Coppola 2008

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Coppola, Al. "Retraining the Virtuoso's Gaze: Behn's Emperor of the Moon, the Royal Society, and the Spectacles of Science and Politics." Eighteenth-century Studies 41.4 (Summer 2008): 481-506.

"Generative Conception of Species"

"essentialism story": "before Darwin species were held to be universals, classes or natural kinds, which had essentil definition. With Darwin comes recognition of the variation of species, that drives evolution by natural selection. From then on, biologists understood that species were polytypic, that they had no essential properties. Species come to be understood to be biological populations, protected against introgression by reproductive barriers, and philosophically as individuals." (141)

"Taken together, Behn's play and the Royal Society's museum catalog register resistances to this period's larger epistemological shift over the status of spectacle and the primacy accorded to seeing and believing." (483)

sheer specatacle of Behn's play

Fontanelle's book "succeeded not merely because it offered convincing evidence that the universe may contain a 'plurality of worlds' inhabited by intelligent life, but because it turned natural philosophy into an erotic act of spectatorship." (484)

Hunter: decline in membership/attendance at Royal Society meetings in 1670s; Shadwell's The Virtuoso published 1676; "in response, the Royal Society set a new course that ostensibly downplayed the spectacle of science, even while deplying the persuasive power of that spectacle to its own advantage in incraesingly politicized ways." (485)

"The society pinned most of its hopes on its Curator of Plants, Nehemiah Grew, ordering that the meticulous botany texts he produced over the course of the 1670s be collected and reprinted in a handsome folio." -- also Musaeum Regalis Societatis (1681) (485


  • "A new logic of spectacle runs through this text, as well as a number of others produced by the Royal Society at this time. In the Musaeum, the viewer's appetite for wonder is stoked only to be gratified in such a way as to reinscribe a normative, anthropocentric frame of reference, one which gives priority to the naked eye over the distortions produced by specialized instruments like the microscope and the telescope. In this manner, the musaeum works to produce a reader inoculated against enthusiasm, therefore advancing, at least implicitly, a Tory political agenda -- one the society was willing to promote explicitly in other publications it was involved in during this highly unsettled period in Charles II's reign." (485-6)

compares Grew's Musaeum to Renaissance abinets of curiosities; "however, Grew's catalog was more centrally indebted to a growing field of illustrated natural histories that were becoming increasingly naturalistic in their description and classification of flora and fauna" (486)

Musaeum: "precise, naturalistic description joined to a rational taxonomy" (486)

"Grew's approach in his descriptions, and the collections' recent history as an unscholarly tourist attraction, initially works to inflame rather than to cool the reader's imagination" (486)
"Often, the Musaeum raises the virtuoso's wonder only to discipline it, a strategy that the text shares with the folio of plant tracts that Grew reprinted with vastly altered illustrations." (486)

crocodile fold-out, 3ft long -- like Hooke's flea

Baliardo as "a caricature of a Whig conspiracy-monger" (493)

"The Emperor of the Moon is a sophisticated attempt to restage debased spectacle in order to contain and defuse it. What Behn teaches here is analogous to what the Royal Society teaches in texts like its dazzling Musaeum Regalis Societatis, which depicts, among its catalog of natural philosophic rarities and specimens, not the wondrous novelty of the exotic crocodile, the mythical Leviathan, but rather the animal rationalized: its bones enumerated, its length and breadth reduced to number, weight, and measure. Boy Grew's Musaeum and Behn's play promote parallel antispectacular epistemologies that are largely shaped by the political situation in which they are enmeshed. Behn offers physic to a culture addicted to empty spectacle, but in doing so she aims not to do away with spectacle; rather, like the Royal Society's new course in natural philosophy, she is seeking to teach a rational mindfulness to a society overrun with enthusiastic virtuosi." (498)