"Though Troubled Be My Brain:" Madness in Early Modern England, 1603-1714

Alison R Shimko, Purdue University


This dissertation is a study of madness in Stuart-era England. Madness was pervasive in early modern England. it was in the streets, performed on stage, discussed in political pamphlets and legal treatises, and physically housed in Bethlehem Hospital. Madness, therefore, serves as a significant lens because in differentiating between madness and sanity, contemporaries regularly drew clear boundaries between acceptable, or "normal" behavior, and unacceptable, or "abnormal" behavior, that was particular to seventeenth-century English culture and society. Specifically, I argue that madness serves as a channel to examine the diagnoses and treatment of mental disorders that contemporaries believed altered the body and mind, the legal repercussions of abnormal behavior at the state and local level, gender relations and stereotypes, and the use of corporeal rhetoric in political culture. Before public institutions for the insane were founded specifically for that purpose, family or community-based care was the norm for the mad (in addition to the few private madhouses that were founded by private entrepreneurs during the last half of the seventeenth century). This dissertation therefore draws on a wide variety of sources, including manuscripts, parish records, land commissions, autobiographies, spiritual biographies, criminal cases, political pamphlets, doctors’ notes, medical guidebooks, and more.




Zook, Purdue University.

Subject Area

European history|Medicine|Science history

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