ABSTRACT

In the medical and poetic discourses of early modern England, loving is often a matter of having one's breath literally taken away. Physiologically, love melancholy was diagnosed in terms of a kind of romantic arrhythmia or cardiac arrest; irregular or neglected breathing producing sighs, stutters, broken speech, and silence. Lovers, writes Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy, not only suffer "palpitation of the heart," but "cor proximumori . , . their heart is at their mouth."1 Indeed, cardiac, respiratory, and vocal motions were interdependent in a range of early texts, and broken hearts and broken speech went hand in hand. The true lover, according to Hoby's 1561 translation of Castiglione's Il cortegiano, has a "burainge hart . . . a colde tunge, with broken talke

and sodeine silence."2 In love lyric of the period, hearts bleed, pens weep, and eyes speak volumes, while language seems in many ways disassociated from the human voice, somehow stuck in the throat or on the tip of the tongue. The beloved, urged to "hear with the eyes" "what silent love hath writ" (Sonnet 23), is asked again and again to animate the voice of the lover. Although many critics have found in the sixteenthcentury love lyric "the deeply felt utterances of a self-expressive speaking voice," it is striking how often the ultimate sign of love was precisely the failure of voice.3