RSA 2013 (San Diego): The Ironies of Alchemy

full name / name of organization: 
Chad Engbers / Calvin College
contact email: 
engbers@calvin.edu

The Ironies of Alchemy in Early Modern English Literature
Renaissance Society of America
San Diego
April 4-6, 2013

The Ironies of Alchemy in Early Modern English Literature

Chaucer’s “Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale” is the first great satire of alchemy in English literature, but in its final lines it nevertheless suggests that the Philosopher’s Stone is a genuine secret deeply hidden in the knowledge of Christ. As Stanton Linden observes, Chaucer’s sustained ridicule of alchemy is thus accompanied by the suggestion that the opus alchymicum is not entirely a fool’s errand.

Linden’s seminal study of alchemy in English literature, Darke Hierogliphicks (1996), suggests that alchemy served as an object of satire throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—from Chaucer through Jonson’s The Alchemist and Mercury Vindicated—but then flourished as a set of philosophical and religious ideas in the seventeenth century before its ultimate defeat with the rise of modern science.

Close examination of the ways in which texts use alchemy, however, often reveals the kind of irony that Linden observes in Chaucer: satires of alchemy might also take it very seriously, and attempts to use alchemy for serious purposes might be skewed or flawed. This panel includes papers that complicate the standard narrative of alchemy in English literature by revealing such ironies in early modern literary works.

Papers might introduce works that have not been widely studied, or they might reassess works whose place in the alchemical literary tradition has long been assumed.

Please send a 250-word abstract and brief vita to Chad Engbers (engbers@calvin.edu), by Friday, June 1.

cfp categories: 
medieval
renaissance
science_and_culture