The Anatomy of Melancholy

Shakespeare in Print -  Remaking Shakespeare

#33 Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1624)

This encyclopedic work was a significant and popular study of human psychology. Burton’s book was the result of an exhaustive search for sources that could illuminate the condition of “melancholy,” a condition of fear or sadness that could result from medical, intellectual, or religious reasons. Melancholy was also a fashionable condition, since artists and students (like Hamlet) were particularly affected by it. Burton depended on his own library, which included nearly 2000 volumes—including Shakespeare’s early narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. To illustrate the condition of madness and melancholy derived from love, Burton quoted from a variety of literary sources, including the well-known final couplet from Romeo and Juliet. Burton’s inclusion of this couplet is a demonstration of Shakespeare’s reputation as a love poet, as well as the increasingly common practice of quoting memorable lines from contemporary poems and plays.

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