Symposium 2015: Bloody Passions: Extreme Emotions in Early Modern Literature and Culture

Event Date: 
31 Oct 2015

Centre for Studies in Literature

University of Portsmouth

31st October 2015

Keynote speaker: Dr Bridget Escolme (Queen Mary, University of London)

Bloody Passions (Wellcome Library, London)

Image: Wellcome Library, London

About the symposium

In James Shirley’s 1631 tragedy The Traitor, the villainous Lorenzo advises his angered target:

 ... master your high blood
Till I conclude, Sciarrha. I accuse not
Your noble anger, which I have observed,
Is not on every cheap and giddy motion
Inflamed; but, sir, be thrifty in your passion,
This is a petty trespass.

(The Traitor, Act 2, scene 1)

This conflation of blood and passion highlights their conceptual overlap in the early modern period, and identifies blood as both a marker of status and a marker of emotion. Cultural understandings of the meanings of blood and passion shifted during this period, bringing multiple interpretive fields into dialogue and conflict, and such explorations of emotional, humoral and anatomical selfhood figure prominently in early modern interrogations of the individual and of society.

Early modern literature is rife with bloody passions and extreme emotions, from the violent excesses of tragic drama to the passionate outpourings of sermons.  Recent scholarship has considered individually the shifting interpretative grounds of passion, blood and emotion in this period. This one day symposium, hosted by the Centre for Studies in Literature at the University of Portsmouth, seeks to bring these areas of study into fruitful dialogue to consider the intersections of blood and passion in extreme emotions in early modern literature and culture. Through exploring the representation and effect of these intersections, the symposium will interrogate the construction and deconstruction of the inner and outer, physical and spiritual early modern subject.


Individual papers will cover topics such as:

  • Conceptions of self in blood, passion and/or emotion
  • Rage and violence
  • Performing Passions
  • Excessive desires
  • Grief and its responses
  • Humoral theories
  • Medical or quasi-scientific approaches
  • Reason and Passion

Further information

For other queries please contact the organisers, Dr Jessica Dyson (University of Portsmouth) and Dr Stephen Curtis (Lancaster University) at

To register and to download the schedule, please visit the conference website.