This book is the first significant study of a genre that was popular in Renaissance England, the anatomy. In a wide range of texts—theological, scientific, and literary—Renaissance writers used their pens as scalpels to strip away false appearances in order to expose the truth. Devon L. Hodges explains this "impulse to dissect" as a symptom of a cultural transformation. The anatomy, she argues, is a transitional form marking the shift from a metaphorical to an analytical view of the world.
Following a discussion of the anatomy form and the impact of medical methods on the practice of writing, Hodges offers innovative interpretations of several English anatomies: Lyly's Euphues: Anatomy of Wit, Nashe's Anatomy of Absurdity, Shakespeare's As You Like It and King Lear, Bacon's project to conduct an "Anatomy of the World," and Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. Throughout these readings, Hodges makes use of contemporary literary theory to illuminate the difficult process of cultural transformation.