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Danielle A. St. Hilaire
Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, PA 15282-0001)
The Art of Compassion: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Pity in Early Modern English Literature

Completion of a book on the role of compassion in art and literature from ancient writers, Plato and Aristotle, medieval theologians, Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, and writers of the English Renaissance, Philip Sidney, Edmond Spenser, and Shakespeare.

The proposed book project examines the intersection of ethics and aesthetics in early modern England, focusing on how classical and Christian concepts of pity collide in the works of Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare, in ways that challenge the ethical claims Renaissance defenders of poetry often made for the value of making and experiencing art. In the course of this exploration, the project also considers how ideas about the relationship between art and ethics on the one hand, and between emotion and ethics on the other, have shifted between Plato’s banishment of the poets in Republic and recent studies in the social sciences that link reading literature to empathy. Early modern England, I argue, was a pivot-point in the intellectual history of debates about the worth of art; understanding this moment in time provides us insight into our own currently embattled position in the humanities, and potentially offers us powerful arguments for the worth of creating and studying art.

Project fields:
British Literature

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/22/2019 – 7/21/2019