw into doubt the societal and religious presuppositions that inform public morality. I argue that Shakespeare draws on rhetorical convention, Aristotelian ethics, and Renaissance medicine to challenge the assumption that emotions and the ethical requirements with which they are associated are universal and therefore communicable across cultures. The next chapter, “Learning to Feel in Measure for Measure,” argues that Shakespeare examines through Angelo’s character the different ways of going from an unfeeling to a feeling state. I suggest that prosopopoeia, understood both generally as the rhetorical device of personification and more specifically as a feature of early modern humanist pedagogy, plays a central role both in awakening the emotions and in avoiding them. The final two chapters examine Milton’s treatment of unmoved emotions in his divorce tracts and in Paradise Lost. Whereas Shakespeare questions our ability to establish common rules of morality based on shared sentiments, for Milton the inability to conform emotions to moral duty has the potential to either elevate them as sources for normativity or undermine individual moral agency. Milton’s divorce tracts claim that when a husband is unable to love his wife, legislators should consider human emotional weakness and allow divorce rather than enforce moral ideals. In the third chapter, “The Emotive Sensibility of Milton’s Divorce Tracts,” I argue that Milton develops a new account of emotion to fit his argumentative goal. His innovation, I suggest, is in developing a naturalist model of emotion that serves as a ground for normativity. The final chapter of my dissertation, “Satanic Ingratitude and Psychological Determinism in Paradise Lost,” takes the problem of unresponsive emotions to its theoretical limit. Moving from the legal to the religious, Milton’s naturalist account of emotion collides with his theological commitment to free will. In Paradise Lost, he worries that recalcitrant emotions may prevent people from responding with gratitude to divine goodness and exclude them from participating in virtue.




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