Theses Doctoral

Ruling Appetites: The Politics of Diet in Early Modern English Literature

Crow, Andrea

Ruling Appetites: The Politics of Diet in Early Modern English Literature reveals how eating became inseparable from political and social identity in the early modern English imaginary, and the instrumental role that poets, playwrights, and polemicists played in shaping a growing perception of diet as a primary means of driving social change. From the late Elizabethan period through the Restoration, recurrent harvest failures and unstable infrastructure led to widespread food insecurity and even starvation across England. At once literary producers and concerned social agents, many major early modern authors were closely engaged with some of the worst hunger crises in English history. The pointed and detailed attention to food in early modern literature, from luxurious banquets to bare cupboards, I argue, arose from real concerns over the problem of hunger facing the country. I demonstrate how authors developed literary forms seeking to explain and respond to how changing dietary habits and food distribution practices were reshaping their communities. Moreover, early modern authors turned to food not just as a topical referent or as a metaphorical vehicle but rather as a structural concern that could be materially addressed through literary means. Each chapter of “Ruling Appetites” centers on particular literary techniques—verse forms, stage characters, theatrical set pieces, or narrative tropes—through which authors examined how food influenced economic, social, and political reality. Literary form, in its openness to experimentation and innovation, allowed authors to address how early modern England’s changing dietary culture was transforming its material, social, and imaginative landscape.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Crawford, Julie
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2018