James Carkesse and the Lucidity of Madness: A “Minor Poet” in Seventeenth-century Bedlam

By Ilaria Natali.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

While he was interned in Finsbury and Bedlam, James Carkesse wrote “Lucida Intervalla”, a collection of 53 poems, published in London in 1679. The social and historical importance of “Lucida Intervalla” lies in the fact that, in the light of available documentation, it seems to be the first literary text written while its author was detained in a madhouse. In the XVII Century, the medical treatment of madness consisted of extreme methods intended to return patients to “normality”. Carkesse vividly describes the details of those practices and his experiences of coercion: “Lucida Intervalla” thus provides precious information about XVII-Century madhouses, revealing the kind of medical practices adopted in these institutions, how far behind the times they were, and the kinds of ideas the doctors had of madness. Yet this is only one of the ways that the collection of poems can be analyzed: the idea of “madness” is illustrated through intertextual and interdiscursive webs of relationships in which literary imagery, archetypes and more recent traditions converge to define a sense of otherness which becomes part of a wider cultural and literary macrotext.

Keywords: Folly and Madness, Lunacy, XVII Century Institutions, Literature and Testimony, XVII Century Poetry, Bedlam and Finsbury Madhouses

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp.285-298. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 766.274KB).

Dr. Ilaria Natali

Researcher, Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures, University of Florence, Florence, Italy

Ilaria Natali has been a fellow researcher at the University of Florence since 2008. She completed her PhD on genetic approaches to Joyce criticism. In 2008, she published two books about Joyce’s works, That submerged doughdoughty doubleface (Pisa, ETS) and The Ur-Portrait (Firenze, FUP). Her last book, Demoni, Fantasmi, Apparizioni is devoted to the supernatural in Defoe’s texts. She has published several other articles and spoken at numerous international conferences over the past years.


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