Food for thought

I recently read Medicinal Cannibalism in Early Modern English Literature and Culture by Louis Noble (published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2011). Noble’s excellent text sheds light on something that has previously caught my attention in Crooke’s book: the intriguing (and sometimes bizarre) relationship between the body and food in the early modern period. Specifically, the chapter “Medicine, Cannibalism, and Revenge Justice: Titus Andronicus” put me in mind of two particular things I first noted when I got the chance to examine the 1615 copy of Mikrokosmographia held in the John Martin Rare Book Room at the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences at the University of Iowa.

1. The illustration Crooke provides of “the Kidnies” and “the vesselles of the Kidneyes” looks startlingly like food – and not just a kidney bean. I see a bunch of frisée lettuce and apples:

2. Crooke’s discussion of the female breast and its role in feeding the infant appears in Book Three, “Of the Parts belonging to Nutrition or Nourishment” — among the stomach, intestines, kidneys, gall bladder, liver, spleen, etc. — rather than Book Four, “Of the naturall parts belonging to Generation,” where I would expect to find it. Although I haven’t fully explored the idea yet, to me this represents a particularly male view of the female body. Even if we accept its infant-feeding capabilities as the primary role of the female breast, the female might see her own breast as something that enables reproduction as her ability to nourish her offspring ensures the child’s viability. The male, however, sees the breast as something that fed and nourished him, and therefore categorizes it with the parts of the body involved in ingestion and digestion.

Furthermore, Noble points out a detail that is not only interesting but incredibly important to my understanding to the culture of anatomy surrounding the production of Crooke’s book, something I had previously missed. Noble writes:

Until 1632, dissections were performed in the kitchen of the Barber-Surgeons’ Hall; however, this transgressed in a rather troubling way the proper function of the kitchen, particularly given the tradition that a special dinner was enjoyed after each anatomical demonstration. In 1632, an urgent demand was made for a special anatomy theater to rectify the situation . . . (54)

When I first read this, my initial reaction was, “Surely, that can’t be right!” I had imagined Mikrokosmographia used in the anatomy theater from its first publication in 1615. I returned to Kate Cregan’s article “Blood and Circuses,” the best source on the Barber-Surgeon’s Anatomy Theater I had handy. Citing The Annals of the Barber Surgeons of London (Sidney Young, 1890), Cregan reports:

At their incorporation in 1540, Henry VIII granted the Barber-Surgeons of London a perpetual right to the bodies of four executed felons per annum, to be used at their discretion, as anatomical subjects . . . . Initially regular public anatomies were held in the common hall of the company, with temporary scaffolding erected for the accommodation of the crowd of spectators (Young 315). . . . The temporary scaffold structure was superseded by a purpose-built Anatomy Theater, designed by Inigo Jones and built between 1636 and 1638. (42-43)

Noble also cites Young with a description of the kitchen anatomies:

. . . hitherto those bodies have beene a greate annoyance to the tables dresser boardes and utensills in our upper Kitchin by reason of the blood filth and entrailes of those Anathomyes and for the better accomodateing of those anatomicall affaries and preserveing the Kitchin to its owne proper use. (54)

Cregan provides a rather less provocative description from Young that describes the early temporary scaffolding structure without mention of the kitchen:

1st February, 1568. Also yt ys ordayned and agreed by this Courte That there shalbe buyldyngs don and made aboute the hall for Seates for the Companye that cometh unto every publyque anathomy, ffor by cawse that every prsone comyng to se the same maye have good prspect over the same and that one sholde not cover the syght thereof on frome another as here fore the Company have much cõplayned on the same. . . . And also ther shalbe pyllers and Rods of Iron made to beare and drawe Courteynes upon & aboute the frame where wthin the Anathomy doth lye and is wrought upon, for bycawse that no prsone or prsones shall beholde the desections or incysyngs of the body, but that all maye be made cleane and covered wth fayer clothes untyll the Docter shall com and take his place to reade and declare upon the partes desected. (Young 315, in Cregan 42-43)

This explains why William Jaggard’s smaller epitome of Crooke’s text was necessary even in 1616, when it first appeared; whatever the size of the room, it seems many members of the company had difficulties seeing the anatomy subject during the procedure. Of course, this could have been due to overcrowding in a small space, rather than the problematic distance of the further seating in the proper anatomy theater once it was built. I do not have a clear concept of what would be defined as a “kitchen” in this time period, or of the layout of the original Barber-Surgeons’ hall. I do not think I would go so far as to call this a “discrepancy” between Noble and Cregan, as Cregan’s “common hall” may be inclusive of or synonymous with Noble’s “kitchen,” but I am interested in pursuing further details about the original situation.

As a side note, I want to mention that there won’t be a post next week – next Friday is the date of my move to Iowa, and I’ve been too busy with packing and wrapping up the class I’m teaching to get ahead on blog posts. Although this summer I haven’t been as consistent as I would have liked, my ultimate intention is to regularly post at least once weekly, although my yet-unknown fall schedule will determine what day of the week that will be.