CFP: Affectation from the Renaissance to Today (3/1/08; MLA ’08)

by Jessica C. Murphy

Affectation from the Renaissance to Today. (Proposed Special Session for MLA Annual Convention, San Francisco 2008.)

What makes a person seem “affected” rather than natural, and why should it matter? Since the concept of affectation became current during the Renaissance (in part thanks to texts such as Castiglione’s The Courtier) many playwrights, philosophers and novelists have tried to codify and dramatize the difference between “affected” and spontaneous or natural behavior. This distinction, however, is frequently blurred by the ambiguity of motives and gestures. Indeed, some might argue that the effort to distinguish between truthful feelings and affected ones is doomed to failure. Yet these efforts and the difficulties they encounter arguably tell us a great deal about the particular historical and cultural moments in which they occur. For instance, Shakespeare’s use of the word “affected” to mean both deeply moved, in some contexts, and insincere, in other contexts, suggests the basic instability of his concepts of emotion and sincerity. Moreover, this example is but one aspect of a long and complex debate about the idea of affectation, since the attempt to tell truth from falsehood in emotions and gestures remains fraught with political, sexual, epistemological and ontological anxiety.

All genres, traditions, periods and approaches are welcome. 1-2-page abstracts or 8-page papers by 1 March, 2008. Brad Buchanan (

[Editor’s note: I thought this might be especially interesting for those of you working on feminine virtue being/seeming etc.]