Writing metamorphosis in the English Renaissance : 1550-1700


Writing metamorphosis in the English Renaissance : 1550-1700

Susan Wiseman

Cambridge University Press, 2015

  • : pbk

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First published in hardback 2014



Taking Ovid's Metamorphoses as its starting point, this book analyses fantastic creatures including werewolves, bear-children and dragons in English literature from the Reformation to the late seventeenth century. Susan Wiseman tracks the idea of transformation through classical, literary, sacred, physiological, folkloric and ethnographic texts. Under modern disciplinary protocols these areas of writing are kept apart, but this study shows that in the Renaissance they were woven together by shared resources, frames of knowledge and readers. Drawing on a rich collection of critical and historical studies and key philosophical texts including Descartes' Meditations, Wiseman outlines the importance of metamorphosis as a significant literary mode. Her examples range from canonical literature, including Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest, to Thomas Browne on dragons, together with popular material, arguing that the seventeenth century is marked by concentration on the potential of the human, and the world, to change or be changed.


  • Introduction: writing metamorphosis
  • 1. Classical transformation: turning Metamorphoses
  • 2. Sacred transformations: animal events
  • 3. Transforming nature: strange fish and monsters
  • 4. Metamorphosis and civility: werewolves in politics, print and parish
  • 5. Transformation rewritten? Extreme nurture, wild children
  • Coda: Descartes and the disciplines.

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