Dr Naya Tsentourou

Research interests

My main research interests include: the early modern body and prayer; Shakespeare; Milton; devotional writing; history of emotions; affect; breath.

I am particularly interested in how prayer feels, looks, sounds, and even tastes, in the early modern period. My first monograph, Milton and the Early Modern Culture of Devotion: Bodies at Prayer (Routledge 2017), explores the representation of private prayer in Milton's poetry and prose in the context of seventeenth-century publications, such as religious lyrics and devotional manuals, paying close attention to prayer as a combination of spiritual and physiological processes registered in posture, gesture, and voice. I am also co-editor of the collection Forms of Hypocrisy in Early Modern England (Routledge 2017).

At the moment I am working on a new project: 'The Breathless Renaissance: Sighs and Emotions in Early Modern Literature, c.1560-1660'.

This project investigates the relationship between breath and emotions in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England as represented in literary, religious, and medical texts. The project thus exposes a wide spectrum of roles that voluntary and involuntary breath was perceived to play including active, passive, communicative, apologetic, restorative, therapeutic, self-affirming, and self-annihilating. To define and analyse these roles, the project adopts a multi-disciplinary approach, examining literary and non-literary texts and highlighting in the process the interaction between religious and creative writing and medical theory. From Andreas Vesalius to Thomas Willis, from Ignatius Loyola and Luis de Granada to Luther and Calvin, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Richard II, and from Donne and Herbert, to Milton’s Adam, Eve, and Satan, the project investigates how inhalation and exhalation of air were imagined as connecting individuals to their communities, their readership, their natural world, and finally the divine.

The project is strongly interdisciplinary in its nature and scope. It builds on perspectives on the history of emotions and the history of medicine in order to account for breathing as a cognitive and sensitive experience. It focuses on the ways natural philosophers of the Renaissance, including Francis Bacon, Jean-Francois Senault, Walter Charleton, Timothy Bright, Robert Burton, William Harvey, and Thomas Willis, articulate a physiology of breathing that is then adopted and appropriated as a psychosomatic experience by writers, including Lancelot Andrewes, William Ames, William Perkins, John Donne, George Herbert, John Milton, John Bunyan. Lungs, hearts, veins, muscles, and vital blood, feature heavily in both contexts, conceptually and materially bridging the distance between medical, theological, and literary experience.