Late sixteenth- and early seventeenth century authors such as Montaigne, Descartes, Shakespeare, and John Donne described doubt as an unsettling and disquieting condition, often experienced in the seclusion of one’s chamber. As such, doubt was often perceived as a corrosive power, able to dissolve at the same time the world as one is accustomed to knowing it, and the very idea of one’s self. I will argue instead that in the first half of the sixteenth century doubt could be, and indeed was, a social experience. While scholars have often explored doubt within heterodox circles, doubt could be part of other, more complex social experiences. Academies, real or virtual, games of chance, books of ‘doubts’ fostered forms of sociability that brought together, at least potentially, men and women from all walks all life. A polysemic word, ‘doubt’ could elicit diverse intellectual and emotional responses, thus proving an unexpected, even reassuring form of social entertainment.
Marco Faini is Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow at the Universities of Venice and Toronto. He has recently co-edited two volumes on Domestic Devotions in Early Modern Italy, and Domestic Devotions in the Early Modern World (Brill). He is presently co-editing a collection of studies titled Le doute dans l’Europe moderne (Brepols). His current book project is titled Standing at the Crossroads. Cultures of Doubt in Early Modern Italy.
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