Cover Image: The Elizabethan Mind

The Elizabethan Mind

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Member Reviews

This is a fascinating read, perfect for those both well-versed in Tudor/Elizabethan history, but with the added interest of psychology and personas that might interest those less likely to read 'pure' history.
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An exceptional work for academics and for anyone interested in early modern culture; Hackett writes both in an accessible way and references a number of treatises in her attempt to delineate the Elizabethan understanding of self and of the mind.
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I find the development of our relationship with the self over history a fascinating topic, so The Elizabethan Mind immediately piqued my interest. Although this feels like an academic text, as a non-academic reader there was a lot I could take from this book. Hackett explores the Elizabethan understanding of psyschology as a science and its representation in culture.

While in many ways Elizabethan ideas of the self are very different from our own, it's interesting to see how much of our own understanding is actually rooted in ideas they were exploring for the very first time. It was particularly interesting to see the Elizabethan perspective on 'Other' minds (looking at gender and race), and how that in turn shaped their ideas of state under a female monarch as well as their relationship with the rest of the world.
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A mix of history book and psychology book, Helen Hackett explores what made the Elizabethan people tick, and how they believed the mind worked, by looking at a wealth of content - from plays and poems through to psalms and letters - no stone is left unturned in Hackett's quest to find how Elizabethan people thought and behaved. 
As a result, this is a deeply fascinating work that gives the reader so much more context for their understanding of how the people acted and behaved both in history and in great works of fiction - absolutely brilliant.
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Helen Hackett is a Professor of Early Modern Literature at UCL and in this book she offers us a comprehensive survey of the myriad complex and sometimes contradictory ways that the idea of the mind (or soul, or self) was thought and written about in the latter half of the sixteenth century.

I'd say that this is a book for academics rather than a crossover book as while Hackett always writes in an accessible way, this is attentive to the vast array of medical treatises, philosophy, anatomical handbooks, religious tracts, demonology works and other assorted writings that deal, sometimes directly, at other times tangentially, with the topic in hand. Hackett offers up a detailed and granular survey but this doesn't either put forward a coherent thesis (not a failing, just something not possible with such a diffuse topic) or have a popular eye for a good story. 

It's a little disappointing that when Hackett explores literary texts ('Hamlet', 'Astrophil and Stella', Sidney's two 'Arcadia' texts get the most page space), she doesn't really have anything new to say and readings are given rather short shrift.

That said, the real value of this book is that it provides a wide-ranging, inclusive and thorough overview of how the 'mind' is culturally conceived and thought about, taking in topics such as gendered minds, mind and body, dreams, fantasies, the imagination and all kinds of other related topics. An excellent reference work for anyone working in the fields of early modern culture, histories of the body and classical receptions.
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